2021 Selfies…with Books! Year in Review!

Due to my continuing inability to understand search engine optimization—and my also continuing inability to keep a consistent writing schedule—this blog’s readership is probably an encouraging number of one. I am still here, after all. As a result of words that may at some point or may not ever be read, I’ve come to find an exhibitionist pleasure in keeping what basically amounts to a personal journal for anyone interested enough to read. It’s a shy exhibitionism, admittedly; while I crane my neck looking for attention, the attention I seek I’d rather leave in an incognito mode. But, as usual, I digress.

We’ve all by now turned the page on 2021, and COVID remains our annoying and increasingly unwelcomed companion. The death tolls announced throughout the past two years seemed to want to evoke a plague of Middle Age proportions. While masked reapers bearing CDC insignias and pamphlets might have properly relayed the seriousness of this novel coronavirus, privacy considerations largely prevented the images of death and suffering that might have kept everyone home for two weeks so that Ye Olde COVID-19 might die. Testimonials would have to do, but really, what exactly is the percentage of readers in this country? In the world?

I write this not as my snub against CDC guidelines or to defy the warnings of those who have devoted their lives and time to microbiology, virology, and public speaking, but only to say that I have been, thus far, mercifully spared from great misfortune. As with all of my previous Selfies…with Books! Year in Review posts, I take some time out of the beginning of the year to look back on the books that now act both as bookmarks in the Christian calendar and as guideposts that mark my personal development. Age might have something to do with my need to chronicle The Mundane Adventures of Myself, but this little exercise has served me well in personal ways. While America yesterday commemorated January 6, 2021, with a ceremony of its own, these writings are also a commemoration of my earlier moments of enlightenment that now do make me truly appreciative of the truly mundane in life. Huxley would understand.

The first book I read this year was Rabbit: A Memoir, by Patricia Williams, otherwise known as the comedian, Ms. Pat. Her standup is inseparable from the tales of her youth and if her act was on the syllabus, her memoir would be, at the very least, suggested reading. While not required to understand her jokes—most of which I came to realize were not jokes but absurd reiterations of actual events—her book made me appreciate her material more. It takes serious healing, introspection, and communicative ability to not be consumed and bitter by the dark episodes of one’s past.

I saw her live when COVID restrictions on public gatherings began to lift at the beginning of this year. My roommates and I jumped on the opportunity to see a live act—that the act was hers was a lovely, perfectly coincidental icing on the cake. I have to admit to being a little on edge when I attended. America and its mass shootings have, quite unfortunately, left a lingering paranoia in my mind that you should not let your guard down whenever you’re gathered in a relatively small place with people you don’t know. We, the audience, almost came out of the show unscathed, save for one perhaps well-meaning but socially awkward young man who approached the stage and asked…something. I can’t remember the specifics but it was an interaction that went on longer than it should have—and which put me on edge—but which Ms. Pat ultimately defused.

The second book I read this year was Stendhal’s Scarlet and Black. Some books are slogs to get through, either because they really are complicated pieces of prose or because you just can’t get in the right headspace to enjoy them. I had tried before to read Scarlet and Black but put it down for both of the above reasons. Picking it up again this year, I resolved to start the book over because there was no way I was going to remember any of the characters’ names, their roles, or their significance. I am now wary, for reasons I’ll explain later, of reading a Sparknotes or Sparknotes derivative summary because I find their material suitable to a sleep-deprived high schooler who needs the bare minimum to write a soon-to-be-but-hopefully-not late essay. I’d like to think that I’ve progressed beyond such a characterization. Thinking back on this book now, I remember liking it, in the way I like saucy, comparatively modest, romances between members of high and lower-middle class members of classical society, but I’m failing to recall more specific reasons for why I might recommend this to someone over anything comparable written by Henry James. I suppose if you’re a Francophile, Stendhal’s Scarlet and Black might be more up your alley.

Going by the date on Instagram, I would have started this book shortly after the Spring semester was over and had finished it, perhaps, before the summer semester began. This was the first year I subjected myself to some iteration of year-round law school (with the exception of a winter semester) so I’m sure I must have needed some material to provide a break or contrast from one law session to another.

Now, I remember my summer classes being annoying, but they must not have been too rigorous because it looks like I picked up my third (non-law) book of the year while the semester was going on and may have finished the book before the semester finished. Apologies for all the prepositions.

The third book of 2021 was Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. As with Scarlet and Black, I had tried reading this book before, even listening to it, but could not keep the characters straight. Who knows why now, but I am much more able to better visualize and understand the course of events that move a story forward. Having to keep case details surely has helped, but I feel that my brain has slowed down, in a good, ponderous way, and allowed me to keep my thoughts from running in no less than four different directions.

The urgency to start and finish this book might have come from our pending dismissal from the house we were renting. We have had the bad luck of only being able to stay in each house, the second by this point, for only one year because the owners had elected to sell the property, rather than continue renting it to us. Amazon’s impending arrival and the growth of an apparent real estate bubble had homeowners in the area reaching the same conclusion: Sell. This particular house had a large backyard. While most of it was covered in brick plates, our lack of maintenance meant that plants that should have been butchered in their infancy instead continued to grow and form a scattered, though no less convincing, urban jungle. For the ‘gram, I needed to take a picture before leaving.

The last book of the year was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I had planned to restart a non-fiction book, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, by Brian Boyd, but could not find the enthusiasm to get started, despite having the enthusiasm to read it. Out of the void, the ether, the mysterious energy that so often guides and rewards me, I had an intense desire to read The Catcher in the Rye. I had heard that it was about some whiny kid and some people really hated the book because of the character’s cynicism, nihilism, and aforementioned whininess. But I’ve found, again as the result of keeping up this blog, that it’s better to have an informed opinion first before going off of what someone who isn’t you says about something you might be interested in. This is why I avoid SparkNotes.

I fall into the camp of people that loved this book. I had serious sympathies for Holden Caulfield that some might regard as enabling or excusatory of his behavior. And as simplistic as his viewpoints might be—who’s phony, what’s a worthy pursuit—it was perhaps that simplicity that resonated with me and impacted me personally. Societally speaking, in late 2021, it’s hard to get opinions out of people; either opinions that they’re willing to share or opinions that they’re willing to defend. I may be as juvenile as Holden, but at least when he called someone phony, he was able to support why he had that opinion. He shared, from a first-person perspective, his thoughts for us to critique, or at the very least respond to. That, in itself, is bravery and it was, again, a bravery that impacted my life for the better. No bullshit.

That does it! I read when I could and I cherished everything that I read. One final note, to break the monotony of law cases and statutes, I have been working through 50 Great Short Stories, edited by Milton Crane, and have come across gems that I recommend to others, which will be listed below.

Books Read

  1. Rabbit: A Memoir, by Patricia Williams a/k/a Ms. Pat
  2. Scarlet and Black, by Stendhal
  3. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Short Stories Read

  1. The Garden Party, by Katherine Mansfield
  2. The Three-Day Blow, by Ernest Hemingway
  3. The Standard of Living, by Dorothy Parker
  4. The Saint, by V.S. Pritchett
  5. The Other Side of the Hedge, by E.M. Forster
  6. The Jockey, by Carson McCullers
  7. The Shot, by Alexander Poushkin (translated by T. Keane)

Posts and Poems Written

  1. Thoughtless: Disjointed Reflections on Afghanistan
  2. Duplicity (Poem)
  3. Dismantling Post-Truth
  4. The Uncompromising Nature of Tragedy

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