The end of a decade of iPhones and social media (so exciting at first, not so much anymore). A decade of protests – Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Climate Strikes, #Metoo, March for Our Lives, Womens March, Standing Rock, and so much more all around the world. A decade that started with some hope and ended with a reality star gaslighting and tweeting distortions that a disturbing amount of Americans believe. We’re ending the decade with a trial that is ultimately going to determine how the next decade shapes up – I’m not optimistic, are you?
In 2010 I stopped eating animals and got a puppy who would control my life. Over the last decade I was shaped by all the good (and all the bad) things about living in California and working at a top research university. We lived in three different houses in a little walk-able community we love. My nieces and nephews became intelligent little humans who are fun to talk to and laugh with. I became semi-obsessed with birds, probably because of the thousands of walks with the dog our world revolves around…
And like always, I read and read. Some of the best books of the decade that I read are … The Sympathizer, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Homegoing, The Overstory, The Orphan Masters Son, Station Eleven, Arcadia, The Bone Clocks, The Tsar of Love and Techno, A Little Life, The Neopolitan Series. Also, anything by Kingsolver and Hoffman.
And, the best book of this year, Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl. It’s perfect.
Surprisingly, my other favorite books of the year are also non-fiction – Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion by Jia Tolentino and Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane are must-reads. As I read Trick Mirror I kept shaking my head and saying – WOW. Holy Crap. Ouch. These essays are incredible, in particular Ecstasy about church and drugs and The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams about the Fyre Festival, 2008 Crash, Social Media, Student Debt and ultimately, the biggest con artist of all, Trump. A generation raised in a scamming world. Like Didion, Tolentino is a keen, acute observer. She writes in Always be Optimizing, “It’s very easy, under conditions of artificial but continually escalating obligation, to find yourself organizing your life around practices you find ridiculous and possibly indefensible. Women have known this intimately for a long time.” This book gives no solutions, but makes you look at our reality in a new light.
MacFarlane’s Underland explores the world below us – nuclear waste, caves, glaciers, starless rivers, mines, burials – all while talking about life in the Anthropocene and the itty-bittiness of humans in the time continuum. MacFarlane is a fantastic writer who encounters interesting people on his adventures, I especially liked one who had the best grace ever “Fuck! We don’t know how lucky we are!”
Oprah’s two picks for her new book club are perfect. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout is all melancholy, sweet and sour small town life. I loved this exploration of the end of life and all the losses. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the power of memory. It’s a painful novel about owning people – it’s how America was built.
I love when a book starts with short phrase, snippet of a poem, etc. It’s a hint of where the sentences you’re going to read next are going to go. Alice Hoffman starts her latest book, The World that We Knew, with a phrase from one of my favorite childhood books – East of the Sun, West of the Moon. A book I haven’t thought about for a long time. This Hoffman book takes place in Nazi-occupied France and follows her same formula (magical realism, birds, love, faith) – it always works.
Two super-short, beautiful, 1 hour reads are Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and Turbulence by David Szalay. Also, I read Demi Moore’s (kinda lame) autobiography in 2 hours. Kimi Eisele’s debut novel, The Lightest Object In The Universe is an optimistic (?) post-apocalyptic novel. The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz is a fast, fun Agatha Christie mystery that is a sequel to The Word is Murder. The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J Ryan Stradel is an easy read with quirky characters about the Midwest. Also, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was super-satisfying!
Here’s some articles and other stuff I thought about over the last few months:
Spend some time with Wendell Berry’s essay “The Pleasures of Eating.“
Dolly Parton’s America podcast– the later episodes are the best – particularly the ones about Jolene and politics
Canaries in the Coal Mine by Renkl. Birds are down 29% since 1970 – they are telling us, like a canary in the coal mine, that something is wrong
Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering for certain men? Nailed it. Hilarious, and somewhat terrifying, how AOC and Greta can cause so much angst. Greta is Time’s Person of the Year – no surprise, much deserved. Also, no surprise that Trump tweeted something shitty about her right after.
NPR Concierge is always a great resource for book recommendations
Oprah’s Plant Based Meals
In the next year, I’m excited about books coming from Emily St John Mandel & Yaa Gyasi & David Mitchell, a new album by Jason Isbell, and we’re moving (again!). I keep thinking about what the next decade will bring – challenges, heartaches, beauty, laughter, pain…I’m hoping for good health for my loved ones, long walks among trees and mountains, dog snuggles, good books and music and movies, and some more sanity & goodness in the world.