A time for grief, a time for rage: On Salman Rushdie

I finished Elizabeth Strout’s Booker longlisted Oh William! this week and set aside my Friday evening to write a blog post about it, but the vicious attack on Salman Rushdie has sapped my energy. I’m too mentally exhausted to face the prospect of dissecting another underwhelming read.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of shit things happening, if you’re also digging out from under PTSD. The vast outpouring of grief and rage today has been the only saving grace, it’s proven people care very deeply about both Rushdie and intellectual freedom. This hits hard. I guess it’s good I was working while it unfolded. I saw the headline and read the breaking news, but I can’t afford to break my concentration, as a fraud investigator. All I wanted to do was keep refreshing my feed, which I should know by now is the opposite of what’s good for me mentally. By the time I flopped down on the sofa after work, mentally exhausted, Rushdie’s agent had just come out with the grim news: he’s on a ventilator, likely to lose an eye, and there’s damage to his liver.

Frankly, I’m afraid to hit refresh any more.

The unleashing of fundamentalist rage.

My first exposure to Salman Rushdie was probably when most people became aware of him, upon publication of The Satanic Verses. An undergrad working toward my B.A. in English literature, I wasn’t well-versed in a lot of contemporary writing. My specialty was Victorian literature, but when the news broke that a writer’s life was being threatened by religious extremists who found his work offensive, it set me off as much as you’d think it would any idealistic 22-year old. I bought the book immediately on general principle, but put it aside. I was busy taking exams, which morphed into graduation, then finding a job, and planning a wedding when I was far too young, but that’s a cautionary tale for another time.

I still haven’t read The Satanic Verses. I don’t own that copy of the book anymore, so I ordered it this evening, along with a reading copy of Midnight’s Children (I’ve put aside the edition Rushdie signed for me), and a collection of his essays called Languages of Truth: Essays 2003-2020. Over the winter, I’d planned to read something long and engrossing. My original though was Bleak House, or maybe the essays of Montaigne.

After today, I’ll be reading The Satanic Verses.

I don’t want this to be an in memorium read. In the reality I’m choosing to create, Salman Rushdie will recover in safety while I finally make time for a long, luxurious celebration of the book he’s refused to apologize for, in recognition of his defiance and refusal to be silent. I’m not 22 anymore; I’ve spent the intervening years between then and now earning my MLIS, writing about books, and becoming outspoken about my belief in freedom of expression. It’s not in my power to heal Salman Rushdie, but what I can do is read his work and talk about it to anyone who’ll listen.

If I were religious, I’d pray. My church is St. Liber: I read, and hope for better days.

Booker Longlist 2022: Percival Everett’s ‘The Trees’

You can be fully supportive of a book’s intent, empathetic to its theme, and just not resonate with it. This was my first read of Percival Everett’s work. I had no idea of his style or really any knowledge of his reputation. His name was familar, but had The Trees not been nominated for the Booker I’m not sure I’d ever have found The Trees.

The novel is about racism in the American South, in Money, Mississippi, focused on the lynching of Emmett Till. Acquitted following the trial, just one year later his murderers openly admitted to his brutal slaying. For better or worse, in the United States you can’t be tried twice for the same crime; double jeopardy protects you, no matter if you confess after the fact. After his wife Carolyn accused Till of either speaking salaciously to or touching her (the story was never clear), her husband Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law JW Millam hunted down Emmett Till – a 14-year old child – in Mississippi from Chicago visiting his family. They tortured him, mutilated his body, and shot him in the head, tossing his body into the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett Till, Christmas Day 1954

Emmett Till’s body, bloated from time spent floating in the river, was brought back to Chicago for visitation and burial. His mother would not have a closed casket. She left it open for the world to see what these men had done to her child. Her baby. A hideous sight, it could not match the ugliness inside the real-life monsters carrying out heinous acts of hatred against Black people.

As a native of Mississippi, I know its egregious history of condoning racism and violence toward Black people. Raised in the North from the time I was a toddler, even as a young child I felt a jolt hearing relatives toss out “the n-word” in casual conversation. I can’t point to the moment I figured out it was a vile slur. I have no memory of not finding it shocking, which must mean no one in my immediate family – my parents and two brothers – used it. I most likely learned it on my own.

Casual racism behind closed doors is particularly insidious, perhaps equally as bad as vicious hate speech because it shows how engrained prejudice is within a culture. No one was trying to shock me. They jokingly called me a Yankee, in its way a mild form of exclusion, but they weren’t putting on a performance. Fed white exceptionalism from an age too young to differentiate right from wrong, it’s as normal to them as any other accepted behavior. How you fix something like this and move forward I do not know, which goes a long way toward explaining why lynching was not declared a hate crime in the United States until March of 2022.

In The Trees, Percival Everett writes a revenge novel. It starts with two White men brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi. Inexplicably, the same Black man is present at both scenes, brutally disfigured and shot in the head, holding the testicles of the men in his hands. Though the bodies are taken to the morgue, the Black man keeps disappearing, then reappearing at the scenes of other murders of the exact same description. Two Black detectives are called in from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to help local law enforcement make sense of what’s happening. Meanwhile, the murders have gone national.

I don’t have to explain the symbolism, having told the basic story of Emmett Till. There’s more to the book, characters moving in and out, other strange happenings. But Percival Everett’s intent is clear.

As a southerner by birth, I feel a measure of discomfort saying I did not find the book completely effective. As a book reviewer with nearly two decades’ experience, I would be disingenous saying anything to the contrary, but this does not mean I find nothing to praise. Percival Everett found a way to tell a revenge story with flashes of humor that keep it from descending into despair. There’s an elegance to his writing, genuinely graceful passages of lyrical language.

“That don’t matter none,” she said. “The dead cain’t tell no time, cain’t read no calendars. They ain’t got no calendar watches, is what I’m sayin’. He who digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.”

I believe the book takes too long getting started, then, once started, keeps too much distance between the reader and the horrors of racism. I understand his intent was not to beat us over the head with a story that’s difficult to hear. This explains the sly humor and absolute ridiculousness of the story – as in impossibility, not dismissing his talent.

As with Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, the issues are urgent. They are grievous wrongs that show the absolute worst of humanity. But when you get to the level of the Booker Prize, every detail matters. I know literary taste is subjective, but I have a personal expectation of the winning book. It needs to have not just an important message but a compelling way of relating it that punches me in the chest.

It needs to have it all, then push it a bit further.

