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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Carver, Cheever, Twain: Let's not “say anything about New Year’s resolutions”

Two weeks into January marks the unofficial date by which all the various resolutions so hopefully made on January 1 have been quietly forgotten until next year. The making—and the giving up—of New Year’s resolutions seems a distinctly American tradition, so in search of company we wondered which authors might have been the worst at keeping theirs.

Not many writers owned up to failed attempts at annual resolutions, although Raymond Carver seems to have been familiar with the experience. His story “Where I’m Calling From” includes the following among its closing lines: “I won’t raise my voice. Not even if she starts something. She’ll ask me where I’m calling from, and I'll have to tell her. I won't say anything about New Year’s resolutions. There’s no way to make a joke out of this.”

John Cheever’s failure to keep his 1960 resolution is revealed by Blake Bailey in Cheever: A Life. Cheever’s goal was to write no more short stories (he hoped to write novels instead)—“which fortunately he failed to keep,” adds Jonathan Dee in a review for Harper’s Magazine.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fullest account we could find of a failed attempt at keeping a resolution comes from Mark Twain. In The Innocents Abroad, after giving an example of how monotonous his journal had become while at sea for several weeks—a typical entry being, “Saturday—Morning, dominoes. Afternoon, dominoes. Evening, promenading the decks. Afterwards, dominoes.”—Twain writes:
It reminds me of the journal I opened with the New Year, once, when I was a boy and a confiding and a willing prey to those impossible schemes of reform which well-meaning old maids and grandmothers set for the feet of unwary youths at that season of the year—setting oversized tasks for them, which, necessarily failing, as infallibly weaken the boy’s strength of will, diminish his confidence in himself and injure his chances of success in life. Please accept of an extract:
Monday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Tuesday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Wednesday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Thursday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Friday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Next Friday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Friday fortnight—Got up, washed, went to bed.
Following month—Got up, washed, went to bed.”
I stopped, then, discouraged. Startling events appeared to be too rare, in my career, to render a diary necessary. I still reflect with pride, however, that even at that early age I washed when I got up. That journal finished me. I never have had the nerve to keep one since. My loss of confidence in that line was permanent.
Know of any other American writers with notable resolutions, kept or otherwise? Let us know in the comments.

Related LOA volumes: John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings, Raymond Carver: Collected Stories, Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It

1 comment:

  1. Did a Google search to see if I could stumble upon any trivia related to Scott Fitzgerald and New Year's Day resolutions -- after thumbing through "F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters" and coming up empty -- and was startled to see the number of relevant returns that were blog postings from people vowing to read "The Great Gatsby" in the coming year. Damn. When I was in high school, that book was required reading.


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