The OF Blog: 2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

An anti-best of year list

Ever since I began this blog in August 2004, I would conclude the year by listing some sort of "best of 20--" list of books, etc. released in the US that year.  This year, however, I only completed 15 books, none of them 2017 releases (I abandoned R. Scott Bakker's The Unholy Consult about 80% in back in July due to lack of energy then and I never resumed reading it; I was saving Jeff VanderMeer's Borne for an uninterrupted weekend after my May vacation and somehow I never got back to it, despite loving the first pages that I've read and generally enjoying greatly VanderMeer's other works). 

What little I read was foreign language books from the previous century or two or individual poems lately that I would use to teach both English and expressive writing in my classroom (believe it or not, I've had several students express hope that we would use another poem or two for these daily morning writing exercises, as they enjoy discussing them without having to worry so much about identifying - yet - meter and verse patterns).  But having students take Yeats's "The Second Coming" and turn some of its hallowed lines inside out as they turned "the centre cannot hold/things fall apart" into a meditation on their struggles to make sense of their world (these are 12-15 year-olds I teach, mind you), that has reawakened my long-held love for poetry as being the most intimate of human arts.

Maybe 2018 will bring a renewed energy to read newer works, or just to complete any book-length works.  Maybe it won't; 2017 has taught me that I don't have to finish books in order to learn a lot from those few words that I do happen to read these days.  Maybe that's truly what was best about 2017 for me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

So I went silent for nearly four months...

No, I haven't forgotten about this blog.  Nor do I plan on shuttering it permanently, even if it seems that I've done so over the past year or two.  But the truth is that I really haven't had much at all to say about books or writing or anything of that sort this year because I just haven't had a desire to read novels.

Yes, I've only finished about 15 books so far this year and 2/3 of them were read while I had to proctor state exams this May.  There are a few reasons behind this:  teaching job taking up more and more of my concentration energy; trying to train when I can for distance events; personal life developments; and etc.  But for much of the past four months, I've dealt with something far more insidious and debilitating:  a reoccurrence of clinical depression, which I haven't had in nearly 15 years. 

It's hard to pinpoint what triggers any individual's depressive spells.  It could be a change in serotonin levels due to not being able to exercise as much during the hot summer nights.  Or two deaths weeks apart.  Or maybe it's due to me starting to get progressively worse vertigo-like spells, which are now combining with migraines (which I rarely had before the past year or so).  Or possibly just another bout of dealing with self-doubt, something that seems to creep up when I'm doing well in life, oddly enough.

Regardless of the cause(s), I've been dealing aggressively with it.  Discovered that medications are not a cure-all; I got sicker on some and symptoms were alleviated when I was removed from them.  Laughter seems to work best, that and getting closer to some awesome people, some that I somewhat lost touch with over the past quarter-century or so.  Religious faith is another cornerstone for me.  So far, based on the past two weeks, it seems the worst has passed.  Much more energy and focus has made me a better worker and human being.

But the effort required to enter recovery (and I consider mental health, like chemical addictions, to be where an afflicted individual will live in a perpetual state of recovery, perhaps pockmarked with occasional relapses; we are human, after all) still has left me with little time to read novels or prose (although I am finally starting to feel an urge to read some prose work).  However, my long-held love for poetry has remained strong and I have occasionally introduced some of my favorite poems as writing prompt/discussion pieces in my classroom.  Yeats, Angelou, Henley, and Hughes are recent ones.  I have quoted Beckett and the beginning to Ginsberg's "Howl," although even where I work, that would be considered off-limits for middle school students.  Hearing boys who suffer from various traumas and behavioral issues discussing how they relate to "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "The Second Coming" has been invigorating; their insights, informed by their situations, sometimes have surprising depth.

Perhaps I should just, for a time at least, write a few reflections on those poems that I've begun to re-read in my nascent recovery and share them here.  Perhaps.  In the meantime, here's proof at least that I have not yet sailed alone into the seas of madness.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Next week will have been 13 years since I started this blog

I am writing this post in a bit of a daze after suffering through an attack of vertigo this week that left me leaving work early twice and missing today.  My thoughts are somewhat in a haze, but as I was just catching up on online stuff, something I really don't do that much these days, I realized it had been around four months since I last posted here, so I thought I would write a brief post to prove that I haven't yet totally abandoned this site.

2017 has been a different sort of year for me.  I'm working full-time during the day for the first time since 2011.  My job demands a lot out of me and for the most part, it has been the sort of "good" challenge that keeps me occupied and (mostly) content.  I don't read all that much anymore; only 14 finished books so far this year.  Frankly, I do not miss reading all that much right now, as I have found new stimuli in running, training for distance running, and developing personal connections with people in my life.  As much as I enjoyed reading, I always sensed there were things that I was missing out on because of my odd work schedules and hang-ups about the person I had seemingly become.  Thankfully, these negative thoughts seem to be fading away and I get to do more these days.

That being said, I do not plan on abandoning this blog anytime soon.  Yes, I might not really write many (or any) reviews for a while still, but eventually I will write some more.  I know online book discussions have evolved over the years and that this platform is a dinosaur of sorts compared to social media.  Yet it is still a valuable place where I can record my thoughts on matters, perhaps with a few readers discovering something new. 