The Trees may make the shortlist, but I’m not convinced of it. It has qualities I’ve seen in other American Booker winners. I guess we’ll see.

Booker Longlist 2022: Claire Keegan’s ‘Small Things Like These’

Many of them were raped by family members. Impregnated, unwed women were locked away in institutions of slave labor by the Catholic Church and with the full knowledge of the Irish government, forced to work in hellishly hot virtual torture chambers behind bars, as if they were convicts. Nuns stood over these women and children morning and night to hit them and pull their hair if they didn’t fold the sheets right or dared speak to each other. Their birth names taken away, the women were given saints’ names and warned never to speak of their former lives.

To this day, traumatized survivors don’t know who they were imprisoned with because they never once heard their real names.

These institutions were called Magdalene Laundries, or Magdalene Asylums, and it’s estimated 30,000 women and children spent time in them from the 18th Century to the 20th. In 1993, unmarked mass graves of women and children were discovered, their bodies thrown in the ground unceremoniously, some in soil soaked in sewer water.

The Irish government admitted these atrocities in 2001, 236 years after the first Magdalene Asylum was opened.

Magdalene Laundry, c. early 1900s

Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These opens in October 1985, as the damp days of autumn are setting in. Bill Furlong is a coal and timber merchant, living with his raven-haired wife Eileen and their five lovely daughters. Furlong is a kind, hard-working man whose sole purpose is caring for his family. They are the lucky ones, not wealthy by any means but also not starving at a time when jobs were hard to find, many people forced to emigrate to the UK and America for the promise of a better life. Well-liked by the villagers, as long as he maintained his reputation as a fair and honest man, the Furlongs were as financially safe as it was possible to be.

Furlong never knew his mother. Raised by a kind woman named Mrs. Wilson, he wasn’t told who his father was, either. He didn’t dare ask. But he grew up happily enough with loving adults in his life, growing into a kind and compassionate man.

On Christmas Eve 1985, Bill Furlong rose extra early to deliver coal to the local convent, his last stop before attending Mass with his family. What happened that brutally cold morning would force him to choose between following either his head or his heart, knowing the path he took could place his family’s stability in peril. His decision would put his courage and strength of character to the ultimate test.

Small Things Like These is a short book, at 114 pages the shortest ever to be nominated for the Booker Prize. Because of its brevity, I hesitate to say too much about it to avoid spoilers. It’s a beautiful novel, written in celebrated Irish novelist Claire Keegan’s distinctive spare prose, interwoven with the kind of spirituality that doesn’t involve churches. It’s about kindness and goodness and empathy, told without a trace of sentimentality.

While this novel is a little gem, I don’t think it will win the Booker. The judges are giving Keegan a nod, acknowledging her quiet power. But ultimately, the prize will be given to a bigger novel with a story more suited to a sweeping canvas. But then, in 2011 I said the same thing and Julian Barnes waltzed out the door with his A Sense of An Ending, another shorter book. It’s fantastic and I love and admire it, but I loved Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side just a little bit better.

It occasionally happens that I’m wrong, but I don’t think so in this case. If I use A Sense of An Ending as a gauge, its focus was much wider, the story more satisfyingly dense. Small Things Like These touches on a very weighty subject that absolutely deserves more exposure, but ultimately I don’t think it will prevail against the competition. It will appeal strongly to readers who complain Booker winners are far too obscure and too highly literary; this is the quietest longlisted novel I’ve ever read and one of the most accessible.

One thing I do know is unequivocably true, I’d better move my arse if I’m going to get through the longlisted novels I mean to.

For more about the Magdalene Laundries:

https://www.theage.com.au/world/a-very-irish-sort-of-hell-20030405-gdvhr9.html

Ireland’s Magadalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment

Plus loads of YouTube videos – give it a Google

See Wikipedia for this excellent article

May all of them, living and dead, find their peace.

And may the guilty find Karma.

Booker Longlist 2022 – early thoughts

The 13: Booker Longlist 2022

First it was the Booker Prize for Fiction, then the Man Booker, finally, the plain old Booker Prize. I found them in the early 2000s, followed them religiously, and joined the other zealots attempting to predict the winners. Either I was very good at it or very lucky, but I crushed it for a string of years – not to brag.

Well, kind of to brag.

Okay, completely to brag. Humility will get you nowhere, do not hide your light.

I had a system. First, I grouped them into categories. Before they became a political statement, the Bookers had a formula of sorts; it was possible to crack the code with a fair degree of accuracy simply by reading a few, then researching the hell out of the others. The judges chose a certain number of established writers, a handful of up and comers who’d garnered a bit of fame (some of whom had been previously nominated for this or other prizes), then one or two debut novelists.

For a debut novelist to sweep the field, they had to be phenomenal. These were somewhat of a wild card, though their traditional role was as virtual cannon fodder. For all intents and purposes, they were chosen to be weeded out when it came time for the shortlist, in exchange for raising their visibility. For an established writer, they needed to perform at the top of their game. While I don’t have the statistics, the winners tended to lie somewhere in between (not counting the two Hilary Mantel years, and what the hell was up with that).

The years politics prevailed were dark days for literature. I am all for writers who make strong statements, but when the point is how loudly they speak out against that year’s pet issue over the quality of writing, that’s a problem. If you want a book prize centered solely on political issues, all well and good – develop that prize. If the point is to honor the best writing, the filter of political correctness needs to be muted. Judging from the past couple of years, and the books that made it for 2022, I’m tentatively hopeful the political years may be over.

Cross fingers.

This year’s longlist is dominated by Americans, taking up six of the thirteen spots: Elizabeth Strout, Karen Joy Fowler, Leila Mottley, Hernan Diaz, Selby Wynn Schwartz, and Percival Everett. I have nothing against them, they just don’t belong here. The US has so many prizes the rest of the world is excluded from, and the UK and Commonwealth produce brilliant literature that ought to stand on its own. It makes no sense Americans are allowed to be nominated for the Booker Prize.

End rant.

I purchased four books from the list: Small Things Like These, The Trees, Case Study, and The Colony. Honestly, if money were no object, I’d have bought them all just to have thirteen books show up on my doorstep. They could keep company with the books I’ve bought and not read from longlists of the past. In the end I went with the titles I thought I’d enjoy most, weighing that with how many I could get from the library. Not all of them are worth buying.

