Programming Notes: Book Review Contest, Vacation, Book Club Next Steps and, God Help Me, Let's Game

Forgive me for filling your inbox on a Sunday. There’s a few pieces of programming business I want to draw your attention to.

First and simplest: from Monday, 10/18 to Sunday, 10/24, I am taking my first vacation since starting this Substack last March. My girlfriend and I are heading north for fall foliage, hikes along nature trails, a warm fireplace, and time away from the internet. I have a spooky season-appropriate post queued up for one of those days and the next chapter of the serialized novel will appear as scheduled, but otherwise we’ll be dark here. Then right back at it the following Monday.

Next piece of business is… I’m going to try streaming on Twitch. I know this is pretty far afield of what people are coming to me for, and I guess there’s something a little hubristic about the whole idea. But this is (no bullshit!) something that people have been asking me to do for a long time, since well before I started this Substack. I just got a new desktop PC for the first time in like six years, and as I am the kind of person who needs a kick in the pants to do fun things other than reading or writing, I think streaming might by cool. To be frank with you, I also wouldn’t mind having a chat section to hang out with while I game. The world has thawed quite a bit from both appropriate Covid precautions and from absurd Covid hysteria, and living with my girlfriend has made this second year of the pandemic vastly easier for me than the first. But I still get out to see people a fraction of the time that I did prior to pre-Covid, which was itself a lot less often than prior to my scandal in 2017, so if I’m going to be trying to set more time aside for trivial fun I may as well see if there’s an audience who’s interested in hanging out while I’m doing it.

I am not aware of any kind of special status I could give to subscribers of this newsletter on there, but if there is one I’d be happy to do that; in general I know next-to-nothing about the technology of streaming and even less about the culture, so I’ll need you to help guide me and give me advice. I can promise it will be a barebones affair in terms of stream fanciness, but it will give me a good opportunity to chat and talk about stuff I may not want to write about. I’ll first try this tomorrow, October 11th, at around 7:00 PM EST. As an incentive I’ll talk about the whole Hasan Piker, “can socialists be rich” controversy, which I’ve been asked to comment on a dozen times but which I just don’t feel motivated to write about.

Definitely a decent chance that I’ll try this and nobody will be into it at all so I’ll stop, but I’m excited and think it could be fun. Why not? I’m sure some people will make fun of me but they always do. I have no need for this to be a success in conventional terms so I’d be happy to just stream a couple times a week and get some friendly viewers while I do so. I’m at

Deadline for the book review contest for paying subscribers is October 21st at 10 PM! Got about a half-dozen entries so far. Please check that post for details.

Most substantially, let’s chat about the next go of the book club. The first book club, on Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden, wraps up this coming week; I’ll post the final regular post on Wednesday and I hope to have final thoughts on Friday. This first iteration went better than I had hoped, with some great conversation and really, deeply thought-out comments. I’ve unleased this book club post to everyone so that non-subscribers can take a look and see if this is something they might want to get involved in by subscribing.

I definitely want to keep going with another book, but I do have reservations. As successful as the first book club was, it is true that the number of comments declined as we moved forward in the book, which is inevitable; people intend to participate, then get busy or get distracted and can’t keep up, and the number of participants is winnowed away. The Cement Garden, which has worked out perfectly as a first book, is short and accessible, albeit emotionally punishing. There’s a part of me that would very much like to do something dense and long, particularly Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, as it’s an immensely rewarding book that really cries out for a guide. But it’s also long and could take a year to get through, it’s not exactly challenging but not exactly inviting, and it involves long digressions into page after page of theological debate that many would find boring and yet really shouldn’t be skipped. In other words it would seem tailor-made for people to bail out on in the early going, and then we’re down to a few diehards doing all the talking, but I also wouldn’t feel right stopping as I would have made a commitment to those diehards. So I’m determined to keep things modest in terms of text selection for the near future. Who knows? Maybe this thing will go to another level of reader interest and I’ll feel comfortable doing a big teeming doorstop, which tend to be my favorites.

I’d also like to do more posts in book clubs that aren’t just “here’s the latest chapter, here’s my impressions of it, what are yours?” While those should remain the core, I’d love to pepper in a longer essay or two per book about its history, the author’s other work, political valences, etc. I intended to do that with The Cement Garden but things really got away from me this past month. I think I can do a nice deep dive on a book-specific topic once a month or so for any given book. And I am toying with allowing readers to occasionally produce a guest book club post, but I would insist on paying that person for the work and I have to think things through.

In any event, for now I’m going with a book that like The Cement Garden is short and accessible while containing a lot of depth, Herman Hesse’s Demian. It’s little read these days, although it maintains a status as a classic in some small circles, and is well-worth exploring. Copies are plentiful and typically available at the library, but I doubt many of you have already read it, so that’s ideal. I have every intention of putting future books up to a vote soon, but I am choosing myself for the next two books in part to make seasonal timing work. I want a book we can do in a month now so that we can do a two-week book club on A Christmas Carol in December; that’s a story everyone knows, but few people have read it, and it has some surprises that are fun to discover. I will send an announcement and welcome email to the book club email list soon. Feel free to sign up for that list in your settings if you aren’t on it already.

None of this will get in the way of my core commitment here, which is 2-3 posts for everyone and 1-2 posts for subscribers each week.

Altogether, I’m still exploring what exactly this newsletter can be and having fun doing so. Some experiments may not work out in the long run, but I really appreciate the freedom I have here and I want to provide different kinds of services to readers. I hear fairly often that I write too much - often jokingly, but sometimes serious. This mostly has to do with my nature, with my strengths and my pathologies and my interests and my obsessions. But it’s also the case that I genuinely want to give you guys stuff for your money. I’ve always felt that, if you want writing to be your full-time job, you have to treat it like a full-time job. I’m able to do so, at least for now, and I’m very grateful. Hope you enjoy what’s coming up soon. Hit the comments below if you have questions or ideas.