With Which I Am Well Pleased XVI (Men of Tain)

Yet another installment in my recurring series, within which I share 15 things that have rocked my world over the past month or so. I’m thinking about what I want to do (or do not want to do) here on the website in 2022, and as I do so, this seems a good way to keep things active and interesting. As always, I welcome your suggestions on things that I might have missed, but need to see, hear, watch, read, eat, play with, or experience!

FILMS

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS

2021: Year in Review

With Christmas behind us and a road-trip to California on the horizon this week, it seems like a good day to sit and settle up the scores for 2021 here at my website, as I normally do at this time each year, plus or minus a few days. Unless I get ambitious, or someone I care about deeply passes away soon, this will likely be the final post of the year, for better and/or for worse.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2020, I surprised myself by publishing 147 posts, the most I’d done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did COVID-driven cancellations of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Traffic was robust in 2020, too, with other similarly isolated folks seeking to fill their own suddenly-surplus time online, a trend which I explored more fully (and made future forecasts regarding) in my Coronablogus post last month. For 2021, this post is Number 120, marking about a 20% decrease over last year’s rate of production, in terms of actual new entries on the site. But even with that smaller number of entries, the overall site readership trend was positive, as shown below. (Actual numbers are  edited out, as it’s tacky to share them, and the trend line is what matters; the light-blue pipes are total unique page visits, the dark-blue pipes are total unique visitors, so both grew in 2021):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts, so there’s no easily meaningful visual comparison to make from those times. But at bottom line, the last two years have been quite good ones here, from both audience-engagement and writer-productivity standpoints, things that I most certainly would not have predicted in 2019. Of the 120 original posts this year, 57 were part of the second Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists series, which seems to be popular. I was originally thinking I’d carry it on into 2022, but after a few weeks off, I think it has run its course, and I’m going to put it to bed, for now.

As I report each year, here are the baker’s dozen most-read articles among the 120 new posts here over the past twelve months. It’s probably indicative of the fact that both my readers and I are (mostly) folks of a certain age that obituary-type posts fill such a sizable portion of the most-read roster. Our long-time heroes are leaving us, even as we contemplate our own collective mortality, especially during this, our Anno Virum. On the flip-side, I would note that two of the most life-affirming events for Marcia and I this year (our daughter’s wedding and our adventure in Grand Canyon) also made the Top 13, so it’s good that nice news appeals sometimes as well. Then there’s the odd dichotomy of having had a bit of life-affirmation by returning to our first in-person musical performance since COVID hit us, then seeing one of the artists who sang for us passing away mere weeks later. Both of those reports make the Top 13 below, as do four of the “Favorite Songs” entries. So there’s a bit of everything, tone-wise, which I suppose is just fine and dandy:

And then here are the baker’s dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2021. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on the earliest version of this website. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). Once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke, and also, once again, it continues to befuddle me, as always, why my 1999 interview with relatively-obscure guitarist Dave Boquist appears on this “most-read” chart almost every year, receiving far more hits, continually, than my many other interviews with many other far more famous artists. Go figger . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2021

TRAVEL:

We will see 2021 off, God willing and the creek don’t rise, from a condo in San Clemente, California, where we’re headed this week for a winter getaway. After years of somewhat absurd levels of travel, 2021 was quite benign for us: we only spent time in six states, as opposed to the 20+ I’ve experienced for much of the past decade. As I looked at my annual travel map, below, (I’ve pre-filled in our trip to San Clemente, with a planned stop at Joshua Tree National Park), it occurred to me (initially) that this was the first year in my entire life where I never spent any time east of the Mississippi River. But then, as I looked closer, I realized that, yeesh, I never even made it east of the Continental Divide in 2021. That’s a pretty profound paradigm shift, given my deep roots in the Carolinas, and our long stints in New York and the Midwest. If I can do so safely, I do intend to visit my mother in South Carolina in early 2022, and Marcia and I are cautiously hopeful that we may be able to consider international travel again later in the year, if we can do so with undue fear for our personal health and safety. I guess if we had to have a limited travel year, we couldn’t have picked a better place to do it from than our new home in Sedona, Arizona, as there’s plenty of stuff to do and see hereabouts, without having to fly or drive far to achieve the full experience.

