It is done. The memoir, that is. All ten chapters (c.70, 000 words in total) have been published online, free of charge, for your reading pleasure. Could I be more munificent?
Granted, the manuscript is not in perfect form. There are some errors along the way: misspellings, lost words and such-like. This is unfortunate, and not wholly the fault of my restless typists. When time bestows upon me several truckloads of hours, minutes and seconds, I will endeavour to put this straight. In the meantime, I am confident that the book does me proud. I believe that I have tackled a difficult subject to the best of my uncertain ability – and stand by the results, whatever one thinks of them.
In other news, I will shortly be taking another break from this blog. Relocation to a different country, coupled with a surprisingly busy work load, means that this particular blackboard will see little chalk for the next few months.
Whilst I’m away, allow me to remind you that there is always a lot to read (and re-read) in these regions. Over seven hundred posts on this blog alone, and over a hundred edifying essays on my sister site. Browse, by all means, but don’t forget that words are there to be read, not glanced at. It is in this spirit, indeed, that I have decided to stop updating for a while. I have written more than enough on the topic of obscure European literature during the last seven or eight years, yet very few of my ponderings have, I suspect, been chewed over as methodically as they deserve. Perhaps the power of my contribution to his little-watered field has yet to be fully appreciated? Let us hope so.
There is no such thing as an experimental novel. All novels are experiments. A novel that takes liberties with the ‘usual form’ of the novel, or the ‘standard rules’ of writing is no more experimental than any other novel. To say that it is so is to insult it; to suggest that it is a lesser form of writing – whereas it is, in fact, the ultimate form of writing. The insult hints at something half-formed; a piece of writing ‘on the way’ to becoming ‘properly completed’. This is ridiculous. No piece of writing was ever properly completed. Everything we do is experimental.
He was a great influence on my work, but the fact remains that Johannes Speyer was not always on speaking terms with ‘the truth’. That is to say, he and ‘the truth’ sometimes fell out. They didn’t always return each others’ calls. They often passed each other in the street without tipping a cap, or asking about the weather. He and ‘the truth’ were not bound together, like bosom buddies. They reserved the right to differ on certain matters; to go their separate ways when circumstances demanded it.
In the penultimate section of my brilliant memoirs, Conversations with Speyer, I dealt with an episode towards the very end of Speyer’s life, in which he recounted to me (and another man) a story about sky-writing. I have always doubted the veracity of this story (also covered here) for various reasons, not least the issue of impracticality. I doubted, in short, that a sky-writer (under Speyer’s orders) could write a full sentence in the sky.
Now I have seen this. Granted, this is present-day skywriting (not 1980s skywriting), patronised by a much more wealthy man. Nevertheless – disregarding the content of the piece – there is no denying that looks good. Which begs two questions: one, was Speyer telling the truth after all? And two, if sky-writing looks this good, why aren’t more writers doing it?
The second question is, I think, the more important one. Indeed, in light of this recent incident, I fully expect Jonathan Franzen’s next novel to be written in the sky. Paper is a thing of the past. Everything, from now on, should be written in the sky. Including this blog.
My ‘big talk’ of 2013 (aside from ‘everything else’) was undoubtedly my memoir Conservations with Speyer. Here are some carefully selected quotations from some of the more recent reviews:
‘It takes a while to get going, and once it does, you wish it would stop’.
‘Speyer, an interesting and flawed man, is well served by this interesting and flawed memoir’.
‘Mr. Riecke has an eye for details – usually the wrong ones. When he should be pulling apart the contradictions in Speyer’s philosophy, he is musing about cats in the professor’s garden.’
‘If you’re one of the five people in the world still interested in Johannes Speyer, this book might be for you’.
‘Mr. Riecke has taken the kindly step of publishing his memoir online in installments. Is this because it isn’t good enough to be published on paper, all at once? Most probably – but the act remains a generous one; for the rainforest, if not for his readers’
‘Riddled with typos, and badly in need of a good editor, Conversations with Speyer is nevertheless readable in parts’.
Being a modest fellow I have, of course, held the more positive comments back. Rest assured, they would make a spider blush.
Towards the end of the day a book of condolences was passed around. No doubt they should have brought it out earlier, for it took a long time to get around the room. The problem with these literary/academic funerals is that almost everyone there takes writing too seriously. Some people there took close to half an hour to construct a single line. I would like to think that they were struggling to capture the essence of Speyer’s personality, or the weight of our loss, in one or two finely tuned sentences. The truth, however, is that they weren’t really thinking of Speyer at all. They were competing with one another…
The last part of my memoir has been posted. Enjoy it here.
With some people we live our lives. With most people we talk about lives lived, or lives about to lived, or lives that will never be lived. We talk about the lives we’d like to live, the lives we should live, and what life would be like if we could only live it properly. We talk about action past and action future. To put it another way, life is largely made up of conversations about life. There is very little actual living, and rather a lot talk about it. Life is what happens in the gaps between chat.
The penultimate part: Chapter Ten, Part One
Countless lists of ‘Books of the Year’ have been printed in recent weeks, and I am shocked to see my soon-to-be-completed memoir, Conversations with Speyer, appears on only two of them. Max Doczek of the Prague Times describes the book as ‘memorable, in its own peculiar way’, whilst Julie der Pritzinger of the St Helena Quarterly Book Club Gazette as ‘a law unto itself’. She adds: ‘I have only read two autobiographical works this year, and the other one was by Morrissey. On this basis, Riecke wins the gong for best memoir’. I know not of this Morrissey character, but I will take this as a compliment.
In other news, a literary magazine based in Haapsalu, Estonia, has awarded me the title of ‘Most Improved Critic of 2013′. Considering that I produced almost no criticism this last year, this also comes as something of a surprise.