We’re two full months into the year now, and in London most of us have spent most of that time isolated from our friends, beloveds, and family. Thank God the weather is improving and the light really is coming back now—I’ve always found February one of the most hopeful months, the month where you start to see genuine seasonal changes, the month that starts dark and ends with sunsets at 5:30 instead of 4:00. It makes all the difference in the world. There are crocuses everywhere at the moment, and I always think of them as late-winter lamps, lighting the way into spring. Maybe soon we’ll be permitted to see each other again, although I wouldn’t trust the Tories to have devised a genuinely safe and sensible roadmap out of lockdown.
Reading is a constant, as ever. I read eight books in February—much less than I’m used to, but that is all part of this year’s intentionality plan—four of which were proofs or finished copies of new releases (A Still Life, Memorial, The Dead Are Arising, and Milk Fed, which I haven’t yet written about). Three came from my own shelves (The Female Quixote, Fanny Burney: Her Life, and Gilead), the latter of which was a reread; one (Tender Is the Flesh) was a new purchase. One of the new releases (The Dead Are Arising) was for review in an external publication.
I seem to have stopped worrying about Goodreads numbers, which is pleasing, although now I worry about writing something about every book I read; I’m currently struggling with Milk Fed, because it said a lot to me, but not necessarily in a way that I’ve yet digested or feel able to interpret. How long is too long between reading the book and writing about it? I tend to try and get something down quite quickly, because otherwise I forget or other books pile up. Alternatively, how little is too little to say about a book that had a pretty big impact on you? I’m not sure.
With regards to my reading diversity and my aims for this month: I’m doing okay on the former. Three of February’s books were nonfiction, two were by and about people of colour, two were by queer authors and/or about queer characters, and one was by and about a writer with chronic illness. Tender Is the Flesh was the only translation I read, which is a bit poor given that I wanted to read more translated work in February, but then it’s also more than I generally manage in any given month. I’m certainly continuing to work through the Great Unread, and I feel as though my choices this month have generally been decided by whim and interest, which is a major win.
For March, I’m going to try to focus on a few areas of reading that are relevant to some projects I have going on: eighteenth-century stuff; stuff on sex work, perhaps including some theory on sexuality, bodies and capitalism; and some more work by chronically ill and disabled writers. I’m still, of course, aiming to read through the Great Unread, maintain reading diversity, and generally not stress myself out too much.
In non-book-related stuff, I’ve started a small contemplative practice for Lent, using Richard Rohr’s book A Spring Within Us: a Year of Daily Meditations. I hope to continue using it all year, but starting in Lent felt appropriate. Rohr’s approach to prayer and to religious belief is the most affirmative, inclusive and compassionate I’ve come across, and he draws from many traditions outside of Christianity as well as strands of thought within it. It’s helping me focus and be more present, I think, and it’s a nice small coffee ritual in the mornings before work starts. I’ve also started working on various applications for grants and prizes (for writing), and postgraduate programmes (in English). A lot of things are underway at the moment and nothing has actually happened yet, but it makes me so happy to a) produce creative, intellectual work, and b) feel as though I’m at least attempting to take control of my life and mold it into the life I really want. Obviously, it’s also terrifying. Your good wishes are much appreciated. My commando-style early-morning supermarket visits have had some excellent results this month, including, amongst others: pork pibil tortillas with pickled red onions, sour cream and coriander; chermoulah-rubbed chicken with cumin and orange-braised carrots; curried parsnip soup; Bengali mustard cod with spiced vegetables; conchiglie with a roasted butternut squash and rosemary sauce; and chicken and plums, marinaded in lemon juice, garlic, honey, mace, Aleppo pepper, and thyme. Food is love, as M likes to say. In less exalted pursuits, Joe and I are still watching The Great Pottery Throwdown and Drag Race UK (UK Hun?!), and tore through all five episodes of Lupin in a weekend. I finished The West Wing and am now filling my ’90s-and-early-’00s-nostalgia-telly slot with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I’ve never seen but which I absolutely adore for its combination of campy silliness and willingness to go to surprisingly dark emotional places; it’s very clear that the early series of the new Doctor Who (i.e. the tenure of Ecclestone and Tennant) were influenced by it. (I am very saddened and disappointed by the recent Joss Whedon revelations, but love Anthony Stewart Head and the other men of Buffy even more for speaking up in condemnation, and Charisma Carpenter for her bravery.) And M and I watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? last night via Teleparty, which reminded me once again that it’s one of my favourite films of all time, with a soundtrack that’s also one of my all-time favourite albums.
What about you? How do you feel about the covid roadmap in England? Is reading helping at all? What makes you feel the most engaged with life and the wider world? What kind of flowers are you seeing?