My Year in Reading, 2021 edition

Hey, it’s me! What happened to that person who seemed to have so much energy for blogging at the start of the year? Well, that energy went into self-reflection and journal-writing instead. Climbing out of depression and grief is hard work, but I’m doing it, slowly.

This fall I went up to full time at work and taught first-year literature classes for the first time in ages, so a lot of my reading energy was spent on books for class and student work.

My reading this year, then, continued to be affected by the upheaval in my personal life, and as a result it wasn’t the most interesting reading year I’ve ever had. Some of my reading experiences with my students were great! I’m going to write something about that for Dorian, and I’ll let you know when it’s posted. Here are some highlights from the rest:

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Lest We Forget

I’m about to start reading Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall with my first-year fiction students. On Tuesday, I suggested they think about the three time periods relevant to the novel: the Iron Age society that the “experiential anthropology” class in the novel recreates, building the titular ghost wall to keep out enemies; the novel’s setting right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which the characters discuss; and 2018, the date of publication, the time of Brexit and Trump’s Wall, which inform the novel’s themes. Only that morning did I realize November 9 is the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall. How accidentally relevant our class was, I joked!

Then this Remembrance Day morning I read news of migrants trapped on Europe’s borders, pawns, weapons, canon fodder in a dispute between autocratic, nationalist leaders. Ghost Wall‘s relevance no longer seemed funny, a matter of resonance with the past. Moss’s novel makes very clear that the impulses that led Iron Age people to build ghost walls, and that led to the World Wars of the 20th century, are alive and haunting us still.

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Some Recent Reading (or Mostly Listening)

These days, mysteries are my genre of choice: people solving problems, answering questions, seeking justice. And, of course, plots that hold my attention when I’m tired and easily distracted. Audiobooks, too, are good when I’m tired and distracted. The library and the free titles included in my Audible subscription have encouraged me to try new authors. Here are some I’ve enjoyed recently:

Catherine Aird’s Calleshire Chronicles, read by Derek Perkins

This series has been going for 40 years, and I’ve listened to 10 or so in random order, from Audible. (My library has some in e-book, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy them as much that way). These are British mysteries with village settings; not much seems to have changed in Calleshire since the first book was published in 1966, and DI Sloan and the hapless Constable Crosby don’t change either. They are classic puzzle-type mysteries, not gory but not quite twee, with a touch of comedy and a love of literary allusions. Perfect for falling asleep or lying awake with. I find them immensely soothing, partly because they are set in a timeless England that probably never quite existed outside fiction–much like Betty Neels romances.

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In the Affirmative

It seems like these days, even when I’m not looking for a “how to survive the grief of divorce” book, they find me. First there was the Duchess Goldblatt book. Now, Maggie Smith’s Keep Moving. (That’s Maggie Smith the poet, best known for her viral poem “Good Bones,” not Maggie Smith the actor).

A few years ago, I made a habit of starting each day reading poetry. During the pandemic, it fell by the wayside, partly because I get my poetry from the library and there isn’t much in digital, partly because I didn’t have the concentration for it. But I’ve been missing poetry. So recently, when I saw the audiobook of Keep Moving on my library site, I decided to give it a try, despite my deep suspicion of the type of poem that would go viral on social media.

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Valentine’s Day

My ex-husband and I never made a big deal about Valentine’s Day. I won’t be missing flowers, chocolates, or a fancy dinner out. But it will be the first time in 30 years that I have a Valentine’s Day without a partner, and that feels harder than I expected. I’m reminding myself of some important things.

First, this isn’t really my first Valentine’s Day “alone.” Last February 14, he still lived here, but in the important ways, our marriage was over and he was already gone. Sleepwalking through life in the fog of depression, I just couldn’t see it clearly. I felt lonelier then, physically together but emotionally distant, than I do now.

Second, my life is full of love. Far more than I realized a year ago. Let me count the ways:

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