There will be some cosmetic changes here, of course.  I have already removed a few squirrel-related images because I think it was past time to change the look.  I still find the animals amusing and the in-joke as to why they were here in the first place is still a treasured memory, but times do change and with that, probably a few things will, by necessity, need to fade away into fond memory.  If I do decide to post more frequently, it might be more as a personal blog than as a review one.  Or maybe this will become a list of literary-related thoughts more than anything else.  I myself do not know for sure what the future holds.  What I do know is that in some ways it is a small comfort that I do have records of my thoughts on books, even if there are a vanishingly few readers still left to read these thoughts.  But I am now 43 and I am increasingly convinced that the social media arguments are best left to those younger than me, those who perhaps have more fight left in them than a middle-aged man whose pleasures and interests have been simpler with the years.

Perhaps I am wrong, though, and what interests me may interest others.  We shall see.  All I know is that the greatest task left to me now is to simply tend my own garden and hope others shall do the same in peace and comfort.  See you around, in some form or fashion.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A few recent purchases as I attempt to break my four month-long reading slump

I haven't really had anything to say lately (at least in regards to books), so I've been a bit more quiet than expected.  I did buy a new Mac Mini last week, however, and it's nice to have a computer that isn't slower than walkers who crowd the front of a competitive 5K race before start.  That alone might get me to post more, especially since I was usually either my iPhone or iPad to make most of my posts the past couple of years.

With that in mind, here are some recent purchases I made in hopes of sparking a renewed interest in reading more than a few minutes a week:

Charles H. Beeson (ed.), A Primer of Medieval Latin:  An Anthology of Prose and Poetry

Patrick Modiano, Dora Bruder

Maupassant, Pierre et Jean

Gisèle Pineau, L'Exil selon Julia

Marguerite Duras, Le Navire Night et autres textes

Boris Vian, L'écume des jours

Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut

André Mary, Tristan et Iseut

Fabrice Humbert, L'Origine de la violence

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings (Library of America edition)

St. Thomas More, Utopia (Latin)

A. Scott Berg (ed.) World War I and America:  Told by the Americans Who Lived It (Library of America)

Ignacio Malaxecheverría, Bestiario medieval

Plus two-volume Library of America editions of Carson McCullers and Mary McCarthy's works, and the just-released LoA second volume of Susan Sontag's later essays.

Been reading bits and pieces from many of these, just not enough to have finished any so far this year.  Might also re-read some of Andrzej Sapkowski's works, since I do have the Spanish translations of the last Hussite trilogy novel, Lux Perpetua, and the Witcher prequel La estación de tormentas, ordered and they should arrive by month's end.  Also, by then Jeff VanderMeer's Borne should be released and arrive in my mailbox.

So maybe, just maybe, I can break this streak and finish a new book for once this year.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Reading Slump

I had every intention of posting here more this year, but it seems that I've developed a rare reading slump in that from Christmas until today I hadn't read more than maybe 10 pages in any book.  Yes, I have not finished a single book this year (and only properly began one today, with a little over 100 pages read in A. Scott Berg's just-published World War I and America:  Told by the Americans Who Lived It).  Just haven't had the time (lots of 11-12 hour workdays lately, often working 6 days/week between my new residential teaching job and my PRN status at my old one) nor the energy, plus it seems that my prized Serbian reading squirrels have been more busy with their mating season than with attempting to read books.

Hopefully, the springtime will bring some time for reading once the quarterly audits are done and my paperwork is caught up.  I'd like to read more volumes in my Library of America collection (I should own 200 volumes by May) and maybe some fantasy/fantastika as well, since I haven't really read much speculative fiction over the past couple of years due to burnout.  Doubt I'll resume a daily social media presence (reading Twitter 2-3 years ago was like listening to interminable arguments; even if I agreed, it was still tedious and all joy was sucked from me if I paid attention too long), but that's OK.

But for those few who still read my blog via whatever nefarious means that still exist, what are the speculative/fantasy books du jour that I'm missing out on due to not really paying attention this past year or two?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A few reading/blogging goals for 2017

So I've been a little quiet here the past few months.  Much of that is due to a positive change in my personal life, as I took a teaching position at a local residential treatment center for teens with neurological/emotional/behavior disorders.  It is a challenging profession and I am still in the midst of establishing my routines with them.  I am also working on a PRN basis at my old job working with teens with autism, so there are several weekends where I have little to no time to relax at home, much less read or blog about what I have read.

I do hope to change this somewhat in the next few weeks.  I purchased a new 9.7" iPad Pro today and it is much faster and more powerful than my ancient laptop, so I should be more inclined to type now that I don't have to worry so much about the screen freezing up (helps that I have paired a wireless Apple keyboard to it so I can type at my regular speed).  I do have a small backlog of 2016 reads to blog about, including posting the list of 46 books that I read last year.  I'll do that sometime tomorrow ow, as I am about to go to bed.

But before I do go to sleep, I just wanted to post a few reading goals that I have for 2017.  The first is that I hope to read at least 50 books this year, after failing to do so the past two years (my trained Serbian reading squirrels have enjoyed a long and well-deserved vacation after a decade of reading hundreds of books a year).  The second is to read and review at least a dozen Library of America editions (I own nearly 180 volumes and many haven't yet been read).  A third is to review at least twelve times this year, even if very few people these days visit my blog compared to its 2007-2012 heyday.  I think these are achievable goals and hopefully when the year ends, there will be more output here than was the case in 2015 or 2016.
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