Thursday, 17 January 2013

St Orberose's First Anniversary

Exactly one year ago St. Orberose came to life. I had created other blogs before, on diverse topics, but none lasted too long and they no longer exist. I wasn’t comfortable with them and the results never met my expectations. I have always loved thinking and writing about books and literature, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to start another blog since I was never satisfied with the way they turned out. Then I discovered Wuthering Expectations’ Portuguese Reading Challenge, and I think that was a great motivation to make one more attempt. As someone who comes from an endangered literature, I’m always sensitive and thankful to those who take the time to read it. And Tom had written some excellent posts that I enjoyed reading; we both shared a love for Eça de Queiroz, and he inspired me to write a short biography of this great novelist with brief commentary about all his novels. And this is how St. Orberose’s first post was born. Since then this blog has been a serene place where I post whatever I want about books and related topics. I never had an overarching plan for it.

It comes as no surprise that Portuguese literature has become a major part of the blog’s identity. In this age of specialization, of niches and obscure tastes, everyone tries to leave a mark by their difference. So some people review Spanish-language books; others have a penchant for French literature; some are into African literature; still others have made the 19th century their playground. For my sins, I realized Portuguese literature was the only unique thing I had to offer. So several posts about Eça followed after the first one, and I had a great time writing about him and sharing my findings – in some cases facts I was recently discovering – with the readers. Another writer I also liked writing about was Fernando Pessoa: my writing for the blog coincided with my reading of the three heteronyms; I had previously sampled them here and there, but for the first time I read them from cover to cover, and I shared my opinions in three posts. I also loved writing about Raul Brandão’s Húmus; he was a writer I discovered the previous year and the novel left a lasting impression. The novel is one of the few I truly regret my readers can’t read since I think it’s one of the best things ever written. My five posts were really nothing more than translations of passages with brief commentaries tacked on. Perhaps the apex of all this writing about Portuguese literature was the José Saramago month in November. I had never done anything like it before, and I think the final result was rather good. Writing about my favourite writer is a pleasure and reward in itself, but I’m glad to know that here and there some readers were seduced to try him out too, and that makes me very proud and thankful.

Ironically, Portuguese literature is but a small part of what I read every year; in fact I probably read more of it in 2012 exactly to keep the blog fresh with unknown books. Most of my favourite writers are outside Portugal, all over the world, and St. Orberose has been nothing but a mirror of my interests: Dario Fo, Philip Roth, Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka are amongst the authors I wrote most about, and they form a reliable picture of my literary tastes. Obviously they’ll continue to be part of the blog in 2013.

Thanks to St. Orberose I also had the pleasure of discovering and becoming part of a community of fascinating and intelligent book blogs that have enriched my life and reading habits with their sensible reviews, discussions and recommendations for my ever-growing TBR lists. Almost every day I discover a remarkable new blog that teaches me something new about books. Some even got me to join a few challenges along the way: the African Reading Challenge, the European Reading Challenge, and the German Literature Month – it was very good being part of them. I like to think I have established good relationships with a few of these bloggers.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep doing this, how much longer I’ll continue to have the will and the time to write about books, if my personal life in the future will permit me. But I plan to keep going as long as possible.

Thanks to everyone who followed St. Orberose during the previous year!


  1. Congratulations! It's always hard to get into blogging and establish your identity - even harder when you're not writing about books which will turn up in baragain bins in two weeks' time... The only advice I could give you is to keep blogging about the books you want to write about. If people read it, great. If not, their loss ;)

  2. Wow, Miguel, only one year? It seems like St. Oberose has been an essential literary blog for longer than that! What a deeply enriching contribution it has been and continues to be. Congratulations, and my best and most sincere wishes that you'll find the "will and the time" to keep it up for many years to come.

  3. Happy anniversary Miguel!

    I did not realize that you started around the time that I did.

    Your blog is outstanding.

    The emphasis on Portuguese literature makes it so unique!

