The top of the 2011 blog post that changed the direction of my writing life.
I just read The Midnight Library, and Matt Haig’s thought-provoking 2020 novel is one of those books that make you contemplate how life’s voluntary choices and involuntary occurrences can set us on alternate paths we might not have expected.
The Midnight Library stars a suicidal 30-something woman named Nora Seed, who, when in a sort of limbo between life and death, experiences various personal timelines that might have been. She’s a rock star in one existence, a scientist in another, an Olympic swimmer in yet another, unhappily married in one life, happily married in another, and so on.
Readers of novels like that could be reminded of previous books in which the fate of the protagonist turns in a pivotal way. We might ask: What if the title character in George Eliot’s Silas Marner hadn’t been betrayed by his best friend? What if the title character in Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin hadn’t rejected Tatyana Larin? What if the unjustly jailed Edmond Dantes of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo hadn’t met Abbe Faria in prison? What if young Anne Shirley of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables hadn’t been allowed to stay with the Cuthberts, who were expecting a male orphan? What if Guitar hadn’t misinterpreted what his friend Milkman was doing when the former spotted the latter helping someone with a crate in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon? What if Magdalen Vanstone’s parents hadn’t been disgraced in Wilkie Collins’ No Name? What if the family in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner hadn’t fled Afghanistan for the United States?
I could keep naming novels, but thought I’d diverge into how I became a weekly book blogger without really planning to — an example of an alternate path that happened to happen.
After losing my full-time magazine job in The Great Recession of 2008, I tried to make ends meet with freelance gigs while also contributing humor pieces to The Huffington Post — which scandalously didn’t pay its guest bloggers but idiots like me reluctantly went along with that because of the large audience. Anyway, one of my freelance gigs was proofreading for a service that helped polish the work of writers. The service did pay, but little enough for me to also write pieces for its blog for extra cash.
That group blog was mainly a place for how-to writing content, but I decided on one occasion in 2011 to go the how-to route under the guise of an appreciation of Margaret Atwood’s well-crafted novels — several of which I had just read. But the service wasn’t interested in that idea, so, what to do with a piece I had already written? It occurred to me to stray from The Huffington Post’s comedy section and submit the Atwood piece to the site’s book page. I did that, and suddenly got many more readers and comments than I was getting for my humor columns. So, I kept submitting literature posts and soon built a pretty large following — “meeting” a number of wonderful commenters along the way.
Although I’ve always read lots of fiction, it had never occurred to me until then to regularly write about literature.
Things eventually went downhill at HP — often-unresponsive staff (probably overworked) if bloggers had a question, problematic and slow moderation of comments (some killed for no reason and some not appearing for days), my tiring of the no-pay-for-bloggers exploitation even as I was bringing lots of visitors to the site, etc. In 2014, I finally stopped contributing and took an alternate path from my alternate path — starting this book blog on WordPress. There I “met” another wonderful community of people (all of you) who love literature and love discussing it, even as some commenters followed me from HP.
My town’s library isn’t open at midnight, but it’s always great spending time there looking for books (many recommended by you) to enjoy and feed this blog.
Which novels have you read that made you wonder about alternate paths the characters traveled or might have taken? You’re also welcome to discuss that same question about your own life.
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which includes thoughts on the U.S. Supreme Court’s awful draft decision to end Roe v. Wade — is here.