A few books feed us well

Hit and Miss #225

Good morning! Today’s the last Sunday of the year. It’s been a head-turning few weeks, capping off months full of ups and downs. I’m trying to take what little comforts I can, though even time off doesn’t feel so relaxing these days. Alas.

I’ve always used the pre-Christmas newsletter to share a few books from the previous year of reading (see the 2020, 2019, 2018, or 2017 editions). Last week, I wrote about this damn virus, so this week we’ll pick up the tradition, if slightly altered in its timing—fitting, I think, during a holiday season when so many are adjusting traditions to suit the times.

I read few books this year. I’m not sure why—other things were going on, I suppose, though not particularly moreso than in years past. Of the ten books I shelved as “read” on Goodreads this year, eight were from a book club with friends (which confirms the power of accountability to others for getting things done). I’ll also include a few books I haven’t “read” fully, but have turned to for comfort this year. As always, in chronological(ish) order, since it’s the arbitrary hierarchy that offends me least:

  1. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. These are in no way cheery books—Butler’s depiction of the United States in the now near future (mid-2020s) hits close to home. But they offer a framework of sorts, for thinking through difficult times. (Indeed, adrienne maree brown uses Butler’s work for just that.) And Butler’s writing draws you right in.
  2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (part of her Inheritance trilogy, which I’m still reading through). A different feel from the Broken Earth trilogy (which I recommended last year), but good nonetheless. As ever, I find Jemisin’s world-building to be worth the price of admission alone, with the story along the way compelling you through that world.
  3. Most anything by Mary Oliver—I recommend one of her anthologies to start (New and Selected Poems Volume One or Volume Two, or Devotions), though this year I particularly treasured Felicity, and my introduction to her came years ago with Swan. Oliver’s poetry has had mixed receptions critically, though her popularity is hard to deny—and properly so, I’d say. Read through a few of her poems, and notice how clearly she writes, how deeply she considers the world through such straightforward language. Oliver sat down with Krista Tippett of On Being for a rare interview, putting the range of her charming character on full display. (I excerpted a few favourite passages from that interview.)

It’s not a book, but an honourable mention to Ted Lasso as the TV show I turned to the most often this year—I think I’ve now watched it through three times, coming up on four, this year alone. It really does live up to the hype.

I spent much of yesterday morning reading excited commentary on the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which’ll be followed by six months of careful deployment and calibration.

Both those links are good profiles, the latter more in-depth than the former—they describe aspects of the telescope’s features, including a sunshield to “cool the environment from 110 ºC on the Sun-facing side to –235 ºC on the shaded side”, to enable accurate imagery from its infrared cameras. Incredible!

Learning about the telescope sent me on various Wikipedia rabbitholes, one of my favourite ways to relax—so, thanks (and congrats) to space scientists for contributing to a great Christmas morning!

In parting, these are of course difficult times. Maria Popova shared a piece from a few years ago, a touching story of a bear and wolf travelling together through a wintry forest, with Popova drawing connections to some of my favourite writers in the process. Sometimes it’s the simplest of stories that offer us the most profound of comforts.

All the best for the week—and year—ahead. Thanks, as ever, for reading here with me!