Books To Help Me Manage Myself

I have just finished "Manage your day-to-day: Build your routine, find your focus & sharpen your creative mind", which is a collaboration of a bunch of people, edited by Jocelyn K Glei. It is published by Behance, in a project they call 99U (a reference to the quote by Edison about the 99% perspiration you have to put in to get anything done), trying to provide help for making creative ideas happen. I have another one in this series that I haven´t yet started, "Maximize your potential: Grow your expertise, take bold risks & build an incredible career". At the moment, however, I am reading "Daily rituals - How great minds make time, find inspiration, and get to work", by Mason Currey. All really long titles, you practically don´t need more introduction than that.

Personally, I have tried for thirteen years to put my writing first, and I can´t say I have succeeded very well. At all. I could say that Life has come between my pen and I, but it would be more honest to say that other people´s needs and wishes have been prioritized, by me. The thing is, writing is such a long-term commitment, with unsure rewards far into the future (yes, why even do it? my best answer is: because it is hard, and because literature is the best thing ever), that it usually makes sense on a day-to-day basis to prioritize the short-term. Almost everyone I know fall into this trap.

Sometimes one has no choice, there really are times when friends and family must come first. These times are dangerous, because you loose any momentum you have built up, and getting back in the saddle, as it were, is not easy. So, you must have a good routine, but you must also have a method of getting back to that routine You will use this method a lot. A lot, I tell you. It is a constant struggle, and books like these do two things: they remind you that you are not alone, and offer some good advice. Even if you have heard it all before, it is not a bad thing to be reminded now and then.

I have been looking very critically lately at how I actually spend my time, and toyed with this pyramid shape as I was trying to get my priorities straight. It occured to me that for the longest time, it has been upside down. I also get depressed every once in a while thinking that I am getting so old - I´ll be fifty within an eyeblink. On the other hand, many people I know and know of, haven´t gotten this far even, or are still struggling with stuff I have actually gotten through. I suppose everyone has their own path, right? And their own timetable. Another consolation is that if I ever get anything finished, it will probably be a bit more mature and interesting. He who lives will see. Or as the mum-in-law said once: pain and wrinkles is the price you pay for surviving; the alternative is worse.


Creative Procrastination

I am struggling with Proust - it is going a little bit faster now, since I have switched to Swedish. I usually imagine myself a pretty fluent reader of English, but some authors, like Proust and A S Byatt, humbles me. As we, my friend and I, started this read, the local library had removed Proust from the e-book collection, but we found a free English version online and started that. Since, however, the Swedish version has been reinstated at the e-book library. Good for me; I am now half-way through the first volume.  And no, we are not reading all of them - not now, at least.

The most inspiring read during my hiatus was probably Austin Kleon´s two books on creativity, art, and publishing: "Steal Like An Artist" and "Show Your Work". Kleon works as he teaches, and books like these are all about the personality of the author, the right place, and the right time, I think. It´s not like they tell you anything new - but it´s the way they tell it. They were perfect for me a couple of months ago and really got me out of my slump.

I love the way Kleon works visually, and he reminded me that I was an enthusiastic mind-mapper from my early teens until I started History A at the university in 1994. That course was so packed with chronologically presented information that I just had to write as fast as the teacher talked; we had to learn the entire history of the world (more or less) in six months (priming for further history studies). For some reason, that threw me off mind-mapping, until now. I have now started to draw again, and play, which is good for me, I think. I certainly sleep better, and that must be a good sign.

Kleon has also published a book of Newspaper Blackout poems, and includes a few in his other books. Inspired, I made some based on Proust (ok, I was procrastinating reading him).


To Like or Not To Like?

I have been arguing with myself for some time if, and what, I should write about Ann Cleeves´s Shetland Island crime novels: "Raven Black", "White Nights", "Red Bones", and "Blue Lightning". I have read all the four first novels in one go (there is a fifth, and I expect there will be more) and I am conflicted about them. Most of all, I really like her main man, Detective Jimmy Perez. I dislike what she lets him go through in the fourth book, and judging by the reviews on amazon, I´m not the only one. Nor am I the only one to think that sometimes she crosses the boundary of what is believable in how people behave. It gets just a little too Midsumer Murder-crazy at times, if you know what I mean.

