It just occurred to me that I’ve lost track of whether my opening entries for each year, these past few years, have been titled with a nod toward the revolution ‘round the sun just completed or the one newly embarked upon. Looking at last year’s entry doesn’t provide much aid, given it was late and that I also began to wonder if I used to do one for each. Well, no matter. Some might say 2020 doesn’t really deserve recall, but that’s not why I’m just going to roll it and looking ahead into 2021 into one entry this time. The year 2020 should be remembered even though by any account it bred the suck. I’ve always been an advocate of remembering the past, because it’s essential for effectively moving forward.
In terms of reading, how do I do in 2020? Well, last year’s reading—there wasn’t much to it.
As you can see, I read all of eighteen titles. I may have said it for the last year in which I didn’t read very much, and I say it again here: I’ve made my peace with it. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but for some people how much they read is rather central to their identity, or it determines how valuable was the time they spent away from survival tasks, such as their workweek, chores, etc. It does mean a lot to me as well, though I’m not exactly sure how I might answer if asked why. Perhaps it provides a concrete sort of evidence for the ongoing quest of learning many of us are driven to engage in. Certainly the places books take us to embed themselves in our psyches and the memories of all that merging mean much to us readers in the same sort of way as do photographs. There also is the added angle of history, wrapped into fiction and non-fiction alike, the consumption of which retains for us the collective past. To the figures who lived in that time we owe much, even the most mean and humble street peddler or beggar.
That said, the future deserves attention as well, for how are we to move into it without previous knowledge and experience? The peddlers and beggars are still with us, as are the warlords and oppressive leaders who pretend to act in our interest. Ignoring the figures who previously occupied those positions is to disregard those of tomorrow, which we also have to live through. We talk much of how disrespectful such indifference is to our ancestors—but what of our descendants, who also have to populate the yet to come? What kind of world are we crafting for them? And is it even more an injustice to discount their perspective when they are denied any kind of voice? Our ancestors left at least some written records to tell us what was important to them; from many of those we can also deduce sometimes significant and reasonable accounts of what meant much to those whose voices have been silenced by time. Our descendants, however, having no such connections, are rendered truly voiceless.
This is one of the topics that has been occupying my thought in 2020, a year in which the importance of social interaction has been stifled. People rely more and more on technology, by both design and necessity, and the division this has created has been multiplied in other ways. Within all this I remember a short story read long ago, “The Fun They Had,” in which a young girl, who could very well be one of our descendants, mourns the loss of books and school—an institution children attended to learn, utilizing these books she’d just learned of, and play and many other tools that stir the mind—though she herself never had the experience. It all just didn’t exist anymore by the time she was born. Certainly there are ups and downs of public schools, but the loss of it is keenly felt by this girl, putting paid to the idea that people don’t miss what they never had.
This sort of thought is possibly also why I began to be attracted to certain science-fiction stories, such as Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports series*, which provides a glimpse into a future not only of space travel but also residency. Wondering What was life like continues for me as well into realms apart from the future, such as past eras or figures I’d not studied in great depth, but which somehow or other made their way onto my reading radar. Edward of Woodstock, aka the Black Prince, was one such individual; a book about him I’d purchased but not read stirred further thought about exploring my poor, neglected bookshelves.
For instance, I’d begun to watch Outlander, a series I loved for its time travel—a concept I simply adore—as well as its historical element. From it and another time travel series I’d read in recent years I began to wonder: OK, a character is drawn back into time, then establishes a life and eventually dies there. Time marches on and the year in which she was “originally” born† dawns. Will she be born once more, experience the time travel again, die, time marches on, she is born again and on and on and on? Will such a person continually have to experience a circular existence? If so, what kinds of changes are made each time it occurs?
This dilemma is rather avoided in George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire (many know it as A Game of Thrones)—well, it is avoided because time travel isn’t really involved, but Martin, so I am advised by my teen son, keeps us away from a particular era and rather presents the tale as of another world. I haven’t yet begun to really explore in my thought exactly where this might place itself in my continuum (or might it be more of a galaxy?), but! The first few books in the series have occupied my shelves for several years now and, having received the first few seasons of the television series for Christmas, the first novel is now targeted for 2021 reading as I aim to pay greater attention to my wonderful bookshelves and those stories and history that populate them.
Not all of these books concern the future or science fiction, but the art of reading and living seems a major common theme; perhaps there are more. Following are a few of the titles (some will be re-reads).
Daniel Boorstin’s trilogy: The Discoverers; The Creators; The Seekers
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Emma by Jane Austin
The Black Prince by Michael Jones
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber
Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco
Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora ed. Persis M. Karim
The Salem Witch Trials Reader by Frances Hill
Food in History by Reay Tannahill
The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers by Lizzie Collingham
Kepler’s Witch: An Astronomer’s Discovery of Cosmic Oder Among Religious War, Political Intrigue and the Heresy Trial of His Mother by James A. Conner
(Poetry to be discussed in future posts)
I also received A Complete Book of Presidents for Christmas, a lovely, thoughtful gift I am told came to be following a conversation I had regarding wanting to read and know more about our presidents. It’s rather shameful how little I know about some of them and I aim to remedy this. I am unsure that I will actually read it cover to cover, or whether that might be completed this year. However, from perusing it I hope to decide upon at least three presidents to read full biographies of, rounding out to twenty-one, a number I chose to start with for my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge.
Really, calendar years are not unlike geopolitical borders in that they are artificial. Terrible events and migrating wildlife don’t care about such “barriers” as they carry on. But we too are wild, which is part of why we get ourselves into so much trouble, but also contributes to the creativity of making our sojourns across time matter. Even brute nature acknowledges the cycles of life and death, so the markers we have established can give nods to the year(s) we have experienced and see it as a chance to make things different this go ‘round. A way forward, to engage with greater authenticity, renewed vigor and other possibilities.
*Review to follow in coming weeks
†I frequently refer to this time period as the person’s “native era”