I thought of giving this series a new name in 2022. I also thought of discontinuing it. But I still have a very tall stack of books to get through, and this is my only way of tracking what I've read--I've tried keeping a reading journal, and I don't follow through. I'm abysmal at keeping up with my Goodreads list (also, do I really want the Amazon corporation to know every last thing I read? No.). Plus, several people have told me they've gotten book recommendations from my lists, so why not keep on sharing the love? So this is it, the inaugural post of another year of trying to get through all the books I own while really buying new books to read instead, just like this.
I decided late last year that the best way to get through my book stack was to prioritize reading books that had been given or loaned to me by friends, so I started the year reading two of the books I got for Christmas.
I started with The Mystery of Charles Dickens by A.N. Wilson, because everyone's in a Dickens mood at Christmastime. This is a biography, but not written in the usual "he was born here, he did all these things, then he died" linear progression (no doubt there are a gazillion of those out there already), but rather is arranged by several "mysteries" about Dickens's life and his personality, and it was totally fascinating. I did not know much about Dickens and had not read much by Dickens before reading this. Turns out that, like Tolstoy is described by George Saunders's in A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, Dickens was an extremely moral writer but not as moral of a person. He had high ideals about society, but was an ass to his wife. His ideas also lingered around the populist range, and so did not extend to equal rights to oppressed minorities (he considered British people superior and was sympathetic with the Confederate South). He was also an extremely troubled man, due to his childhood traumas, and also a gifted literary genius. And basically a rock star. People would line up to hear him perform his works. I like seeing up close how complicated people, especially people who are so canonized, really are.
Another book I got for Christmas, also featuring a renowned literary figure from history, was Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, which reimagines the events that led to the death of William Shakespeare's son, Hamnet (which in some way inspired the writing of Hamlet, but I'm less clear on the connection). This was interesting on so many levels, not least of which the way that plague was viewed at the time (how lucky to be an author who comes out with a plague novel at the beginning of an actual plague!), as well as the experiences of the women in Shakespeare's life (W.S. himself is not named in the book, and plays a fairly peripheral role compared to his wife, mother, father, sister, and children.) It turns out that he was probably a bit more moral on the page than he was in real life too.
The next two books weren't gifts and they weren't from the stack. I bought Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life last summer after hearing it extolled on the #AmWriting podcast several times. It's a lovely little book and I wish I'd been handed it a lot earlier in my writing journey. Still, there's much to be gleaned at whatever stage of writing one's at. I'm still trying to put the advice of "write 1,000 words five days a week for the rest of your life" into process. It's tough, but a good goal to shoot for.
I picked up a copy of Bad Tourist by Suzanne Roberts for my trip to Mexico. I envisioned a lot more time spent reading than actually took place, so this is the only book I finished there, but it was the perfect book to read on a trip. It's a collection of travel essays, so it was fun to read them while I was actually traveling (although what a different style of traveling: lounging on a resort beach chair reading about near death experiences with motorcycles and unclean water in remote parts of Latin America. Also, the essays, many about the author's adventures in dating and hooking up, were a lot sexier than my middle-aged-ladies trip. Roberts's latest book, Animal Bodies, just landed in my mailbox and I'm excited to read it next!