St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Books Wot I Read in 2021

It’s been a bumper year for reading, and not just because I left my day job in June; the 73 books on this list were actually spread fairly evenly throughout the year. I don’t know why, but it feels like life turned a corner. I’ve been happier and more motivated, and I’ve been intellectually curious in a way that I haven’t been since my long depression years ago. I’ve had some realisations about my life and my career and I have a lot of good ideas about where I want to go next. Maybe I’ve become more placid and equanimous as I hurtle towards the grave. It’s a nice feeling.

The year’s books always give me the chance to reflect on who I was and what I was doing when I read them. I read Don’t Tell Alfred before the January 6 insurrection and I’ll take all the credit for my uncanny foresight. Swamplandia! was the last book my New Orleans book group read before finally disbanding due to everyone going through major life changes at the same time — I still haven’t found a replacement for those wonderful people. I read A Confederacy of Dunces knowing I was leaving New Orleans soon, and Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet while sitting on the train headed for my new home with a snake smuggled in my luggage hoping she wouldn’t escape in the night and eat a tourist. I read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day while lying on an air mattress, body wracked with pain and bones made of glass because our furniture took five weeks to arrive from New Orleans. I read Beowulf while writing 1,600 words a day for National Novel Writing Month, desperate to be productive again and awash in admiration for a whole idiom of epic poetry that was new to me. Where else would someone “unlock his word horde”?

The thing about doing anything well is I feel an obligation to keep it up (cue Kenneth Williams: “It’s fairly easy to get it up — it’s getting it to stay up, that’s what counts!”) But I’d drive myself crazy that way. It’s impossible to keep all the plates spinning, and you just have to let some of them break. I can’t promise to be half as productive next year, but I will set myself a mission: to read at least one difficult book I’ve been putting off for a while. There’s a number that fit the bill — Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Summa Technologiae by Stanisław Lem, and Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter are all candidates. Wish me luck.