It did seem at times as if 2020 was never going to end, but I guess it had to one way or another. I haven’t blogged since September and I’m of two minds about blogging regularly (mostly thinking no, but never say never). But it felt weird not to do some kind of year-end post. So here I am again. Hello!
I read 54 books in 2020, which is considerably fewer than in recent years, but not bad considering the circumstances. I read most in literary fiction, then mysteries, then SFF, then finally romance. The romance genre and I have finally broken up for good, or at least for the foreseeable future. It’s been coming, as you’ve no doubt noticed. I’ve enjoyed going back to mysteries, mixing new authors with old favorites. And my classic novel readings have been rewarding.
I’ve basically given up challenges and reading awards lists; I mostly ignored the Booker lists (both international and English-language) and not much on my favorite Goldsmith’s longlist appealed this year. I also just didn’t have the headspace for challenging books unless I knew in advance I wanted to read them. I kept up my focus on translated novels and found some gems in Korean and Japanese fiction. And early in the year (it really was still in 2020) I read the most recent Javier Cercas.
I read a lot from my TBR, with half of the 54 coming from that. I cancelled library holds and/or sent back requested books unread. I have a handful on hold for this winter, but they’re familiar authors. I was one of the few people who seemed to like and value reading the Don Delillo novella, The Silence. Yes, it was a lesser Delillo in some ways but it also speaks so much to our current conditions, or at least it did to me.
Books that stood out this year: Morvern Callar, The Story of a Goat, Lord of All the Dead, The Stranger’s Child, Tokyo Ueno Station, Pond, Red Pill, The Betrothed, Piranesi, Interior Chinatown. Reading all the Murderbots in succession made for a great timepass in the spring. I talked about a few of these on the blog and gave all my 2020 reads star ratings at LibraryThing, but I’m kind of done with reviewing. If I blog regularly I’ll discuss what I’m reading, but the world does not need my reviews. Really.
This year’s plans: more from the TBR. More translated fiction. More mysteries. More 19thC novels. The post-Karla Smiley novels, which I can now read with the previous ones firmly in mind. More Irish women authors who aren’t named Sally Rooney. More experimental fiction from small presses.
I frequently do a productivity post at the beginning of the year, and since I spent a lot of December reading about planner and productivity systems, I even have something to say! I’m sticking with the Hobonichi Techo and Weeks combo that I used last year, but I’m using the Techo slightly differently: I’m adapting it to use as a Bullet Journal. I tried a Bullet Journal a few years ago and couldn’t get my head around it. But a few weeks ago I perused the site, read Ryder Carroll’s book, and watched a bunch of YouTube videos, and I realized that while I don’t journal every day, I want a planner that isn’t just an appointment and to-do list receptacle. I need that setup for work, and the Weeks will serve that purpose, but I want a daily log system and a way to combine notes, appointments, tasks, and random jottings in one place.
I thought about going full BuJo with a blank notebook, but I like the Techo a lot. So I combined the two, with the daily pages in the Techo serving as my Rapid Logging section, the monthly two-page grid serving as one monthly overview, and the monthly lined page serving as the Monthly Log in traditional BuJo style. There’s a year overview that can be the Index and some blank pages for the Future Log and Collections. If all this sounds like gibberish, this video is less than 5 minutes long and explains the terms. And if anyone wants to know more I’m happy to write it up. What I like about the original Bullet Journal (which is quite different from the art-focused community that has developed around it) is that it is simple and prioritizes accountability and reflection. Too many of the Productivity Bros are all about The Superiority of the Quantified and Scheduled Self, which I find repellent. And BuJo can be turned into that. But it wasn’t designed to be that and it doesn’t have to be.
I separated myself more and more from online chatter and social media over the last few months, and I took the end of the year as an opportunity to prune much of what was left. I’m down to about 6 blogs in my feed reader, although I subscribe to more newspapers and magazines than ever. But I try really hard to limit my reading diet to (a) reported news for current events; and (b) thoughtful and/or researched opinion and feature pieces. This means I don’t know what is happening with a lot of online people I used see and talk to regularly, and that is sad. But I have their emails, they have mine, and at this point I think direct, focused communication is the healthiest form for me. It’s hard, especially during a pandemic. But superficial chatting somehow feels worse than no communication, given what is going on around us.
TheHusband and I have been very fortunate this year; we kept our jobs, we were able to adapt, and while not being able to get away or spend time in California is difficult, it is so much less difficult than what too many people are experiencing that I cannot and will not complain.
We did turn our lives upside down in a good way, though. We got a puppy. Another Corgi. Her name is Ziggy Stardust and like David Bowie, she has mismatched eyes. She is a terror and a darling. The elder Corgis have welcomed her into their home with generosity and the occasional chomp.
