I seldom read self-help books and I never make New Year’s resolutions. Either I’m perfect, or I’m beyond help.
So reading a book entitled Your Best Year Yet (Jinny Ditzler) – complete with notebook and pencil to hand and an entire spreadsheet of plans, lists and goals on my desktop – in the middle of December is an anomaly of note.
The only reason I did, was because a freelance writer whose work ethic, clarity of vision and time management I’m in awe of mentioned the book in passing. I’ve always found her single-mindedness astonishing, and thought perhaps the book would give me a glimpse on her magic trick.
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire extended exercise of figuring out what I want and why and how to make time to embark on the projects that really, really matter to me. You know that stuff you always want to do and think one day you’ll get to? The nonsensical things, which won’t necessarily make you rich or famous, or a better or thinner or more robust person, but which won’t leave you alone in your quiet moments of dreaming yourself beyond the dreary every day?
If the book doesn’t help me achieve any of my goals this year, at least I’ll have a detailed and clear exposition of the goals I failed to reach.
In spite of the all the jolly December frolicking that happened when I wasn’t working or deciding what I wanted to be when I grow up, I knocked off some superb books this month. I finally got around to reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, a book that really needed to be ticked off the list finally. In it, Didion unpicks her thinking in the year following her husband’s death. Its acuity is breathtaking, her arrangement of word and thought affecting. I’d have abandoned a sentimental, mawkish weep fest within minutes, but I did sometimes long for more heart, less intellect.
By far the most wonderful book of December was a quite unexpected thing: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
I’m about three pages away from the end of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, an entrancing, but rather problematic-in-places, novel.
I read Out of Sheer Rage, a book by Geoff Dyer, which amusingly documents his inability to get started on a project he has wanted to do for years. He’s very funny, but his procrastination – even if it has been hammed up – is so pathological I kept expecting him to realise he needed therapy.
My – and I think many other ordinary people’s dreams – are put on hold because of the press and urgency of earning money and bringing up children. Mr Dyer has no such ready excuses. There’s no dwelling on the sources of his income, but he is lucky enough to be able to not get started on his dream project in Paris, Rome, an island in Greece and in the UK, all the while berating himself for the reader’s amusement.
I wish I could procrastinate so luxuriously.
I also read Nick Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading. His column in The Believer magazine is much like this column: a record of what he’s read. It was fun to compare notes.
And finally, a slow meander through The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. He writes – I’m forcing this back to the topic of resolutions and change and plans whether you like it or not – “And it is written that we too shall change,/like the words,/in future and in past,/in plural and in lonliness.
Happy new year, readers.
- This Chapter & Verse column by Karin Schimke appeared in the Cape Times in January 2014.