I think it’s de rigueur to be baffled by reaching this time of year. Life is lived in the tone of: How did we? What is it? How are we? What will we? And other questions.
Perhaps, for us, this year more than most. In January I had a baby. In November, we lost Paul. In between, due both to Paul and Harvey, there were many sleepless nights. When we were in the thick of Harvey’s first three months, we asked a lot of people with older kids how they managed to get through that period—not because we weren’t getting through it, we were. We just wanted to know how other people chose to split up the time, those sleepless dark hours, midnight movie club. Everyone told us they couldn’t remember, which felt more baffling to me then, I think, but still, even now, I can remember.
Anyway, here we are, and Harvey will be a year old next month. Paul is in space. The world is what the world always is: hard and beautiful. Sometimes it masks the hard part better, but it’s never entirely absent.
I usually do a year in reading post around now, and since this is certain to be my last post of the year (also my second? It’s been a weird year!) I have been thinking about my reading life. Different, necessarily: I read about half as much this year as I generally do. Some people are good at reading while breastfeeding, but I am not one of those people; I should have tried to read books on my phone, but I never did. I often propped gigantic tomes up with one hand, trying to get through a few pages while Harvey slept. It wasn’t ideal, but also, it was fine. I read a great deal that I liked, even if I didn’t read a great deal.
Two of the best books I read this year are both horror novels: Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez (trans. Megan McDowell) is a stunning, sprawling, demonic trip into the political hellscape of ultrawealthy Argentina. A family cult, rituals of possession, feeding a dark presence, the disappeared. It’s a thrilling book, oddly beautiful genuinely hair-raising, and probably the book I’ve recommended most, though if you don’t like horror, yes, it’s scary.
The other novel in this category was surprisingly less frightening to me: Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova. The elevator pitch here (which is why I thought I wouldn’t be able to read it) is that a mother whose young son dies feeds chicken broth to a piece of his lung (which she cuts out of his body in indeed the most horrific chapter of the book; also the first) until it grows into a little beast (and then…maybe a new boy?) who she names Monstrilio. This book was actually much more about having an unexpected child, and the burdens of being that child, trying to live up to a dead predecessor and/or your parents’ expectations. I read it in a day or two, and it really moved me.
Reading Monstrilio constituted cheating on another book I’m currently reading alongside a friend from college: Septology by Jon Fosse (trans. Damion Searls). Fosse just won the Nobel for Literature, and neither of us had ever read him before. Evidently I only read Norwiegan writers who write giant tomes: Fosse, Knaussgard, Singrid Undset (author of Kristin Lavransdatter). This book is very strange, written as one long sentence, and the lack of any true pause is incredibly anxiety-producing. My friend and I are in agreement, so far, that the book has beautiful and transcendent moments, which are bafflingly built on the often frustratingly repetitive style and structure. The layers are very carefully organized and constructed, such that they lead the reader to these incredible insights, which, if you were to describe them, sound really banal and obvious, but which, due to the relentless rhythm of the prose, the intellectual rigor of the object, are affecting in the manner of religious epiphanies. Then it gets kind of boring again. So I cheated with Monstrilio! No regrets.
Other books I loved this year include Reproduction by Louisa Hall (but probably don’t read this if you’re pregnant, or trying to be), The Wall by Marien Haushofer (trans. Shaun Whiteside), Bear by Marian Engel (bestiality, but more so, the romance of the wilderness! But also, bestiality! It’s not that I’m this excited about bestiality, I just want to give fair warning!), The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li, White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link, AND The Book of Love by Kelly Link (her first novel, which comes out next year), Time’s Mouth, by Edan Lepucki, The Fruit of the Dead by Rachel Lyon (also comes out next year!), The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy, The Plains by Gerald Murnane (another weird, ruminative, dreamy novel given to certain repetitions, but much shorter than the Fosse, for better or worse), The Possibility of Life by Jaime Green, Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin (and Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois which plays on the life and style of Laurie Colwin to great effect), The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. My friend Kat Howard put out the second book in her fantasy duology, which started with An Unkindness of Magicians and finished (? For now?) with A Sleight of Shadows. Speaking of which I re-read all the Magicians novels by Lev Grossman while I was up all night with Harvey, because I had digital copies. So I guess I did read some, with him.
These are not all the books I read, nor even all the excellent ones, but I am forgetting some, and also worried that Harv will wake up soon, so I need to start wrapping this up. Another thing that has changed, with a baby: I want to do all the same things (read books, write books, draw comics, post them) but I have much less time in which to do them, so the process is both truncated and drawn out. Each moment of work necessarily brief, while the larger project stretches and spans.
That’s ok for now. Being with Harvey is a project too. It spans.
So here we are. It has been almost a year, for me, with a baby. So strange and foreign but now natural, and mine. Life rippling and settling, changed like a set of sheets on a well-loved bed. Next year, more will change. Who knows what. We shall see.
(Final note: the only roundup of “things I accomplished that you can read on the internet” this year is admittedly a pretty good one, a comic for The New Yorker – it came out a few months ago. You can find it here! Enjoy!)