Thank you for linking to your 2020 productivity post, Sunita. I’ve been trying to figure out how to better track my work productivity – I’ve always just used Tasks in Outlook and then dry-erase reminders and post its on a whiteboard for things as they come up, with a daily notebook/log of sorts. But that doesn’t work quite as well at home, compared to the office, and I’m going to be at home for a few more months at least. [Personally, I think even when we go back to the office, there will be more teleworking than in the past.]
You’re welcome! It is definitely more challenging to keep track at home when you have a system set up at the office. I abandoned my Weeks from March to August because there didn’t seem to be a point to have two planners sitting right next to each other. But I picked it up again when the semester began and more or less made it work. It has a big section of blank pages after the weeklies so I use that for work notes.
I use Outlook’s Calendar for my dept, admin, and teaching meetings, but I don’t use it for anything personal or my research meetings with students and coauthors. But everything is still a work in progress.
Also: cute corgis!
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Good to hear from you, Sunita. Good reminder to switch to email with you to stay in touch. Your blogging voice has been missed. I look forward to hearing more about your Techo-BuJo experiment after you’ve tried it for a while. My planner is utilitarian, and I’ve been thinking more and more that I need to change it up a bit.
Thanks, Keira, it’s good to see you! I will post more on my Tech-BuJo, because most of the posts I found were on using the A5 Hobonichi, not the A6 Techo. It makes sense because the BuJo is usually an A5, but I like the smaller size and wanted to see if I could make it work. And I’d already bought the Techo and didn’t want to ditch it.
Sunita, I’m pleased and relieved to see your post. In these ominous days, quiet feels worrisome. Other than Red Pill, our reading doesn’t seem to have overlapped. I’m a Kunzru fan, more because he’s part of the large Brooklyn novelist caucus than because I especially enjoy his novels. Brandon Hobson has a new novel out in February (to my disappointment, Ecco rejected my NetGalley bid for an ARC). I’m reading Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America now — not my usual cuppa, especially because I don’t particularly know or enjoy Shakespeare — but it’s quite brilliant. Also, I recently read Niall Williams’ History of the Rain, a 2014 long listed Booker, which is truly excellent and perfect for this long lockdown. Congratulations on the new doggo. Despite our advanced ages here, we’re looking for one ourselves: our elderly, blind, slightly demented dog joined his psychotic but nonetheless lovable housemate in the great dog park in the sky a couple of months ago, and we (and especially my wife) feels his absence keenly.
HI Dan! It’s great to talk to you again. I think you were the person who alerted me to Brandon Hobson, and I am forever grateful. I have his book on hold and and #1 and I am very eager to read it. He’s such a great writer and deserves way more recognition than he has.
I like Kunzru’s online personality quite a bit, and I was pleased to see that he’ll be contributing a regular column to <Harper’s. Red Pill didn’t bowl me over the way White Tears did, but it’s stuck with me.
Thanks for the other suggestions! I am reading what I want and what works for me these days, and these sound great.
Our oldest dog (you can see the Senior Gaze in that photo) is 15 and doing remarkably well for that age, but we count every day with him. And I know what you mean about acquiring pets in advanced age. We are so too old to be training a puppy, and yet here we are.
“We are so too old to be training a puppy, and yet here we are.” Sunita, I’ll wager that my wife and I are a lot more “so too old to be training a puppy.” We were well on the way to taking on a “retired” six year old from a breeder, but we then learned that she (the dog, not the breeder) wasn’t house-trained. Been there, done that, including with puppies and geriatric doggies on steroids: much as we wanted the dog, training an adult is way beyond what we’re willing to take on.
Brookner? Are you a Brookner fan? And how about Modiano?
Yeah, at 6 the house training doesn’t always stick (we had a 4-year-old we adopted who was a sweetie and loved being a house dog at last but the house training was iffy).
I read one Modiano, again because of your reviews, and enjoyed it immensely. I have others on my TBR. I haven’t read Brookner in years!
Sunita, I’m slowly making my way through Modiano — almost finished, and then I’ll reread selectively — and Brookner. I just finished her Family Romance (published in the US as Dolly), which I highly recommend. It’s nuanced and subtle, and took me by surprise the more I thought about it. In it, Brookner makes a strong statement for happy and unattached aloneness, or at least fully satisfied and unattached aloneness.