From the library, I have Oh William! checked out and I’m on the waiting list for Booth. I’m planning to request Glory next, since NoViolet Bulawayo has a very good reputation in the middle-of-the-road category. Actually, all these writers are middle of the road, aren’t they. There’s no huge, iconic writer overshadowing the rest. Oh, damn. That makes my prediction a million times harder.

I haven’t fully researched the others, as much for lack of time as the fact some just don’t appeal to me at all. I watched a few YouTube videos made by booktubers and I may have taken on some of their negative prejudices, but that’s the price I had to pay for my crash course. Shrug. I’m in a lot more of a rush these days.

As of the publication of this post, I’ve finished one of the longlisted titles and I’m almost halfway through another. I’ll talk about that next time.

Spoiler: the book I finished was lovely, but it’s not the winner. I’ll tell you why, never fear.

The shortlist will be announced on September 6. The winner of the Booker Prize 2022 will announced the 17th of October.

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Hijacked by Willa Cather: a quick re-read of A Lost Lady

NOTE: This post contains spoilers about the novel A Lost Lady

I’m incapable of turning down a good organized read these days. I’ve missed the group discussion dynamic, the “hive mind” of readers with varying degrees of expertise and experience. Discussing books together brings a lot more to the table. To be honest, it usually means I have to do less work. Let someone else think the thoughts and post them. I do my share, but I appreciate others who fill in the gaps. It’s a literary symbiotic relationship.

At the moment, I’m participating in two group reads: Willa Cather’s ‘A Lost Lady’ and Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘The House in Paris.’ These are two very different writers, making them easier to juggle. Cather’s prose is direct and straight-forward, meaningful but not particularly dense. Bowen is a modernist, her style multi-layered, requiring greater depth of study. I can read Cather quickly once through, skimming key passages again if I need to, and feel confident I’ve understood her meaning. Elizabeth Bowen requires much more heavy lifting. I read her chapters sometimes two and three times and there’s still a lot of room for interpretation.

I enjoy them both because they are so different. I read Cather for deeply-rooted, early-20th Century American stories with a narrow focus on specific American regions – mostly the Great Plains and Southwest. She largely writes about the immigrant experience and the dramas of everyday life. Though most of her writing could be classified as somewhat plain – by which I mean without adornment, easily understood – she’s capable of moments of lyrical and poetic beauty, most especially when she writes about the natural world.

I also love Cather because she was a literary badass, gender-fluid before we knew the term, opinionated and ambitious. A writer of short stories and novels, book reviews and non-fiction pieces, Willa Cather was the editor of a major periodical – McClure’s Magazine – credited with originating muckraking journalism, investigative reporting that goes after criminal activity and deceptive practices amongst the wealthy and powerful. There’s so much more I want to know about her.

I’ve finished reading both books, though in the case of Bowen that means I’ve finished passing the words in front of my eyes to find out what happens; with the discussion ongoing, there’s still a long way to go in understanding the nuances. The part of me that loves literary scholarship thrives on writers like Elizabeth Bowen. I could just read her novels for their surface stories, but that’s just not me.

I love a good literary dig. The problem is it can be tiring, one reason my ears perked up when I saw a Twitter summer read poll conducted by the bookish podcast The Mookse and the Gripes, which A Lost Lady won. I’ve read the novel before – last year, over my Great Cather Vacation Adventure in Red Cloud, NE – but I’m an unashamed re-reader. This isn’t a proper, in-depth discussion, it’s more about posting a few thoughts and quotes on Twitter, in advance of the podcast recording sometime this week. They wanted to generate interest and encourage readers to pick up Cather. So far I don’t see a full discussion happening, but the podcast will cover it in more depth with the help of reader comments on Twitter.

A Lost Lady is one of the books set in Cather’s hometown of Red Cloud, NE. She changed the name of the place to Sweet Water, but there’s no real attempt at subterfuge. The married couple in the novel, Marian and Captain Forrester, are based on Red Cloud banking family Seward Garber and his wife, Marian Forrester is a young, beautiful woman married to a much older man. She is charming and well-loved, inspiring the adoration of every man in town – if not so much the women. She has an affair, but it’s not ruinous. It’s a thing understood to be true, a rumor no one can absolutely prove, but it’s a very small town. You can’t hide big secrets in small towns. Marian stays with her adoring husband, he says nothing about it, and their lives slide on comfortably until first they fall on hard financial times, and then he suffers a debilitating stroke. Without her solid husband to lean on, Marian’s standing in the community is less secure. From here on she’s living by her wits.

“He had seen the end of an era, the sunset of the pioneer. He had come upon it when already its glory was nearly spent. So in the buffalo times a traveller used to come upon the embers of a hunter’s fire on the prairie, after the hunter was up and gone; the coals would be trampled out, but the ground was warm, and the flattened grass where he had slept and where his pony had grazed, told the story.


This was the very end of the road-making West; the men who had put plains and mountains under the iron harness were old; some were poor, and even the successful ones were hunting for a rest and a brief reprieve from death. It was already gone, that age; nothing could ever bring it back. The taste and smell and song of it, the visions those men had seen in the air and followed, – these he had caught in a kind of afterglow in their own faces, – and this would always be his.”
– Willa Cather, A Lost Lady

Growing up in Red Cloud, Willa was canny enough to understand the stories told about Mrs. Garber, the bankers wife. To the surprise and dismay of her mother, to whom Cather confessed later, rumors got around and she knew every tale. The town tour I took in June 2021 covered the major players in Red Cloud and in Cather’s life. The place is miniscule. Everyone knew everyone else, which makes it very easy to know their business. I asked the tour guide how the residents took it when Cather used them as characters, if they were angry or confrontational. Quite the opposite, she said. Cather brought fame to Red Cloud, and fame brings tourists who still come to the town in search of the settings and characters from some of her most famous novels. Mrs. Garber must have cringed, but there were no defamation suits. Cather funnelled a lot of her money into Red Cloud, sponsoring buiding initiatives and donating generously. She wasn’t from there, having been born in Virginia, but this was where important formative years were spent. She saw through them and loved them anyway. Willa Cather was adopted as a hometown celebrity and admired for the rest of her life, though she never moved back.

