2022 in Books

(2021, 2020 and beyond)

Some notables from a year of reading:

  • Favorite old-men-contemplating-their-lives nearly plotless novel (a micro-genre exemplified by Gilead and Jayber Crow): Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather) — I’d had this on my shelf for years, since I found it at Goodwill shortly after falling in love with Shadows on the Rock, but I haven’t much liked the other WC I’ve read in the interim. This one knocked my socks off and I know I’ll reread it someday. I was enchanted, and now have a much stronger desire to finally see the American southwest.
  • Time travel/history/Catholic mysticism nominee: Sun Slower, Sun Faster (Meriol Trevor) — I talk about it here.
  • Best discussion fodder: The Genesis of Gender (Abigail Favale). I read this over summer vacation and then met with a much smarter friend over gelato to grapple with it. I didn’t love the beginning or end and I’m skeptical of the veracity of the subtitle (A Christian Defense) as it relies heavily on a Catholic argument against contraception, but I appreciated Favale’s methodical building of an argument and contextualization of hot button topics.
  • Most upsetting but rewarding realistic fiction: Yolk (Mary H.K. Choi)—I might not have finished this except that my sister loaned it to me, and I’m so glad I did. Both Jayne and June are prickly, broken people and it took me awhile to see what Choi was doing with her narrator and the story. But of what I’ve read this year it’s one of the books I think of most often, even if it was difficult.
  • Most delightful and thoughtful literary fanfic: Miss Austen (Gill Hornby). I talk about it here.
  • Best audiobook experience: Fortunately the Milk (Neil Gaiman). A friend recommended this one to us and we all guffawed our way through it on a short road trip to the monastery earlier this year. Since then, Pip and I have read it aloud together again and enjoyed the insane illustrations.
  • Favorite poetry: Richeldis of Walsingham (Sally Thomas). Lovely. I am a sucker for stories that weave in and out of time over a bit of land, and these narrative poems surrounding Mary’s apparition in England and the history of that one place sure delivered. I hope we can make a pilgrimage to Walsingham this summer.
  • Most pleasantly perplexing: Piranesi (Susanna Clarke). I read a tolerable number of books and while I haven’t read exhaustively in fantasy and science fiction I can usually tell what tradition a story is working out of and guess some of the reveals. Not this time! John read this aloud to me in the weeks before and after Teddy was born, and the sweet narrator kept me guessing straight through.
  • How did he ever plot this? Award goes to: Cloud Cuckoo Land (Anthony Doerr). A friend mailed this giant tome to me and I read it during one cold week in January and it kind of blew my mind. There was the same beautiful prose as in All the Light We Cannot See but the disparate strands here absolutely defy categorization. There are strands of science fiction, literary fiction and historical fiction and somehow—somehow—they all work. Such a wild ride. I loved it.
  • Best comfort read romcom: Very Sincerely Yours (Kerry Winfrey). I read this at the end of 2022/2023, exhausted, traveling, and, unbeknownst to me, rapidly slumping into gestational diabetes, and it was just what I want in a romance: funny, charming, with a strong sense of place, engaging side characters, a bit literary and not too explicit.
  • Book I most want to live inside: The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge). It took me and Scout several terms and a couple restarts to get through this, but I’m so glad we did, because we both enjoyed it so much that for her last birthday I gave her a new copy (the dog having eaten the cover off our original) and a little pink geranium of her own. Things I look for in books for Scout: strong but feminine female leads, lots of beauty, descriptions of flowers and clothes, maybe a fantastical creature or two. This delivered.
  • Best sick day book: Spinning Silver (Naomi Novik). I didn’t end up liking the whole book as much as the early chapters hinted I would, but I enjoyed the fairy tale aspects, the unusual perspectives, the mysterious, foreboding tone of the early chapters. I can see how those would be difficult to sustain, though — I just wish some of the protagonists hadn’t dealt in such morally questionable behavior and been rewarded for their wiliness, even if that’s in keeping with folk tales generally.

30 After 30 at 35

I’m trying to make my motto for this hard time Flannery O’Connor’s, as she struggled with lupus:

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

So, that being said, I’m trying to look at my thirty-fourth year as a time of growth and blessing, even with the losses it brought. (To see my original list, click here.)

Not a fashion blogger, but: the Rowena Wool Dress from Wool&, belt: vintage; glasses: my unfortunate $10 backup pair

Work on refining my signature style. I used ThredUp during the spring to buy a half dozen cotton, knee-length, washable dresses to get me through the summer, embracing the size I am and not holding off in the hope that I’d be immediately pregnant. (ThredUp sharing code here — $20 for each of us) For my birthday, I’ve ordered a merino wool dress and I’m thinking of trying the 100 Day Challenge.

Learn how to cook at least five cuts of red meat well. We got another 1/8 of a cow, in addition to about 40 pounds of chicken breasts through a farmer friend.

Making an Advent wreath with the help of Baby Yoda

Celebrate one liturgical event a month. I haven’t kept track, but we have done weekly readings of saint biographies and some baked goods to celebrate — and we said a prayer for the dead every time we ate a piece of Halloween candy in November LIKE WEIRDOS. (I loved it.)

Find a church ministry I can be a part of. I led a book club for our parish chapter of Blessed Is She, reading In This House of Brede, The Color of Compromise, and The Awakening of Miss Prim.

Fit in long walks at every opportunity. Hey, thanks, pandemic!!

Discover new shared interests with J. We’ve done a lot of hiking this year, and for awhile we were baking a lot of Great British Baking Show-inspired desserts.

