"If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud."
That quote by Emile Zola seems to define this blog as much as The Quivering Pen's name itself (see the masthead). Throughout the past twelve months, I've done my best to "live out loud" here in my little corner of the internet, sharing the triumphs, the frustrations, and the growing hum of joy I feel whenever I read a good book. Am I almost unrelentingly positive in my appreciation of the books I read? Okay, yeah, sure I'll admit my enthusiasm sometimes overwhelms my critical judgement--and you can call me the Prince of Nice all you want and it won't bother me--but I have never lied to you, I've never pushed a book on you I didn't think was worth your time. Take me or leave me, but this is who I am: a one-man band (strapped from head to toe with bass drum, cymbals, harmonica, accordion, and party noisemakers) marching down Main Street flinging books left and right to whoever is standing on the sidewalk ready to catch them.
Of course, another Emile Zola quote could also be my guiding principle here at The Quivering Pen: "If I cannot overwhelm with my quality, I will overwhelm with my quantity." As of today, I've written 318 posts this year, compared with 319 in 2011. There are still two more days left on the calendar and I have plans to write at least two more entries, so I will most likely top last year's output.
As you might imagine, it hasn't always been easy to come here day after day. With the demands of revising a novel, then throwing myself into publicizing that book before and after it's released (including a 25-city tour), as well as holding down a 40-hour-per-week "real job," there have been plenty of times I've thought about putting the cap back on this particular quivering pen. I've been tempted to call it quits--or at least call a time-out, a hiatus, a cease-fire--but yet I persist. I still get up at 3:30 every morning and come to the keyboard with coffee mug in hand to bang out a few words in a daily brain-dump. Why? Because there are just too many good books out there to tell you about. As long as writers keep writing and publishers keep publishing and readers keep reading, this pen will keep quivering.
1. Front Porch Books, February 2012 Edition: This roundup of new and forthcoming books which landed on my front porch was by far the most-visited post of the year (and, as it turned out, of all time)....and it's all thanks to a single Tweet by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) who told her followers that I'd spotlighted her debut, Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). I bow in thanks to Jenny for the traffic spike. But let's not forget the other wonderful books which were featured that month from authors like Benjamin Busch, Jess Walter, Glen Duncan, Joyce Carol Oates, and Johanna Skibsrub (among others).
2. Soup and Salad Book News Roundup on March 31: I'm still not sure why this particular post was the second-most popular of the year, but to this day it consistently gets dozens of hits every week. Could it be the fact that Charles Dickens, Lemony Snicket, Steve Almond, Don DeLillo and John Kennedy Toole were all squoze into the same small space together?
3. My First Time: David Abrams and Peter Blackstock: I feel a little funny including this self-aggrandizing post, but if I'm sticking true to the stats, there's no denying its popularity. Thanks to all of you who were curious about my story behind Fobbit, with an assist from my editor at Grove/Atlantic: Peter has believed in the book from the beginning and helped me see Fobbit not as "my" book, but as "a" book. In other words, he made me take a step back from this thing I’d spent six years writing, this thing I’d poured everything into, this thing that had become part of my bloodstream. To put it in symbolic terms, Peter—in the gentlest and kindest of ways—made me take that book, turn it upside down and shake all the loose change out of its pockets. It was not the same book in the end that it was when we started. For one thing, I cut about 130,000 words from it.
4. The 2012 Academy Awards Prediction Contest: In addition to being a book freak, I'm a die-hard movie nerd--one who always prints out lists of the Academy Award nominees just before red-carpet night and checks off his own personal predictions (one year, I was so good, I won a contest from a local newspaper which sent me on a trip to Tinseltown). So, I've enjoyed sharing that film fever with Quivering Pen readers through what's become an annual prediction contest. This year, the blog's competition was spruced up with some extra-special prizes, thanks to the publishers Penguin, W.W. Norton, and Scholastic who generously donated books on which Oscar nominees were based. I hope to make the 2013 prediction contest even bigger and better, so stay tuned.
5. My First Time: Erika Dreifus: Erika wrote one of my favorite books of 2011--Quiet Americans--so I was pleased to have her share her "virgin experience" with blog readers. Here she is talking about her first "punch-in-the-gut review" and her advice to other writers who might find themselves facing a particularly unkind criticism of their debut book: Email the review to your mother. Wait for her to email you back, assuring you—just as she did all those years ago in high school—that the person who is being so unkind to you(r book) is "just jealous!"
7. My First Time: Emily St. John Mandel: I was honored when Emily took time out from promoting her new novel, The Lola Quartet, to contribute a touching story about her first agent, the late Emilie Jacobson: She comes back to me at odd moments. When there are small triumphs, I sometimes find myself thinking that I wish she could have seen this; when there are small disappointments I sometimes think of her too, of how dry and reassuring she was when things weren’t going quite as one had hoped. “Perhaps,” she wrote to me once, after my first novel had been rejected by a three or four publishers in a row for being “too quiet,” “we should try sending it out with a snare drum, or maybe some cymbals?”
8. Publishers Weekly calls Fobbit an "instant classic": It was a landmark moment and that day in June completely changed my life forever: Things have been a little topsy-turvy in my head since I got the email from my editor at Grove/Atlantic a few days ago giving me a sneak peek at Publishers Weekly's pending starred-and-boxed review of Fobbit. I'm not a man who cries easily, but I'll admit that when I finished reading those 264 words of praise I had to reach for a Kleenex. I was living every debut novelist's dream, sitting bull's-eye in the moment for which I'd been waiting nearly 30 years.
9. A Menagerie of Images From Flannery O'Connor Which Proves Once and For All She Boils Language Alive and Makes It Scream in Our Ears: My biggest regret at the blog this year has been the way I abandoned the The Biography Project. Admittedly, it was over-ambitious from the start, but the fact that I left it by the side of the road while I was in the midst of reading Brad Gooch's excellent biography of Flannery O'Connor shames me to no end. I hope to pick the Project back up this year, but won't make any public promises I can't keep. For now, I'm comforted by the fact that the last B.P. post was this tribute to Miz O'Connor: My wife has bore witness to my obsession with Flannery O'Connor for more than 25 years. She cannot comprehend my fanatic attachment to her fiction and every so often, she'll ask, "What is it that you like so much about her?" My mind goes blank and my tongue turns mute. I fumble for words, but they always come out sounding like something from an idiot standing at the base of the Tower of Babel. It's impossible for me to find adequate language to describe how O'Connor's words go straight to my core and roil around my soul, stirring the layers of muddy detritus until the water is a cloudy brown. You see? Even now, I can't put it into words. I think in the future when my wife questions my odd allegiance to Flannery, I'll just pull up this blog post, point to the screen and say, "Here. Here is why I love her so."
10. The Dark Side of Dickens: The one writer who was not abandoned during The Biography Project was Charles Dickens, celebrating his bicentennial this year. Here, in the blog's 10th-most popular post, I discussed the shadowy half of our greatest novelist: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Charles Dickens the Writer was a genius but Charles Dickens the Man was an asshole. I've now reached the point in Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life where the nasty side of his nature can no longer be denied. In fact, at one point Tomalin warns the reader: "You'll want to avert your eyes from a good deal of what happened during the next year, 1858." On this day, the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth, it may seem a little sacrilegious to pause in our adoration of the writer whose works, the Economist once pronounced in 1852, "are [as] sure to be sold and read as the bread which is baked is sure to be sold and eaten." It is, in fact, a little troubling to me that his bicentennial fete arrives just as I'm reading about Dickens the dick.