As for contemporary readers of Cather’s novels, F Scott Fitzgerald was a huge fan. Taking a break from revising The Great Gatsby, he read A Lost Lady. The key issue here is – though he later contacted her to explain his side in case she thought he’d committed plagiarism – the Gatsby characters Daisy Buchanan and Nick Carraway closely resemble Marian Forrester and Niel Herbert from A Lost Lady. Once I read his letter to her and a piece about the stuation, I couldn’t un-see the similarities. When he wrote Cather, she replied she’d read his book and loved it. It never occurred to her he may have stolen her work. While I’ll admit I haven’t done my homework, I’m not sure I trust him as much as she did.

I will keep watching Twitter for tweets about A Lost Lady and participate accordingly, but it’s time to channel energy back into Elizabeth Bowen and the other books I’m reading, including a selection of the Booker Longlist 2022 titles. That’s a whole other subject, for another day.

In 1939, a man planted roses: Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Orwell’s Roses’

I retreated for Memorial Day, packing enough food, clothing, and books to last an extended six-day weekend – just me and my thoughts surrounded by lots of allergy-triggering nature. At least that’s how my retreats used to be, until the 21st Century reached my little bit of Nirvana. The three hermitages have all the mod cons, like kitchens and bathrooms, it’s just they had no wifi until this last visit, when the siren call of my notifications going off DING! DING! sucked me in like the techno-whore I am.

I suck at retreats. My attention span is shorter than a sugared-up toddler’s. No, I didn’t turn off ALL my notifications, just some of them. And, yes, I may have doom scrolled Twitter a couple dozen times, but I also posted pics of the books I brought with me. So that’s kind of legit?

Along with pepperoni bagel bites and a couple dozen oatmeal-raisin cookies, of course I brought books, how dare you suggest otherwise. I also brought my journal, and while during all past retreats I droned on about romantic disappointments until my hand cramped and my tears made the ink run (FALSE! I’m not a crier, fuck those guys), I wasn’t mourning either the misery or end of a relationship this time.

Christ, that’s progress!

I’ve been mostly off writing for a couple years. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I decided to formally give myself permission to stop writing. Isn’t that revolutionary and clever? I had never suffered writer’s block before, not ever, and how I loved to gloat about it. Somehow, the effects of the pandemic, coupled with a few hundred pages of scribbled bitching to and about myself, culminated in a complete inability to write a damn thing.

Before you say “hey, scribbled bitching is writing!” I’ll cut you off with “no, it doesn’t qualify.” I’ve told many a struggling writer if they’re stuck they should just write about that experience, because at least it’s something. I was lying; that stuff is absolute shit and you should burn it. Read something! Take a walk!

Nobody likes a complainer.

I never follow through with anything I resolve to do, as a result of examining my shortcomings. Do you know how hot I’d be if I did, and how admired as an intellectual gift to mankind? Those journals could have been cathartic, were I not lazy as hell. I am a squanderer of god-given gifts. It’s what I do. It’s what most people do. So why keep harping on myself about it? I gave myself permission to toss expectations aside – and over the weekend I wrote 115 pages of not-whining.

Why? Because I didn’t have to!

A lot of those words resembled the heavy lifting of book reviewing for publication. It’s a stupid amount of work, and when I’m doing it for a byline I bitch about it. Strangely, when it’s not something I have to do, it’s pure pleasure. You’re right, that doesn’t make sense. But talk to anyone who’s reviewed professionally, who’s written anything professionally, and they’ll say the same. I know because we talk on Twitter, we publicly complain about how people send us free books and then – brace yourselves – they publish what comes out of us because they respect our opinions!

I know! It’s insane we deal with that shit.

Orwell’s Roses wasn’t a review copy, but a Christmas present I gave myself – which is why I spent so much thoughtful time with it. Not quite a bio or work of literary criticism, it’s a little bit of lots of things. George Orwell does loom large, as do roses (go figure) – not just his roses, but roses in general: their symbolism, rose metaphors that have become part of our culture, and the big, brutal business of growing them. I’ll never look at these flowers again without thinking of workers driven slavishly to get them harvested, trimmed, boxed, and flown in dedicated jets with the capacity to refrigerate tons of cargo. Most roses come from Colombia. What you know about Colombia’s track record with expensive crops extends to roses – a bit less murder-y, but roses are a commodity valued over the quality of replaceable human lives.

What ties roses to Orwell? For decades, Rebecca Solnit carried around one dormant seed of knowledge: in 1939, George Orwell planted roses at the cottage he lived in for much of his life, in the village of Wallington in England. Along with a drive to right the wrongs of social injustice, from the Spanish Civil War’s battle against facism to the nighmarish lives of coal miners in England, Orwell loved horticulture. Growing mostly vegetables to sell in the little shop attached to the cottage, in his garden were also flowers and fruit trees. The trees are rotting stumps now, and the roses growing abundantly probably aren’t the ones he planted, but knowing how he prized what he grew stuck in Solnit’s head. Wading through the hundreds of pages of his daily journals, she was intrigued enough to travel halfway around the world to research and write a tremendously informative and fascinating book.

I have to tell you about a word she used that I think is pretty cool: saeculum. She used it to describe the feeling of looking at the roses in Orwell’s garden, and it means time from the moment something happened until the point all the people who’d lived in that moment have died. If you’re into the whole research thing, saeculum evokes a giddy feeling of connectivity with the past. While most people alive when Orwell planted his roses are probably gone, the direct links from herself to the iconic writer felt not so long ago when she was standing in his garden.

Maybe it’s not common, but I’d like to think this level of appreciation for history runs through others. I’ve felt it so many times, both in conjunction with being in the spaces writers used to inhabit and also staring up at the giant sequoias, imagining all the historical events that happened during their existence.

One of the most memorable times I’ve felt this pleasant sensation of discombobulation was in Virginia Woolf’s “Monk’s House,” the last place she lived before walking into the River Ouse (pronounced “Ooze,” which is glorious), committing suicide. I’d made a gift of a note from Virginia’s husband, Leonard Woolf, to a used-to-be friend years ago. Though a Woolf-lover myself, I gave it away as some sort of love token, much as it now annoys me to say. Tucked in a volume of her essays, it was written on stationery printed with the Monk’s House address. The content wasn’t exceptional. It was a response to a reader inquiring as to where she could find a specific piece of his late-wife’s writing. What was incredibly exciting was the purple ink he used – Virginia Woolf’s trademark color.

But it goes further: visiting Monk’s House together, we stopped dead in front of Leonard Woolf’s writing desk – an original piece of furniture in the house. On the desktop was the same stationery as the note, alongside his pens and ink. Leonard Woolf had composed that note at this desk. While you’d think this would have been a perfect moment of romantic connection, five minutes later the man was telling me to get the hell out of his way, because he was taking video of the tour after being expressly told this was forbidden. The bastard literally poked me in the back to make me move.

