My essay, “No True West,” about the Man with No Name trilogy, has been published in Bridge Eight‘s Film and TV Conversations on their website. You can read it here.
Since limiting my reading time in January, I thought more time at home in March might challenge that boundary, but I stuck with my commitment and only read five books this month. If you missed January and February, they’re still waiting for you.
Bookstores could really use your support during the current closure, and indie bookstores especially. I personally love Deep Vellum Books in Dallas and Commonplace Books in Fort Worth, but I’m also partial because I have friends and roots in both places. Wherever you are, try to find your local bookstore and order from them.
Almost as soon as we caught wind that we would be staying in our homes for the foreseeable future, we started wondering what masterpieces might become possible. The story quickly spread around the Internet that, while quarantined, Shakespeare wrote King Lear. Newton was working out the early seeds of calculus, which, thanks, I guess? The point being, people saw a dire situation and started looking on the brightside, encouraging one another to take advantage of time at home as the potential ground where our own brilliance might manifest itself.
Wherever this finds you, I hope that you are well and taking care during this difficult time. This week, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to be a teacher when there is no classroom, as well as how we each find ways as humans to take care of ourselves and be good to each other. I hope to share more about those reflections in the weeks to come, but I want to give myself space to articulate those thoughts in full. Right now, I want to stick with thoughts I’ve been considering for weeks, in an effort to preserve some kind of normalcy in the present moment. Hopefully it helps you in some way.
I feel like I’ve been thinking about rejection for my entire life. The ways that rejection from peers in grade school bred fear and mistrust into my core, the ways that I have worked to root out those poisons from my person and relationships. The ways that older generations criticize the millennial generation for being coddled through participation trophies, as if we do not face frequent and course-altering rejections from an increasingly unstable job market that offers no guarantees, as we were told while we earned multiple degrees and sunk ourselves into college loan debt.
The fear of rejection has led me to avoid various risks in my life, some I regret and some I am thankful to have dodged. As a writer, rejection is a constant source of anxiety for me, even as it’s an expected part of eventually being published. I studied writing in my undergraduate program, where a professor asked, toward the end of my time there, if I was going to apply to an MFA in creative writing. Paralyzed by the thought of rejection, I just told him that I was considering my options. He encouraged me to do so quickly, as deadlines were approaching, but I did not know how to tell him that I was too insecure at the time to try, that I had not seriously looked into anything.
Last month I shared that I was limiting my monthly reading so that I would have more time to prioritize writing and people in my life. I also wanted to get better at reflecting on what I was reading, so I started this monthly newsletter to write a few words about each of the five books I read in a given month (you can read about my January books here).
In February, two works of criticism (by Emily Nussbaum and James Baldwin) deepened my understanding of the critical task, while two novels (by Sally Rooney and Annaleese Jochems) both coincidentally included sharp commentaries on capitalism. As the shortest month of the year draws to a slow end, I turned to poetry (by Ada Limón) to settle into the slowness and change my thinking process. More on all of that below:
Yesterday, I wrote that I turned my annual reading goals into a reading limit so that I might spend less time running a marathon and more time reflecting and sharing my learning. Each month this year, I’ll be limiting myself to five books, and my hope is to record a note about each so that I can read more consciously and hopefully connect with others who read books from the list. Drop me a line in the comments or an email if that’s you.
In October of last year, reading 100 books in 2019 seemed possible if I really pushed myself. Over the years, my annual reading has steadily increased by about ten books, and last year I planned to read eighty. After surpassing this and hitting triple digits, regret—instead of accomplishment—settled in.
The privilege to read for leisure is not lost on me, but something about indulging a personal scorecard felt especially off. The last two months of the year felt like reading to win a marathon rather than reading to learn or enjoy. I skipped my reading journal and seemingly picked books at random. Writing and reflecting became secondary to the act of digesting pages.
Last year I started a new tradition of keeping track of my favorite reads from the year. It led to great conversations with friends who read some of the books and recommended some to me in turn. Besides reading, I really love to talk about reading, so please drop me a line if you want to discuss these or anything else you read.
For the past seven years, I have reflected on the year behind me through the music I loved (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013). I wanted to do the same for the decade, but had no idea how stressful that would quickly become (okay, I had some idea). The list that follows features 35 of my favorite albums, but at various stages of this process it numbered 100+. I even reordered every year and tried to imagine what my lists would have look liked for the first three years of the decade before I started this tradition. (Why am I the way that I am? Another reflection for another time…)
The point is, if you’re baffled by the exclusion of a particular album, it’s probably on my overall list somewhere. But the 35 albums that follow defined me more than anything else, and I couldn’t put the decade to rest without writing a few words about each.
All rankings are subject to change, so don’t hold me to any of this.
As another year draws to an end, I take a moment to reflect in the way that I have since 2013: ranking and writing about my favorite music of the year. Taken together, these albums represent my personal trials and growth this year. I still have a queue of albums to listen to fully, but this non-definitive list does its best to capture something unique about the person I am still becoming.
If you’re more of a listener than a reader, I won’t hold it against you. I’ve made a playlist of some of my favorite songs from the year.