2022 Selfies…with Books! Year in Review

This is a necessary, yearly ritual. I have felt anxiety building this year like never before. Law school continues to be the culprit and source of it. Perhaps the thought of almost being done, coupled with not really believing that it will end, is truly to blame for this anxiety. I am just very much over it. When I read this again next year, or years from now, I hope that I have recovered from this awful feeling.

But for now, I find considerable comfort in recounting my year through the books I managed to read. Despite the crises brought about by school, present I thank past I for keeping up with reading whenever energy and desire so permitted. I write this in response to anxiety that quickly built up over the course of a gym session, with such rapidity that it completely drained my desire to be there any longer for the day. This writing, therefore, serves as a reminder that along with finding the time and energy to read throughout the year, I also am glad to have found the time and energy to write. Whatever the output was compared to previous years, it doesn’t matter. I’m not comparing. Writing anything is my signal that enough of me continues to persevere. Let’s see what this year taught us! If there was a theme to the books this year, it would have to be this: Affirmation.

  1. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner

A blessing of a book. Crossing to Safety follows a friendship and the dynamics that give all friendships value—and irreplaceable importance. The book truly is a tribute to the connections one is capable of making with others. The inevitable tragedies that flow from our limited time together make our shared existence that much wealthier. I bought this book for dear friends of mine, and I would certainly recommend it as a gift to anyone that has certain people in their heads whenever they think of invaluable human beings. This is the second book I’ve read by Wallace Stegner. As with all my book reading choices, I got the sudden urge to read him again, and I had just so happened to find a physical copy of this book in my local Barnes & Noble—my corporate bookstore of choice. I don’t recall why I didn’t spring for the physical copy right then and there. It could be that I was on another swing from preferring digital books, perhaps as an excuse to once again try to use my aging Lenovo tablet. Obviously I ended up buying it anyway, digitally. It’s better this way. I’d prefer to have that book everywhere I go.

  1. Island, Aldous Huxley

Another blessing of a book. I am fortunate that the books I pick up, which really are the result of sudden, urgent urges, mostly work out. I’ll explain shortly why they’re not all winners. Island is the fourth book I have read by Aldous Huxley, with Brave New World, Ape and Essence, and Doors of Perception being the three priors. I don’t have to be a betting man to know I’ll pick up more of his work in the coming years. Island came along at a time during the year when I felt myself searching for a sign. I needed a sign that the answers I needed to find were simply reminders, rather than lessons that would need to be hard learned. I truly am tired of hard lessons. Turned out that my previous contemplations of existence, time, being, and of what is valuable, were to be found here. If the theme of the year is Affirmation, Island built off Crossing to Safety. Affirm your friendships and relationships with those closest to you. Affirm your relationship with yourself.

I will re-write the quote I picked out from the book, because it bears repeating: “He couldn’t help it because there was no other way in which he could express his thankfulness. Thankfulness for the privilege of being alive and a witness to this miracle, of being, indeed, more than a witness—a partner in it, an aspect of it. Thankfulness for these gifts of luminous bliss and knowledgeless understanding. Thankfulness for being at once this union with the divine unity and yet this finite creature among other finite creatures.”

“Attention!” the Mynah birds shout. To never stray far from being a being of bliss sounds like a good goal to me.

  1. (Unfinished) Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Perhaps I will one day finish this book. Though I suspect it’s an unnecessary struggle and likely a waste of time. What’s to affirm here? That it’s good to know what you like and don’t like. More importantly, it’s important to be able to say what you like and don’t like. Infinite Jest, to me, read like the work of someone who was obnoxiously smart. Obnoxious because there are so many details about drugs, and milligram amounts, and minutiae that read like he was padding pages rather than contributing something of value. This is one of those books I may not “get” given the high praise that line its front and back cover. It seems to me this is a post-modernist book that would fit in the radical propaganda of The Cultural Revolution—who am I, reactionary capitalist that I am, to say how a book should or should not be formed? Who, indeed, as if I couldn’t have a value or belief system of my own. Having written all that, I do believe I will give this book another chance. I got lost in the characters and the chapter titles—they seemed to repeat in ways I couldn’t readily discern—but I think I more or less understood what was going on. Something about a tennis player who had long conversations that turned out to all be in his head? Names repeated, too…I recall a Costanza and being confused about there being multiple Costanzas but them not being related? See, I’m clearly confused. Will perhaps revisit another time.

  1. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Put this one in the list of books that will fuck you up. I have to thank Mr. Dostoyevsky because upon finishing this book, I immediately had the urge to write. For me, writing serves the function of detonating a metaphorical bundle of TNT at the base of a greedy dam, that at the time was filled with the persistent negative emotion of the year: Anxiety; such that the increasingly fetid water may flow and be cleansed by natural currents. The writing that emerged from this book, upon further reflection, ties with the year’s theme perfectly. It was simply me affirming to myself that the way I had conducted and managed myself throughout the year, and years prior, was correct. The pacing wasn’t great, but I’ve managed to end up where I’ve wanted to be. Sorry to leave you with such generalities—those around me will know the specifics.

  1. Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

The final blessing of the year. This book affirmed that when you’re with the one you love, nothing else matters. There may be a war that will ultimately take your loved one away, true, but while you yet live, nothing else matters. And isn’t that a great summation to what was previously affirmed by Crossing to Safety and Island. Our time on this earth is brief, but if we have the luxury, privilege, and blessings of companionship and love, what a thoroughly rich experience we can have in a daily, if not second-by-second manner.

That is all for the year! My latest impulse buy, and my current read, is The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. I initially picked up Red Sorghum, by Mo Yan, because I was in the mood for reading something set during China’s Cultural Revolution. It seems my brain also craved a sci-fi book so it was just my very good luck that The Three-Body Problem checked both of those boxes. Blessings throughout the year. Blessings to end the year. I hope always for blessings to come.

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