10 August 2013

A Decade of Archives 6: 2007

This is the sixth in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found here.

I'm Not There
2007 began with an outtake from an interview I did with Juliet Ulman of Bantam Books and ended with a rather mysterious announcement on December 24 that I would need to take a break from blogging for a while. The reason for the hiatus was something I discussed in the previous post: my father's death. I last talked with him on my cell phone as I was walking home after seeing Tim Burton's movie of Sweeney Todd, a review of which was the last substantive post I wrote that year; the next afternoon, I got the call from the New Hampshire State Police. The only thing I managed to write between the announcement of my absence and then my later return was a column for Strange Horizons that adds some context to it all, "Of Muses and Ghosts".

One of the reasons for the eventual turn to highlighting film here more often than before, and to doing more and more with film analysis and production in my life, is that it was and is a way of keeping the good memories of my father present and sending all the truckloads of bad stuff to go die with him. Movies were the one thing we incontrovertibly shared, the one thing we could discuss and enjoy together, and my taste in film is/was inextricably bound to his.

There's a Mountain Goats song to go with this (as there is a Mountain Goats song to go with everything), appropriately from the New Asian Cinema EP, "Cao Dai Blowout", which ends:
When the ghost of your father starts pushing you around,
how are you going to make him stop?
I took down all the crosses,
I let him set up shop.
Appropriately for this post, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats also recently expressed quite well what it is like to search through the archives of things you've created: "exhuming the corpses I became at several turns between then and now."

Looking back on 2007 sure feels more like exhuming corpses than the later years have. Some of this has to do with the split I was talking about last time between life before the fall of 2007 and life after. Looking back over 2008, I could read just the titles of almost all of the posts, and certainly of all the ones that weren't just announcements and links, and have at least some memory of what the post was about. I looked at lots of post titles from 2007 and had no idea what the post contained. Reading them was often like reading something written by someone else, someone familiar but now unreachable.


2007 marked an end to the LitBlog Co-op, an endeavor that had begun in the winter/spring of 2005, and which I joined soon after the founding. The LBC was the product of a different internet age, one before the triumph of social media, and an honest attempt to harness some of the momentary excitement about blogs for the purpose of bringing attention to books that deserved more attention than they might otherwise receive. I think back on it fondly. It ended mostly because we all got too busy to keep up with it, and our interests and personalities were so different that the groupness of it all just wasn't working anymore. It began at a time when the idea of "litblogging" itself was enough to unite a relatively diverse set of aesthetics; it ended at a time when the medium itself was no longer novel enough to sustain us.

2007 saw the release of the first volume of the Best American Fantasy anthologies, for which I was the series editor. The series ended three years later (I had already resigned as series editor, since the volume of reading was just too much for me), but each book is one I have much love for, and their contents have generally held up quite well.

In January, I returned from a trip to Kenya, and so it is no surprise that there are two posts about Kenyan novels: Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye and Going Down River Road by Meja Mwangi (yes, coming and going). My short time in Kenya was extraordinary, and would affect much of my later reading, writing, and thinking.

In June, I wrote a review of a book I'd been lucky enough to read before it was published, a first novel by a writer I had never heard of before: Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery. I would later get to meet Brian, interview him, and work with him on various projects, since our tastes in so many things are similar and he's just a delightful human being. I didn't know that when I read and first wrote about Spaceman Blues, though, because I knew nothing of the writer behind the words. I love it when that happens. I struggle with reading things — particularly fiction — by people I know, because I find myself spending as much time paying attention to my reaction as to the text itself, not wanting to dislike the work of someone I like (it is a nauseating feeling, such dislike), and so I often take a long time to read writing by people I know and love, if I'm ever able to bring myself to read it at all. I've known and loved Brian's later books very much, and even used Liberation in a couple of classes, turning at least a few students into self-confessed Slattery fans who sought out everything else they could find that he had written. But Spaceman Blues will always hold a special place in my heart, because there are few joys as blissful as falling in love with a book you previously knew absolutely nothing about. That bliss animates the review I wrote of it here, and it remains one of my favorite posts in the history of The Mumpsimus.

The next month, I wrote about another book I knew just about nothing of before I read it, What I Did Wrong by John Weir. My memory of it isn't as strong as Spaceman Blues, because I haven't had cause to return to it since reading it, but I saw it on a shelf the other day and thought it was probably time for a re-read, and now that I've looked over that review again, I'm even more inclined to revisit it.

Around the same time, I wrote about a book I did have some expectations and knowledge of, a book that nonetheless impressed me greatly: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. (The book and review both make for an interesting comparison to Miéville's The City and The City, which I reviewed almost exactly two years later.)

A post in August got a bit lost in the shuffle amidst other things, but is worth bringing at least a bit of attention to here. It's a personal essay, of sorts, that's also a look at Karen Joy Fowler's magnificent story "The Faithful Companion at Forty". The post is a fragment of autobiography, a reflection on moments of reading in life. I'd forgotten I wrote that post, and I read it over with surprise and even a bit of delight, a relatively rare thing when I reread my writing — usually, I want to fix the words, change the punctuation, cut out the most insipid sentences, shuffle it all off to Buffalo or somewhere farther off where no-one will look at it. But that post mixes autobiography and literary analysis in a way that I enjoy when other people do it, and it's old enough for me to read it as if it's being done by someone else.

My dear friend Chris Barzak is currently recovering from a pretty rough experience in New York a few days ago, and so it was with extra special fondness that I saw that I'd declared August 28, 2007 Barzak Day, with an interview; statements by Rick Bowes, Jim Kelly, and Juliet Ulman; and a gazillion posts by marvelous other people throughout the blogosphere. It was a great time. We should all do it again soon.

By September, I was living in Hoboken, New Jersey and able to get to Manhattan regularly, which meant I attended various events, new movies, etc., and was able to write about some of them. Much as I like my current quiet, uneventful life in rural New Hampshire, I loved being able to see great art and artists of all sorts every day. I often miss New York, my favorite city in the world, the place that has been, since I was 18 years old, my second home.

Having access to new movies other than what plays at every multiplex in the country was especially nice. (Having access to new theatre was nice, too, but I could rarely afford tickets.) 2007 was a pretty good year for film. I wrote about No Country for Old Men when it came out, and then I had a great Thanksgiving day, seeing both I'm Not There and Across the Universe in a perfect double feature.

By November, I knew the job I had in New Jersey was not going to work out, yet I had months and months of working at it ahead of me. It was a pretty low time, as anybody who's had a job where even the best days are pretty bad can understand. I was making plans to apply to PhD programs and get out of teaching high school, but there was nothing I could do immediately to make the situation better, and it wore on me. Some of that despair is present between the lines of my post about Christopher Priest's The Affirmation, a post that caused real concern among some friends and family, one of whom told me she thought it read like a suicide note. I was shocked by this at the time. I found the book and writing about it invigorating. I like the post a lot now, but it's definitely written from a position of despair — or, rather, it's written at a time when I realized I had to change my life. This was a wearying realization, since I'd been changing my life quite a lot recently. What I didn't know was that, a month later, life would take care of changing things for me.

Driving to and from work, clogged in traffic, dreading the day, I often listened to The Mountain Goats song "This Year" on repeat, psyching myself up to get through it all by screaming out the chorus:
I am gonna make it
through this year
if it kills me.
I made it through, and it didn't kill me.

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