I’ve taken a break from the spring-cleaning that’s seized the-little-house-that-could along Palma Street—partly because the cold that’s been my companion since Christmas Eve has made a wheezing girl out of me, mostly because I am a very lazy person. I had hoped that by the time 2014 rolled around, the books would have rearranged themselves into some semblance of order on my bookshelves, my desk would be clear of last year’s debris, the floor gleaming around the fluffy area rugs I’ve long wanted to re-install. Most of what’s on that list has been taken care of—but the books have managed to make a rather impressive chaos among themselves. Frankly, I don’t know where I got the idea that re-ordering my shelves would be a straightforward affair.
I’ve spent the last day of 2013 and the first few hours of 2014 covered in dust and surrounded by small, unwieldy towers of books. The books I’ve known this past year require from me more than a cursory acknowledgement, because I’m that kind of sap. Instaxes I’ve used as bookmarks fall out of books, as do receipts and money and blank pieces of paper. From Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, out comes a print-out of Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to his father, intro’d at the upper right-hand corner with a messily scrawled, “Our battles are small.” I carefully wipe down Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and realize that 2013 was an invigorating reunion with the man whose books I’d read with a flashlight under the covers when I was a child. I flash Murakami’s Norwegian Wood a wry grin. I heft my growing collection of graphic novels onto a single shelf and giggle at how heavy the bulk is in my arms. The edition of Jane Eyre I’d read this year, dignified and playful and physically substantial, nods at me from the nook-of-honor I’ve taken it away from, as does Roland Barthes.
In between these passing reunions are the more guilt-laden encounters with the books I said I would read but never really got around to. Alice Munro’s Selected Stories, for one—reading it would have matched perfectly the sobbing that erupted from me when I’d learned she’d won the Nobel. Cecilia Grant’s first two books are still in their plastic wrap, and the Georgette Heyers remain unread, as do the reissues of the first Eloisa James books I’d ever read. Bill Bryson’s books I only seem to have amassed this year, science books by Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan and Mary Roach and Siri Hustvedt were ignored. I’ve only looked at the prints, and then only fleetingly, in the art books I’d smuggled from the P.’s shelves. The single most expensive book I’d ever bought in my life—a survey of magic throughout the ages, with the most gorgeous photographs and prints and posters—had crept into P.’s shelves, as if done with me. I said I’d read Proust. I said I would read more of NYRB Classics. I told myself 2013 was the year I’d read Christopher Isherwood and Evelyn Waugh and Henry James and Edward St. Aubyn. Life happened, I tell all of them. Other books happened.
I would pause the longest with books only that are familiar to me only with a startle—the books I’ve almost forgotten I had. Some of them were read long ago, some of them I’ve told myself I’d reread, some of them were bought at more hopeful-for-reading-days times. There’s the Alain Robbe-Grillet I’d seized because I remember how Barthes loved him; here’s a slim Jenny Erpenbeck I wanted to wail about, and it’s right beside two of her other books I’ve just remembered I have. Of course I knew I had the entire The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and what year was it that I’d stopped from moving forward in the series? Here’s the book on Josephine Bracken that filled me with wondrous fury—because it was the only book about Josephine Bracken that treated her fairly. Hello, Harold Brodkey, there ought to be more of you in my shelves. Here’s a book about whales that I bought because I couldn’t read Moby-Dick for someone. Here’s a Sherlock Holmes story written by someone with the estate’s blessing—a book I haven’t picked up because I haven’t read all of the canon yet. Here’s a book I bought because I was stuck in a bookstore during a typhoon, here’s a book I bought because its cover made me feel less lonesome, here’s a book whose first pages teased with the promise that I could feel a bit more comfortable in my lonesomeness.
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I’ve made progress with my bookshelves, cleared my romances and the classics just before midnight struck. It’s been a strange holiday season for me—sick, alone on the big days, mired in work, away from my lovely-crazy family, a bit more navel-gazey than usual. It’s a quiet end of the 2013, and an as-calm start to another. Curious, all this, as I’ve long thought myself skittish with all things quiet and calm. Then again, I’ve always been good at winging it.
One of my good friends—hi, Jean—posted a beautiful end-of-year message, the first line of which quoted Cheryl Strayed: “Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits.”
I flung myself at 2013, sans resolutions and a clear plan and a manual for living and an image of a better self that would’ve been my beacon throughout the year. I suppose I could do the same this year. As with the past year, this 2014: I am certain I am going to be miserable, I am going to make fantastic mistakes, I am going to seize whatever tantalizes me with happiness. I’m going to make art, and I’m going to keep chiding people into making their art. I am going to love as boundlessly and as stupidly as I always have. I’m going to buy more books than time and my finances will allow. I’m going to be Batman. I am going to stay up all night doing nothing but dread the coming morning, I am going to stay up all night reading and loathing the coming morning. I am going to say no, I will screech my thousand-times-yeses at the top of my lungs. I am going to be kind, I will forget to take care of myself, I am going to create even bigger messes, I am going to be brave, I am going to treat everyone like it’s their birthday. I am going to keep making friends with my sadnesses, and I will strong-arm them into hanging out with my joys. I am going to write more, and I will think of giving up writing. I will say “Ah, fuck it!” way too many times. I am going to take more pictures and drink more coffee and smoke more cigarettes and buy more lipstick and love the people I love in the most approximating-creepy way; and I will drag that starlight into whatever crazy beauty awaits, and I will be fierce and I will struggle for stillness, and I will end every day curled around a book or the man I love or both, why not both.