Discussed in this post: 14 Books (Phenomenology of Perception; Ethical Loneliness; How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Canada in Africa; Tomorrow’s Battlefield; Lamarck’s Revenge; The Wild Places; Noopiming; Laurus; EEG; Fatelessness; Wicked Enchantment; Postcolonial Love Poems; and Ban En Banlieu); 4 Movies (The Wolf House; Hagasuzza; The Handmaiden; and Cargo 200); and 3 Documentaries (Welcome to Chechnya; Cheer; and The Painter and the Thief).
Discussed in this post: 8 books (Process and Reality, The Assassination of Lumumba, Anarcho-Blackness, Mutual Aid, We Will Not Cancel Us, For Joshua, Waterlog, and Permafrost), 1 film (Gwen), and 4 documentaries (Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, Killer Inside, Class Action Park, and You Cannot Kill David Arquette).
Okay, this year I read 140 books. Sadly, I was unable to maintain my monthly reviews (2020 got a bit busier than expected) but I hope to return to doing those in 2021. I’m not going to write a review of every book in this post but will, instead, highlight my most and least favourite books in each category as well as my overall favourites this year.
So, let’s start with the best of the best. My favourite reading of 2020 is not a single book but the works of a single author: Robert MacFarlane. I read three of his books this year—The Old Ways, Landmarks, and Underland—and each one was remarkable and filled me with a sense of beauty, wonder, longing, sorrow, acceptance, and comfort. They are difficult books to describe. Are they travelogues? Memoir? Nature writing? Contemplative meditations? Literature? Yes, they are all of those things in different ways and all at once. At one point in Underland, when visiting cracks in the earth and pits in the Dinaric Alps—a breath-taking place, but also a place used by the Nazis to engage in mass executions of civilians during the Second World War—MacFarlane asks, “What is the relationship of beauty and devastation in a landscape such as this?” It is a question that he is constantly circling around in all of his work and, for those of us living through the sixth mass extinction of life on earth, it is a question that we must all confront as we seek to live our very brief lives responsibly, thoughtfully, and, yes, even joyfully.
My daughter Delights to play in the company of others And she will love you If you play with her —–Last night we had a dance-a-thon —–I nearly died and she nearly died —–Laughing —–And then we drew pictures —–Of pumpkins and haunted houses —–And monsters —–Who aren’t really all that scary
And my daughter Was playing with her friend (She is always delighted to play with her friends) This boy who is always outside —–Seeking food and seeking companions —–But who is also kind and sweet and —–Who reminds me of a puppy neglected at home —–Always but always so eager —–To love and be loved —–By someone —–Anyone —–Please?
It was with this friend My daughter was playing with My daughter Who delights to play in the company of others My daughter Who will love you if you play with her But her friend went inside And his older brother came outside
Sixteen years old (My daughter is nine) And he said to her My daughter who delights in the company of others —–I really want to see a vagina. —–And —–Have you seen your brother’s penis? ——And ——Do you play with his balls? —–And —–What about other boys? —–And —–Do you look at their penises and play with their balls? —–And (several times over again) —–I really want to see a vagina. —–And then —–Show me your vagina. ———-(My daughter shook her head no) —–And —–Come behind this car with me. ———-(My daughter said no) —–And —–I’m playing with my balls! —–(Or maybe he said: Come play with my balls!) ———-While standing behind a car in a parking lot —————A few metres from our home
And my daughter My nine-year-old daughter Scootered home Still saying no —–Although, later that evening, she told me that what she was actually saying in her head was —–No, you bastard! —–No, you bastard! —–No, you bastard! ———-no
Black poets Especially young Black American men who are poets Sure do mention the ways in which American cops Murder Black American people Especially young Black American men A whole lot more than other poets do Like middle-aged White men Talking about reconnecting with nature And profiting from the spirituality of the same Indigenous peoples Whose lands they stole and made into National Parks Or the lot for their forever home On Whidbey Island Which also provides the base for the navy’s tactical electronic attack squads Flying the EA-18G Growler Or popular young White women poets Talking about how the princess doesn’t need no prince In order to slay the dragon By which they usually mean some White dude Who feels entitled to their bodies and everything else And not the Black man Trying to watch birds in Central Park Because they’ve been slaying men like him for generations And slayings that are so taken-for-granted Don’t merit mentioning In their poetry Or at least this is what I thought to myself When I thought about the next poem I wanted to write And what it was going to be about I’m thinking maybe something about The challenges of home ownership Getting Registered Retirement Savings Plans started early Or what to look out for in middle management Maybe something about what kind of wine to buy for others When you’re climbing the ladder I almost always suggest a Bordeaux
Do you remember when Pip met Estella in the long-cooled ashes of Miss Havisham’s estate, darling? Do you remember the feeling of possessing great expectations? We were all ablaze, All a blaze, Like the wedding dress on the bride of the groom who never came. But we were young, darling, We burned without feeling the flames.
Pale fire. We were writers in exile, Chasing butterflies, A long, long time ago.
What could Pip say to Estella, darling? What could Estella say to Pip? I was cruelly hurt, as were you. As were you. And I hurt you, too. I hurt you, too. And we now live in the long-cooled ashes of the selves we never had the opportunity to be.
Dolores, Dolores! We walked the sorrowful way, We died in childbirth. And the rest is footnotes and stardust Gone tender with madness, A long, long time ago.
Now silent but for the buzzing of insects, The chatter of songbirds, And the wind that flows invisibly Through spaces we once filled.
There are convicts in the marshes, darling, Leave them be! Leave them be.