Friday, December 9, 2011

Ruminations on the Back Burner

The sign that I'm finishing up the novel I'm working on is the way ideas start flowing for new books. Sometimes it's another crime novel, so I let the story grow, noting some of the details that are emerging, but otherwise I just ignore the whole thing until I'm finished with the one I'm working on. But sometimes it's a book idea that is unexpected. I have a number of these and I'm not sure what to do with them.

Graham Greene wrote a number of essays in addition to his novels and "entertainments," and in one collection he included short summaries of novels he never got around to writing--story ideas that felt full enough to capture his imagination just enough to inspire him to write them down. When I read these short treatments, I could feel the energy in them that would have been the narrative drive moving the story along. These were story ideas that worked. He doesn't say why he didn't write them, just that he didn't.

I have a list of ongoing projects, but some of them have been ongoing for years. A couple of them are actually complete--story collections, including one for Anita Ray stories, a novella set in India, a memoir about my years in India including a reminiscence of Lakshmee Amma, who died this fall in her eighties, and another book on the family farm (both real and imagined and also ideal) that dominated my family's life in one way or another for over a hundred years. I'm not sure these books will ever be written, but they hang around in my imagination like a task that I've been saving because it's more fun than work--gardening, making a special dish, hunting down research materials.

It would be terrific if I could just say, I have enough ideas to last me for a lifetime, which is true, but there's something more to this. When I read Graham Greene's summaries of his unwritten books, I could sense they were real and possible to him at that time. When I write summaries of my ideas, they also feel real and possible as I write them. But when I return months, even years later, I sense how I felt when I wrote the summary but I no longer feel the same way. Perhaps I could get back into the frame of mind that brought the ideas to the page, but maybe not. Perhaps those ideas have their time, and when the time is passed, it's best to move on.

I'll keep adding to my list, reviewing it, and think about reviving one or more of the projects, but when I feel an idea demanding to be worked on now, that's what I'll do. The others will wait, right where I left them, sitting on my desktop.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Making Room

For the past few months I've been weeding books out of my library. I do this every few years (and should probably do it more often). I hate parting with these books, but I know I'm not going to read them again and I tell myself that it's time to let someone else enjoy them.

The books I remove say a lot about where I am in my book journey. A few years ago I came across a second-hand bookstore that dealt in scholarly books. Wow, I thought. Someone who might actually want all of those books on India that I'm no longer going to use. I pulled out a couple hundred books (and it took that many to free up space that I could actually notice) and carted them into Somerville. I got a fair price and left happy. I made a few trips in, browsing and buying at least one book to take home with me. But that store has closed, and my eagerness to weed out books has waned. If I pull out another one or two hundred, what will I do with them.

I have a couple of outlets for my old books. Libraries and their books sales are an obvious one. But some of my books are probably not going to find a new home even through library sales. I know a couple of second hand bookstores that occasionally want something I have, and I'm glad to sell them. But I still have a stack of older novels, general interest nonfiction books (some picked up a thrift shops or yard sales), and a few outdated reference books. For now these sit in paper bags cluttering up my library because I cannot bring myself to throw them away. I am convinced that all books can be recycled. I may be wrong, but I'm not yet ready to give in to the inevitable.

I'll keep looking for outlets for used books and asking others what they do. Until then, my village of paper bags stuffed with books continues to grow. And, alas, I continue to buy books, new and used, and pass around some of my favorites.