2015: Year of the Woolf

It’s been a satisfying and frustrating year; one of highs and lows, hope and something approaching despair (never actual despair; there would be no talking about full and ripe despair); productivity and slackness; the joyful and the maudlin….

Where am I going here? Straight to Dickens, it seems: 2015 really has encompassed the best and worst of times, & c, & c. But it’ll be more gratifying now, as well as increase my chances of remembering the delights later, if I make this year’s final post one of pure celebration.

Books, always books

The greatest joy (and repository of diffused despair), was the large and delicious handful of Virginia Woolf I read this year. As my friend G., who got me reading her in the first place, has noted: Woolf was born on a more intelligent planet than this one; there is no hope of being equal to the beautiful, almost overwhelming, task she’s set for regular mortals like me; reading her work is to be in the presence of a brain infinitely larger than mine, an intellectual humbling that is nonetheless invigorating in all the right ways.

2015 Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is simply too many for me, which means that of her works I’ve read this year, I can’t choose a favourite; indeed, the very notion of “favourite” stops making any sense at all when I think of these books, all so recognizably Woolfish, but also all so different from one another:

  • The Death of the Moth and Other Essays
  • To the Lighthouse
  • Mrs Dalloway
  • The Voyage Out
  • The Waves

Genius to the left and right, below and above, all around. There will be more Woolf in 2016, depend on it and rejoice.

I, of course, read books by other authors this year and many were wonders to be thankful for.

2015 And the Land Lay StillMy doctoral thesis supervisor and I exchange emails periodically, a back and forth focusing heavily on reading suggestions. She is enviably widely read: she and her former partner, for example, read the entirety of Thackeray aloud to each other; and she has read all or almost all of Balzac AND Zola in the original French. I aspire to her depth, breadth and curiosity, so try to take her suggestions.

This year, the two biggies I thank her for are Émile Zola’s Germinal and James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still. The latter was an especial gift, in part because it was so difficult to get hold of: Not distributed in Canada at all, I had to order it from the UK and the first copy was lost in the mail! It is a messy, perfect, raging reflection on recent Scottish political and cultural history considered through individual lives. Robertson has made me quite certain that Hilary Mantel is not the only genius alive and writing today; this in turn has given me courage to get back to reading more by living writers.

Speaking of which: Icelandic golden boy, Sjón‘s short novella The Whispering Muse contains both worlds and pure, righteous glee in really good storytelling. This book (and the other of his I’ve read, The Blue Fox) is fully and irresistably insane. I’ve got another of his waiting for me just the other side of 2015…

Still, the 19th century maintains a firm hold on my reading heart, and this year gave me three particularly brilliant examples of the period (besides Zola, of course): Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right

2015 The Heaven TreeAnd some simply excellent good reads from the 20th century to round out this year’s best: Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent and Edith Pargeter’s The Heaven Tree, the latter of which had me sitting up by myself in a midnight-bound house in PEI weeping uncontrollably until it was done. Excellent, wonderful times.

Play me more music

I think I’ve mentioned here before that one of the great life pleasures I lost in grad school was music; it’s been taking a very long time to get back but I’ve made great strides this year: I’ve gotten to know 4 artists’ albums that were only a year old a year ago.

Vance Joy (best known in North America for his catchy “Riptide”) won my everlasting love and devotion with a song called “Mess is Mine,” a lovely and painful piece with a suitably bizarre video to accompany it. (I can say precisely the same thing about “Georgia,” actually.)

Janelle Monae‘s Electric Lady album is almost perfect, but “Dance Apocalyptic” and “Primetime” are particularly fine. Damn, her voice is perfection. (And “Look at you: you look just like a little ol’ earthquake” is one of the best lyrics of the millennium.)

George Ezra‘s big voice takes nothing away from the utter sweetness of the video he did with Sir Ian McKellan for “Listen to the Man.” But “Budapest” is pretty alright too and has a weirdo video as a bonus.

2015 Bleachers Strange Desire

Bleachers wins 2015 for me though. Strange Desire is, in my unqualified but enthusiastic opinion, a perfect album. Since the sad January day I discovered it (I was in the corporate offices shriveling into a sad husk), I’ve listened to it several times a week without fail. I love it more every time I listen to it; it’s very like rereading a favourite book over and over again.

I still love to eat

We went to NYC this past October, so this section could quite reasonably discuss only what we ate there; it is a very babel of super-excellent vittles (I stick by this imperfect metaphor).

