2021 in reading

Better late than never with this, I guess. 2021 was even more of a chronological smear than 2020. When I look back at everything that went down—both in my personal life and in the world at large—I can’t comprehend how all of it happened in a mere 365 days, especially when the last few years leading up to this one seem in retrospect to have been so (relatively) uneventful (uh…no, scratch that…and hindsight in general). At times I felt like I was living in a horrorscape this year—partly of my own making and partly sculpted by forces outside my control. The second half of the year was much worse than the first, and now that it’s over I feel depleted. Normally I’d bury my head in the sand and try to read my way through these brutal periods, but that wasn’t working this year. I ended up reading just barely over half of my total for 2020. At a certain point I gave up on writing reviews for the most part, as well—there was simply no time for writing. Unfortunately this lead to a further feeling of disconnection from what I had read.

In looking at what I did manage to read, unsurprisingly I see a lot of aimless casting about for distraction. I ricocheted from new-to-me writers (for example, trying to find my footing with Marie NDiaye; finally reading Stoner after first shelving it seven years ago [not worth the long wait]; diving headfirst into Blake Butler’s work with Scorch Atlas, the experience of which by contrast actually made the last couple of years seem festive) to unread titles by old favorites (Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Denton Welch, Joy Williams). In between—when pages of prose alone felt too weighty—I gorged on a passel of graphic novels (highlights: Chris Reynolds’ The New World: Comics from Mauretania, Charles Burns’ Last Look trilogy, and several books by Martin Vaughn-James).

A few other stand-outs:

Best book out of left field: Negative Space by B. R. Yeager
Best book I wish I’d read a long time ago: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (read in omnibus edition)
Best book to suit my mood at the time I read it: The Moment by Peter Holm Jensen
Best book that is also a great movie: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders by Vítězslav Nezval

The most important reading lesson I (re)learned this year is that I can’t ignore the need to read for comfort. This year was a reminder that reading is not always about expanding my thinking, broadening my view of the world, or whatever other pseudo-lofty b.s. qualities I might in my weaker moments ascribe to it. Sometimes I need to experience the pleasure of reading solely for its own sake—unfortunately my ability (and willingness) to do that has declined in recent years. When I look back over what I read in 2021, I realize that I took the most comfort in reading Joy Williams and Denton Welch—two very different writers, but both masters of their craft whose skill at fitting words together facilitates a transcendent experience for me. In general I want more of that.

Looking ahead to 2022…I have no concrete reading goals, but I think I will probably read less and hopefully enjoy more of the books I’m able to finish. Writing more reviews again would also be nice.

Happy New Year!

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4 Comments

  1. Totally relate to all of this – it was a tough year and I read less than half the number of books I did in 2020. I had big plans to try new authors and more challenging reads, but looking back at what I finished, a lot of it functioned more as a distraction. Here’s hoping for a better 2022! Happy New Year!

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

     /  January 6, 2022

    I have been reading the Little House on the Prairie series and I am not sad about it.

    Reply

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