I hope you will blog occasionally! (Or I’ll just email you to ask what you’re reading). Since you read my post you know why I haven’t been up to much email. I got a new cover for my Hobonichi this year, which I changed to in the fall rather than waiting for January as part of marking a New Life. I’m still using it mostly for a to-do list, which seems to work for me. I am keeping a journal regularly, though not doing morning pages. Looking back through the last few years of pages, though, has been so helpful for seeing patterns, dealing with my mental health and making sense of where my life is now. I’m grateful to past me for giving me that resource! And you helped inspire me to do it.
My almost-12 Golden Retriever is chugging along–she has been to the vet A LOT this fall, but not for anything major. The pandemic is perfect for an old dog; she’s living her best senior life with me and my daughter both home all the time to attend to her needs (which often includes helping her stand up since her back legs are so arthritic). I’m happy for her and enjoying her company, despite the fact that I’ve been giving her eye drops 5 times a day for a month. I get my students to do introduction posts in my online classes, so I have learned I have a ton of dog lovers and seen some cute dog pictures. A bonus of the weird times, though I miss the classroom. Oh, and a friend got an adorable Corgi pup and is sending me photo updates. Ziggy is a charmer!
I don’t feel the need for Morning Pages but I do have a small notebook I use for brain dumps and working things out. And I agree with you on seeing patterns. Sometimes it’s scary to go back and read but it’s always helpful.
12 is great for a Golden! We got ours to 11, I think, but she had lymphoma.
I’m doing a hybrid class this semester, assuming we can go back into the classroom in two weeks, and continuing the law school class online. I am trying to think of ways to make the online students (who are spread all over the world) more engaged with each other. Introductions, or in this case updates, could be a way, so thanks!
12 was a typo! She’ll be 13 in May. And sometimes still acts like a puppy, if a slow one, as Goldens do.
New Littlest Corgi! And he is adorable, obviously.
I really, really wish that the art-focussed planner community didn’t insist on calling what they do bullet journalling when most of it has absolutely nothing to do with the bullet journal system. It’s just drawing out your own planner in a dot grid notebook and having some pages for other notes, in pretty colours with wildly over-priced highlighters and pens.
Anyway, I should be interested to hear how you get on with doing it in the Techo. I had a vague plan to bullet journal, more or less, in the Unbound Planner, but since the one I ordered in October has been in ‘a facility’ for 2.5 months and the replacement has been stuck in Paris since Sunday, and with Brexit, who knows how long that might take to get here, I’m mostly just planning on the go. We’re in lockdown so there’s nothing happening anyway, and my work planner is still functioning well for work.
Hi Ros! I couldn’t agree more; it’s fine to use a planner as an art medium, but it’s basically the opposite of Carroll’s original conception. But if you don’t call it a Bullet Journal you can’t draft off of his audience, I guess. I’m so sorry to hear about your delay in getting your Unbound planner, good grief. Brexit is just one misery after another. At least you don’t live in Kent, I guess?
Your lockdown sounds so grim. I’m sending good thoughts to all my friends and relatives in the UK. Every day seems to bring another extension, too.
Ziggy has to be adorable to make up for the Puppy Terror episodes. Luckily she’s managing it. 🙂
I do not live in Kent, thankfully, and I am bravely managing to survive despite the predicted lettuce shortages. The supermarket shelves are looking a bit depleted, but it’s hard to know whether that’s lockdown or Brexit. Or probably both.
I am not getting a puppy. It would be a really bad idea. But I am very glad that my support bubble have a dog, who is always adorably excited to see me. Theo is a lurcher, so his excitement takes up a lot of space!
Lurchers are wonderful dogs, but there is definitely a lot of dog there.
Our farm-share provider had a medical emergency in his family (all OK now, thank goodness) and we have been without our farm produce for the last month. It is a small inconvenience by current standards, but we miss our homegrown lettuces, mushrooms, and eggs.
Puppy for the win! Ziggy is just adorable. She appears to be all ears or is that just the camera angle?
I did read one book this fall that made me think of you–The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley. Present day Tokyo–a bit of a mystery, a bit of magic realism. I really liked it. I also gobbled down ‘Troubled Blood’ –Rowling’s latest as Robert Galbraith. Very enjoyable.and an excellent mystery.
Thanks for checking in and letting us know how you are doing. I especially enjoy all the talk about planners. I still remember some entries from the one I used when I went back to grad school–a marvelous blend of the academic and the mundane: read X for y class, start paper for z class, clean guest bedroom windows, mop kitchen, pick up son from after-school program.
Barb!!!! So good to see you. I will look for the Bradley, and I will eventually get to the Galbraith, I do like the writing style.
I find that I have to write things down or I mislay/forget/misremember them. And the act of writing is soothing these days. Anything away from the computer is a win!
Oh, and yes, Ziggy is definitely All Ears. They seem to keep growing, too!