Grow my own herbs each year. Thyme, sage, basil, peppermint and rosemary, but also tomatillos, tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkin this year.

Start treating myself to fresh flowers each week, even if it’s the bargain bouquet. I still am not great about buying them for myself (especially when I’m not in the store), but between nursing along sympathy bouquets through February, my own blooms from March through November, and now birthday arrangements, I’ve done pretty well.

Hey, that mask really brings out the silver in your hair!!

Keep going gray. Me and everybody in 2020, am I right? My sister trimmed my hair in October, but otherwise it’s just been doing its own (aggravating) thing since the day in January I last had a real haircut, when I was pregnant but not sick and starting to get worried.

Try to get back up to the book a week reading average that’s been my adult standard. Voracious reading post-miscarriage, the inability to concentrate on anything for several weeks as the pandemic unspooled, and then back to my weekly average or so.

Make time to write well. So many letters and emails and journal entries this year, even when I was feeling less sure about what I wanted published for all the world — though I did get published in Dappled Things and Pray Tell.

Give myself and the people around me a little more grace. Mixed progress. I’ve definitely been more tense during parts of this year, but I think I’ve done a good job keeping in touch with friends without taking their lack of communication personally. We all have so much to deal with, we get a free pass to be a little erratic.

“Books I Want to Read by My 18th Birthday”

Last weekend I went down into the basement to change over the laundry and discovered a water line had burst and was spurting water over half the basement. We got it stopped quickly and the only real damage was that my yearbooks got a bit soggy.

As I fanned the yearbooks out so they might dry out without mildewing, cursing myself for not taking that book preservation course in library school, I found the typed document below:

I’m 34 now, and so I made this list at least a half a lifetime ago, and while I have no memory of it, I assume the books are selected from my parents’ shelves, judging by how eclectic the list is.

Some of these, as is evident, I read by high school graduation. The last four were cheating, added after I’d read them for class; Lord of the Rings I read to impress a boy — a boy I’d later marry, a series from which we’d eventually draw our firstborn’s name. Silent Spring I read in what was probably my favorite high school class, AP Environmental Science, whose ideas inform a great deal of my home making and daily life, and whose classes took me canoeing the springs of North Florida and constructing my own mini ecosystem.

The Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost, The Constitution, and Utopia I read in Great Books in college and discussed in the warm, high-ceilinged rooms of the old college chapel — I remember arguing particularly hard on behalf of Milton’s earnestness against other students’ preference for the devil. Mrs Dalloway I read for my English major and I was still thinking of Woolf’s depiction of London when I studied in the U.K. my senior year. I know I read at least bits of Walden and Leaves of Grass in undergrad but I’m hesitant to say I read all of either, though I remember the zing of some of those zesty lines.

A Passage to India I read as a newlywed in Uganda because it was free on my iPod Touch (!!). I also read all the bits of the Bible we hadn’t touched in my college classes.

The Once and Future King I read lonely and hopeful on a couch in rural western Massachusetts as I waited for everything to begin: grad school, a job opportunity in the crumpled economy of 2009, the friendships that would shape my next six years.

Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein I read (or re-read) and discussed in my 30s in Virginia, huddled with a cup of tea and something sweet in the living room of one of my closest friends for book club.

That leaves a good eight or so to read in the next eighteen years, and it’s hard to imagine where life will find me then. Some I can’t imagine why I wanted to read then or why I would now—In Cold Blood and Slaughterhouse Five are probably both too gory for me, and I’m too old now to have a chance of empathizing with Holden Caulfield or even idealistic, unflinching Thoreau. But maybe homeschooling will have me reading Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe with the kids someday; maybe Well-Read Moms will tackle Moby Dick, and this list reminds me that I never have gotten around to Faulkner.

The girl who wrote this list couldn’t imagine the woman I am now, and sometimes it’s hard now to remember the girl I was then. But books form the threads between the two of us, each existing in time, so different in our dreams in experiences, but linked to one another by a shared love of the written word.

Literary Sibling Sets

 

unnamed-1.jpgHere is an insight into my brain: Whenever a friend is expecting a new baby, I play this game in which I try to situate this baby amongst his or her siblings as a literary sibling set. (I recognize this is not normal.) Pippin’s godparents, for instance, were expecting their fourth and so far had a Narnia Pevensie family lineup: boy, girl, boy. When they found out they were having another girl, they just went ahead and named her after the fourth kid in the Pevensie family, and that’s how that sweet Lucy got her name.

Here are the sibling sets I can think of off the top of my head and reference most often, with their attributes in personality test/horoscope style. Still, I can’t think of one for my particular set of monkeys (boy, girl, girl). Which ones am I missing?Read More »

Family Work

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“Have you ever asked what work your family is supposed to do together?”

It’s a question I came across this winter in Jennifer Fulwiler’s One Beautiful Dream as I recovered from a particularly nasty stomach bug. And sometimes, as on that day, the answer can be summed up succinctly: SURVIVE.

It was a striking question, because while I vacillate a lot about what work I’m supposed to do — tiny library job? pouring more of myself into writing? fully embracing this time at home? — I think I do have a sense of what our family is supposed to do together.Read More »

What’s Saving Me This Winter

In vain I have struggled. It will not do.

After ten winters spent in either New England or the Mid-Atlantic, I’m ready to call it: I am just not a winter person. I don’t like the way my body gets all hunched up against a cold wind, or the way it gets dark so painfully early, or the mess of tracked-in snow, or the canceled plans and sick-day quarantine, or the ice that makes walking scary and driving scarier.Read More »