Okay, hi. It’s me again. Hi!
I really thought I meant it when I said that last week’s edition was the last newsletter of 2021. But I felt compelled to pop by and drop some New Year’s-based books in your inbox. Because after Christmas Day, holiday aftermath and general Covid anxiety, perhaps we just need FUN and JOY.
Importantly, this is NOT about celebrating New Year’s Eve, which in my opinion is massively overrated, due to it being both complete amateur hour if you’re out raging with the hooligans as well as being FAR too late to stay up (even when I was in my roaring twenties.) I also hate New Year’s Resolutions, because they’re artificially freighted with pass/fail import and especially because random people always want to know about them. My self-improvement will happen in noble silence without the unsolicited input of someone making small talk on a Zoom, please and thank you.
And mostly I dislike that there’s so much pressure put on one moment to define the entire next year in some meaningful manner, and to make this one day stand for the entire future. Whatever the next week holds, individually and collectively, is not and should not be the blueprint for 2022.
You will see from this week’s books that while this human impulse of using New Year’s as an emotional fulcrum is, in my opinion, a Bad Personal Strategy, I do think it’s quite a Fine Literary Device. So have a bubbly glass of book recommendations on me, and enjoy the last week of the year! To me, you are perfect.
Rules of Civility starts on New Year’s Eve 1937, in a Greenwich Village jazz bar. And yes, it continues to be exactly that stylish, following a working-class heroine and her privileged friends through Depression era-New York and their experiences with love, and status, and societal change. It manages to be both somber and sparkling, witty and sharp, and also thoughtful.
I truly loved the author’s A Gentleman in Moscow (read why) and likely prefer that between the two, but this is a worthwhile read too! Can’t wait to dive into The Lincoln Highway as well (thanks to Spencer for the loaner since I’m currently #66 on my library waitlist.)
Shall we still keep the “gentle lamb” rating, since it’s still the holidays? OK:
You know what, YES, I’m still going to recommend Bridget Jones’s Diary even though there are certainly parts of this 20+ year old book that don’t age particularly well (don’t smoke, kids). But if you don’t remember or never read it, this is the book that kicked off a generation of twenty-something heroines and related writing styles. It follows Bridget Jones on Jan 1, with a number of well-intentioned goals to change her life. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s lovable, it lacks the melancholy that can suffuse holiday books. Go for it (or heck, re-read it. Who’s stopping you?)
ETA: I also love that the title uses the possessive apostrophe correctly. I find myself in a losing battle with society on this principle almost daily but will commit myself thusly to the cause.
ETFurtherA: No, y’all, I did not like the movies. I’m sorry.
(TW: suicidal ideation)
In A Long Way Down, four strangers meet on the roof of a London building on New Year’s Eve, each with their own set of problems and regrets. Because it’s a Nick Hornby book, there are no tidy happy endings per se, and there’s not a ton of “it gets better” sentimentality, but there is dark humor, witty dialogue, well-sketched character voices and a lot to chew on for a pop fiction book. An honest look at regret, at the ways our own minds play tricks on us, and at making a meaningful life.
And lastly, I just told you about Anxious People so I won’t tell you a tenth time, but it is also a New Year’s book, both fun and wistful and screwball and original, and one of my favorites from the past year. Truly, why have you still not read it?
RIP Joan Didion. We were, and are, lucky for her words.
A final word of 2021:
If New Year’s meditations are not your thing, please check the archive for just about any kind of book you could want, from traveling fiction to non-fussy historical fiction to investigative non-fiction.
All links above go to bookshop.org, which supports indie bookstores. Now THAT would be a good resolution - indie bookstore shopping ONLY.
I will be taking next week off to regroup and regather; see you on Jan 9th, friends!