It feels a little odd doing a year-end wrap-up of a mostly silent blog year, but I think I can handle it; in fact, I’m going to enjoy this opportunity to run off at the mouf a bit.
Anyway, the usual, hey? Highlights, a few lowlights, and some mush about what’ll go down in 2015 (because I go rogue on all my own plans, always).
Books to begin
It’s been a banner year for reading; indeed, I can’t think of a year with fewer irredeemable duds (did I say the very same thing last year? If so, I’m really on a sweet roll here!). There were a couple of bookish disasters, of course, and the most striking, shocking, painful and horrifying one was The Bone Clocks, the latest novel by my now ex-boyfriend David Mitchell. It is a terrible book. Terrible.
The Bone Clocks is a mess of boring incomprehensibility floundering around in the death-filled hinterland between mediocre and straight-up dreadful. My husband and I went to see DM in September at the International Festival of Authors and the lovely DM I met at previous events was gone; he’d been body-snatched by a smug, self-involved, Famous Author. At one point, he un-ironically asserted that we wouldn’t all be there if we didn’t like the book…to which I silently rejoined (brow furrowed in disappointment), “But I had to buy these tickets before the book was even released…”
So, what’s wrong with it? It doesn’t make sense as a novel, as in there is no convincing, unified, interesting, or comprehensible plot; neither does it read well as a look into DM’s ever-growing mega-world. Speaking of the latter, he related how his editor accused him of building his own Middle Earth and he admitted this to be true; he earnestly and without embarrassment talked about “world-building.” Dear DM: when the world becomes the story instead of the setting for the story, you’d better get it right. You didn’t get it right.
Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl was also entirely stinky.
To get back to the good news:
Redburn, Herman Melville. Apparently HM hated this novel, having written it in something like 10 weeks and only for the filthy lucre. He wrote another novel, White Jacket, under the very same circumstances and I’m on a mad hunt for it now. Redburn is pure grace and exuberance under pressure, and probably my favourite book of 2015.
The Steppe, Anton Chekhov. For me, the new gold standard for the short, intensely literary novel.
Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel. HM remains one of the only reasons I haven’t lost faith entirely in contemporary fiction.
The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh. Utterly demented and hilarious, this wee novel made me profoundly and raucously happy; it is perfect. This and Decline and Fall, which I also read this year, have made it clear that I should probably revisit the Waugh novels I haven’t enjoyed in case the problem (likely) is that I wasn’t feeling smart or strange or funny enough when I read them to properly appreciate them.
The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens. CD didn’t figure out what his story was till about halfway through (i.e., circa the page 450 mark) but who cares? It’s pure Dickens: hilarious, gently satirical, and entirely original. And because of Sam Weller, from now on I plan to greet everyone under 35 thus: “Well, young brockiley sprout, wot then?”
Cycling, of course
I rode to work about 70% of the time this year, which was mostly delightful but did include some lowlights such as once hitting black ice during rush hour and almost ending up underneath a car; getting caught in a biblical downpour that resulted in my 20-minute ride taking 45 because the flood waters reached almost to my knees; seeing even more road kill than usual; having random coworkers make jokes about me moonlighting as a pizza delivery person because of my ultra-red panniers.
I didn’t write much this year outside work hours because of the fatigue and that bloody lingering pinched nerve; but there are a few I’m really quite fond of. This one on walking is probably the one I like best, but my distracted musings on Boris Pasternak and my black celebration of corporate lingo also pleased me.
My post about the death of our beloved Gregory bunny did not satisfy me; it does justice neither to what an intrepid and irresistible little curmudgeon he was, nor to how entirely we loved him. We still miss him every day.
Food for the finale
The irony of making heaps of money is that while my husband and I can afford all kinds of pricy vittles, including weekly organic produce boxes delivered to our very door, there was barely any time for cooking except in a rush and using the fewest dishes possible.
But there were some truly delicious surprises worth mentioning, too:
Cocoa powder in smoothies. I read some “science” somewhere about chocolate being good for the brain and the mood, so decided to subject myself and my husband to a little experimentation. I don’t know if it’s reducing our chances of memory loss but it is certainly making us happier, if only because it is so ridiculously tasty. Add anything to a smoothie you like, but if there’s cocoa powder, that thing will taste like chocolate.
Super-fancy jam. A good friend of mine introduced us to an amazing little shop very far from our house called Kitten & The Bear. Kitten & The Bear sells small jars of jam for a minimum of $10 each and they are so worth it that I’m thinking of writing a modern Redburn in the next 10 weeks just to make sure I can continue to afford it. Ontario plum and Earl Grey Tea jam, people.
Raw oatmeal. I went to my hometown for half a weekend this summer to attend a funeral. I stayed in a hotel that prided itself on having the saggiest, dustiest beds in the western world; I barely slept and felt generally wretched. I saw a couple people I liked, felt guilty about the people I liked but didn’t have time to see, went to a sad funeral, and spent the rest of the time hoping not to see the people I don’t like. And I discovered Fruition Raw Foods, which is run by a pair of clean, good-looking, marketing-savvy, young hippy-lets who make the best goddamn fresh almond milk and the best goddamn raw oatmeal in this and all other universes.
Cheddary broccoli soup. Really, every recipe in vegan grand dame Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s latest cookbook, Isa Does It, is both every important question and its answer simultaneously, but this one…I think it might actually be the most comforting soup of all time. Just make it, (but with the nutritional yeast heaping, and with double the garlic and carrots). Also: if you forget to soak the cashews or just can’t wait, you can just boil those bad boys for 15 minutes, drain them, and you’re gold.
Well, this is long but you know, it’s kind of been a long year. In many ways a good one, I think; but I won’t be sorry to see it walk away either.
Oh right, the mush: I’m going to read a bunch of non-fiction! And more 19th-century doorstoppers! And try to read much more international fiction! Feel free to laugh at me now, or reserve your scorn for later; I’ll be here.
See you in January, sweeties.