This blogging, I now see, is addictive stuff, and what makes it addictive is the hyper-text, the links, provided in this case by my diligent Powells editor. It makes the casual tightrope of allusion across which the writer normally walks ? a nod to a sister here, to a much-loved book there, a novelty product elsewhere ? into a deep net of solid cross reference beneath his feet. The things really exist; you can check them out for yourself! (Imagine if Tolstoy
could have written War and Peace
in this manner:
"Eh, bien, mon prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now on more than private estates of the Bonaparte family. No, I warn you ? if you are not telling me that this means war???.") The links, which shine for the writer like Christmas lights on the dead tree of his prose, are both thrilling, as they glowingly wink the reader on to deeper knowledge ? an off-hand reference becomes a hard, positive thing ? and falsely seductive, since of course the hyperlinks illuminate the paragraph without really improving it, give it a sense of depth that is enlivening rather than really enlarging. It reminds me of that Christmas, in 1966, I think, when we got a 3-D tic-tac-toe game for the first time. At first you are amazed by all the new dimensions, vertical and diagonal, that enliven the over-simple game, and it is not until New Year's that you realize you are still just playing tic-tac-toe.
That was the same Christmas, as memory rushes in, when I got my first Beatles records: The Early Beatles, the American version of Please, Please Me; Help; and the just-out Revolver. Forever after, the Beatles, too, have always been associated for me with Christmas, and though this is obviously accidental, I have discovered that it is, generationally, widespread. A lot of people got Beatles records for Christmas and mixed them up with the season. Accidental but not, to coin a word, unserendipitous; the Beatles' music, in its neat classical forms, has some of the haunting quality of a carol. Certainly a song like "Yesterday" is closer to "What Child Is This?" than either are to anything else, and both are deeply English. (Set question for some future music scholar: Compare and contrast John Rutter, wonderful English inventor of new carols ? "The Donkey Carol," "Born in a Stable" ? with Paul McCartney.)
The pain of the transit strike falls unevenly, as injustice always does: if you have to actually get somewhere it is unspeakably tedious and difficult. Yesterday, the trip in and out of the office and radio studio and back home had me walking, by my count, more than two hundred blocks. (I can only count distances in New York city blocks, even in the country; the house on the beach that we rented last summer was, I told the children, two blocks from the ocean, even though there is nothing there but sand.) I also had a long immobile stretch served with two other sufferers in a cab on Second Avenue. But if you have nowhere you have to go, why, then not going anywhere while staring at the stiller streets is a pleasure. Meanwhile, I am using the enforced stillness to begin writing, or anyways sketching, new books. I've started my next fantasy novel ? not, as I insist on saying, a book for children of all ages, but for adults of any condition, including juvenile ones ? and the children have been debating it, back and forth. Luke would like the book to be a clean break with The King in the Window, starting with a new child and a new place and a new magical logic; and smaller Olivia, whose book in a sense it will be ? about a girl in New York, as The King is about a boy in Paris ? would like it to be attached to the rules and characters of the first book. He wants his world cleanly distinguished from hers; she wants her world indistinguishable from her older brother's. Not the first time this split has shown itself. (Olivia gave the book-to-be its title The Steps Across The Water.) I have a clear idea for it, and a beginning and an end, but the middle ? ah, the middle ? will probably take a couple of years to construct. Beginnings come easily and ends come quickly ? the muse (mine being a quick but breathless girl, who I imagine looks a bit like Keira Knightley, minus that rabbity moue) brings both in what I sometimes think is a deliberate tease. But the middle ? ah, the middle is all sweat.