  4. Congratulations. I understand about the indefiniteness of the commitment to blogging, but here's my wish it will be for a long time and it will continue to be fulfilling for you!

  5. Kanpai! Echoing Scott. It feels like the blog has been around for much longer. It has been a minefield of goods on things Portuguese and non-.

  6. Congratulations! If I had any role in this blog, I am going to put it on my resume - it feels like an achievement!

    Some specialization is necessary to get anywhere as a critic, but I am not convinced that it has anything to do with voice, but rather knowledge. It is strange what we do on book blogs, the way we so often show our work.

    I would never have started writing in public without a base of knowledge, by which I mean a pile of books that I have read and feel I understand well enough. Your posts of Fo and Albee, for example, are so good because you have really engaged with the writers and their work. You have more in reserve.

    I always pick up new ideas here. Thanks for the hard work, or hard play, or whatever it is.

  7. Happy Birthday, St. Orberose! Like the others, I wish you all the time and blogging satisfaction derived from your efforts you need to keep this up for many more years to come. Obrigado for all that you've shared so far.

    Not to end on a down note, Miguel, but your statement that you read more Portuguese literature in 2012 "exactly to keep the blog fresh with unknown books," is the sort of thing that occasionally conflicts me about my own blogging: the temptation to read & review things to keep the blog fresh vs. just reading whatever I might read if I didn't intend to review it afterward. I mean, it's not like I'm reading any books that I think are really going to draw in readers because they're popular (they seem to have quite the opposite effect, in fact!), but occasionally I do wonder about how thinking about what I want to read next is less natural than it would be if I didn't have a blog. I'm curious, do you ever feel conflicted in that way yourself? That being said, I'm glad you've decided to focus on Portuguese lit whatever your reasons. That's one of the (many) things that keeps me coming back here in addition to the fine writing, of course.

  8. Tony, thanks! That's what I intend to do, keep writing about the books I want.

    seraillon, thanks for your kind words! I will try to keep writing for as possible.

    Brian, it's even better that our blogs showed up at the same time and have become so close. This is also one of the reasons I blog, the privilege of meeting like-minded readers to discuss books with them.

    Dwight, thanks, the future is never certain, but I hope I can continue to do this for a long time. It's very enjoyable.

    Rise, I'm glad you like the emphasis on Portuguese literature. I have lots of ideas for posts about it; I just need the time to write them all!

    Tom, feel free to take all the credit you want, if you think it's worth it. And thanks for the kind words; it does take some work, but it doesn't feel like hard work at all. For me 'specialization,' if I have any, is all about reading a writer thoroughly: I try to be focused and stick to a writer until I've nearly exhausted his work; that helps a lot when it comes to start connecting ideas in one's heads, I know because I noticed that with my extensive readings of Saramago and Roth.

    Richard, thanks! I understand your conflict and I feel it sometimes too; I try to circumvent it by mixing my tastes with what I think may interest readers. For instance, I noticed posts about Eça tend to be appreciated around here, so I'm predisposed to read more Eça. Now I love his writing, so I don't feel it like an imposition. On the contrary it helps me find a focus: perhaps without this motivation I wouldn't have read them now. When I read his 'Barbarian Writings,' I first thought "Ah, I bet a couple of people are going to love knowing about Eça's juvenilia," but I also loved reading it for what it taught me about him, so it's a mixture of the best of both worlds. The same with Fernando Pessoa and Saramago. But usually I try to not to worry too much about second-guessing what will be popular or not.

  9. I hope your personal life permits you: I'm glad to see this blog about Portuguese literature, having been drawn into it by Pessoa, and having read some of the other authors, not many, but some. That post about Álvaro Coelho de Athayde reminded me that I'd come across an essay on him ages ago, wanted to find out more about the man, and never did. Now I have.

  10. Congratulations on your first anniversary & a glass raised to many more.

  11. Umbagollah, thanks for the kind words; I'm glad you've found my posts useful.

    Parrish, thanks for the toast!