Like the relationship, the good feeling was short-lived.

Orwell’s Roses alternates between the story of the man’s love of his garden, his short but impressive career, and the interconnectivity between his work and the research it required. And speaking of research, a hell of a lot went into the writing of Solnit’s book. Whenever I wish I’d have become a journalist, it occurs to me the work involved would be utterly exhausting. Younger me wouldn’t have been so daunted. Middle-aged me thinks dear lord, I would never go to Colombia for any amount of money. Wallington, England, sure! Rose farms surrounded by men carrying automatic weapons, not so much. Not that there aren’t automatic weapons a-plenty here, as well, but we try to keep those confined to places I never go – like churches and schools and shopping malls.

Rebecca Solnit wondered at the content of the daily journals Orwell kept, diaries obviously not meant to leave a literary mark. Unlike HD Thoreau, who, Solnit noted, never wrote about just beans without a larger purpose, Orwell did exactly that. Good to know, so I can avoid them. If there’s anything more dull than reading journals about my imperfections, it’s reading about George Orwell’s disappointing turnip harvest.

I’d heartily recommend Orwell’s Roses for an impressive depth of scholarship that’s anything but dry, one skilled journalist’s take on an array of topics she managed to bring together so smoothly I hate her guts for it. I am sick with envy; I may never recover. That’s how I know a book’s pretty damn great.

Thank the gods this is over. Now I can go back to not writing another hundred pages of thoughts on books I’ve read and all the writers I hate. And I’m not proofing this, because I’m a lazy ne’er-do-well. Maybe I’ll look at it tomorrow, so I can agonize over the mistakes.

Whatever.

Le fin.

Books released this week: January 18-24

I’ve received advance notification of forthcoming books for so long, I hardly glance at them anymore. When I was a librarian in charge of purchasing, Publishers Weekly and Booklist were my bibles; I scoured them cover to cover. As a reviewer with a couple decades’ worth of experience, I cannot be arsed. And since the pandemic started, publishers are sending out fewer books to tempt me back, so there goes that avenue, as well.

Because I’m an insufferable ass, despite my inattention I grumble I cannot keep up with all the new books being published, that, by the end of every year, I’ve heard of so few notable books on the “best of” lists. I could keep claiming books section editors are making up titles to make the rest of us feel stupid, or I could actually get back to consulting my sources.

I could pay attention. Be present and mindful, as the Buddhists say.

All this serves as preamble to sharing a list of a few notable books publishing within the next week. Some made my coveted list for intrinsic literary value, some for their celebration of diversity and written by an author I respect. Others, the mood just struck me. They sounded like something I’d buy.

The majority is non-fiction, and it’s a pretty stellar crop. Follow the links to sign up for a weekly roundup of things bookish from one of my regular sources. If you read any of them, I’d love to hear what you think.

Enjoy!

ADMISSIONS: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School by Kendra James (Memoir)
Early on in Kendra James’ professional life, she began to feel like she was selling a lie. As an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools, she persuaded students and families to embark on the same perilous journey she herself had made — to attend cutthroat and largely white schools similar to The Taft School, where she had been the first African-American legacy student only a few years earlier. Her new job forced her to reflect on her own elite education experience, and to realize how disillusioned she had become with America’s inequitable system.
Grand Central Publishing | 9781538753484

Visit this blog to enter a giveaway for this title.

The New York Times

FREE: A Child and a Country at the End of History by Lea Ypi (Memoir)
For precocious 11-year-old Lea Ypi, Albania’s Soviet-style socialism held the promise of a preordained future. That is, until she found herself clinging to a stone statue of Joseph Stalin, newly beheaded by student protests. When the early ’90s saw Albania and other Balkan countries exuberantly begin a transition to the “free market,” Western ideals of freedom delivered chaos: a dystopia of pyramid schemes, organized crime and sex trafficking. With her elegant, intellectual, French-speaking grandmother; her radical-chic father; and her staunchly anti-socialist, Thatcherite mother to guide her through these disorienting times, Lea had a political education of the most colorful sort — here recounted with outstanding literary talent.
W. W. Norton & Company | 9780393867732

The New York Times

This, about the backlash the author endured, from The Guardian.

LORRAINE HANSBERRY: The Life Behind A Raisin in the Sun by Charles J. Shields (Biography)
Written when she was just 28, Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark A RAISIN IN THE SUN is listed by the National Theatre as one of the hundred most significant works of the 20th century. Hansberry was the first Black woman to have a play performed on Broadway, and the first Black and youngest American playwright to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award. Charles J. Shields’ authoritative biography of one of the 20th century’s most admired playwrights examines the parts of Hansberry’s life that have escaped public knowledge: the influence of her upper-class background, her fight for peace and nuclear disarmament, the reason why she embraced Communism during the Cold War, and her dependence on her white husband — her best friend, critic and promoter.
Henry Holt and Co. | 9781250205537

Kirkus (a venue I personally find borderline offensive, but it has name recognition, doesn’t it)

MANIFESTO: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo (Memoir)
Bernardine Evaristo’s nonfiction debut is a vibrant and inspirational account of her life and career as she rebelled against the mainstream and fought over several decades to bring her creative work into the world. With her characteristic humor, Evaristo describes her childhood as one of eight siblings, with a Nigerian father and white Catholic mother, tells the story of how she helped set up Britain’s first Black women’s theatre company, remembers the queer relationships of her 20s, and recounts her determination to write books that were absent in the literary world around her. She provides a hugely powerful perspective to contemporary conversations around race, class, feminism, sexuality and aging.
Grove Press | 9780802158901

The New York Times (apologies if you hit their paywall – I did and it reminded me I need to re-subscribe to digital)

The Guardian, as an alternative

THE BLACK CHURCH: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (History)
For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, residentially segregated West Virginia town, the church was a center of gravity — an intimate place where voices rose up in song and neighbors gathered to celebrate life’s blessings and offer comfort amid its trials and tribulations. In this tender and expansive reckoning with the meaning of the Black Church in America, Gates takes us on a journey spanning more than five centuries, from the intersection of Christianity and the transatlantic slave trade to today’s political landscape. At road’s end, and after Gates’ distinctive meditation on the churches of his childhood, we emerge with a new understanding of the importance of African American religion to the larger national narrative.
Penguin Books | 9781984880352

