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Serenity, bad reviews and excellently bad history
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First of all, sorry for the lack of posts! Everything’s gotten pretty busy around here, so I find myself not wanting to do anything but collapse every night when I get home from work...we’ve been eating lots of take-out curries and spending a lot of evenings on the couch watching DVDs (most recently, the fantastic satirical mock-talk show, “Knowing Me, Knowing You, with Alan Partridge” which is hilarious in the same wincingly black comic style of “The Office”, but slightly easier to watch). Our big highlight of the week was going out to see “Serenity” on Friday, the night it opened in the UK. Wooo! I loved it. We’ll probably go back to see it again (and soon, since the audience was pretty tiny for an opening night and I have a bad feeling it might not stay in the theaters very long--soooo frustrating when it’s such a good movie).

And of course the big downside of this week was that I got my first really bad review for a short story. Bleaghh. I guess I’d been lucky to avoid any really negative reviews until now, but geez, some of those phrases really stick in my memory. (“Lost in a sea of mediocrity...” Ouch!) I’m working hard to just keep going with my new writing projects, tell myself that the reviewer and I clearly have very different tastes in fiction, and not let the really painful lines get in my way as I’m writing. Any advice on this one? How do other people cope with getting really bad reviews?

I’m really enjoying the research I’m doing right now for Congress of Shadows. I just finished reading a book that was pretty much perfect as a novelist’s introduction to the political maneuverings and outright shenanigans of the Congress of Vienna: Harold Nicolson’s The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity, from 1946. It’s old-style history, complete with sweeping portraits (e.g., the King of Saxony: “He was honest, industrious but lamentable.”) and unselfconsciously colorful and melodramatic writing throughout. One of my favorite bits comes in the first chapter, as he describes Napoleon’s flight back to Paris after the failed invasion of Russia:
During all those days and nights Napoleon talked and talked. Feverishly he talked about his former glories and his future plans. Three hundred and thirty thousand men of the Grande Armée lay hummocked in snow upon the plains of Russia, but he talked only of further armies, further campaigns, and further victories. His voice at times was almost jubilant; at other moments it would rise or fall into the scream or snarl of hatred. One name alone (since as a rule he was mild about his enemies) would rouse these paroxysms of rancour. That name was England. The insatiable enemy, who had defied hm all these years, who had defied him even when she stood alone. “England! England! England!”--as the postillions lashed their tottering horses and the great red box slid and lurched across the snow.

As an academic, I wouldn’t trust this book further than I could throw it. As a novelist looking for ideas, I adored it. How much more fun does history get?

Earlier this week, Patrick and I asked each other what we had learned that day. My answer (from Harold Nicolson)? “When Napoleon re-entered Paris after his escape from Elba, his face was deadly pale and a smile curled his lips--a smile, nearly, of contempt!”

And it must be true, since I read it in a book...

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