A Note on Notes, an Update on Updates, a Work in Progress

—When I feel not totally certain of what the point of having my own website is, I remind myself that it seems kind of useful to have your own bibliography and your own bio in one place (for the odd person out there who might be asking the Google “I loved this story in Fence but what else has Tom Hopkins written? I must know”), and which is worth a few bucks a year to maintain, I think.

—My tag line (up there in the upper left hand corner) is currently “sporadic news and occasional updates,” but it’s really pretty damn sporadic and occasional these days. In part, I guess, because I don’t send out stories all that much anymore—I only have a couple pieces out at the moment—so it’s been a while since I had one of those lovely phone calls or emails from an editor letting me know they want to publish something I wrote.

—On very rare occasions, I tweet; slightly more frequently, I post photos to Instagram.

—The best and most exciting news we’ve got these days is that The Book of Esther is out in paperback as of 8/22. (I posted a square-cropped version of the following to Instagram on 8/1.)

a box of The Book of Esther by Emily Barton

—Did you see that the novel was in last Sunday’s Paperback Row? (Quoting: “For her novel, Barton imagines a thriving Khazar kingdom in the throes of World War II — crafting a world and a story that are, as our reviewer, Dara Horn, said, ‘as addicting as a Jewish “Game of Thrones.”’”) (I posted a square-cropped version of the following to Instagram on 8/27.)

—Did you see the “5 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Inspired by Jewish History and Culture” post in Unbound Worlds last Thursday? Or the Begin in Wonder review?

—In other news (and this is also a contributing factor to why I have absolutely no short-story news), I’m writing a novel. The way I described it to Emily was “an autofiction wrapped in a writing dare wrapped in a false document”; in an email to a writer friend and mentor, I wrote this: “one shorthand way to describe it would be Knausgard meets Nabokov, although I should hasten to add 1) I haven’t read Knausgard and 2) that sounds more highfallutin than I think this thing actually is.”

I’m realizing now, though, that it’d be slightly more accurate than Knausgard-meets-Nabokov to call it John Cheever meets Anne Lamott meets Sarah Manguso meets Jenny Offill.

I’m going to try, if I can, to write progress reports on how the novel is going in this space on a regular basis, but I may completely fail to do so. The novel may fail; the reports about the novel may fail. (Again: what’s the point of having your own website? Whatever you want the point to be. The age of blogging may be long gone, but I’m trying to keep the fierce digital individualism of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget as my lodestar here.) We’ll see.

—In other writing news, I also wrote a sequel to The Year of Living Autobiographically, but it may be just too damn dark to share. I think it might be called The Year of Living Ignominiously. It’s definitely on the back burner for now.

—I don’t have anything smart to say about this, but like most people I know, I’m thinking about mortality a lot these days; in my case, one of the specific ways I’ve been thinking about mortality is the fact that one of my childhood friends died suddenly this past January. I knew he wrote, but I discovered at his memorial service that Brian Shea wrote a lot, and published his own work. I am full of awe at the same time that I am full of grief.

Here’s a picture of me, age forty-seven, and Toby, age nine. I was nine when I met Brian. This is Toby and me at Brian’s memorial in June.

Toby and me in Maine

Brian also was a frequent contributor to The Good Men Project. I really want his essays there to become a book. I don’t quite know what I can do to make that happen, but for now, I’m leaving this link here, to create one more thread in the universe to his words, and I’m remembering what Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, that we don’t know what the outcome of our actions will be, but we sure as hell know what the outcome of our lack of actions will be. (Timothy Snyder makes much the same point at the end of On Tyranny.)

More soon, I hope. Onward.

The Accidental Reading Series

The short version of this: I’m on the lineup with Elizabeth Isadora Gold, author of The Mommy Group, for the last installment of my friend Nelly Reifler‘s Accidental Reading Series at the Golden Notebook in Woodstock at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, 7/2. Please come if you can!

TYOLA: Nine Copies Left
The longer version: Not counting hurts (even a small galley printer run of 150 copies has hurts) and returns (from when the book was no longer moving at the consignment table at McNally Jackson), I am down to my last nine copies of The Year of Living Autobiographically.