Streaming on PBS

The Washington Post

THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura (Biography)
Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician. Exploring the sisters’ allies, enemies and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph.
W. W. Norton & Company | 9781324020202

NPR

The New York Times

LAND: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World by Simon Winchester (History/Economics)
Land — whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city — is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. In LAND, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing — and have done — with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. The book examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: Who actually owns the world’s land — and why does it matter?
Harper Perennial | 9780062938343

The Washington Post

A PREVIOUS LIFE by Edmund White (Fiction/Humor)
Sicilian aristocrat and musician Ruggero and his younger American wife, Constance, agree to break their marital silence and write their Confessions. Until now they had a ban on speaking about the past, since transparency had wrecked their previous marriages. As the two alternate reading the memoirs they’ve written about their lives, Constance reveals her multiple marriages to older men, and Ruggero details the affairs he’s had with men and women across his lifetime — most importantly his passionate affair with the author Edmund White.
Bloomsbury Publishing | 9781635577273

The New York Times

Bookmarks/Lit Hub

VIOLETA by Isabel Allende (Historical Fiction)
Violeta comes into the world on a stormy day in 1920. From the start, her life is marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth. Through her father’s prescience, the family will come through that crisis unscathed, only to face a new one as the Great Depression transforms the genteel city life she has known. Her family loses everything and is forced to retreat to a wild and beautiful but remote part of the country. There, she will come of age, and her first suitor will come calling. She tells her story in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others, recounting times of devastating heartbreak and passionate affairs, poverty and wealth, terrible loss and immense joy.
Ballantine Books | 9780593496206

Publishers Weekly

LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I MEAN by Joan Didion (Essays)
These 12 pieces from 1968 to 2000, never before gathered together, offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary figure. Here, Joan Didion touches on topics ranging from newspapers (“the problem is not so much whether one trusts the news as to whether one finds it”), to the fantasy of San Simeon, to not getting into Stanford. In “Why I Write,” Didion ponders the act of writing: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” From her admiration for Hemingway’s sentences to her acknowledgment that Martha Stewart’s story is one “that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men,” these essays are acutely and brilliantly observed.
Vintage | 9780593312193

NPR

A SAINT FROM TEXAS by Edmund White (Fiction)
Yvette and Yvonne Crawford are twin sisters, born on a humble patch of East Texas prairie but bound for far more dramatic and tragic fates. Just as an untold fortune of oil lies beneath their daddy’s land, both girls harbor their own secrets and dreams — ones that will carry them far from Texas and from each other. As the decades unfold, Yvonne will ascend the highest ranks of Parisian society as Yvette gives herself to a lifetime of worship and service in the streets of Jericó, Colombia. And yet, even as they remake themselves in their radically different lives, the twins find that the bonds of family and the past are unbreakable.
Bloomsbury Publishing | 9781635577051

The New York Times

Washington Independent Review of Books

THE SWALLOWED MAN by Edward Carey (Historical Fantasy)
A lonely woodcarver longs for the companionship of a son. One day, Giuseppe — better known as Geppetto — carves for himself a pinewood boy, a marionette he hopes to take on tour worldwide. But when his handsome new creation comes magically to life, Geppetto screams…and the boy, Pinocchio, escapes into the night. Though he returns the next day, the wily boy torments his father, challenging his authority and making up stories — whereupon his nose, the very nose his father carved, grows before his eyes. When the boy disappears after one last fight, the father follows a rumor to the coast and out into the sea, where he is swallowed by a great fish. He hunkers in the creature’s belly awaiting the day when he will reconcile with the son he drove away.
Riverhead Books | 9780593188880

The Washington Post

The Chicago Review of Books

la cuisine du weekend: baking, roasting, and dehydrating

Aside from work and things book-related, I actually have a few other interests. In winter, especially, indoor diversions keep me from going stir-crazy as I continue to respect the wildly-contagious Omicron variant, hoping with spring comes better understanding what to expect from 2022.

Double-vaxxed and boosted, I’m still not messing around.

This marks two weekends in a row my interest in cooking has reared its head. If you follow me on Instagram (and if not, why not), you may recall the rather impressive array of gourmet cookery that went on in the tiny lockdown kitchen I had at my former apartment. An inability to concentrate kept me from enjoying books; I needed something to keep me from screaming, apart from binging ridiculous TV and engaging in ill-advised, socially-distant dating I’m still struggling to forget.

Apparently extreme domesticity was a fairly effective antidote to compulsively watching the CNN body count. While I am capable of cooking well, I’ve never managed to sustain it. Binges like that in 2020 aren’t uncommon for me. I’m also not great at following recipes, in part because buying loads of specialty spices and cookware is cost-prohibitive; if I’m going to blow large wads of cash, this isn’t generally where I’d start, though I did order a mandolin slicer today. And some mason jars.

Okay, fine.

The last time I followed a very complicated recipe was Christmas 2020, when I made that outrageous English Christmas cake – essentially a boozy fruitcake. All told, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ingredients cost upwards of $ 40. I didn’t keep track, to be honest. The thing weighed at least five pounds (I “fed” it peach brandy ever day, adding to the weight), and hung around so long I became heartily sick of it and had to chuck it. Had that been a normal year, I’d have forced pieces on friends and family. If I make it again, I’ll either cut the recipe in half or have a better distribution plan. Or both, actually. That was a whole lot of cake and very calorie-dense.

Because I have the metabolism of a sloth, I cannot keep large quantities of rich food lingering in the kitchen. When I have these weekend cooking binges I try to limit the size of each dish to allow me to eat one portion over the weekend, then store the rest in containers for meals during the week. On weekdays, my calories are much more restrictive than on weekends, another challenge when it comes to making the right amount of food. I came upon the term “small plates” while searching cookbooks today. If not exactly Spanish tapas, the concept is the same. It consists of small quantities of very tasty food, which is exactly my goal – small dishes, as well as versatility in using leftovers and/or safely storing for a period of time.

This book’s on my shortlist to buy, exactly the sort of menu I’m shooting for:

This was the second weekend running that I made the same small-loaf crusty bread recipe. Last weekend it didn’t rise enough. Though it came out tasting well, it was a bit dense. I let it rise in a warmer place this time, throwing in fresh-ground Italian herbs. It was cooked through, but lacked the same crispy crust. I baked it with a pan of water on the lower rack, as suggested in the recipe, but I’ve read several places a dutch oven is the best way to achieve optimal crust and uniform baking. I expect I’ll cave and buy one, seeing how much I do like having fresh bread on weekends. Dutch ovens are also great for stews and roasts.

