Seeing out 2022
Hello again. It’s the semi-obligatory end of year post. Thanks to the semester break in my academic year, I’m even more prone than the average person to take stock of the calendar year that’s ending and think about tweaks large and small to the way I do things. I used to write a year-in-reading post on the blog, with the productivity post coming in January. But given my sparse blogging over the last couple of years and my almost-as-sparse reading, I figured I’d do what I did last year and combine them.
I read more than last year, thank goodness. I managed 30 books this year, which is still a low number by my historical standards but better than the 18 (!) I read last year. My early reading was shaped by a presentation I gave on the works of Arundhati Roy, which led me to read more of her nonfiction and revisit her two novels. I was lucky enough to meet her in person when she came to St. Louis, and what a lovely opportunity that was. She is gracious, soft-spoken, and fierce, and I felt fortunate to have the chance to talk with her after reading her work for so many years. Her Booker-winning novel is better known and more widely praised, but my personal favorite is The Ministry of Utmost Happiness; it throws you into the middle of Old Delhi and takes you all over the map emotionally, geographically, and sociologically. It’s not as “polished” as The God of Small Things, but it immerses you just as thoroughly in a world. I also strongly recommend sampling her nonfiction, which is quite different but excellent for the myriad insights she provides into contemporary India.
There wasn’t much of a pattern to my reading, although in looking at my chronological list I went back and forth between reading literary fiction and taking a break with mysteries (Simenon, Mick Herron, and le Carré, Higashino and Kirino in translation) and romance/romantic novels (a few Burchells and the latest Sarah Morgan). The only non-work nonfiction I read was Adrian Tempany’s And the Sun Shines Now, which is about the Hillsborough disaster (Tempany is a Hillsborough survivor) and the search for justice as well as the corporatization of football that characterizes the modern game. It’s a bit disjointed at times but very worth reading.
In literary fiction I had a few standouts:
- Telephone by Percival Everett (Version B, I think?)
- A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
- Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
- The Paper Lantern by Will Burns
- Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham.
The Everett, the Spark, and the Tokarczuk are up to their usual very high standards. The Burns is a short novel that gives autofiction a good name. It’s set in Buckinghamshire during Covid, and the protagonist deals with the closure of his parents’ pub (which is also his and their home) during lockdown by going for long walks in the surrounding countryside and thinking about everything from his schooldays to Brexit to Covid. Burns is a poet and you can see it in the prose.
Why aren’t there more reviews of the Hannaham? Yes, it’s somewhat “experimental” in its style, switching from past to present, first to third person within a paragraph, but it’s original and amazingly well executed, especially given its ability to shift emotional registers from one sentence to another (and sometimes from the beginning to the end of a sentence). But it’s also gripping, drawing the reader into Carlotta’s story and life. It reminded me of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, in two ways. First, the opening chapter is work to read, with lots of slang and jumping around before the narrative settles down a bit. I can see readers bailing there, just as they did with the Beatty. Second, it is comic but also heart-rending and profound. Anyway, it’s a singular novel in a landscape of many novels that seem alike, and it deserves a wide readership.
I stuck with the Bullet Journal method for the whole year and got all of it into one 400-page notebook. I still follow the original Ryder Carroll approach, with Daily, Monthly, and Future Logs, rapid logging in the Dailies, and Collections for projects and lists that I want to be able to track and consult in one place. I’m still a work in progress, because I have a tendency to just write down tasks and events rather than the full brain-dump technique that it’s designed for. But I keep trying, and I’m getting closer. I really like it as a way of getting the jumble in my brain and memory organized. I do keep a pocket diary with a week-at-a-glance format for my work scheduling, and I have to use Outlook for work so that, along with its Canvas integration, is my online calendar. But the BuJo is what I rely on as my everyday/everything book.
I’m still using the Remarkable 2 tablet to read and edit, but it’s not ideal. The lack of a backlight/frontlight means that I need strong light to read it in, which is fine for the office and during the day but not when I’m sitting in low light. Which is more often than you’d think! I found a couple of months ago that I missed reading and writing on paper, especially for editing and for reading academic material. So I’ve been printing more and getting more books from the library. I’ll probably go back and forth. I also have an iPad Mini which I have a love-hate relationship with. The footprint and processor speed are great, but it’s another screen, and my dislike of iOS has not abated. Also, thanks to the Apple Store’s 30% cut on apps, programs that are free on Android cost money on iOS. Grr. But it’s useful, and I need to keep a toe in the Apple ecosystem for work reasons, so I use it.
I went back to writing morning pages in November, this time online using the 750words site. It took me a couple of weeks to get back in the rhythm, but I seem to have it now and they’re really helpful. It’s much faster to write online than longhand on paper, which I know is considered a disadvantage, but the speed is working for me the way I use morning pages now. It’s quite different; when I did them years ago there was a lot of venting and emotion. Now there’s more thinking through ideas. It’s an interesting change, and hopefully it says something about where my mind is.
After a year on the dumbphone I went back to my Pixel 4a in October. It was a wrench. I really like the dumbphone life, but switching carriers and phones cut our bill in half so it had to be done. Happily, my dumbphone habits of not being glued to the portable screen are carrying over pretty well. Not being on social media apart from Mastodon helps, of course, but so does just being mindful of when I pick it up. I do like having the camera back, and being able to read a book on it in a pinch. And podcasts when I’m walking to and from work.
Research and writing have been slow but steady, especially in the second half of the year. I have two revisions, one project which builds on old work but will require plenty of writing from scratch, and one new project. I’ve got a list and a plan to work through them, so we’ll see how it goes.
I’m thinking about how to change up this blog to make it more reflective of what I’m doing these days. After looking at a slew of productivity, note-taking, and “personal knowledge management” (blech) sites and discussions, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m best off using some old note-taking and mind-mapping apps that have worked for me in the past. But I am taken with the idea of digital gardens and evergreen notes, and I’m working on ways to incorporate some of those ideas into a WordPress template. I’ll keep you posted.
We finished the Offa’s Dyke Path this summer! We started in Prestatyn and ended at Knighton, where we stopped in 2019. It was a challenging walk at times, with lots of ups and downs, but it was beautiful and the weather was much better than the first half. It was even too hot at times, and there was almost no rain. We then went on to Liverpool for a couple of days’ rest before joining friends in Cambridge for a week. I finally made my pilgrimage to Anfield, although we couldn’t take the tour because the Eagles (!) were performing that night and the stadium was closed for the setup. But we got to walk around and see the Hillsborough and other memorials and the surrounding neighborhood. We loved Liverpool and look forward to going back.
We got up to Anchorage this month to see family and landed in a snowstorm which turned into a Snowpocalypse, complete with below 0F temperatures. But the winter light was as beautiful as ever.
I did some knitting; not much, but I finished a scarf for TheHusband and am halfway through another one. I tried out Addi flexiflips on some fingerless mittens (in progress) and I like them so far. I have a sweater whose seams still haven’t managed to sew up. Maybe 2023 is the year.
The Corgis are fine. Ziggy has grown into a Real Dog, slightly less rambunctious but still a bit too interested in towels, socks, handkerchiefs, and anything else that is soft and portable. She still likes to carry several objects in her mouth at once, and tennis ball chasing is an integral part of her identity. Winnie is 10 and doing very well. She can’t do the distances Ziggy does, and she scorns tennis balls, but she loves chewing on Nylabones and wandering in our pocket park while Ziggy does her thing.
In all, I’d say that 2022 is ending better than it began. Let’s hope 2023 continues the trajectory. Happy New Year!