I have a few copies I’m going to send—quixotically—to writers and artists I admire (and whom, I should add, I don’t know personally). I’ve already done this a few times; I’ve sent the book to Anne Lamott and George Saunders, for example, both of whose writing has been a huge inspiration for me.

I’ve mentioned, in my notes to my heroes, that when Ed Sanders started a literary journal in the early sixties, he mailed copies to his heroes, such as Beckett, Ferlinghetti, and Ginsberg.

(I haven’t mentioned in my notes that the journal had what I still believe is the best name in the history of lit journalsFuck You: A Journal of the Arts—or that part of what was so exciting about the name at the time was that mailing it was, I believe, either totally illegal or quite possibly illegal. That all seems like more information than is necessary. Especially since the books might never make it to their intended readers.)

I also have the idea that, since the book struggles so much with what we do and don’t share on social media, I should send the last numbered copy, #150, to Mark Zuckerberg. The first copy went to our friend Dorothy Albertini, so it seems fitting that the last one should go to Zuckerberg. A to Z! Alpha to Omega.

I guess I should save a copy for myself as well? (And maybe, somehow, I could get a copy to Ed Sanders himself?—it looks like he still lives in Woodstock.) But that leaves four or five copies that I’ll bring to the reading, which I’ll be ready to sell, give, trade, or barter. And I’ll read from the book as well. Probably the same set list as last year’s reading at the Sunday at Erv’s series, which worked well, I think.

Again: please come!

More Praise for The Year of Living Autobiographically

What follows—a blog post about a Facebook status update about a book about, among other things, avoiding Facebook—may at first seem seem ironic, since the first sentence of The Year of Living Autobiographically is “The plan: ditch FB for one year.” But what ended up happening (as you’ll know, reader, if you happen to have read the book) is that although my Oulipian self-dare meant that I stopped writing on FB, I did keep reading. In other words, it was my social media writing and sharing that went old school—paper, ink, and eventually, the post office—for 366 days.

But I could never totally and completely quit the thing. “I haven’t fully ditched FB, as I’d hoped I would,” I wrote on 12 December; then on 2 January: “I put my FB account on hold two days after my dad died. ‘It feels like an inadequate medium for the expression of grief,’ I wrote in an e-mail to friends and family.” It still feels that way to me, and I still wish I could have the fortitude to reject it. But I love the pictures of our friends’ children! And I love keeping up with friends who live far away.

And I love it when this sort of thing happens: I recently sent a copy of the book to Floyd Cheung, associate professor in Smith College’s English department, where I was very happy to teach an intermediate fiction workshop last spring (and where Emily served as the Elizabeth Drew Professor for two years). Floyd wrote an incredibly thoughtful and generous response to the book on his Facebook page; I’m sincerely grateful for his kind words, which I quote here with his permission:

I just finished reading The Year of Living Autobiographically by Tom Hopkins and feel compelled to comment on it in Facebook, since Tom set himself the challenge of writing a status update every day for one year from 2011-12. Apparently before 2011, FB had a 420-character limit on status updates. Tom adopted this constraint by writing precisely 420 characters every night before going to bed. During the course of this year, Tom writes about events major (his father dies) and mundane (what he eats for dinner). Along the way, he recounts, too, his experiences raising his young son, dreams, and workaday life as a teacher and writer.

The theorist Lauren Berlant observes that “life” is in danger of becoming a genre with set conventions. She points out that when we say, “get a life,” we project certain expectations onto our interlocutors about employment, partnership, possessions, etc.

In The Year of Living Autobiographically Tom successfully plays with the conventions of the typical autobiography–usually a book written later in life that purports to tell one’s life story. Instead of a late-in-life reflection, we get a sense of life as daily accretion. I believe this has a chance of redefining what it means to “get a life.” By writing about the music he hears at his son’s preschool, a butterfly that he thinks is dead, and his wife’s vitamin-taking habits, Tom gives them a kind of value. He doesn’t elevate these moments as much as he makes them add up to what we can call “life.” This achievement is at once modest and, potentially, life-changing.