Land´s End - the most treeless landscape in my files.
I suppose reading her has taught me something important about writing. I am still rather upset by what I thought was a violation of the writer-reader contract, particularly considering this is genre fiction, a pretty standard whodunit in all other regards. It is not wrong to test the hero and heroine, to bruise them a little, but there are limits to what I think you should do. And if you must let it all go absolutely pear-shaped, at least have a good reason for it. I could find no good reason for her to do what I can´t tell you she did without spoiling the reading for you, if you plan on taking her on. I am probably one leg over that line, anyway (talking about contracts, huh-hm).

The second thing I learned was how limited my imagination really is. She could write herself blue in the face about what it looks like on the Shetlands, but only after reading the last book did I google images of the islands, and realized that there really are no trees there. No trees at all. I could not imagine it. For me, there is always a tree in the background. Only when she described a character´s uneasiness about standing in what must have been a small, artifical grove, did I understand. I suppose it would be equally hard to imagine plodding through thigh-deep drifts of snow if you live in, say, Kenya. It really hammered into me how important it is to have good characters, and how I, the reader, focus on them, even skimming the descriptive parts (and barely noticing that I do).

Thing is, now that I find there is a fifth book out there, "Dead Water", I really want to read it. Damn. Totally against my will (for I want to punish the author for what she did to Perez, while at the same time I want to see him again). I suppose this is a kind of reluctant recommendation.


The Last Policeman

I did, when we had the post-Christmas health crisis, as one does: reach for a stack of detective stories. Just like they are the perfect vacation reads, they are also the perfect getting-away-from-ugly-reality reads. And the best of the bunch were a pair, part one and two in what is to be a trilogy, "The Last Policeman"-series, by Ben H Winters. If I remember correctly, I got the tip from blogger Divers&Sundry, and I´m glad I took note, since this is a really enjoyable read. The first is "The Last Policeman: A Novel" and the second "Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II".

Not a meteor, obviously, but the closest I have of a fitting illustration.
On one hand, it´s a traditional detective story, told in first-person by Detective Henry Palace of the Concord Police Department´s Criminal Investigations Division. He is young, having been quickly promoted since many colleagues have quit. This is happening a lot, not just in the Police Department, since a meteor is heading straight for Earth and the world as we know it is about to perish in just a few months. That is, I guess, what makes this novel stick out a bit from the rest of them.

So, it´s the end of the world, many people are going "Bucket List," which means that they suddenly, and often without telling anyone, leave their jobs and lives to do what they always dreamed of doing, whatever that is. Others stubbornly try to live their lives and do their jobs as best they can, and for Henry Palace, being a Detective is all he ever wanted. As we get to know him better, we realize that he has a lot more emotional baggage than just the pressure from the End of the world-thing. For him, doing the work is clearly a way of escaping his own worries, and whatever happens, he stays with the case. And things do happen. Society is breaking down all around him: hospitals, electricity, communications, food and water supplies, and finally he looses his job when the police- and justice system is replaced by a kind of military peace keeping force.

It´s been a few months since I read it, but I realize now how much this story affected me. I really like the main character, he is kind, good, obsessed with justice, and has little regard for his own safety - I suppose there is quite a bit of passive self-destructivness about him. He is, however, not the only good character in this story, and when he finally finds himself on the street, things do turn out all right for him. For now, that is. The meteor is still coming, after all.

It´s a well-written series, the whole breakdown of society scenario sounds plausible to me, and I really want to know what´s going to happen to my friend Palace. And to the Earth. The third book is on its way and will be along this summer, I think.


And Some Kind of New Beginning

I´m back! The sabbatical has been good (I have really done as little as possible, been extremely lazy and introspective; resting efficiently, you might say), and I am truly envigoured and full of energy. Of course, I have been missing blogging and the first week I felt not just a bit lost without it. At the same time, the distance really made me see what wasn´t right about what I was doing, and what I have that is really valuable to me.

I have decided to keep blogging here at the Bookshelf - I am still reading (of course!), and like to write about it. However, I am branching out. I have already moved the Photoalbum to a blog of its own, and now I have started Viktoria´s Notebook and Viktoria´s Kitchen. The Notebook is for all those posts that aren´t really related to literature (like travel, music, art, film, whatever), and the Kitchen for those thoughts about and food and cooking that I have tried to restrain, as it didn´t seem to belong on a reading blog. So, bottom line, I suppose the Bookshelf is becoming more what it was intended to be and perhaps was in the beginning.