You may remember that at the tail end of last year author Jeff VanderMeer rashly took on the challenge of reading and reviewing Penguin's three series of Great Ideas one after the other. That's sixty books in sixty days. At the time, I questioned the wisdom of this idea. But Jeff was adamant that he, and he alone, could do it. His endeavour - his hubris? - got picked up in a few places. Suddenly the world was watching. The pressure was on.
If Jeff wasn't true to his word, he was going to find more than egg on his face.
It was going so well. The first twenty books were dispatched on schedule. In those early reviews, more like mini-essays really, Jeff filleted the classics and artfully arranged their innards so that we looked at them anew. He was producing a minimum of a thousand words every day on each review, in addition to his other projects and posts.
'Every time I see “[...]” in these texts I consider it a special communication, and that there is the possibility the Penguin editors been monitoring my reading patterns and have personalized my copy to cut the text in just the right places for my attention span.'
A few posts later, he wrote, in a review of Hume's On Suicide (and other essays):
'Creators are a bunch of half-mad louts drunk with words, who gain power and strength through constructive expression of their irrationalities.'
At this point I was not yet aware that the wheels were coming off the wagon.
Then in late January I began to get the emails. Jeff needed to take a break. Not because he'd recognised the signs of mental exhaustion himself. But because he had 'other commitments'. A 'teaching gig in Australia' was mentioned. He stopped at book 36 of 60, then went off line for a while. Some posts 'from Australia' duly appeared. He was due to resume but then 'deadlines' got in the way. Two books needed 'last-minute edits'. There would be further delays. February came and went. And March. He was posting again on his blog but avoiding the subject of 60 in 60.
Then on Tuesday, this post appeared on his blog (see the not-at-all-disturbing screen-grab above).
Who knows what possessed him when he wrote it? Guilt perhaps. Shame maybe. Alcohol certainly. But also there is a kind of insane defiance at work here. The 60 days have long passed. The war is over, the battle lost. Yet he's soldiering on nevertheless.
But rather than reading the remaining 24 titles, Jeff has instead read the BLURB and FIRST PAGE of each book. Instead of writing a thousand words on each book's contemporary relevance, he has written a three line poem.
Two examples serve to illustrate his feverish state of mind:
#37 - Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived and What I Lived For
Talks to trees
Dirty yellow toenails
#56 - Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Replicate me please
Replicate me please
Why all these eyes?
Jeff claims the full service will resume next week. I have my doubts, and I'm not sure where it will all end. If at all. I'm especially worried as later this year a fourth series of Great Ideas is scheduled to be published.
But let's not tell Jeff that.
Senior Creative Copywriter