A pleasant enough ambition

I have truly and deeply lost track of time. This sensation is all the more disorienting because it is intermittent; this morning, for instance, I knew that yesterday was Tuesday, but was nonetheless so surprised that today was Wednesday that I had to briefly sit down to absorb my shock. What does THAT mean? What do you do with THAT? Maybe I need a little wall calendar, so I can periodically refresh my basic Monday-Sunday understanding of linear weekday order.

All this is to say, I might take a break from comics for a couple of weeks, to give myself a little more breathing room on book revisions and the holidays and our generalized existential mess. Perhaps I’ll go back on this when, on Sunday, I inevitably want to sit around and watch tv while somehow also feeling productive. Time will tell, I guess! Except time is an unreliable narrator! So maybe time will make julienned carrots of our psychological welfare! Who can say!

I want to leave you (if I do take a break) with an abridged Year in Reading, because the one thing that has given this strange year the tenor of consistency for me has been books. Last year I read over 100 books, and this year I’m at 86 (The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. I have complicated feelings!), but I don’t think I’ve actually read less; I’ve perhaps lingered more. And of course, I read War and Peace. (Hint: it’s long.)

I’ve already written at length here about how much I cherished the experience of the #TolstoyTogether reading group organized by Yiyun Li for A Public Space, so I don’t wish to repeat myself to much. But I will say, this was a singular reading experience for my lifetime, and I am grateful for that. I know that there are many people in the world who don’t read much, and I can theorize that one reason is that they think every reading experience will require immersion, study, effort, and an enormous amount of time. That is not how it is for me: I read for pleasure, and associate reading with pleasure. Books of course touch on a deep well of spiritual and philosophical concepts for me, and I do absorb ideas about writing, expression, and the human experience most of the time when I read a book. But perhaps because I read so much, all that is generally subsumed by or perhaps woven into my experience of a story. Reading feeds a hunger in me which is never complete, never satisfied.

I had been nervous to embark on War and Peace, having given up on it once or twice before, but I was calmed by the pace of reading—just 12 pages a day—and then, too, by the pace of the book, which lingered in moments and minds, sitting by the fire in the drawing room. The book allows moments to be both vital and fleeting, and that was what I needed in the early days of quarantine. I quickly started reading ahead, and started reading alongside my English translation in Russian, which engaged my mind with a satisfaction I usually associate with a good writing day or an excellent day of class (taken or taught).

Well, I have talked a lot about this after all, haven’t I? I could say more, but I would like to talk briefly about some of the other books I’ve really enjoyed this year, with two understandings: 1. I obviously won’t get to everything, and 2. If you’re in my family, please don’t buy yourself any of these right now, for the love of god.


  • The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe was far and away one of my favorite books of the year. I suppose I don’t need to say that, because this list is predicated on that assumption, but the story, characters, and writing is so absorbing that I have been thinking recently about reading this again, just for the pleasure of going back there. I am friends with Rufi, so I got to text her while reading pieces I especially enjoyed, which was fun, but that’s not why I loved the book. It took my mind out of the internet. That’s what you need to know.
  • Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino: another favorite, which I read just after War and Peace, as it happens. This book is so light on its feet; a conceptual, slippery, imaginative novel that is nonetheless true to the heart of the people at its core.
  • Now I’m looking back at the lists of books I keep as I read to gauge not only What I read but When, and I am stunned again by time. I read Mrs. Caliban (by Rachel Ingalls) this year? (No one told me the fish sex book was so…sad?) I read Space Invaders (by Nona Fernandez, translated wonderfully by Natasha Wimmer) in 2020, and not in some timeless beautiful year when my mind was my own? I read and then was desperate to discuss This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill less than 12 months ago?
  • Time has no meaning
  • Usually when I write about my year in reading, I enjoy creating an annual narrative woven through the texts; that is to say, I enjoy narrating the annum, I tie the time together like pieces of cloth into one coherent set of meanings, but I feel like I cannot this time.
  • This makes me fear I’m going to leave so many books out, because I’m not sure how good you are at counting but I have not written about 86 books yet. What about Want by Lynn Steger Strong, which I read twice, for pleasure and for the pleasure of interviewing Lynn? A remarkable book of the intersection requirement and hunger. What about Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch, which is a dark comedy that should absolutely have been released at Christmastime? What about Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey or Weather by Jenny Offill or The Cheffe by Marie NDiaye or A Fairly Honorable Defeat by Iris Murdoch? I read all those this year?
  • In this House of Brede by Rumer Goden was another long immersion, this time in a convent, and imagine myself back behind those walls often, for their clarity and particularity.
  • Apparently I read that right before The Knockout Queen? What a good period of reading. I do not remember it like that.
  • Weird books that compelled me: Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses which slips through time and avoids sentimentality with a rigor that is almost frightening; Earthlings by Sayaka Murata which attacks human convention through the literary convention of a fable in a way that might actually be frightening; The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich which is exists linguistically and emotionally in the near-dark of a Pacific Northwest winter afternoon and is also about teenage dirtbag vampires, sort of (it’s also about language? and the mind? and loss? and…).
  • Look, I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore. I know I read The Changeling by Victor LaValle at the side of a good pool in a bad neighborhood on a good day in a series of bad days, and damn that book is hair-raising and excellent. I read The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing twice, because it is a structural jewel and a moral horror (intentionally, I mean; thematically). I read Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, and I read a really weird-ass book called Vita Nostra which in one way is a magic school book but in another way is an attempt to deconstruct the reader’s mind via language, and is pretty fun.
  • I read some really great collections of short fiction: If I Had Two Wings by Randall KenanThe Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha PhilyawSleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant-PhillipsBefore You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
  • I don’t know why my links have suddenly started avoiding the author names when I copy/paste them when I highlighted them along with the title; that is a dumb and boring digital mystery  that I am too lazy to fix I guess.
  • I haven’t read Mairead Case’s new novel Tiny yet, but I have it and I am ready for it and I am happy to know it is in my home.
  • Now it’s 10:30am and I am ready to go out and water the garden, to stop copy/pasting overall, and to get on with my day and perhaps have some tea, and though I am haunted by the thought of so many books I have not described, I am also cognizant of the fact that this list is pretty long, and that the meaninglessness of time doesn’t mean that people don’t experience it passing in a certain way, and that maybe you all have things to do too.
  • So here I will leave you.
  • There are weeks still left in the year and I’m still reading.
  • Let us hope we will read on and on, through the end of this year and into the new year, which is delineated arbitrarily from the last in the most human sense. Which is to say the delineation is both meaningless and deeply meaningful, because we imbue it with that reality and purpose.
  • Ok, that’s it, time for tea.