With a luxurious many days away from deadlines and work, I find myself caught up in a collective reflective mood. My email inbox fills up with round-ups and resolutions, blog faves and book recommendations – so here I go. Every New Year (in recent years), I make two resolutions: one to record every book I will read and each exhibition/film/play I see. The other resolution is always more demanding – such as learning to sing, commit to more charity work, strip back alcohol or – last year – run a half marathon. I never make the first resolution, but I’m proud to say I always meet my other target.
So, relying on my increasingly unreliable memory for things that don’t really matter, I do know that I spent some of the blisteringly hot summer completely consumed by Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life – culminating in endless tears mixing with my sweat for a good few hours in my garden as I pushed my way through the final, agonising, 250 pages. Yes the book had major flaws, but I was carried through regardless by the intensity of love between friends, families and lovers, as well as a deep admiration for an author who took such an unflinching look at the visceral horror and emotional anguish of self-harm. The depictions got worse, and worse and worse, and while no-one could possibly enjoy them, readers will be far better equipped to understand the levels of shame and overwhelming desire for self-annihilation that childhood sexual abuse can often inflict upon a human.
This is Going to Hurt turned out to be a wonderful antidote, and I will always remember reading out an early section to a full tube carriage on my way back from London Bridge one late Thursday evening. We need to laugh, but we also need reminding that the NHS is now being run – it seems to me – largely on goodwill. Another super important book is Reni Eddo Lodge’s Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race and I join the ranks calling for it to be compulsory reading at school. Other fiction highlights include All That Man Is (reviewed here), and the vital reminder of the atrocities of the Biafran war in Half of a Yellow Sun – along with the quirky, moving and engaging We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves.
It wasn’t just books that poke out in my memory. The only way I could run more than 20 minutes was with decent words in my ears, and I was a late adopter to This American Life with its endless joyous supply of fascinating, often moving, human stories with penetrating and wise journalists at its helm. I also dipped into the TLS’s weekly Freedom, Books, Flowers and the Moon as well as Josie Long’s friendly BBC’s Shortcuts – a shorter, lighter version of This American Life that pulls together three stories along a theme in a similar way. On a longer run I’d sometimes try and be doubly virtuous and listen to Between Us: A Psychotherapy Podcast which any non-professional should enjoy too.
I saw some brilliant plays, but useless to recommend as they can’t be seen again – but maybe you’d join me in thinking Ink, Dance Nation, The Birthday Party and The Lehman Trilogy were well worth it.