I didn’t plan to read this book for Reading Ireland Month 2021, it just worked out that way. I might even squeak in during the appropriate week, as March 1st through 7th is dedicated to Contemporary Irish Novels. Which this certainly is. Though it didn’t feel that way while reading; it seemed rather timeless and placeless. I can’t tell if Leonard and Hungry Paul live in a big city or a small town, let alone whether they actually live in Ireland or in the UK. References to “lollipop ladies” and “sweets” only give me a very general idea, geographically. Leonard’s open-concept workplace feels pretty urban, but then, the Chamber of Commerce holding a contest is a big event that everyone’s talking about, which feels painfully small-town. As for contemporariness, the contest in question involves inventing a new way to sign off emails, so we’re squarely in the 21st century, and people have phones, but no one spends much time online. And I suspect that guys like Leonard and Hungry Paul would probably be at least somewhat, if not Extremely, Online.
Or perhaps not. Leonard and Hungry Paul are, to varying degrees, operating outside of society. So perhaps it makes sense that we don’t know exactly where and when they are situated, as they probably don’t feel too grounded in their particular time and place either. The plot, such as it is, follows the thirty-something friends as they make tentative steps into society, one in the expected way (a new romance) and one… not (it involves mimes).
This month marks ten years since I started Reading in Bed, with the less-than-SMART goal of reading the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Assigning no numerical goal or timeline, it was neither Specific nor Timely, but the blog was conceived as a way to Measure my progress. How Achievable or Realistic it was I will leave for you to judge.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what a “book blog” was. I didn’t know what an ARC was. I didn’t know about tags, or Top Ten Tuesday, or what “YA” meant. I was a reader without a community or a culture.
Forays into Bookstagram, Booktube, podcasting, and formal book reviewing were fun, but not my thing. I kept coming back to the blog. And so did some of you. Thank you so much. I’m not a stats person, but it’s nice to know someone’s reading.
If you’re new here, or just want to accompany me down memory lane, here’s a Reading in Bed starter pack, with your favs and mine.
After reading my seventh Dostoyevsky novel, I realized I still don’t really understand his writing. Not at first, and not on my own, anyway. Luckily, classic novels usually come with an introduction. I ended up perusing three introductions to Demons (I like to check out different translations, and later decided to borrow an edition to read on my phone). Here’s a quick guide, to help you choose an edition that works for you.
Just don’t ask me to recommend the best translation. I read about 80% of Demons in the Maguire translation, which was great until I came across a typo, and about 20% in the Pevear and Volokhonsky. I don’t get the P&V hate, though they are awfully fond of using formal and old-fashioned language (in the very first sentence, they use “hitherato” where Maguire used “until then”.)
Speaking of 2019: the first book I read was The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai, about a new and mysterious virus, and the last one was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. And yet I wasn’t prepared for 2020, not for a pandemic, and not to take it stoically. Which just confirms my stance on reading, that it does not make one a better person nor prepare one for life’s challenges. It’s just entertainment And That’s Okay.
My reading in 2020 was even less prolific (whether or not it’s as portentous remains to be seen). I read 44 books, a low point in my blogging career, not counting years in which I gave birth. Covid is a simiarly life-altering event, I suppose. I’m relatively unscathed, but not much reading was happening in spring and summer. I still managed to read a few gooders though, and I am hopeful for next year. I even have some plans in mind. Planning ahead: what a concept!
I’m suseptable to seeing tenous connections and patterns in books. I succumbed to this impulse over the summer, drawing conclusions about Paul Beatty’s influences that are not borne out in reality, and I fear I’m about to do it again. Except for one blazing detail, that makes me think I must be right, but I’ll leave that for last…
In Real Life, Brandon Taylor tells the story of Wallace, a Black grad student at an unnamed, mostly-white school that is understood to be the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wallace’s regular weekend routine of lab work, tennis, and angst is interupted by a last minute invite to a dinner “thing”, which starts out benign enough but soon Wallace finds himself under attack by his so-called friends. The dinner party is the central scene in the novel, and is much celebrated by Taylor’s contemporaries as, well, real, and necessary.
I found it overly dramatic on first read. But then I read Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner and wondered whether his late-1930s alcohol-soaked dinner party scene wasn’t the model for Taylor’s 2010s vegan hispter potluck, and if Taylor wasn’t responding directly to it.
I’m pretty disconnected from book culture (I’m trying! See here, here, here) but even I noticed that this is a big month. The Booker and Giller Prizes will be awarded, and a slew of reading events are running, one for every taste, including the geographic (Germany, Australia), the author-specific (Margaret Atwood Reading Month), and the category-based (Novellas in November, see below, and Nonfiction November, blog or booktube version).
I’m just here to read novellas, though I will have a bit of overlap with one other event. No need to break out the Venn diagrams in my case though!
A weird thing happened to me on Twitter the other day…
I’m participating in a Crime and Punishment read-along on Booktube this month. I’ve been dutifully tweeting my observations, but the readalong doesn’t really have a Twitter presence, so I’m mostly tweeting into the void. I might get a pity like from Michael, if I’m lucky.
Then one of my C&P tweets got retweeted by Ben Shapiro.
The biggest hit to my media consumption, bigger than blogs or ‘tube, has to be podcasts. I never had a long commute, only about 45 minutes or so in the car most weekdays, but I also used to drive to yoga classes, offsite meetings, and other archaic activites. Now? Well, I filled my tank (in a panic) on March 13 and didn’t get anywhere near empty till August…
My Booktube consumption took a bigger hit than my book blog reading when the pandemic hit. Not only were my usual contexts for watching gone (putting makeup on in the morning being the main one), but there was something about it, as a medium, that felt more frivolous than blogs. It certainly didn’t fit in with my new daily YouTube schedule, consisting of Justin’s morning chat at 9:00 am, and the Chief Medical Officer’s daily scolding at 3:30 pm.
For the first few months, I would mostly just peek at random channels, to see who was keeping up with the grind of wrap ups and TBRs despite it all, and who was adjusting their content. Now, I’m slowly getting back into watching, but the urge to create is pretty much gone. Never say never, but… it might be a never. There are plenty of reasons for that, most of which have nothing to do with the pandemic. Here are some of the channels that I’m still watching: