With Which I Am Well Pleased VII (And Seven Is)

In which we, once again, return to a list of 15 things in various categories that have delivered me the bounteous joy in recent weeks. Here’s hoping some of them might do it for you, too . . . or that you’ll share recommendations in the comments of things that you think I might need to see, hear, watch, eat, read, or do!

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MISCELLANEOUS

 

With Which I Am Well Pleased VI (Six Sixties)

It occurs to me that I’ve not done a “well pleased” update since before we left Iowa in late October. That’s not an indication that life, the universe, and everything aren’t pleasing me, but rather that I’ve been busy enough being pleased to not find time for writing about being pleased. So here’s an update on 15 things in various categories that have been adding joy and stimulation to my life in recent weeks and months. Perhaps they’ll do the same for you?

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2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

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. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. 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 an early version of this blog. (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). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

Best Books of 2020

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 was pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that was when I did my Best Books of 2019 report, and had a wealth of great reads to choose from. It was also pleasant to see that my own writing output increased when I gave up on social media, as I dedicated time and energy toward my own website that had once been wasted by tossing tiny bon mots into the winds of the Twitterverse, where they spun and flashed briefly, then were forgotten, as they deserved to be. It was a really good lesson in how much of a time-suck social media could be.

Also, objectively speaking, my life was far less anxious and agitated after I wiped the social media spew from my world’s windshield, depending for news on a small number of trusted, curated websites in lieu of the hateful and untrustworthy worlds that Jack and Zuck and their evil greed-head ilk have built to destroy us in the name of share-holder equity. What a truly shitty paradigm that experience is, on so many levels. I look forward to us moving beyond it, 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 is by not reading great books by great writers, so I feel like I again did my own small part to stay smart in 2020 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 by genre, alphabetized by author surname within each of the three categories, with links to foster further exploration. (In some cases, the books were published before 2020 in their native languages, but the U.S. editions came out this year, so I do include them, with notes to that effect).

Perhaps some of these wonderful 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!

2020 Novels:

The Heap, Sean Adams
Providence, Max Barry
Parakeet, Marie-Helene Bertino
Piranesi, Susanna Clarke
The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, M. John Harrison
The Vanished Birds, Simon Jimenez
The Last Human, Zack Jordan
Qualityland, Marc-Uwe Kling (English Edition)
Pew, Catherine Lacey
Eden, Tim Lebbon
The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel
Deacon King Kong, James McBride
Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor (English Edition)
A Children’s Bible, Lydia Millet
Death in Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh
Earthlings, Sayaka Murata (English Edition)
Weather, Jenny Offill
The Evidence, Christopher Priest
Hearts of Oak, Eddie Robson
Little Eyes, Samanta Schweblin (English Edition)

2020 Short Stories/Collections:

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, Laura van den Berg
Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh
Velocities, Kathe Koja
To Hold Up The Sky, Cixin Liu (English Edition)

2020 Nonfiction:

Clean: The New Science of Skin, James Hamblin
The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch, Miles Harvey
All My Yesterdays: The Autobiography of Steve Howe, Steve Howe
Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt, Steven Johnson
The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition, RADM James R. McNeal and Scott Tomasheski
Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, Lulu Miller
The Ox: The Authorized Biography of John Entwistle, Paul Rees
Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World, Alexander Rose
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures, Merlin Sheldrake
The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World, Patrik Svensson (English Edition)
Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music, Ted Templeman and Greg Renoff

If I had to pick a “Nonfiction Book of the Year” for 2020, this one would be it.

And if asked to name a “Fiction Book of the Year” for 2020, I’d go with this one. Happy reading!!

With Which I Am Well Pleased V (Miles Out)

A week from today, Marcia and I should be waking up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one day away from the start of our shared lives’ next chapter in Northern Arizona. We’re leaving Iowa on Thursday, and spending a couple of nights at opposite corners of Kansas (Atchison and Dodge City) on our way to the Southwest, so there’s some work, time and miles to get us to where we’re going, but we’re pleased to be so close, having looked forward to the move for so long.

We’ll be living in an AirBnb in Sedona until at least mid-December, while we hunt for the ideal house, so I will be packing up the home computer where I do the vast majority of my online and real-world work, and putting it into storage for a few months. I will have a laptop with me, so will be able to continue posting and participating in online activities, though it’s always less appealing to me to do so that way than it is to have my nice, big, high-resolution screen, full-sized keyboard, and ample stereo system in front of me while I clatter away. All good and worth it on a macro basis, though. I’ll trade that short-term working inconvenience for the longer-term expected pleasures of warmer weather in a culture more attuned to my own, any and every day.

We’ll also be packing up the television upon which we watch all of our movies, and the iTunes account I use to manage my music will disappear for awhile as well. So it seems a good point to pause today and add an entry to my “With Which I Am Well Pleased” series, offering an assortment of 15 items in various categories for your consideration, since they’ve been rocking my own socially-distant world in recent weeks. If these aren’t enough recommendations to move you fully, or if you’re so thoroughly moved that you need more, more, more, then there are also four earlier installments in this COVID-era collection, here, here, here and here. Knock yourselves out! And note that the next time you see a post with this series title, it’ll be coming to you from a land without endless corn and soybean fields, too many hogs and Covidiots, and a never-ending gnawing cold autumn wind. Pleased!!

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New Thule roof box on new Mazda car.

Monkey Bread from Scenic Route Bakery.

With Which I Am Well Pleased IV (Zoso)

The news is just exhausting these days, isn’t it? I work to stay engaged as a literate, informed citizen, but it’s still a soul-sucking endeavor just reading my small catalog of lucid, trusted sources. I can’t imagine how bad it would be if I was still letting my brain be bludgeoned into pulp by the unrelenting dumb cuts, hot takes, and pointed, perverted propaganda of the social media cesspool. I also continue to do my part as a good member of the herd — masking up, keeping social distance, avoiding restaurants, getting my flu shot, etc. — but I live in one of the very worst states in the Nation in terms of government and community response to the pandemic, so all of my efforts at self- and group-protection could be nullified by one coughing idiot in my apartment building elevator. Did I mention exhausting?

But even in dark times, there are sparkling stars in the sky to guide us, lights at the ends of tunnels to inspire us, and shining works of art, small and sublime, to illuminate the spaces we inhabit. We’re down to less than four weeks remaining in our Iowa time, and we’re already deep into packing boxes and disassembling our apartment. That feels good. Very good. I ordered some sweet new masks, figuring if I’ve gotta wear ’em, then I’m gonna make a statement. Even if that statement is “I’m weird.” We’ve planned a final little Midwestern road-trip over to hike around the Effigy Mounds and Galena, just to get us out of Des Moines for a few days before we head out and turn hardcore Southwestern. And maybe, hopefully, Sweet Jesus let it be so, our current Federal kakistocracy will be on its way out soon if motivated voters get the job done in such overwhelming numbers that the cheaters can’t game the broken system again. You got a voting plan?

On a less macro basis, I continue to find and surround myself with books and films and music and sundries that give me joy and inspiration, and today seems a good time to share a few of those in what’s apparently emerging as an ongoing series. There are three earlier “With Which I Am Well Pleased” installments, here, here, and here. And for this edition, here are 15 of the things that have been rocking my world most effectively, most recently. If you’ve got something else to suggest, hit me in the comments. Always game for good recommendations, as long as they’re not exhausting and soul-sucking!

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