Not quite a fail – isn’t it pretty?

Thanks to an over-zealous Instacart shopper, my last grocery delivery brought too many clementine oranges, sweet peppers, and gala apples. My lovely convection oven/air fryer/toaster oven also has both dehydration and rotisserie capability I’ve never used. The clementines were the first fruit I dehydrated. They’re good as a snack as they are, in other recipes, and as a garnish. I made an orange cake, using some of the grated clementine peel and juice, and still have loads more of the fruit.

It came out delicious, even better the second day after it had been sealed overnight. I ate some of it, slicing the rest, wrapping it well, and throwing it into the freezer for a future treat. As for the other clementines, those I don’t put aside for consumption as is – some of the fruit is a bit soft, not yet spoiled but on the way – I will either dehydrate or make into a marmalade. I’ve done that before, making a very simple recipe that doesn’t require pectin. It’s wonderful used in muffin batter or just spreading on bread. It’s a nice extra sweet topping to have on hand and stays fresh for weeks in the fridge.

Thought I’d overbaked it, but overnight it improved a lot

The sweet peppers are so versatile I wasn’t concerned how I’d use them all. I’ve had 8 oz in the dehydrator at least twelve hours now, which seems ridiculous, but it takes a very long time at low heat. Once they’ve dried they can be crumbled into soups or stews as a flavoring agent, in eggs or other savory dishes, or eaten as is. I’m going to put them in canning jars to seal tightly while I mull over how to use them.

The other 8 oz from the same bag I roasted with mushrooms in the oven, in an olive oil, herb, and parmesan cheese marinade. The intent was originally blending it into a soup, but then I opened the cabinet door and saw pasta. I don’t eat it often anymore, which is weird because I was married to an Italian for 25 years and used to consume pasta in various forms all the time. I roughly blended the pepper mix and tossed it on the noodles. It was so, so good.

Some of the Italian herb bread became homemade croutons, for salad. Those were tossed in pretty much the same marinade as the peppers and mushrooms, added with fresh, chopped parsley. I have at least two more meals’ worth of pasta, plus plenty of salad to go with it.

Peppers chopped in half with sliced mushrooms, roasted half an hour in the oven, thrown in the blender.

My company gives us MLK Day off, so spending all of Saturday and Sunday in the kitchen still leaves me time to clean my apartment, plus spend time reading my third book of 2022. I didn’t go into the weekend intending to make this much food. It just kind of happened. Looking back, it’s satisfying having created all these tasty things.

January and February always feel eternal. The older I get, the more I despise the cold and wonder why on earth I’m still living in the Chicago metro area, when my job leaves me free to move anywhere in the country. Cooking helps the winter months pass quicker, leaving enough time to plan vacation when it warms up, work on my reading list, and dream of warmth.

Plus, my apartment smells heavenly.

What’s on the menu for next weekend? I have a few ideas, including plans for some of that rice I bought just ahead of the state of Illinois declaring shelter-in-place back in 2020. Gives me something to look forward to, which is no small thing at all.

2022, Chapter One: In which our heroine accepts a challenge!

End of the story first: I just finished reading my second book of 2022, Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. I’m not sure when a book last gave me actual chills – not hyperbolic chills but goosebumps, hair standing on end.

Holy hell.

This comes immediately on the heels of the book I finished the first week of January, a collection of short stories and nonfiction pieces by Shirley Jackson titled Let Me Tell You. In contrast to Didion, Jackson’s book was uneven. In contrast to Didion, I don’t see anything else measuring up until I’ve calmed down from the high of THAT NOVEL. But it’s unfair comparing a posthumous compilation of early and uncollected pieces the author may never have consented to publishing with a critically-acclaimed stunner of a novel that slaps you across the face, drags you up the road a piece, then leaves you for dead.

I should not have connected with Play It As It Lays. Set in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the Mojave Desert, if I were trying to come up with three places I’m less interested in it would take a minute. Fortunately, the book’s not about places. It’s a study of a woman living with the consequences of her choices in 1960s America. Maria Wyeth is an actress who plays the Hollywood game. She sleeps around, throws herself haphazardly into life, literally drives long distances for days with no direction. Already unstable, the inevitable choice to have an abortion upends her world, sending her spiralling. Without sympathy, unmoored, she cracks.

Didion (1934 – 2021) was an admirer of Hemingway, to put her style in context. She was a journalist-novelist: sparing and precise. While learning her craft, she copied out long passages of Hemingway’s writings. I’m not positive the student didn’t surpass the master.

Shirley Jackson (1916 – 1965), of course, is known primarily as the author of the macabre short story “The Lottery,” as well as her two most popular novels: We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, the latter adapted into a Netflix series. Her themes are supernatural, modern American gothics. Her nonfiction can be charming and witty, as I learned from Let Me Tell You. Though some of the stories did let me down, the pieces compelled enough I pulled out the bio of Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin.

Both modern American writers, I haven’t put enough thought into their similarities to pull out the ways they mesh. I’m sure those exist but I didn’t juxtapose these two with an intention to dive in deeply. What brings them together is my list of 12 books I plan to read in 2022, books I’ve had on my shelves over a year and not yet read. Organized by Adam Burgess of the blog Roof Beam Reader, the specifics of the project are explained on his site.

There’s no conscious intent behind the books I chose, though interconnections are everywhere, no matter what you initially believe. As I read more by and about Jackson and Didion – which I’d like to do, having whetted my appetite with my first two reads of the year – I will find elements that resonate with the both of them. I’ve given up not assuming a universal law of attraction. Nothing supernatural, just an acknowledgment of interconnectivity in all things.

Superficially glancing through their respective Wikipedia articles, both these American women writers were born in California, their lives overlapping by some 30-some years (I hate math). Did they meet, I don’t know. Were they aware of each other, certainly Didion would have known of Jackson, though she hadn’t published much before Jackson’s death so it’s not too likely the other way around. Any similarities between a modern gothic writer and a journalist? I’m sure Jackson’s work extends beyond her most popular pieces. Maybe?

Speaking of resonating with gothic horror, welcome to 2022. It’s only the 10th and I’ve finished two books. Not leaving without a fight, 2021 ended with my first Covid test of the pandemic – negative, thank the gods.

