Wednesday, December 23, 2020

To celebrate the end of a long, long, bad, bad year...

...I'm going to make a new start on reviewing the books I liked, but don't feel called to perform a full review on. There are, without exaggeration, hundreds of books I'd like to alert people to, books that really deserve your eyeblinks, books I can happily if not enthusiastically encourage you to seek out. I just haven't had a framework to do it in, like the simple three-sentence review structure you see at right. That meme was posted by Author 'Nathan Burgoine on Twitter in 2019. He was, before becoming an author, a bookstore manager, and this is the structure he encouraged staff members who felt overwhelmed by the idea of Writing A Review to use.

I'm adopting it, and referring to the process as Burgoineing in the author's honor. (I hope he sees it as an honor.) I will fairly regularly, once or possibly twice a month as a baseline and more frequently as events warrant, post three- or four-Burgoined titles together. You can see I've already begun. In the next few days more Burgoines will appear, this being year-end and a perfect time to make the decks as clear as I possibly can for the *amazing* books I've already got in the works for 2021 reviews.

I have to give 2020 credit for one thing. While a lot of authors saw their book launches rescheduled, publishers canceled their tours, and everyone was hugely distracted by the nightmare of COVID-19 (I had it, you do not want it), no one can fault the astoundingly wonderful literature we got this year. My own annual six-stars-of-five read was Zaina Arafat's extraordinary debut novel YOU EXIST TOO MUCH (review lives here), a thirtysomething Palestinian woman telling me my life, my family, my very experience of relationships of all sorts. I cannot stress enough to you, this is the book you need to read in 2021. A sixtysomething man is here, in your email/feed, saying: This is the power. This is the glory. The writing I look for, the read I long to find, and all of it delivered in a young woman's debut novel. This is as good an omen for the Great Conjunction's power being bent to the positive outcomes as any I've seen.

I read fifty-seven books this quarter. That's nowhere near a personal best, but it's a lot more than I would've read if I hadn't had the bump that Burgoineing has given me! Liberation from the demands of making a deep dive into a book, instead being allowed by my own inner demons to enjoy then describe why I did that this vastly simpler and handily codified technique showed me. The reads were in the main first reads or review-induced second reads. The re-reads, mostly of old Agatha Christie stories or novels that I could blow through quickly because they're already familiar. At my age, I don't really want to devote a lot of time to rereading because, in the ~170-ish months I can expect to live, writers won't stop writing and publishers won't stop publishing. I see wonderful things, to paraphrase Howard Carter as he took in Tutankhamen's tomb goods.

Many of the most wonderful things I've seen in 2020 were translated things, What's Left of the Night quite possibly chief among them...or was it the first-ever translation from Yiddish of The Rivals & Other Stories, that dark and bitter draft of unsentimentalism about immigrant/emigrant Jewish life...permaybehaps it was The Slave Yards, that unexpected and welcome ray of hope centered in Benghazi. Those stories from far-away or long-gone places, more and more, have come to mean the most exciting reading I can do. New Vessel Press, Syracuse University Press, a raft of publishers are out there looking for and finding wonderful tales, translating them, and waiting for you to notice. I'd say it's a great year to set a challenge of reading a translation a month. Click on the tag "#2020Goals" and I'll bet you won't be at a loss of where to start for long.

There were some really pleasant surprises, like SHUGGIE BAIN winning the 2020 Booker Prize and selling over 200,000 copies. The Only Good Indians and Ring Shout appearing on endless "Best of 2020" lists. The Light Years appearing on my radar along with its mensch of an author, R.W.W. Greene. A good guy, one to watch, go follow him and see what a relief it is to have someone as classy and good-hearted as him imagining our future into being. Jennifer Marie Brissett, whose first novel Elysium I really loved, announced Destroyer of Light will come out in 2021, and Nicky Drayden's Symbiosis appears in February. On and on, a litany of things I look forward to, a long and happy and heartening trail of good news. I'm so grateful for it all, all the stuff there isn't room to celebrate here but there sure is room in my world for it!

On the other hand, I failed miserably at my goal of publishing an average of ten reviews a month in 2020. Months without reviews came largely because I was pretty miserable after I got this rotten COVID-19, and there are some long-term effects I'm not happy about but don't cause day-to-day killing fatigue and wretched headaches. I'm going to set the 2021 bar at fifteen reviews average per ambitious one hundred eighty, more than I've managed since the earliest days of reposting reviews in the "Pages" to save them from being deleted (back in 2013, I had only Goodreads and LibraryThing as my review venues, and each had its issues). I'm a little bit anxious about that lofty goal, which is how it should be. Challenges, a little fear, and a whole new chance to make the 2020s rock instead of having them rock us.

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