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Just for one day

On my way in to work today, I saw two men stooping to help a woman collect the contents of her spilled knapsack. One of the men, big and burly and be-sweatshirted, said the following: "You know what they say about 2007? That it's going to be the year of perfection. Everything's going to be alright." On the train, a woman was reading a paper; on the cover: 'WEEK OF HEROES'. Stories of the city's heroes have even made it to The Guardian. It's what every New Yorker should do, says the man reluctant to be called hero. "Good things happen when you do good."

It should be more common here. I once helped an older man navigate a sloping ice-covered curb by offering him my hand, and he took it with joy on the verge of tears, as if never in his life had he heard of something so wonderful as someone offering a hand to a stranger.


A meme in time saves nine

Memes always remind me of the scene in The Commitments when Jimmy interviews himself in the bathtub. All they essentially boil down to are fantasies of wanting to be interviewed, fantasies I'll admit to harboring myself. This meme is a bit more clever in origin: it's based on a passage from Calvino's fantastic If on a winter's night a traveler and stolen from Kate, via So Many Books.

Books you’ve been planning to read for ages
War and Peace. Elizabeth Bowen’s books. The second half of Tender Is The Night. More detective novels. The rest of the George R.R. Martin series. All of those books that were so fashionable to love in 2006, 2005, 2004, but which I never got around to, and which are now somehow less important.

Books you’ve been hunting for years without success
Any old book of Jānis Rainis’s poetry. They’re either too scarce, too expensive, or in German, which is completely unhelpful.

Books dealing with something you’re working on at the moment
I happen to be editing a translation of a book on physics at the moment, and Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr. Y was a great companion for reworking language on quantum physics and theorems.

Books you want to own so they’ll be handy just in case
Russian copies of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, as well as The Yellow Arrow and several other Pelevin books. I have at best a very basic grasp of the language, but I keep copies on hand in case I get a brain tumor that suddenly allows me to learn Russian at a staggering pace, like John Travolta's character in Phenomenon. For now, unfortunately, it’s just shelf eye candy.

Books you could put aside maybe to read this summer
Old Nancy Drew books. One of the few remaining Shirley Jackson books I have yet to read. The new Harry Potter. P.L. Travers. A nice autobiography of someone who knows her life was fun and fascinating, but doesn't make me feel that mine can't be as fun and fascinating as hers (precisely why I loved the Julia Child autobiography).

Books you need to go with other books on your shelves
The second and third volumes of the Latvian translation of Anna Karenina, to go with the first.

Books that fill you with a sudden, inexplicable curiosity, not easily justified
Better Homes and Gardens design and cookbooks from the sixties and seventies. I came back from a recent Ohio thrift shop trip with stacks of them – Fondue books, Barbecue books – the pictures of old meat, my goodness! The colorful tips of fondue forks, like the little pegs in Mastermind, were a source of great joy in my childhood, and I think that this is what I'm drawn to in these books. The sensation of rugburn comes flooding back as I turn the pages and remember the family parties, the familiar bare lighting of rec rooms in neighbors' basements, beechwood shelves stacked with board games and tennis balls, the air hockey table...

Books read long ago that it’s now time to re-read
Of Human Bondage, which was my favorite book in high school, and it’s been so long that I can’t remember why. I recently learned that it was the book that made my mother really begin to love reading as well.

Books that if you had more than one life you’d certainly read but unfortunately your days are numbered
How morbid. In Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, she notes that it’s been said that people reach middle age on the day they realize they’ll never read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I’m starting to waver on that one, but I think it would be ridiculous to resign myself to middle age so early.

This meme has a few questions in it that had me choking – I decided last night in a fit of decluttering (inspired by these pictures) that I need to get rid of all the unread books on my shelves that I have no chance of reading within the next five years, and the ones I've read that I'll never likely read again. The challenger of this decision is still rolling around in my head like a belligerent heavyweight, but he’s sure to go down in the third round, when I have time this weekend to take stock of all the superfluous Things I own. My life is filled with too many Things, and the weight of them is impressive. I even went so far as to begin composing a letter last night to all of my relatives, asking them kindly not to give me any more Things. I often think that if, on a whim, we decided to go live in, say, Hawaii, it would be impossible to pack a bag of Things, because there are just too many Things I'd feel bad about leaving behind. Books are the biggest culprit.

And the temptation is always there for more: a list of 2007’s most anticipated books is up at The Millions (via Bookdwarf). Many of those I can wait for in paperback (or use as incentive to get a library card), but I think I can make room on my shelves for one more Murakami...


I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

Part of me is tempted to avoid the list issue altogether. It's so cold and categorical, and on the second day of 2007, sharing "best of" lists feels like donning last decade's worn-out velvet hat. But I'm eternally jealous of all of those other official lists piling up, and I couldn't avoid making some of my own. And when you make lists, measurements, anything of that type, what can you do but share them?

Ten Books I loved in 2006

and ten old ones I loved in 2006 as well...

Books to look forward to in 2007, as compiled by The Guardian.

Ten Songs I loved in 2006
'In Context' - Field Music (vid)
'Phantom Limb' - The Shins (vid)
'Roscoe' - Midlake (vid)
'Hold On, Hold On' - Neko Case (stream)
'You Have Killed Me' - Morrissey (vid)
'Young Folks' - Peter Bjorn & John (vid)
'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above' - CSS (vid)
'Pass This On' - The Knife (vid)
'Wolf Like Me' - TV on the Radio (vid)
'The Zookeeper's Boy' - Mew (vid)


2007: tbd

My mind is still impossibly squidgy from last night's champagne toasts (of which there were multiple, and, if I remember correctly, "To Lesotho!" was one), and while a pile of work sits not so idly by waiting for me to tackle it with the determination of "new beginnings" (another toastee), I fear the brain squidginess wins by a knockout. Instead, I think I'll read Peter Carey's Theft, one of the many, many books I meant to get to before the last of the year ran out.

There are plenty of things I meant to get to before the year ran out. Projects. People. Thoughts. Writing. And above all, books. Stacks and stacks of books collecting dust. Elizabeth Bowen. Cormac McCarthy. Fun Home. Kate Atkinson. The Emperor's Children. John Updike.

The thoughts are collecting dust too. In lieu of resolutions, I am making a list of things I have been meaning to write about over the past few days, which I hope to get to once the fog of 2006 has cleared. Tomorrow. Tomorrow...

(I still feel hours behind. Ideas have trails, I feel people in the room even after they've left, the clock feels like it's dragging its feet. And I don't think it's just the champagne: this 2007 is proving impossibly slow to break in. 2007: the already stubborn year, year of jet lag, of remnants and things I have been meaning to do. Or, perhaps, with a dose of optimism: the anticipatory year, year of hope, of good things yet to come.)


New Year's Zen