I was feeling good about blamming through these responsibilities--even though filing one review got me an assignment for another one, on a fairly short timeline--and I went into the living room to re-sort the book piles everywhere. There's a pile for no-deadline books, a pile for read-but-not-reviewed books, a pile for reviewed-and-waiting-for-edits books, and a few small piles of send-to-friends books. I neatened these, and an epiphany hit me like a train.
That first paragraph? With the six deadlines and the process of meeting them? That's my life now. It's what I do every day: read, review, pitch, write. I have a spreadsheet with all the ARCs I've requested, received, or been assigned, with slots for whether I've read it, pitched it, etc. When I file the review, I gray out the title, and when the review gets published, I delete the row and enter the book on the next sheet, where I have slots for social media promotion and informing the publisher and etc. This is how I stay sane, this spreadsheet, its tidiness keeping me from terror.
|self-portrait with two left hands|
The epiphany: this is the life I dreamed of when I was a little girl. Other kids dreamed of being astronauts or ballerinas, but I wanted to be a librarian. I wanted to be around books all day long, every day, forever. As an adult, I learned, to my enormous disappointment, that being a librarian is less about books than it is about customer service (thank you, Withdrawn). I decided to be a writer instead, making my life about books I create instead of books created by others.
At the moment, most of what I write about is books. When I look around my apartment, all I see is books. Yeah, it stresses me out and makes me sad that so many of them are going unread while I read assigned books I'm less excited about, but still: being surrounded by books, and thinking about books all day long, was my fantasy life as a child, and now it is my actual life.
(This life has come about through a series of unlikely and wholly unplanned events. I feel the need to point out and emphasize this, because more and more people are talking to me about my publications IRL and I'm flattered and pleased, but I don't know what to say to them. I feel like a hapless cheater: it just...happened.)
The point is, I haven't really looked around at my book-stuffed life with WhatDoesThisMean-O-Vision until yesterday. And I feel grateful, positively awash in gratitude. Yet I also feel overwhelmed. I don't want to stop writing about books, but I do want to slow down. A little insistent voice is telling me that this pace isn't sustainable. And of course I'm getting paid for less than half of what I'm writing. It's a better average than before, but I'd like to convert the work I'm doing with books into work that will pay well, and that will lead somewhere.
Because over the weekend, I got news that a meaningful boost I hoped I'd get as a reviewer is not coming to me. That boost had a trajectory that made sense, that looked like a natural next step. But no. At least for the next year, that boost isn't mine. So I'm floundering a little bit on my trajectory, unsure whether I'm actually sitting in a catapult or just a swingset, swooping back and forth in the same non-progressive arcs over the sand.
|more positive self-portrait, except for the cat, because I'm allergic|
(books and cats always seem to go together in culture, but I REMAIN ALLERGIC)
Out in the world:
I wrote about the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama for the Big Smoke. I wrote this, revised it a few times, and then held on to it, trying to sort out whether it wouldn't be better if I shut up and let non-white voices say everything possible about this museum. I also didn't really want to call out my family; there's complexity there. I talked it over with a few friends and my editor, and ultimately it went forward, and I've gotten some compliments on it (from white people, admittedly). No one has showed up at my literal or digital door to punch me and call me a racist, so I guess that means it wasn't a terrible move to publish it.
I reviewed a pile of interesting books recently.
- So Lucky, Nicola Griffith, for The Arts Fuse. I've never read a book this streamlined, this angry--a book that feels like a pistol shot between the eyes, no more, no less. Nevertheless, it's not white-heat writing; it's multilayered and meticulous. Get into it. Particularly if you have chronic illness, or have a loved one with same.
- Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Deer Woman, an anthology, for ANMLY. I loved both of these books, but I particularly loved Trail of Lightning. It was so well-assembled, so full of heart and wit, and I fell stupidly in love with the main character. She reminded me of my own Berra Thorntree, so much so that I queried Roanhorse's agent. Didn't even get a request for a partial. Oh, well.
- Belly Up, Rita Bullwinkel, for LARB. I greatly admired this book but didn't like it. (You might; I suspect it's going to be acclaimed elsewhere.) I will watch this writer with eagerness and interest, in the hope that I can write her an unalloyed positive review someday.
- Stormwarning, Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir, for the Women's Review of Books. This is actually a profile more than a review, and I am owed approximately half of the credit for the final product. My editor was amazing. The book is amazing, too (say it with me: feminist Icelandic poetry); buy it here. Alas, this profile only appears in the magazine, but you can buy a PDF of the magazine at this link.