Another year draws to a close, and another challenging one for the planet. In a world gone mad it can feel as though the book blogging community is a little bubble of calm and positivity that I’m happy to be a part of. Thanks to the Two Amy’s Bookclub in the first half of the year (it’s sadly now been disbanded), I read a few more current books and some I wouldn’t have come cross otherwise – Bear Town I’m looking at you. Some other highlights were Normal People and The Binding. All very different books but ones that caught me up in their world, make me think, and dealt with serious issues in interesting and unique ways.
It’s been a year of some fantastic fiction including Autumn by Ali Smith, a humourous and thoughtful examination of the world we live in and the importance of relationships in making sense of it. The Blind Assassin although long, swept me along and I was left wanting more. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is a powerful start to a quartet, the rest of which are on my to be read pile for 2020.
I started the year with the intention of alternating between fiction and non-fiction and although I didn’t quite manage a 50/50 split, I did read some amazing, interesting, and challenging books such as James Bloodworth’s Hired: Undercover in Low-Wage Britain and Why Grow Up? by Susan Neiman, both books that sparked a lot of discussions and that I continue to refer back to.
I was lucky to spend some time this year working in a public library and it was a great reminder of what a precious resource they are. Yes, it’s wonderful that they give access to all to a huge array of books for free but they are also so much more. I was surprised by the amount of regulars who came in to read the papers, use the computers, do their homework, or simply to interact with others. I’ve always felt joy when visiting libraries but have a new appreciation for the myriad of services they provide and a deep sadness at their dwindling numbers.
Sticking to the theme of free public resources, I came across this syllabus for a DIY MA in Creative Writing which I have begun working my way through. I admit however that I’ve made more progress with Tim Clare’s Couch to 80k podcast as each episode is only around twenty minutes and this feels a manageable chunk of time to commit almost every day. Spurred on by the thought of being able to study on your own terms I’ve undertaken to do similarly with Victorian Studies, a subject I’ve been longing to study further for the past decade. Accepting that it’s unlikely to ever be practical to go back to University, I am contenting myself with self-study and although I will of course miss out on lectures and seminars, I will enjoy having the luxury of time to spend as long as I want on each topic, reading widely.
There have been some brilliant exhibition and museum visits this year including a trip to the William Morris Gallery and the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Galley (which there’s still time to see). They made me appreciate the pleasure of seeing famous paintings in real life, for example, Millais’ Ophelia which has never been a favourite, is utterly luminous in reality. The new galleries at Westminster Abbey are stunningly beautiful and designed sympathetically to their surroundings. Further afield it was a joy to be able to visit Hill Top, one of Beatrix Potter’s houses in the lake District. At her request it has been preserved as she left it. The Villa Medici in Rome is a trip I’d definitely recommend and the Vatican, for all that it is undoubtedly impressive, made me appreciate smaller, more manageable galleries where you have the time and space to really appreciate the art.
I’m looking forward to another year full of books, theatre, art and travel and hope that yours is filled with all the things that make your heart happy.