My year went mostly well, everyone I love made it through, and I’m trying not to get over-confident 2022 will hold anything grand or I’ll just let myself down, won’t I.

Let’s focus on these beauties:

2022 TBR Challenge Reads – The List

The challenge is to choose 12 books – one for each month – plus two alternates, should any of the 12 prove impossible or just plain too long to finish.

1. The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai
2. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers – Jenn Shapland
3. Willa Cather: Double Lives by Hermione Lee
4. Soul of the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life – JC Oates
5. The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography – Philip Roth
6. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
7. Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion – finished
8. Hill – Jean Giono
9. Blindness – Henry Green
10. Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings – Shirley Jackson – finished
11. Lucy Gayheart – Willa Cather
12. On Being Ill – Virginia Woolf

Alternates:

Aiding and Abetting – Muriel Spark
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

I’ve cut down social media – save Instagram – to free up more time for reading and apparently that helped. I’ll be reading other books but these twelve I’ve hand-selected for this specific project.

Welcome to 2022.

Allons-y, y’all.

Bring on 2022 – not that I’m in a rush… But kinda.

I considered 2021 my “giveaway” year, twelve months of existing on surface level without the pressure of life goals I’d have neither time nor energy to accomplish. Suriviving 2020 was no mean feat. A hell of a lot of people didn’t make it out. And 2021, on its surface, offered zero promise – not that life every does but I think you know what I mean.

Artist: Apindra Swain, Indian folk artist

The challenges of the first Covid year used every skill in my survival tool kit, and then some. What was with that stretch of gourmet cookery, anyway? The determination to eat as well as possible in a world where all groceries were delivered and I couldn’t hand-pick ingredients – not to mention living in a dated apartment and working with an ancient cooking surface, no proper oven, no dishwasher, or counter space – was a compulsion I wouldn’t have predicted. Especially after a year of extreme self-discipline resulting in a great deal of weight loss, largely through consuming essentially the same damn foods every day. Maybe it was because of that, the realization having no guarantee of tomorrow means you should eat extremely well, to the best of your ability. Whatever its impetus, the cooking mania came and went with the year, culminating with a homemade fruitcake I “fed” with brandy for months. An appropriate, booze-soaked conclusion to a shit year.

And all that weight lost? Haha. Yeah. I’m back on the same damn foods every day train, up 1.5 sizes from my lowest weight. Good thing I’ve lost most of my interest in cooking. Ouch, I know. In my former job I interviewed hundreds of people a month, my one reliable interaction with people while quarantined. The complaint about weight gain was almost universal. A few overachievers went the opposite way, taking up running and other nonsense. Most of us completely lost track of our waistlines, living in stretchy pants, which camouflage the stark reality. Stress can do that to people. Here’s the first hint about 2022: it will be all about me and my health, physical and mental.

All things considered, I’ve done better than anticipated in 2021 – better than a goal of zero but my philosophy has always been “expect nothing, so you’re not disappointed.” People laugh but it’s actually the healthiest outlook, much better than all that “best life” nonsense. When good things do happen, it feels like a blessing. A goddamn shock. Expectations are a foolish waste of time. I could probably count on one hand outcomes that lived up to my imaginings. A couple surpassed projections but mostly they’ve skimmed in as expected or failed staggeringly. But always, always the failures have been instructive – an ultimate reason to keep going, if no solace at the time.

October weekend getaway: Friess Lake, WI

My 2021 started with a move, sheer force of will enabling me to move out of the place I was living during lockdown – the charming apartment in the alarmingly run-down building. Remember that place? The irony of moving back to the same complex I’d found dull and characterless before did not pass unnoted. I imagine some things may have turned out differently had I not moved in the first place, not left the modern apartment for the charm of the old, thinking that was the cure for my restlessness. My reasons for moving each time were legitimate and the downsides negate none of the good. Was it a pain in the ass? Yeah, kind of. But isn’t a lot of life just that – plus, you can never know what would have happened on the path not taken. It’s a mistake forgetting that.

The memory of that time, my lockdown life, is two parts misery, two parts sick personal joke. Some of it I’ll take to my grave, in good company with relics of every other phase of my life. Lots of people suffered from lack of human interaction over the past year and a half. Frankly, on that score I throve. Working from home was my blessing, the opportunity for loads of overtime to distract from a deadly virus resulting in a raise and promotion, followed by promotion into a new department. I love what I’m doing now. I anticipate it will take me places I didn’t believe were possible, because I couldn’t see past the anxiety that blocked me. I will never say the pandemic was worth the positives I’m managing to bring out. We’ve all paid a heavy price, in one way or another. Nothing’s worth repeating that.

Getting back out into the world, October 2021

My expectations for what was possible in 2021 have officially been surpassed. It both shocks the hell out of me and doesn’t. The potential was there, it just took a catharsis to achieve. My ultimate hopes go beyond a new job and a nice, modern apartment, much as it’s boosted my outlook. I’ve used the term “day job” referring to all my post-divorce employment and that’s because nothing outside writing and books can ever be anything but the means to an end – the end being paying my bills and allowing relative comfort. These are not small things. And when you’re able to attain a position that both stimulates you mentally and takes care of you, it’s a blessing indeed. I use my librarian research skills in fraud analysis and writing in presenting findings to underwriting. This doesn’t mean I cannot pursue a creative outlet at the same time. Having achieved professional satisfaction as a direct result of hard work and believing in my skills leaves open the question is there more I could be doing.

I’ve at least gotten to maybe. In my world, that’s like Oprah handing out cars. Astonishing positivity from a Stoic.

So. Here it is, nearly November, and I have no idea where the time went. Unlike the end of 2020, I can wrap my head around the concept of a next year, one in which there won’t be a change of address for the first time in a very long stretch. In 2023, yes. This is not a forever apartment, not a desired destination that sparks joy. Spring of 2023 will see a move, somewhere. A lot needs to be determined before then. I have belongings and a body to pare back down, logistics to consider, lists of wants and needs to consider.

FALAFEL: Cooking lately (it does happen)

Not rushing 2021 out the door just yet but I am giving it a few hints it’s time to put on its coat. I can see 2022 packing to move in and I’m an expert at that. In order to shift in the new, you need to toss the old. No, I didn’t mean myself. But thanks for thinking of it.

It’s not too soon to start looking forward. And it can never be too early to consider what you want from your life. There’s no other thing that matters as much.