Dang it! I've found another goal for which to strive in writing this book. As if I didn't have enough!
I confess: I have begun to read John LeCarre'. Blame Gary Oldman. Finally, he starred in something worth seeing, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I saw it. I loved it. The story was so complex and intriguing, and, of course, movies leave things out in the transition from book to screen, so I read the book. One of the things left out of the movie -- although perhaps you could say that Oldman's subtle performance and some of the silent scenes conveyed a sense of this -- was LeCarre's style. You have to pay attention. You have to be able to flip back and check things (which makes the codex a much more suitable format than the e-reader). He reveals information carefully and, for lack of better word, quietly or implicitly. The story engages you, but you can also relish the language of the telling.
I finished the book with some sadness, as happens when you finish a great book that completely absorbed you. Yet, I did not turn immediately to another LeCarre' book. Had I been in the U.S., but here, purchasing books isn't quite so blithe. Had I been in the U.S., I might also have run down to the public library; but here, I can't. So, I moved on to another book, one that was actually available for download from my public library back in the States. This one covers the loves of H.G. Wells.
By the way, what a randy ass! At least the author is kind enough, and smart enough, to allow his readers to see past his Wells's self-absorbed sexual narcissism, to the clearly very unsatisfied women whom he fucked. At least, I hope that is the conscious doing of the author.
Anyway, I like the e-book format, but I don't love it. Sure, it's light, convenient, and much easier to read while lying in bed, but the goddamn thing craps out so quickly and so easily for no discernible reason. Twice while on trips, after having ensured that it was fully charged before leaving, the thing just wouldn't wake up when I slid the switch. You know how you turn a codex on? You open it! You know what it doesn't do? Run out of power or refuse to show you the words for some unknown reason. So, e-book, I will accept you and enjoy you, but you pale in comparison to the old school, pages between covers book. Clean up your behavior and maybe you can earn my love.
The other night, I opened my e-book to find that, yet again, it had decided to withhold words from me. Maybe it was hurt that I had cheated on it with a paperback while in London. Maybe in a fit of pique, it became angry that I stacked it on top of the next paperback I planned to read. Maybe it wanted to exert a little authority because it thought it had the upper hand in that I was already committed to the Wells book and therefore would not abandon it for that next paperback.
It thought wrong. When it again refused to give me the words when I slid the switch, then I let it remain asleep for the rest of the evening, and picked up that paperback, another LeCarre'
In this one, he starts the story by speculating on the beginning of the story. Some people said it all started here. Others, wizened old agents, thought it started there. Still, others, drinking in the pub, said that you had to go way back to the 1800s to understand where it all started. This reminded me a bit of the way that John Demos started The Unredeemed Captive.
That started me thinking. Is there a way that I can have a strong, storytelling voice in this book without drifting into fiction? We historians, and perhaps most non-fictions writers, cultivate a writing style in which our voice simply gets the hell out of the way so that the evidence can do the work. Our voice should be a bit like a newscaster's, without a strongly discernible accent, withing a certain range of octave and timbre, and distinctive in so far as it conveys authority but not any interfering personality. I don't object to that, and that in and of itself is a skill to be mastered.
My academic style is pretty darn good. I've never really doubted that since 10th grade, and that was a mere blip brought on by a not very good high school English teacher. Still, my own style sometimes bores the hell out of me. If I, who am creating this, am bored by my prose, why would anyone else want to read it? I want more vigor to my writing.
LeCarre' made me think more carefully about that vigor. How can I arrange the words on the page in a unique fashion that makes the reading enjoyable not simply for the information, but also for the words? At the same time, I don't want to drift into fiction. Seriously, I have seen that temptation of writing up a scene or an incident, in explaining an exchange, and becoming so enamoured of your own storytelling ability that you start to add a little bit here and a little bit there and, the next thing you know, you actually have historical fiction on the page, not an account of events as told by the evidence. I've read that in some critically acclaimed monographs, too. "It reads like a novel," the audience might say. Well, if you start to look closely at the notes, it pretty much is. I don't want to do that.
I'm also pretty sure that this connection between the ideas and the prose, and in pushing the prose to be more vigorous, stronger, more like storytelling but without actually making anything at all up, if done correctly, will also force the ideas to become more sophisticated.
Now, there is only one way to accomplish it: invoke the Nike doctrine and just do it.