Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Year in review

2013 was the best year I've had for a long time. 2010 was a hard one, and it took me a couple years to bounce back fully, but this year everything seemed to fall into place.

(That said, I have just had three weeks of respiratory ailments, so I am feeling a little less euphoric than I was at various points along the way! Flying to Cayman tomorrow, failed to get any of the library stuff together I needed to do more complicated work while I'm there so it basically will be a fortnight of rest and recovery, which is probably a good idea anyway - I need to read proofs and make index for the style book, and have a couple other reader reports & similar to take care of, but real work will have to wait till I get back.)

(I also lost some people I cared about this year, including college classmate Khakasa, who died by her own hand in September. That was not good, to say the least, and I've ended the year with Khakasa and another classmate who killed himself a couple years ago very much in my thoughts.)

Big-ticket items: promotion to full professor; publication of The Magic Circle, a novel that was hard to write and that has consumed a good deal of my thoughts and energies over the last few years; the end of the six-year quest to complete an Ironman triathlon! It was an honor to be invited to submit a playlist for the novel to Largehearted Boy. This was my IMWI race report.

(The race itself was almost anticlimactic, but I do consider it a genuine triumph that I completed my thirteen-week training plan without getting a single cold, not even a minor one. This also represents the fruit of several years of prioritizing dealing with asthma, allergies and anxiety, the trio that seem to erode my life quality most profoundly!)

These "big" things, though, made less difference to my quality of life than two changes that I feel extremely delighted about: taking up Bikram yoga; adding a second cat to the Davidson menage.

Most unusual museum visited: Bletchley Park.

Plays and performances that especially stayed with me: Aurelia Thierree, Murmurs; my student Abby Rosebrock's wonderful play Different Animals; Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play; Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy; Nico's Two Boys at the Met.

Most mind-blowing literary experience: Knausgaard's My Struggle, volumes 1 and 2. Cannot wait for the rest of this to be translated!

Other "literary" novels I absolutely loved: Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah and Purple Hibiscus; Kate Atkinson, Life After Life; Jake Arnott, The House of Rumour. Also, Nicola Griffith's Hild, which I never mentioned here, I think, because I was waiting to see if my Bookforum review would come online. (This could equally fall under historical fiction or fantasy, in the best possible way - highly recommended to fans of Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault.)

I'm going to pull one memoir from its category below because I loved it so much: Alysia Abbott, Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father. A gripping and highly moving read.

Not perhaps quite at the same degree of love, in some cases because they are not that sort of book and in others because the ambition is smaller-scale: Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs; Ann Leary, The Good House; Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens; Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; several excellent books by Kelly Braffett.

It is a happy fact for me that a certain kind of fantastic-crime hybrid mode has become very prevalent, which means that there is a huge amount of light reading being produced right now that works out to be incredibly to my taste. Light reading is not a dismissing term - these books are ambitious, interesting, gripping and also the sort of thing I most love to read (other, I suppose, than straight crime fiction and young-adult fantasy, my other two particular favorites). Some highlights, grouped according to subcategory:

Big ones that rightly got a lot of attention: Joe Hill, Nos4A2; Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls.

Others with comparable horror-crime or fantasy-crime hybridity: Richard Bowes, Minions of the Moon; Stina Leicht, Of Blood and Honey and sequel; Sarah Pinborough, A Matter of Blood and sequels; ; Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird and sequel; Sara Gran, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway. Also, uncanny crime fiction by Deborah Coates and Stephen Graham Jones and Alex Bledsoe (weirdly similar to the Coates in its conception, but I feel fairly certain that they were conceived independently - it is zeitgeist!).

Under the sign of science fiction, fantasy and alternate history: Ben Winters, The Last Policeman; Ian Tregillis, The Milkweed trilogy; Mira Grant, Parasite (a novel of sapient tapeworms); wonderful novels by Melissa Scott with and without the collaboration of Lisa Barnett; the amazing Expanse series by "James S. A. Corey."

Crime and noir: Woodrell, The Maid's Version; Pelecanos, The Double; Alan Russell, Burning Man; Steve HAmilton's latest McKnight books; Harry Bingham, Talking to the Dead; everything by Gene Kerrigan, who is a genius; Tom Pitts, Piggyback; Ivy Pochoda, Visitation Street; David Gordon, The Mystery Girl; Indridason, Black Skies; Alex Marwood, The Wicked Girls. As always, anything by Charlie Williams is devoured by me as soon as it is available. Ditto Lee Child.

Young-adult of fantastical and science-fictional bent: Gwenda Bond, The Woken Gods; Robin McKinley, Shadows; Gordon Dahlquist, The Different Girl (this one's a standout and didn't get as much attention as I thought it deserved); M. A. Breen, Darkwood.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane was delightful, but I would describe it as a novella rather than a novel. Pleasantly recalled some of Joan Aiken's tales of the uncanny. Several novellas, released in both cases I think only as ebooks: Laini Taylor, Night of Cake and Puppets; Bridget Clerkin, Monster.

I only read one graphic novel, but it was a doozy: Sara Ryan, Bad Houses.

Favorite intellectual re-read: Moby-Dick. (But I also enjoyed teaching a lot of old favorites, including Tom Jones and Dangerous Liaisons.)

Miscellaneous interesting nonfiction (I have a resolution to read fewer novels and more complex nonfiction in 2014): Kahnemann, Thinking, Fast and Slow; David Epstein, The Sports Gene; Wright, Going Clear (which also led me to Murakami's book about the sarin attacks in Tokyo); M. E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath; the fascinating Wheelmen; Mark Binelli, Detroit City is the Place to Be; Antonia Fraser, Must You Go?; Rachel Adams, Raising Henry; Luke Barr, Provence, 1970; Wayne Koestenbaum, My 1980s and Other Essays.

Comfort rereads: Peter Dickinson, Tana French, Susan Howatch's Church of England and St. Benet books, Eva Ibbotson.

I am sure I have missed some things out, and I haven't really touched on music, but this will have to do. My main intention for 2014 is to meditate every day (I fell out of the habit this spring when I was on sabbatical and didn't get it back into the regular schedule thereafter when I started really needing it again). Most anticipated thing of 2014 is seeing the style book into the world! But I have some good races planned, and some interesting writing projects (all critical and nonfictional at the moment) - it is very much the case that "more of the same" will be a very happy outcome, and I don't know that I need to make any really drastic changes just now.

Happy new year!


  1. I heard that Sofia Coppola was adapting Fairyland as her next project. Looking forward to reading it - the Fresh Air interview was great.

  2. Congratulations on becoming a full professor and on the style book! I can't wait to read it. I just got My Struggle vol. 1. Am very excited to start it now.

  3. Thanks for the mention in Crime. Shucks.