Friday, January 1, 2016

Reading and Retreating, the Year in Review

2015 was good year to step back, scale down, pare away, and focus in.

A few years ago I quit my Goodreads account, finding more stress than joy in the task of keeping up entries, anguishing over each and every star bestowed or withheld, and failing miserably to maintain any semblance of good literary citizenship. Shedding this draining obligation - self-admittedly one of my own making - was incredibly liberating. Since then shaking off any unsatisfying trapping of digital/blogging life (farewell Google Plus, so long review requests, hasta la vista advertising, and, embarrassingly, ciao to replying to even the politest queries) has become easier - some, out of necessity and lack of time, but more often out of realization of what brings real meaning. 

If one could possibly write any less and still be considered to have a blog, this year was the year. Yet in many ways, any writing that did happen felt more worthwhile. And the more I've let go of blogging, the more I've rediscovered the beauty of reading and writing - if primarily for myself. Going more analog has its perks, as it turns out. Prompted in part by being required to choose a workplace wellness goal, and in part by a pretty blank notebook I received as a gift, I kept a handwritten journal this year. First intended to keep track of yoga sessions, the diary also became a gratitude journal, a reading log, and repository of miscellaneous notes to self. It turns out yoga and writing are a lovely and satisfying combination: setting aside time for one and pairing it with the other - right there on the mat - creates physical and mental space for reflection that has been very valuable.

Looking back through the journal at this year's reading, the new books I loved the most were Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (stunning, gripping and original), Mothers Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell (powerful short stories exploring women's complicated lives), Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff (riveting through and through, even the parts that didn't work as well), Vendela Vida's The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty (intriguing exploration of identity). I also loved Alexandra Fuller's memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman (outstanding short stories about extremely fascinating, real women), and Philip Hoare's beautiful The Sea Inside.

I'm heading into 2016 with Heidi Julavits' The Folded Clock, which is proving to be a fitting reading choice for this moment of leaving the old year behind and starting the new. Her diary entries (essays, really)  consider selves past and present, relationships, and the changing ways we find our place and meaning in the world. She is complicated, and my feelings about many of the essays are complicated, too, but overall they are interesting, thought-provoking, and also instructive on the rich possibilities and art of keeping a diary. I'm also excited to read American Copper, the new novel by Shann Ray, and to delve into the work of two southern writers, Mary Ford and Janisse Ray (books pictured above).

As always, the beginning of a new year feels full of promise and renewal. What are you looking forward to in 2016? 

Happy reading, and Happy New Year!

1 comment :

  1. I've missed folks who have left GoodReads although I understand why, and I'm really scaling back on my blogging. The stress of it has gotten to me and while I haven't accepted my usual amount of review requests, the ones I have already overwhelm me. Yikes! Can't wait to really do some free range reading this summer. Hope you're enjoying your spring reads!


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