RECORDINGS:

See these three earlier posts:

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2021

FILM AND TELEVISION:

See these two earlier posts:

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward into 2022, with a very deep sense of unease about the ways in which our Nation seems to be careening toward institutional racism and fascism and theocracy. It’s truly frightening to see how the will of a determined minority, intent on using every lever of power available to them (legal or otherwise), seemingly takes priority over the desires and wishes and votes of the remaining majority of the population, among which I count myself. Which is so sad, on so many planes, particularly for someone who once proudly served the Nation as a Federal employee and an active duty service member. Here’s hoping that a year from now, I’ll feel better about these things. But I doubt that’s going to be the case, alas, even if I don’t regularly write about such things here, because I don’t feel like I have a lot to add to the narrative, and it’s intellectually depressing to continually wallow in it.

On a brighter note, I’ve mentioned in passing a few times here over the past year that I’ve been hard at work on a book with long-time friend and Naval Academy classmate Rear Admiral Jim McNeal, co-author of The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition, which I reviewed here. Jim and I have a contract with McFarland, a publishing house based in North Carolina, to deliver a complete manuscript by the end of January 2022, with publication hopefully targeted before year’s end. If you’ve ever mucked around with the publishing industry, then you know that “instant gratification” is not in cards on projects like this one.

We finished the main-line text (about 75,000+ words) last week, and I then had the pleasure of taking the digital version of it to a local print shop, producing the first physical version of the text for compilation and copy-editing purposes. Our skilled editor is hard at work on the manuscript, per the photo below. And here’s hoping that when I do next year’s version of this annual report, I’ll be able to point you toward a purchase site to acquire our book, should you be interested, and that we’ll be (a) past the worst of the pandemic, and (b) not living in a political place that would make the most dystopian fantasist shudder with revulsion.

I don’t know whether I’ll continue in 2022 to churn out the piffle and tripe at recent levels, or whether your collective engagement with the site will continue to grow and expand. (One of the nice things about doing this as a labor of love, and not a labor of commerce, is that the thought of less traffic in the year ahead does not cause me any agita). But regardless of how all of those things turn out, I will forever be grateful to those of you who care enough to continue supporting my creative endeavors, right here and right now, and I wish all of you and all of yours the very best over the days and months and years to come!

So, did you mean “Let’s eat, Grandma” or “Let’s eat Grandma” here?

Best Books of 2021

In January of 2019, I closed out all of my social media accounts and made an active commitment to read more books of substance, and less ephemeral drivel, than had been the case in then-recent years. I have been pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that has been when I have done my Best Books reports over the past couple of years, and found myself with a wealth of great reads to choose from. In 2021, that trend expanded even further, and I suspect that I have read more books in the past 12 months than in any other year of my life since I moved beyond picture books into word-based tomes, and excluding the years when I was in school devouring (or skimming and pretending to devour) textbooks. I guess being mostly retired has also helped on that front.

Objectively speaking, my life has been far less anxious and agitated after I departed from the hateful and untrustworthy online worlds that Jack and Zuck and their evil greed-head ilk have built to destroy us all in the name of share-holder equity. What a truly shitty paradigm the social media experience is, on so many levels. I look forward to us collectively moving beyond it at some point, though I am not enough of a futurist to see how and when that might happen. I just know that it is a long overdue transition, and that tomorrow’s historians will likely look at how we spent our time and framed our arguments in the first quarter of the 21st Century and will wonder “What the hell were they thinking?!? And how could they have collectively been so very, very stupid?!?”

One way we get stupider, in real time, is by not reading great books by great writers, so I feel like I again did my own small part to stay smart in 2021 by continuing to devour a wide range of new books by authors both familiar and fresh. I share my lists of the best new books I read this year below, parsed into three categories (1) Novels or story collections published in the United States in 2021, (2) Novels or story collections published in or before 2021 abroad, which saw their first American releases in English translations in 2021, and (3) Non-fiction works published in the United States in 2021. Within each category, the books are listed in the order I read them.

