Saturday, December 27, 2008


It has been an interesting year.

I saw two of my own books into the world, the work of the past five or so years. It was tiring! I have no desire to create another book index in the near future...

I moved to a new office and a new apartment. I stayed in the same job.

(I got tenure!)

I went to Disneyworld for the first time. I fed Romaine lettuce to giraffes and nectar to lorikeets at Busch Gardens. I played with a penguin at the Tampa Aquarium, and fed it a fish or two. I went scuba-diving in the Caribbean, and saw blue iguanas in the wildlife refuge on Grand Cayman!

I did my first two triathlons. I ran my first marathon! I joined an actual swim team. I continued to become a better swimmer, but I still can't do a flip turn with any ease or comfort - a goal for 2009.

I had acute insomnia, and then it slowly returned to the standard-level kind ("Too much traffic"!).

I met Dick Francis for the second time in my life - the last time, I was in seventh grade!

I read very few books, all told, so I will only give a handful of recommendations of things that especially struck me. I am too lazy to paste in links in most cases! My mind was especially colored this year by the things I was teaching - Richardson's Clarissa, Shakespeare and his eighteenth-century incarnations, the voices of Swift and Burke.

First, a couple other domains in which I really checked out so little new stuff that these picks are pretty much contextless, just things of excellence with a sensibility that appeals to me.

A few plays I especially liked: Jay Scheib's Untitled, Mars; the Flea's production of Addison's Cato; the spectacular Wig Out!.

Some music of friends that has tickled my ears (I link to Nico too often to do it again here!): Thomas Bartlett's utterly lovely Doveman albums (which seem to be often compared to Nick Drake, but I thought a better description would be Big Star minus the part of Big Star that's like T. Rex - anyway, they are some of my favorite things, I have been listening to them constantly in recent weeks, everyone should have them on the iPod - get 'em here right now!); Tarvo Varres's old band Röövel Ööbik's Popsubterranea (go and read the list of tracks, the names are irresistible!).

Some absolute top picks among the books: Richard Fortey's Dry Store Room No. 1; Rosamond Purcell's Egg and Nest; Sarah Manguso's The Two Kinds of Decay; Martin Millar's Led Zeppelin, Suzy and Me (I have pasted in the link because I particularly think everybody should read that one, it made me laugh more than any other book I read this year!) and Lonely Werewolf Girl; Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running; and Vendela Vida's Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (which may have been published a year or two ago, so perhaps it does not count as a 2008 book - I do not care about the technicalities, it is a lovely and wonderfully well-written novel!).

Most delightful and laugh-out-loud and intellectually stimulating light reading: Charlie Stross's The Atrocity Archives and sequel The Jennifer Morgue (I liked Accelerando very much too, but it is not so perfectly suited to my tastes). I also very much enjoyed John Steakley's Vampire$ and Iain M. Banks's Matter.

There were new installments in two favorite series of mine, Lee Child's Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher) and Naomi Novik's Victory of Eagles (Temeraire), as well as a very strong conclusion to Jo Walton's tremendous Farthing trilogy, Half a Crown.

Other good things: Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book; Ekaterina Sedia's The Secret History of Moscow; Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box; Mal Peet's Tamar; Aiobheann Sweeney's Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking; Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost; Wendy Townsend's Lizard Love; Julia Hoban's Willow; and on a delightfully light-hearted note, Justine Larbalestier's How to Ditch Your Fairy, which seems to me much her best book so far (and I am a great admirer of the Magic or Madness books, too, it is just that this one takes an exciting leap forward).

Ed Park's Personal Days, of course! Tana French's pair of thrillers, In the Woods and The Likeness, which have left tens of thousands of slavering suspense-fiction addicts drooling in anticipation of successive installments.

Two books by Joshilyn Jackson, Between, Georgia and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, which make me not understand why she is not yet the absolute critical darling and anointed writer of her generation - anyone who writes and reads novels will read one of hers and feel themselves to be in the presence of someone with exceptional gifts and powers of execution, I would rather read fewer reviews of John Updike's new novels and more of Jackson's!

Triathlon-related ringers: James McGurn's On Your Bicycle, Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman. Non-fiction more generally: Jim Enderby, A Guinea Pig's History of Biology, Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People, Barbara Sjoholm, The Palace of the Snow Queen.

And I have almost forgotten - last but CERTAINLY not least - the reissue of Joan Aiken's Armitage stories, The Serial Garden. This book belongs in every reading person's library!

I have various ploys on for 2009. I am planning to run two marathons, and if things go as I imagine one of them will be a bit faster than the one I ran in November and the other will be considerably slower, and that will be as it should be! I have signed up for the same two triathlons I did last year and it should be that I can improve my times in both of them, and continue to become a better runner and swimmer and a more fully competent cyclist.

I have to finish a book that is the promise of a long-ago self who no longer exists!

More interestingly, though, there is a book I want to start thinking about and working on, a magical alluring unwritten book that has yet to have the magic shaken out of it by being put into actual fleshly words. This is the post where I most directly mused on that notional project; and as a bonus, I will link again to my top five book recommendations for the swim-obsessed...

Thank you, as always, for reading. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and productive year in 2009!


  1. thanks, as always, for your recommendations. you accomplish as much in a year as most people do in a decade!

  2. Hmm, I am so dissatisfied at the moment with everything I attempt to read. The Led Zeppelin book sounds like maybe the ticket. Alas, I did not love the Joshilyn Jackson novel I tried; maybe I should try the other. Bring me anything you think I might like--I'm really quite desperate (have new Emma Donoghue with me, which is eh; just read [skimmed second half] terrible Janelle Brwon novel; am thinking it may be time for some Henry James...).

    Of course all this may be me, not the books...

  3. That would be Brown, not that hitherto unheralded Welsh literary star, Brwon.

  4. It sounds like it was a wonderful year!

  5. The Saturday Review at Semicolon this Saturday is dedicated to book lists. You’re invited to share a link to yours on Saturday.

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