...too many books to read, for a start.
Anyone else feel overwhelmed the moment they walk into a bookshop - liquidation and bankruptcy issues aside? The sheer volume of books there are to read has the double whammy of 1) reminding me that the world doesn't need another author (me, for example), and 2) making it impossible to choose one out of the million possibilities on offer.
There are whole genres I barely consider, let alone buy, and whole departments (self-help, I'm looking at you) in which I've never deigned to set foot. (I don't think I have. I actually don't know where that section is. So if you see me hovering near one, understand I am almost certainly lost.)
And then there are the books I already have - the ones that scream for my attention in a way that Cute American Husband has no hope of managing. Some of them are reputed to pertain to my research, but they're so tired and dusty looking that I struggle to read their titles, let alone their contents. Most of them, however, come in the form of distraction - from my children, my work, and most of all, my thesis. (From here on in to be known as The Beast.)
Most intimidating of all is the Dreaded Bedside Pile. The tower of knowledge and words that grows almost daily, never shrinking, despite the efforts of Father Gravity, the laws of logic, and my relentless desire to "get on top of things". (No chuckling in the back row, thank you.)
Still, you can't question my commitment to this pile, comprised of a mix of borrowed books, newly bought books, library books and old favourites awaiting a second (third, fourth, twentieth) read. (See this for specifics.) There are books I've begun but can't finish, nor can I give up on them confidently enough to re-shelve for another time. There are books I feel like I should read but don't want to, have read but can't remember, and won't read but have promised I will. You see, in my unique style of reasoning, as long as the book remains by my bed, there is some hope I'll get to it as promised, some day, eventually, and so it isn't a lie so much as a not-yet-fulfilled promise. (Yes, there's a difference.)
Quite apart from the Dreaded Bedside Pile are the various manuscripts of unpublished novels cowering on my hard-drive, weighed down by a promise of feedback, encouragement, support and/or editing - all shouting at me to be read the moment I fire up my computer.
So you can see why I'm behind on The Beast: all those books, with no time to read them. Sometimes it's difficult to remember that this reading business is fun. Sometimes it feels like hard work, and then I stumble upon a story that pulls me in so completely that I wish I didn't have to waste time eating, sleeping and washing. And I remember suddenly why I love reading.
Right now I'm halfway through the latest novel by Jon Clinch, author of the beautiful but harrowing Finn, whose new book, Kings of the Earth, has been listed among the outside shots at a Pulitzer.
It's always a cool thing when you knew the author before they were published, seeing the years of rejection end with a bang the way Jon's career did. It's even better when their second book lives up to the promise of their remarkable debut. I intend to post my review next week, so won't impart further details here, but if it continues at anything like the quality it's begun, be prepared for the kinds of superlatives I've saved for my favourites. Already it's the kind of novel you want to devour, and then re-read, slowly, carefully, to savour the language. The characters are distinct, believable, and eloquent, their voices as clear as a bellbird's song. So I'm taking my time with this one, almost despite myself, knowing that the towering pile will not allow me a second bite at this cherry for some time to come.
In the meantime, for those Australian readers who are tempted to give Kings of the Earth a shot, I'm afraid it's been deemed "too American" by local publishers, and so you can only buy it online or overseas.
I can only assume that local publishers haven't actually read it yet, because the novel I'm reading is as universal as the idea of storytelling itself. And, from the perspective of an aspiring author, as intimidating and as towering as the Dreaded Bedside Pile and my beastly thesis combined.