A few times, the gift-economy experiment aspect of The Year of Living Autobiographically has resulted in marvelous and unexpected swaps, so now I’m really looking forward to reading Jazz at Manzanar, Floyd’s chapbook of poems.

By the way, I’m still trying to find a traditional publisher for the book. I keep getting the nicest rejections (one editor wrote “the searching and the fierceness of the love and hope and acceptance reminded me frequently of writers like Marilynne Robinson,” which buoys my spirit still), but no home as of yet.

If you, reader, happen to be an agent or an editor, and your interest is piqued, please drop me a line—I’d be delighted to send you a copy!

The Year of Living Autobiographically

The World’s (Seemingly) Most Boring Set List

Emily and I had a great time reading at the Sunday at Erv’s series. Thanks to everyone who was there, and thanks to Madeline Stevens for hosting us! It was an amazing experience to read from The Year of Living Autobiographically for the first time. I was delighted to get more out-loud laughs than I’d ever expected.

I love it when writers—poets especially—share set lists for readings, so I’m doing the same here, in case anyone’s curious. I felt good about the entries that I read, but the list of dates, below, is not exactly poetry without the entries themselves.

Thanks also to everyone who made suggestions for what I should read. With any luck I’ll have more readings from the book in the coming year!

Saturday 15 October 2011
* * *
Monday 21 November 2011
* * *
Monday 12 December 2011
* * *
Thursday 15 December 2011
Friday 16 December 2011
* * *
Sunday 18 December 2011
Monday 19 December 2011
Tuesday 20 December 2011
Wednesday 21 December 2011
* * *
Wednesday 11 January 2012
* * *
Thursday 19 January 2012
* * *
Saturday 26 May 2012
Sunday 27 May 2012
Monday 28 May 2012
Tuesday 29 May 2012
Wednesday 30 May 2012
* * *
Saturday 23 June 2012
Sunday 24 June 2012
Monday 25 June 2012
Tuesday 26 June 2012
Wednesday 27 June 2012
* * *
Friday 29 June 2012
* * *
Tuesday 03 July 2012
* * *
Saturday 13 October 2012

Where and How and When You Can Get the Book

Update, as of March 2014: I’ve made a few updates to this post. See below for specifics.

1) I still have copies of The Year of Living Autobiographically to send out. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you could start by going here, and then here.)

Do I know you? Do you want me to send you a book? Let me know!

It might take me a little while to get it to the post office; speedy fulfillment is not my wheelhouse, at least not this summer. But it will make its way to you.

In case this isn’t clear: I’m giving them away for free. I’ve gotten some amazing books in swaps, but that’s just because I know some incredibly talented and generous writers. It’s not at all obligatory.

This is an experiment of sorts, one that lives at the intersection of what Jonathan Lethem has to say about gift economies in “The Ecstasy of Influence” and what Jaron Lanier has to say about technology in You Are Not a Gadget.

Update: The above is still true!

2) There are also copies of the self-produced galley edition (the limited, numbered run of 150) for sale at the consignment table at McNally Jackson in New York City.

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Thanks to Olivia Birdsall for the photo!

The first five copies sold out, which is totally exciting. I sent ten more, and I haven’t heard from the bookstore recently, so I’m assuming it’s still in stock.

Update: McNally Jackson sold a bunch more, but they no longer have copies in stock.

3) I’ve also made a Lulu edition. If you click here, you can go buy it at Lulu.com.

Here’s what the front cover looks like.

2013.05.28 front of Lulu TYOLA

If you’ve read the book, you might recognize when this picture is from—it’s 27 May 2012, the day we buried my dad. (Here are more pictures from that same day.)

Here’s what the back cover looks like.

2013.05.28 back of Lulu TYOLA

This one I wrote about on 3 June.

4) I’ve also approved the book for Lulu’s ExtendedReach distribution, which means that eventually it’ll be available on Amazon. I don’t totally understand how the approval process works; but as I wrote in April, as soon as I receive notification that you can buy it there, I’ll post details and a link here on my Web site.

Update: The Lulu edition is now retired. Fingers crossed for #5, below.

