The First Lesson

An arcade nickel on a string, dropped into the slot and cunningly pulled back out again: this is the nature of my ungenerous generosity. I discover, suddenly, that which I have somehow known all along. That when I give, I do not give up, but have sought instead to keep it all by keeping you in my debt. I tie you to me, demand something in return, which is to say everything. It is hard to submit oneself to the vulnerability of giving without strings. But also, it is hard to be confident when your confidence rests on building heavier armor and hard to love those whom you also fear. Does the rose refuse to bloom because the sun it seeks will one day wither it? If it stays a tightly furled bud on the branch, it will never know light or warmth or beauty. It will still die, and worse still, die without releasing its delight into the world. The end is the same: how we get there is what matters.


Books of 2018

A New Year's tradition, faithfully observed: this past year's list of completed books. The selections were influenced by reading groups, the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, a sharper turn toward nature writing, and, of course, last year's commitment to read more of the books that I already own. Of which there were evidently far too many to finish in a year, and I freely admit that I cheated by reading new books that I had just purchased. However, I'm certain that some day I will actually read all of Mimesis as Make-Believe and the Wartime Writings of Antoine Saint-Exupery. Just not in 2018, apparently.

In order of completion and not of importance (though the books marked with an asterisk are ones that particularly stand out to me in looking back over the year):

Hope in the Dark - Rebecca Solnit
*Stamped from the Beginning - Ibram X. Kendi
The Odyssey - part Lattimore's translation, part Emily Wilson's
*From That Time and Place: A Memoir, 1938-1947 - Lucy Dawidowicz
Baader-Meinhof - Stefan Aust
A Field Guide to Getting Lost - Rebecca Solnit
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning - Chris Hedges
Absalom, Absalom! - William Faulkner
The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu
A Place in the Country - W.G. Sebald
The War Complex - Marianna Torgovnick
*The Complete Cosmicomics - Italo Calvino
Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
Understanding W.G. Sebald - Mark R. McCulloh
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Alfred Doeblin
*The Pine Barrens - John McPhee
The Blue Flower - Penelope Fitzgerald
Men Explain Things to Me - Rebecca Solnit
A Natural History of the Hedgerow - John Wright
Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari
Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain
Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond
Jakob von Gunten - Robert Walser
The Rings of Saturn - W.G. Sebald
Ragtime - E.L. Doctorow
The Need for Roots - Simone Weil
Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
An Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House - Doug Brinkley
The Lime Twig - John Hawkes
*A Stricken Field - Martha Gellhorn
*The Moth Snowstorm - Michael McCarthy
A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James
The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin
The Blue Castle - L.M. Montgomery
The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Living Is Easy - Dorothy West
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
Going Postal - Terry Pratchett
*Evicted - Matthew Desmond
Monstrous Regiment - Terry Pratchett
Incognegro - Mat Johnson
Plum Bun - Jessie Redmon Fausset
Passing - Nella Larsen
Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar
The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
One Person, No Vote - Carol Anderson
*The Sea Around Us - Rachel Carson
*The Power - Naomi Alderman
The Curse of Bigness - Timothy Wu
Memento Mori - Muriel Spark
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

As for what's to come this year, I've taken a slightly different tack. I have a list of books that I have chosen, half of which are still pulled from my own bookshelves (the project having not been abandoned). I also asked a small handful of rather different people for a single recommendation. Some of them cheated quite egregiously on the task by recommending significantly more than one, which takes away half the fun, but anyway, I got an interesting selection out of that.

So 2019 looks to involve more on the nature subject, a return to Flannery O'Connor and a fleshing out of my Southern gothic reading, a handful of memoirs, political and Eastern philosophy, and, at long last, some Toni Morrison. Plus, I was given Sebald's Campo Santo and Wendell Berry's latest though not particularly new book The Art of Loading Brush for Christmas, and both are likely early contenders for the year. Though first I have to finish the remainder of this year's books, so before all of that, it will be reading the last 100 pages of Theory of Justice, several more essays in Postliberation Eritrea, and the rest of this delightful book about the life and legacy of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature. 

Since I've probably bitten off more than I can chew, we'll just have to wait for next New Year's Day to see whether I manage to pull any of this off. Fortunately, this adventure is all about the journey and never really the destination.