2021: The List & The Lesson

The year is over.   This year (year 2 of COVID), although not as bleak as the year previous, has hardly been memorable in a good way.  Or has it? When I tally up my blessings for the year, I am surprised that my biggest personal blessings are global blessings as well.  Yes, the pandemic is entering it’s fourth wave (expected to be as big or bigger than the first), but we have vaccines A game changer for the world.

And yes, there was an insurrection at the US Capitol; an attempted overthrow of democracy and the United States of America.  Twist it as you may, but the stated intention of the insurrectionists was to hang the vice president and keep the outgoing head of state as overlord. Like much of the nation, I watched the events in horror. Until that day, I had not realized the depth of my own patriotism and pride in my own heart at being an American.  Blessed indeed are We The People for the brave Americans who gave their all (some with their lives) to stop it.

And that was January.

The rest of the year staggered onward as I waited for my turn to get the vaccine, helped neighbors without access to the internet get signed up and enjoyed the banter as we bragged about our vaccination status. And again our boosters.  Masks came down, then went up again, and the omicron cycle kicked in. We hunkered in our bunkers to wait things out.

Meanwhile, I finished the remaining unread books in my ‘to read’ bookcase. Never thought THAT would happen. I have to say, that the books remaining on the ‘to read’ shelves were neither appealing nor memorable.  But the event coincided with the re-opening of my local libraries. Once I was able to get to the library, I had worlds of as-yet unread books by favorite authors at my fingertips, and that was indeed a blessing.

FAVORITE READ BY FAVORITE AUTHOR:  This year’s best read was so good, I went out  and bought it. I had to have it.  The reviews for The Only Good Indians are all over the map, but for me, Stephen Graham Jones consistently captures the most unthinkable thoughts and carries them beyond the most horrifying conclusion possibly imaginable, and then makes me oh so sorry to reach the end. The topics and point of view are so unique, it’s a voice that we need to be exposed to. Shocking is often a word used about his writing, but I find his prose to be both precise and impressionistic.  His stories are fantastic, hefty, meaty (in more ways than one) and resonate far beyond the last word. I always come away in awe, and his tales have a staying power I rarely experience in other writers.

FAVORITE CLASSIC: Every year, I make it a point to read a few classics–this year was no exception. This was a childhood book I bought on impulse in the best book store in Oregon, Bob’s Beach Books. I was in there browsing and stumbled across the exact same edition of a book I’d read some 50 years earlier: Smoky, by Will James. It’s a 1927 edition, with color plates ($45 bucks), but I had to have it. I read it on the very last day of 2021 and am still floored by the power of that story. Just as I had as a 9-year old girl, I cried at the ending. I don’t think it was written as a children’s book, but it won the 1927 Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Looking back, I can see how that story shaped my life-long attitudes about neglect and cruelty to animals. I knew the book had a good ending, but I couldn’t remember it, so there were times, I was sorely tempted to put it down.  Nearly 100 years after it was written, and more than half a century after I last read it, this is a very, very good story, well written.

THE LESSON: As I said last year, even within a pandemic year there are blessings to be found in reading good books. The lesson for me this year is this: the publication date does not determine whether a story is good or not. Classics are time those timeless stories that speak to us whenever we choose to read them.  I doubt that Smoky would be published as it is today (there are some racist characterizations) or that The Only Good Indians would have been published in Smoky’s time; but both are stunning in their own way.

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