‘…of making of many books there is no end…’
My ambitions used to be very simple: in my early 20s I decided that I would study for a PhD and then turn the resulting thesis into a book. This is I did. In 2001 I received my doctorate and in 2007, at the age of 35, the book based on my thesis, Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge was published.
But rather than fulfilling my ambition, publishing one book just sparked the desire for more. Three more books have followed. I am proud of all of them, but a pattern has been established: the burning desire to write the book, a brief sense of achievement when it comes out and then the burning desire returns.
I doubt that I’m the only published author who has experienced this process. One thing that becomes painfully apparent when you release a book into the world is just how many others there are, and also how many subjects have yet to be written about. It’s futile of course to even try to write all the books that one could write but the desire is nevertheless a productive one, spurring me and many other authors ever onwards.
Still, at the age of 43, the list of books I want to write far outstrips the number of books I could write in even the most ideal conditions. The need to make a living, to have a coherent career path, means that not only do I not have the time to write everything I’d like to write, it also means that I have to prioritise writing books that fit into my established skill set and expertise. And that leads to frustration: as the list of books I’ve yet to write continues to grow, so does the knowledge that I will never write them.
But I’m not ready to give my impossible books up just yet. I feel the need to acknowledge — publicly — those ideas that I may never be able to pursue. Self-indulgent? Of course it is. Yet publishing books is so often a process of self-gratification in any case. Why should ‘publishing’ the books I cannot write be any more or less valuable?
So this is what I’m going to do…
I will ‘release’ my, as yet unwritten, books into the wild here on Medium and, simultaneously, on my blog. I will try to make my impossible books live.
I will explain what the book is about, why I want to write it and why I may never be able to do so. These summaries will be accompanied by an image of the ‘book cover’, by my friend and colleague, the wonderfully talented Gus Condeixa.
I don’t know how long this series will last — I have a whole stack of ideas but some are more coherent than others — but there will be enough to form what will hopefully be a provocative and evocative little library. The books themselves will vary widely. Some will be quite close to my existing expertise whereas others will be in form and content both stylistically and substantively new to me. Some will be books I could start writing tomorrow, if I had the time and maybe the funding, whereas others I probably wouldn’t write whatever the circumstances. Some will be books that I’d be happy for anyone else to write, whereas others I wish to jealously guard for myself.
Insofar as this series has any rules, one will be that I will not post books that I am actually working on at the moment. The books will be at a relatively early stage of development rather than works that I am actively progressing with.
I’d love to hear any feedback from readers. If any publishers are reading and are interested in any of the books, do please get in touch — I’m happy to consider turning my literary fantasies into reality.
I’m aware that this series may teeter on the edge of hubris. I’m only one step away from Alan Partridge’s legendarily desperate TV pitching session. So please stop me if at some point I suggest ‘Money Tennis’.
Finally, I acknowledge that I am not the first person to have publish unwritten books. George Steiner’s My Unwritten Books was a major inspiration for this series, as was Robert Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas, Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum, and, more broadly, the fictive literary works that scatter the works of Jorge Luis Borges. While I am not for one second putting myself in the same class as these august literary giants, I do think their desire for books that do not exist is one that I share and perhaps many others do as well.
Frankly, I don’t understand why more writers and aspiring writers haven’t done as I am doing now. Perhaps I’ll figure out why once the series is further along…