5) I’ve mostly sent the book to friends and colleagues, but I’ve also sent copies to agents (nine or ten in total, I think). I’m encouraged by all the kind and thoughtful responses I’ve heard from the folks who’ve read it so far that this is a book that could find a wider audience.

Here’s hoping!

Praise for The Year of Living Autobiographically

When I started the writing project that became The Year of Living Autobiographically, the intention was really more like an art project, of sorts: to circumvent the servers of a for-profit corporation and send out “status updates” into the world by way of an old-fashioned galley printer and the post office. (See this post from this past October, when I finished writing, to learn more.)

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(Above: the sample copy from the galley printer.)

It honestly never occurred to me that anyone would ever have anything to say about it at all, let alone anything as nice as what Erika Dreifus had to say about it earlier this week:

[I]t is one of the most intelligent, intimate, and imaginative works that I’ve read in a long time.

Part of what I’m calling the work’s “intelligence” may stem from its premise and structure, but the writing’s honesty and directness also enhance an overall sense of clarity and grace. The adjective “intimate” seems appropriate because we learn so much about Tom through what he reveals about those closest to his heart (including his remarkable father, who passed away during the course of the year in question, and his equally remarkable young son), his dreams, and details taken from his daily life. And I can’t help thinking that the project itself shows quite a lot of creativity and imagination.

It’s a weird little book. So I’m incredibly honored and flattered by Erika’s kind words.

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(Above: a Dunbar’s Number worth of books arrives!)

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(Above: Toby’s workshop.)

Re plans to make the book available to more readers, if you’re curious: I’m hoping to have it up on Lulu.com soon, which I think will make the book available for purchase on Amazon and BN.com in a month or two. It looks like there’s an eight-week approval process before that can happen.

Check back here in May or June. I’ll keep you posted.

The Year of Living Autobiographically

I did it.*

And I need your help.

Here’s what I did:

About a year ago, I gave myself a year-long creative challenge. Here it is, described in the entry for the first day of the project:

Saturday 15 October 2011

The plan: Ditch FB for one year. Reader of the future: Do you know what I mean when I say “FB”? Take FB’s status-update limit of 420 characters and use it as a self-imposed creative challenge. Take my paranoia, my fear of things being stolen, lost, my unease at the Web’s impermanence, add it to my challenge. Write one exactly-420-character status update per day for one year. Privately. Don’t tell anybody. Publish it.

(Count them: from the capital “T” to the final period: 420!)

And 366 days later—this past Sunday—I finished my 366th status update.

I’m calling the whole thing The Year of Living Autobiographically.

Part of my entry for 12 November is the following:

When I wrote “Publish it” back in October, what I meant was self-publish. A homemade book. A gift.

Here’s how I need your help:

To complete the art project of this—sharing “status updates” with friends, but not online, via servers owned and operated by a publicly traded corporation; rather, in a self-published book, a homemade galley proof-type thing, sent through the mail—I need the postal addresses of those friends.

You, I mean. Your address. Where your postal delivery person brings physical things to you.

Are you interested in getting a copy of The Year of Living Autobiographically?

If so, will you let me know where I can send it?

I have to make the book first—some layout and design, then sending it to a galley printer—but I hope to finish that aspect of the work by the end of my December break. If all goes well, I’ll mail the book in early January.

I’m limiting the print run to 150. (Dunbar’s number!) So let me know sooner rather than later if you want one. (I don’t have as many friends as some friends of mine have, but I do have a few.)

PS: If you’re wondering about the 420-characters aspect of this, here’s part of my entry for 11 January:

The status-update character limit on FB is now 63,206; it hasn’t been 420 since last summer. I am chagrined. Is this project then my own private Japanese holdout, hiding in the jungle, fighting a long-gone war?

* and PPS: I should say I almost did it: that is, I wrote 366 status updates, one per day, each one 420 characters long—no more, no fewer—for one year. On the other hand, I did not manage to quit FB for a year (just for part of it). Nor did I manage not to tell anyone (just a few people).

I’m still calling the project a success, though, because I did what I think was the important part, which was the writing.