Looking Backward: A Resolve for 2020
Not to be confused with Edward Bellamy’s fine novel, I stand at the cusp between 2019 and the 2020, the new decade of the new millennium. Looking backward, as my favorite book critic Dwight Garner writes in his latest “Critic’s Notebook” in The New York Times, about the year gone by and what, for him, remains. He and I share the pallor cast on the arts by the eternal “Ten Best” lists (where only one or perhaps two of my favorites appear).
Hands down, my favorite books of 2019 were the short story collection Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah and the novel The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.
Sorry, Dwight, not a sour year for me. But looking forward, a comment you made is dovetailing with my reading/reviewing plans for 2020.
I read books constantly and try to review a book weekly on my author’s website, JackBoston. I do this to honor writers and their long, hard development process and significantly under-rewarded work. Most people don’t realize how really difficult it is to write a book. I do, so as we enter the new year/decade, I’ve looked backward once again and resolved to make the following changes in my book reading and buying habits which I believe favor book authors, not book peddlers.
First, I forgot my Kindle on an airplane a few months ago and have no plans to replace it. I used it mostly to read genre fiction (brain candy), not literature. Now I listen to Audible genre fiction (less frequently, I might add) and find it more memorable and satisfying. Meanwhile, I’m moving more deeply into reading what I write myself: upmarket, literary fiction, like Erin Morgenstern’s new novel, The Endless Sea or Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing.
Second, I’ve resolved to buy my new books, whenever possible, from an indie bookstore rather than from Amazon in particular. I’m offended by Amazon’s insisting I buy stuff (see Eligibility) in exchange for the “privilege” of providing free marketing copy for books they sell. Since Book Ends in Winchester, Mass, invited me to read from my latest novel, Anarchy, I’ve been a steady customer. What goes around comes around.
Third, I’m using the public library to read books I don’t think I want to buy, but sometimes I still buy them afterwards (mostly nonfiction like The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli or The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt) and want to read again.*
Fourth, royalties for authors only accrue from new book sales, so I only infrequently buy from used booksellers. Shopping used, either bricks-and-mortar or online, for me is because the title is a hard to find, often out-of-print (OOP) book like Keith Mano’s 1982 novel, Take Five, which took me a year to track down.**
Fifth, my frequent but not always weekly book reviews are primarily going up on my JackBoston site and Goodreads. I republish my reviews on Goodreads, not to get attention, but because it’s where readers go to read reviews of books they’re interested in reading or writing their own reviews about. No buying or selling goes on here: Goodreads, unlike its owner Amazon, is pure of heart, as non-commercial as things get these days; a community of bibliophiles. My only issue is that its text-based interface requires using the archaic, 1980s command-line interface to insert italics, boldface, etc.
Lastly, and this is really between me and me, I’m marking up my books again, like I did in college. Highlighting, underlining, tabbing pages, writing notes in the end papers. I think it sharpens my perceptions and certainly helps me recall favorite passages for review-writing.
There’s a lot of insight and wisdom—not to mention great writing—tucked into the nooks and crannies of novels, for example “We aren’t on earth to be happy, but to experience incredible things,” says Hannah to Blue in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics (p.103), which I’m currently enjoying the heck out of.
*If you’re a decent human being, respectful of others, you won’t mark up a library book. Yet there is one of these indecent, malevolent human beings who has marked up at least a dozen books I’ve read from my library with his penciled marginalia and underlining. He is not forgiven because we have similar tastes in our reading.
**When I was in Paris last, I made my usual pilgrimage to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. In the antiquarian shop, I purchased a 1935 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not a first edition, but a rare one nonetheless. A treasure that will not soon be out-treasured.