Early on during my winter break, now sadly tottering on its last legs, I finished reading Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates. I was going to refer to it as her latest novel, having been published in 2009, but darned if she hasn't already got another one out, so let's just call it a recent book by this master. Anyway, I thought it was very very good. Her best novel since The Falls, in my opinion. On the Read-Red-O-Meter, which as we all know measures fiction on a 10-point scale derived via a complex algorithm combining political with literary attributes, this one rates a nine.
Then I spent a week or so reading a very different novel. One for which I can't really make much of a case on any level other than fun. A guilty pleasure, then, of the sort that if this were a different season might be classified beach reading. World Without End by Ken Follett. Which, I cannot tell a lie, I enjoyed immensely. It's a great behemoth of a story set in 14th century England, a sort of sequel to his earlier novel The Pillars of the Earth, which was set in the same town in the 12th century and also a very fun, fat read. Like the earlier one, this book is chockablock with twisty soap-opera-ish plot devices, twirly-mustache-type villains and endearing salt-of-the-earth heroes. Most important, again like the earlier tome, it provides what I found to be an absolutely fascinating portrayal of life in medieval England, of the workings of the feudal system in particular, so in that sense it actually is up my alley, a study of class relations in the class system that predated capitalism. The writing is functional, adequate to the task. Not beautiful, but not awful unreadable dreck like James Patterson or some such. The characters can no doubt be critiqued as anachronistically unrealistic in their attitudes and speech, but they weren't so much so that it ever stopped me up short. OK, this is not great literature. But it is a great story that kept me hanging, kept me staying up late reading and rushing back to it each morning. Very satisfying, as a guilty pleasure ought to be.
As for writing, yeah, I did some of that. Not as much as I oughta shoulda, but not as little as I mighta. I've written about half the days, I'd say. Made some small progress on the novel, and some small progress on rewriting a story. Most important, I did get into a decent rhythm that I just might manage to sustain as I re-enter real life. I've concocted a writing schedule that I believe is sustainable--realistic given my perennial problems with lack of sleep and resultant fatigue, the unfortunate necessity of working 40 hours a week, and my at this point minimal but still vital political commitments--and so I'm feeling fairly optimistic, no, make that revved-up, raring to go, as I move forward into the new year.
When I head outside to run some errands a little later, I'll be mailing a letter I wrote to political prisoner Lynne Stewart. At the Solidarity Center new year's eve party I attended, I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting for a while with Ralph Pointer, longtime activist and Lynne's husband, and that inspired me to write her. Ralph told me that Lynne is doing well--in fact, while it would be wrong to say she's thriving in prison, she is being beautifully taken care of. Not by the guards, of course. By the sisters who are imprisoned with her. As we all expected, the other inmates have taken her under their wing and are treating her wonderfully. They all love and respect her so much for her life's work that they are devoting themselves to her care while she's inside the walls with them.