My Year (in books)

January was spent grief-stricken from the death of my Grandfather. The rest of my family amassed on the other side of the world to celebrate his life; every morning was peppered with updates from my siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. I wanted to be home with them. But I wasn’t. I was at work. Teaching hour to hour, and watching the winter light filter through the trees outside my classroom. Every evening I read The Luminaries. It was all encompassing, distracting, obsessive. And it was New Zealand.

In February I had the flu twice. I read Murakami and Ali Smith and found comfort in my favourites. In February I went on a road trip, it snowed the day we left and I forgot to pack underwear. Every night I washed my only pair in the sink and read The Children’s Book while I waited for them to dry. I marveled at Byatt’s sense of place and space and how, since moving to England, my perceptions of this book had changed. I felt smarter since I’d last read it, and realised how re-reading is, if anything, an act of self reflection, a marker of change. In February I tried to read Cloud Atlas, but it still remains unfinished, a train ticket marking my volatile reading habits. In February I became best friends with Olivia. The first book I ever lent her was Women in Clothes. 

In March I read A Girl is a Half-formed Thing and Difficult Women. March was the month in which wherever I went, The Secret History found me. I saw it at book stalls and charity shops, on friend’s shelves and in my endless internet scrolling. In March we found a sidewalk bookshop; the books were waterlogged and damp, and vines threatened to throttle the shelves.

April was the cruelest month. Ha. Actually it wasn’t. It was the month I finally understood why everyone was so obsessed with Spring. I thought I was too cynical and apathetic for Spring. But the light crept into every corner of the house and there were flowers fucking everywhere. I read The Handmaid’s Tale, Men Explain Things To Me, Three Daughters of Eve, and South and West. I became obsessed with the cult of Sally Roony and devoured Conversations With Friends.

In May I biked around a lot. I lay in the grass and read Atonement for the fourth (fifth?) time, and I still thought Briony was a little bitch. I read passages of Sylvia Plath’s journals aloud to my friends and it felt strange, because she was describing Cambridge exactly the way it feels: lonely and beautiful and a city of extremes. In May we sat by the river a lot, amazed at the light that lasted for hours into the evening.

June called for re-readings of The Virgin Suicides and How I Live Now, because it was summer. We went camping in the middle of nowhere and climbed on the roof of The Wren Library. With June came May Week, and Lorde’s Melodrama. We lay on the floor and listened to the entire album in the darkening room. We ran barefoot across Great Court, her voice running through our heads. We were giddy and drunk on friendship and this ridiculous life. We went to the May Ball and got actually drunk. I wore a emerald silk ball gown that made me feel like Cecelia Tallis from Atonement. We biked home as the sun rose. I didn’t have much time for reading in June.

In July I was underwhelmed by Swing Time and I Love Dick. I loved Too Much and Not The Mood, and it took me weeks to realise the word ‘in’ was absent from the title. I noticed while biking at golden hour, the book was in my basket. I actually stopped at the side of the road and opened it to the title page to check. In July I read lochside or by torchlight as we traveled through Scotland. We were rained on every single day. It was the best. I bitched about how camping was nothing like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was fitting to read A Field Guide to Getting Lost. 

In August I spent lazy days reading on the turret; I would drag pillows and bedding out to create a nest in the sun. I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, City on Fire, The Outrun, A Shepherd’s Life, Ariel, Pnin, Lolita, Attrib, Swimming Lessons, and Autumn. I drunk copious amounts of coffee and became even more obsessed with light than I was before. We went to Summer Shakespeare and I spent an evening ranting about how Romeo + Juliet is the perfect Shakespeare for teenagers to study. We had too many picnics.

I had to go back to work in September and reading was the only thing that kept me afloat. I read The Idiot, My Absolute Darling, and Strange Heart Beating. In September I lent Olivia The Goldfinch and we talked about Fates and Furies. I spent every Sunday in September crunching through fallen leaves and wishing I didn’t have to go back to work the next day. In September I decided to abandon my reading goal, I finally read Possession, and I hoped that Ali Smith would win the Booker.

In October Ali Smith didn’t win the Booker. So I read and read and read her in order to (somehow) quell my rage. One evening in October I stayed up until 2am talking with strangers about indigenous literature, authors with an agenda, the need for female voices, Donna Tartt, Nabokov, Arundhati Roy, bad poetry, good poetry, and our rights and responsibilities as readers. In October I read The Book of Dust and felt too much: I loved it, but I was horrified by its graphic depiction of rape, and worried about how many children might be reading it. In October the light changed and Olivia and I chose The Mothers as our next read while we ate Ramen.

In November I re-read A Little Life and it broke my heart all over again. I read A Month in The Country, The Mothers, The Great Gatsby, and The Bone People. I started four other books and didn’t finish them. It got cold and I swapped my silks and linen for wool and velvet. I found a book in the pocket of my coat. I biked to the bookshop and bought Winter the day it came out. In November I so desperately wanted to quit my job but at a literature festival I heard Ali Smith talk about the need for creativity in the education system, and when she signed my book she told me that teaching changes the world. When I got home I read the inscription, it said: for Laura, in pure admiration.

In December my wish list was laden with books; my brother visited and it snowed. I read Idaho and then couldn’t stop thinking about it; I read Call Me By Your Name and wanted everyone to know that in the book, he eats the peach. I did a lot of writing in December. I read some more Ali Smith, and The Folded Clock. My bedside pile of books got so tall it threatened to topple onto me in my sleep. In December I realised that I wanted to read truly novel novels and decided to read my way though the canon of The Goldsmiths Prize; I’ve begun with Solar Bones, it’s one sentence, and it’s excellently exhausting. In December I had a day that made me feel like teaching was what I was meant to be doing, at least for now. And in December I made a pile of books to take away with me, but it’s the first time my whole family will be together in almost two years, so I don’t think I’ll get much reading done.

2 thoughts on “My Year (in books)

  1. Oh, a new blogpost… It’s really christmas! I am not on instagram, but I finally want to tell you how much I like your photos. And your words even more. So, I was quite happy to see this interesting review of your year. Looking forward to everything you write next year!
    (Wow, and this encounter with Ali Smith gave me goose bumps. You inspired me to pick up Artful, which I liked immensly. Thank you for introducing me to her!)
    Enjoy the time with your family. Merry christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

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