On finding a new author, reading, and the constant panic that cancer brings

The Gates, <a href=

Lately I’ve taken to listening to Roisin Ingle’s Irish Times Roisin Meets podcast in the mornings when I can get out and walk, and the other day I listened to her interview of Irish author Jennifer Johnston. Johnston is now 86 and published her first novel at 42 (oh the hope!) and is one of Ireland’s premier writers that most of us across the pond haven’t heard much about – or at least I hadn’t heard about her. In typical Irish fashion she was very self deprecating. One would never have guessed at the amount of work she had published or the amount of awards she had won listening to this interview (I had to look it up afterwards). She talked about how she is quite embarrassed by some of her books: “There are some books that I have written which are not very good but I’m not going to tell you what they are because everyone will rush out and tear them up and throw them away.” So for all her self-deprecation she is very astute because I think it is weird when people talk about their flaws or things they hate about themselves – I mean, why point it out?

(Aside: It’s like that interview question “Tell us one of your biggest faults?” To which I would always answer: “Well, I am highly organized to the point of it being rather annoying for other people and I don’t have a lot of patience for people who won’t buckle down and do their job. So I’m trying to work on being more patient.” -> Insert eye-roll here<- Of course the truthful answer would really be “I’m probably going to use company time for writing and not even feel guilty about it.” But, ask a stupid question etc. Etc. It’s a good thing all my jobs involve writing these days since I doubt I could get hired as a barista again what with the cancer and all. /Aside)

Anyway, I rushed out to the used bookstores to see if I could find anything by Johnston (but not so I could tear them up). Not surprisingly, there was nothing anywhere. The library didn’t have much either but they did have her second novel, The Gates, which I am already loving even though I am only 52 pages in. One of the things Johnston said about her latest novel (Naming the Stars) was that her publishers weren’t very happy with her because it was so short and they wanted her to add another 50 to 100 pages. But short novels are what I am into these days so I was quite happy to hear this.

I get a little jumpy when I think about reading long novels which is partially due to my attention span but also due to the fact that there are so many books I want to read before I die that I often have option paralysis. I’ve always thought I wanted to read Moby Dick but I think I mostly like the idea of having read Moby Dick more than I would enjoy the process of actually reading Moby Dick. But then again, maybe not. I have a beautiful copy of Moby Dick waiting to be read but I mostly just pick it up, flip through it, sigh, and put it down again.

An author like Johnston is one that makes me want to rush out and read everything that she has ever written – even the stuff she would like to forget about. And then I think about all the other authors I want to read and feel panicky. And then it makes me think I should stop reading and get back to writing something. Anything. Probably something short. And then I get panicky about it all and do nothing and drink too many cups of tea. The one thing I am able to still do is read to my girls All The Time. We’ve gone through so many novels together this summer. It’s been wonderful. Of course, I still have a million more to read to them.

  3 Replies to “On finding a new author, reading, and the constant panic that cancer brings”

  1. August 22, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    I’d never heard of Jennifer Johnston until I lived in Ireland in the late 1970s and people said she was the one to read to understand the distance between Catholics and Protestants in the south, or at least the Anglo-Irish gentry. The friend who recommended her came from a similar background and passed The Gates to me and like you, I loved it. (Have you read any Eilis Dillon with your kids? Mine really enjoyed those and there was the added pleasure of their Irish land and seascapes…)

    • August 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks Theresa. *Furiously scribbles down the name Eilis Dillon* No, I hadn’t heard of her? (Him? I believe that is a female name pronounced A-lish?) I’ll look that author up when I’m done replying. The Gates was published in 1972 and her previous, and first, novel won an award so I’m not surprised you heard about her. She does seem to be known for writing about The Troubles and the Anglo-Irish gentry. Thanks for the kids book recommendation. I’m hoping we can go to Ireland next year so leading up with literature is always a good idea.

  2. November 26, 2016 at 6:49 am

    It may be sacrilegious to say this (espcecially since i live so close to Melville’ whaling city) but I think you can skip Moby Dick, or get the cliff notes. It has its moments but its the story, the struggle, the obsession and the destruction that carries the weight, and you already know that story. And man, I’m going to my library to hit up Johnston. (And thank you very much for checking out my writing… I”m always completely amazed to remember that there really are people who read there. Woohooo)

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