Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

A Really Useful Engine

with 5 comments

John Self recently wrote a post on reading and specifically his relationship with reading at different points in his life. This includes a stage of life I’ve just reached myself:

A parent is a willing player in the project of being pushed into a corner of their own life… As it happens, I managed pretty well to keep my reading up after our first son was born. The thing about two parents and one child is that you outnumber them: you can give your partner a break, and vice versa… With two children, the first thing you realise is how easy it was with one. Now there are no hiding places, no spare hands. Once they’re both sleeping through the night (and with our second, currently 16 months old, we’re still waiting for that), you have the evening free; but you’re too tired to concentrate on anything longer than a tweet. Most of all, with two young children, you’re never really alone…

Deeds of possession for property speak of the tenant or owner having “quiet enjoyment” of the premises. Those two words placed together will have most parents scratching their heads with quizzical eyebrows. Quiet enjoyment is not part of the deal. But it is essential if you want to read, or write, or write about reading. It is essential if you want to engage with a book that can’t be fully absorbed with Octonauts playing in the background.

Whilst my short fiction reading has increased, I haven’t opened a novel for three months. And if reading is hard, writing is harder. Two years ago I published my 50th review for Strange Horizons, a figure achieved over nine years. My 52nd review,  Railhead by Philip Reeve,  has just gone live. I describe the novel as “the first New Weird children’s space opera” which probably oversells it. Reeve couldn’t write a bad book but this is not a particularly memorable one:

Does this mean that Reeve’s proud demi-gods will persist in the imagination as long as Awdry’s squabbling schoolboys? I doubt it. Though thrilling and humane, Railhead ultimately feels transitory—more style than substance.

Yes, that is a Thomas The Tank Engine reference. Not only have my reviews slowed done substantially, their frame of reference has shrunk dramatically. This is not something that can be said of other recent Strange Horizons reviews. So I’d like to write to more reviews in 2016 but I’d also like to write different reviews. I’m just not sure where I’ll find the time.

Written by Martin

22 March 2016 at 13:07

Posted in books, sf

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. I’m afraid I don’t know where to find time to write. I’m having a tough time with the problem myself. But good luck in finding it.

    Joseph Nebus

    29 March 2016 at 22:44

  2. Coming to this late, but – are you sure your frame of reference hasn’t just shifted, rather than shrunk? I wouldn’t know a Thomas the Tank Engine reference if it spat in my face.

    Ethan Robinson

    10 May 2016 at 18:32

  3. (which wasn’t meant to be a Positivity Is The Only Option hectoring comment, apologies if it is)

    Ethan Robinson

    10 May 2016 at 18:33

  4. Rather than shrunk or shifted, it has actually expanded. And my expanding frame of reference as I’ve gone through life has definitely changed my approach to reviews over the last ten years or so. But that expanded perspective isn’t unique or even uncommon and occasionally I feel a little to close to a Victorian Gentleman Amateur for my liking. Does the world really need another smartish, slightly funny, mildly interesting straight white bloke foisting his opinions on it? Luckily my ego and my love of writing for its own sake usually gets me over that barrier!

    Regarding positivity, what probably doesn’t come through from this post is that having children is the single most positive thing that has ever happened to me and I am now a far more positive person than I ever was before. So there is a fair amount of typical new parent “woe is me” in there. But it is also a radical shift in lifestyle, particularly for someone who has always been obsessed with solitary pursuits.

    Those are the twin things behind this: self-awareness coupled with a lack of time for self-improvement. But in real life, there isn’t the same level of fatalism as on display here!


    11 May 2016 at 08:08

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