I have marked a baker’s dozen titles/authors in bold on the lists below; these are the books that I would most highly commend to you as the very, very best of 2021. Perhaps some of these works will move you too. Or perhaps some other literary thing will have rocked your world rigorously enough that you’d like to share a recommendation in the comments. Happy to hear from you, in either case!

BEST ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NOVELS OF 2021

  1. Summerwater, Sarah Moss
  2. Good Neighbors, Sarah Langan
  3. Fake Accounts, Lauren Oyler
  4. No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood
  5. Infinite Country, Patricia Engel
  6. Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff Vandermeer
  8. Composite Creatures, Caroline Hardaker
  9. Second Place, Rachel Cusk
  10. Subdivision, Robert Lennon
  11. The Atmospherians, Alex McElroy
  12. Hollow, B. Catling
  13. Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
  14. Hot Stew, Fiona Mozley
  15. Virtue, Hermione Hoby
  16. The Startup Wife, Tahmima Anam
  17. Something New Under the Sun, Alexandra Kleeman
  18. A Touch of Jen, Beth Morgan
  19. Appleseed, Matt Bell
  20. The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki
  21. Bewilderment, Richard Powers
  22. Revelator, Daryl Gregory
  23. This Thing Between Us, Gus Moreno
  24. Build Your House Around My Body, Violet Kupersmith

BEST NEW ENGLISH EDITIONS ISSUED IN THE UNITED STATES IN 2021

  1. The Woman in the Purple Skirt, Natsuko Imamura
  2. People From My Neighborhood, Hiromi Kawakami
  3. The Cabinet, Un-Su Kim
  4. Tender is the Flesh, Agustina Bazterrica
  5. The Hole, Hiroko Oyamada
  6. Mona, Pola Oloixarac
  7. The Twilight Zone, Nona Fernández
  8. There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job, Kikuko Tsumura

BEST NON-FICTION WORKS OF 2021

  1. Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, Andrea Pitzer
  2. Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Avi Loeb
  3. The Witch of Eye, Kathryn Nuernberger
  4. Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Elizabeth Kolbert
  5. A Little Devil in America, Hanif Abdurraqib
  6. Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, Annalee Newitz
  7. Madhouse at the End of the Earth, Julian Sancton
  8. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else, Jordan Ellenberg
  9. All or Nothing: The Story of Steve Marriott, Simon Spence
  10. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, Amanda Montell
  11. This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan
  12. Rainbow in the Dark: The Autobiography, Ronnie James Dio
  13. Finding The Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne Simard
  14. God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning, Meaghan O’Gieblyn
  15. Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, Kelefa Sanneh
  16. You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

I have two new-ish 2021 books on my Kindle right now (Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel, and a biography of Led Zeppelin) which might need to be added to the lists above in the weeks ahead. We shall see. At bottom line, 2021 was a great year for reading!

If I had to pick a Book of the Year for 2021, this one would probably be it.

With Which I Am Well Pleased XV (Feet of Pure White Snow)

Yet another installment in my recurring series, within which I share 15 things that have rocked my world over the past month or so. I’m working on various “Best of 2021” lists this month (see here for the first of that set), as one does, so this is likely the last short-term report of recent pleasures, before I shift fully into annual highlights. As always, I welcome your suggestions on things that I might have missed, but need to see, hear, watch, read, eat, play with, or experience!

FILMS:

TELEVISION:

MUSIC:

BOOKS:

With Which I Am Well Pleased XIV (Worms For Victor Hugo)

Yet another installment in my recurring series, within which I share 15 things that have rocked my world over the past month or so. As always, I welcome your suggestions on things that I might have missed, but need to see, hear, watch, read, eat, play with, or experience!

FILM

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS

With Which I Am Well Pleased XIII (Japanese Birds)

Yet another installment in my recurring series, within which I share 15 things that have rocked my world over the past month or so. As always, I welcome your suggestions on things that I might have missed, but need to see, hear, watch, read, eat, play with, or experience!

FILM

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS