Year in preview: 2017

Things I don’t typically do:

  • Keep up very well with contemporary literature. As in like published-right-now literature. Maybe once upon a time I dabbled closer to that, when I was actively pursuing book reviewing as a thing I was trying to do. So, so long ago. But really not so much anymore. Theoretically, I’d like to, more than I do, so I can feel like I’m more a part of more conversations, but I don’t. Partially because I don’t
  • Read nearly as many books as I’d like to. It feels like once upon a time I closed in on that book-a-week pace over the course of an entire year, but that might also be rose-colored rear-view mirrors. I hit 35 books in 2016, 37 the year before that, which does put me stratospherically above many people, based on flimsy stats I’ve half scanned or invented, but it’s not nearly enough, obviously. I attribute this in part to the fact that I don’t
  • Focus terribly well. I don’t sit well for long periods of time, eyes on the page, pages turning almost invisibly, like flowing water. Pointless social media trolling hurts me a bit, a stupid number of professional- and/or hobbyist-level interests also suck up time, but I’m also just generally a bit restless, likely as not to seek out distraction when the task doesn’t require me to have my hands on it. Great for my rockstar coder lifestyle, less good for, like, just, thinking, and stuff.

I have absolutely no plans to solve the above problems.

I mean, if they’re indeed problems. Though I do suspect an increased focus on my inability to focus would be a generally beneficial one, at the least.

That said, these “shortcomings” do rattle around in my head as I think ahead toward what I loosely plan to attempt to do this coming year.

Typically I don’t make specific plans for the year ahead, and I wouldn’t say I’m setting a script in motion this year either, but it does feel like a good year to put a little structure around my reading list. My TBR pile isn’t insane—a few years back, I think, I forget when, I did a concerted effort to focus all my efforts on working the pile down, either via reading or dumping, and I think the residual effect of that effort still lingers in the size and shape of the pile today. At least in so far as it it not absolutely ungainly, still.

I don’t plan on going quite so hard-core this year, because, I mean, buying books and being gifted books is a pleasure, and I’ve also made better use of the local library over the last few years, which is also a pleasure, and, well, pleasure is nice. And I suspect pleasure, done right, could be made great use of in the coming years. Ahem. But I have grown conscious of a sub-set of books in the pile marked by no other commonality than that they’re all kind of longer and feel slightly more ambitious than other books and are often easily passed over in favor of not-as-long and maybe not-so-ambitious books when I’m looking for my next book to read. And I think it might feel good to put a little effort into focusing on those titles for a while and feeling like I’m putting in some good progress on actually reading all the things I really do think I do want to read. Or at least finding a few more titles I can maybe forgive myself of, allowing them to move on to other pastures, while new challenges slip in to take their place.

So there’s about 14.5 inches of 2017 I’d like to get through, right there. It could be an interesting list. There’s a Nabokov in there and another Vollmann, a Dickens, the second volume of Proust. Other things. I expect that part of the pile (which I’ve formally made a well-defined part of the pile) to shift and slide a bit as the year progresses. But hopefully it won’t grow too dusty.

As for other plans for the year, it’s a bit nebulous, really. Not really plans, so much as things I’ll probably think about as the year goes on:

  • I grew conscious of the fact that in 2016 my efforts to diversify the genders of the authors I read fell apart, which is baffling but also sort of not. So I need to do something about that. Because, jeez. C’mon.
  • I’d like to get some poetry into the mix, but, and this might sound dumb, I sort of don’t know…how, I guess. It’s a kind of reading that doesn’t seem to mesh well with how I read these days. That’s something I’d like to figure out.
  • I read more non-fiction in 2016 than I have in ages, and I’d like to keep that going. I’d like to work in more essays, as well. This probably won’t make for a huge percentage of what I read, but I’d like it to continue to feel less like a statistical glitch, more like something with some intent behind it.
  • And then there’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, which I’m probably not going to devote four months to reading cover-to-cover, but which I’d like to get a plan in place to make some honest headway on. I started it in 2016 and I dig it but I realized when I picked it back up later in the year that I was going to have to plan my reading of it a bit better if I was going to make more coherent sense of it. I’m not quite sure what that entails but I think it involves more marginal notes and shorter gaps between sessions with it. We’ll see.
  • And, really, I think I do want to allot some time to re-read a notable book or two, because there’s so many books I say I think I’d like to consider re-reading, but it’s so hard to do. But maybe just identifying even one to spend some time with again would be enough. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Gravity’s Rainbow. Or Perdido Street Station. Or A Visit from the Goon Squad. Or The American Girl. Or you, Summer of Dostoevsky 2006 Project II: The ReDostoevskying. Or…

Which, well, there’s what 2017 may or may not look like.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also the bit about wanting to write about books again. Like, here, on this blog, at least. Because—and I mean this with all the love I can muster right now for the entirety of the contemporary human condition as it chills in the long cold shadow of human history—tweet storms, as a method of complex interpersonal communication, can go ahead and fuck right off. And, if I can, in my own tiny, insignificant, likely unnoticed way, breathe a tiny bit of life into this blog this year and contribute some small amount of noise to the legitimate signal? I’d like to think that’s worth something.

And, well, I think I miss the way we used to be.