We particularly enjoyed a greasy breakfast at Champs Diner followed by donuts around the corner at Dun-Well Doughnuts, both of which made us keen to move to Brooklyn if ever we become billionaires.

Beyond SushiIn Manhattan (I think? I’m not entirely clear on the borders; not on the same side of the bridges as Brooklyn), we saw veg sushi taken to a whole new level of flavour without relying on fakey anything with Beyond Sushi — roasted Brussels on sushi, amiright?? And the vegan mac and cheeze at by CHLOE. is hands down the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had, anywhere. I want to fly down there for some of these fine vittles RIGHT NOW.

More locally, Porter House has proved to be ample consolation for many of this year’s disappointments; the BBQ jackfruit sammich is one of the loves of my life. Cosmic Treats, while it has some things to figure out, has one very important thing down pat: deep-fried mac and cheeze balls. Finally, Toronto finally got its very own fully vegan pizza joint this year: Apiecalypse Now! All their pies are show-stopping numbers. Again, I say, rejoice!

A few other truly awesome things

Because I’m running out of both steam and ideas for categories, here’s a bulletted list of other parts of 2015 that were pretty darned great:

Bubbles Xmas

  • Ten years of married happiness with B, of course
  • The phrase about sexist language that “mines the same rich seam of bullshit” that this blogger’s previously discussed, from this post about Chrome’s app for helping ladies not write like simpering, idiotic ladies; but also the post itself, which is totally on point

Finally, and most importantly, there was our cat Columbo’s miraculous comeback tour. Right after we got back from PEI in September, he almost died. He had a number of strokes and became unable to urinate so was both confused and in pain. He spent a few days on an IV drip and having his bladder drained at the vet…after which, he was sent home to die with us.

But he didn’t die. He started doing all the regular bodily things that seem like no big deal until you can’t do them anymore; his appetite spiked and be started gaining weight; he began jumping up onto our bed in the middle of the night again. What I thought was going to be a respite of a few days or maybe weeks turned into months. I started to relax. But then he had another little stroke a few nights ago; he’s improbably bounced back again but we’ve been reminded, also again, to make every moment count. Here’s to a 2016 full of moments counted and enjoyed entirely.

Please stay, buddy; we love you so much.
Please stay, buddy; we love you so much.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Rohan Maitzen says:

    What a wonderful round-up of delights! I’ve added ‘The Lay of the Land’ to my list of books to look out for. You enjoyed ‘He Knew He Was Right,’ I take it? The one time I taught it we all had a wonderful time working through it. Students would show up saying they hurried through all the reading for their other classes because they so wanted to catch up with what the people in HKHWR were up to — something I actually don’t remember ever happening with other loose baggy monsters I’ve assigned. I’m so glad Columbo made it through the year – may he and his people flourish in 2016!

    1. Colleen says:

      Oh yes, I loved He Knew He Was Right–in fact, it may be my favourite Trollope novel so far. I can see that it would be a joy to teach, too–there’s just so much going on with masculinity, for example, which AT was fairly obsessed with. I’m looking forward to one of his other masterpieces this year, The Way We Live Now.

      As for Columbo, he’s roaring to be letting out into the wind and snow right now–in other words, he’s fully himself. 🙂

    1. Colleen says:

      I know! You’ve been very encouraging of my reading this year…er last year. Happy New Year!

  2. Stefanie says:

    I read two Woolf’s, Orlando (reread) and The Waves (Amazing!) and wondered why don’t read more Woolf more often. You can bet there will be some Woolf in 2016! And all your talk of food is making me really hungry. Good thing it is close to lunch time at the moment. Sorry about Columbo, I am glad he made a comeback and sorry for his recent setback. What a sweet funny face he has! I hope you have a lot of time still left with him!

    1. Colleen says:

      He does have a sweet funny face, doesn’t he? He also sometimes look incredibly noble too; I’ll post some photos of that here one of these days.

      I need to reread Orlando myself. It was the only Woolf I read in my early 20s and I didn’t really like it–I suspect now I just wasn’t either smart or mature enough for it!

      1. Stefanie says:

        Yay for more photos! As for Orlando, I read it in my 20s too and liked it but wasn’t wowed. On the reread I discovered it is a very funny book. 🙂

  3. heidenkind says:

    I have to confess I’ve never read Woolf. But! You what frivolous, fun novels I think you’d enjoy? The Jacqueline Kirby series by Elizabeth Peters.

    1. Colleen says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I have a few Elizabeth Peters books here but haven’t read any of them yet.

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