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Happy New Year! May 2019 (that sounds like the future, right?) be happy and healthy and joyous.

The new year season, by nature, pretty introspective. There's a whole ecosystem of rituals out there to support that sense of self-examination as well: resolutions, targeted advertising, sales, targeted sales, more resolutions, sitcoms and rom-coms, etc. New Year: New You, New Leaf, New Everything. And, of course, a rigorous interrogation of the OLD, and why it could be improved by a gym membership and/or TurboShaker. That can be pretty gruelling.

I'm not sure the 'accomplishment trumpeting' that I see on social media is the solution. I think we should celebrate success, both others' and our own, but, for me, the act of publicly delineating one's achievements as a sort of end-of-year exorcism. I'm not conceptually opposed to it. (For one thing, there are marginalised parts of the population who had their achievements regularly stolen/underreported/unrecognised.)

But...

I worry about the commoditisation of success.  Social media encourages simplifying complex thoughts for immediate recognisability and universal empathy. This time of year, that means boasting of 'accomplishments' that apply broadly and measurably. Awards. Publication. Acquisitions. Promotion. Marriage. Children. Whatever. Success that can be reduced to 280 characters, or a single photo (with hashtags). Reducing accomplishments to fixed, quantifiable definitions. I think the universalisation (new word?) of success is dangerous. 'Success' is personal, contextual, and subjective. It could be a best-seller; it could be a steady paycheck; it could simply be getting out of bed in the morning. But there's simply no way to compare all three of these, and if the context is set to the first, the other two suffer.

There aren't KPIs for the human life. Media - social or otherwise - shouldn't encourage you to scour your recent past, checklist in hand, frantically rationalising your last twelve months against standardised metrics. That's demotivatingdiscouraging and dangerous. Social media already impacts how we live and love - even how we grieve - we can't let it dictate how we succeed, or measure our success, as well. Find what you're proud of; set your own goals. You're the only audience that matters. 

On that note, four 2018 accomplishments I'm merrily trumpeting:

  • I've got a booth. My booth, at my regular breakfast place. For me (and I can even take it when I'm alone!), and they bring me my coffee as soon as I walk in the door. I'm from a long line of regular diners: my mother, my father, my grandfather... they all like the same seats at the same restaurants at the same time. I like having a place; a third-space between home and work. Other people have gyms or... whatever. I have my booth.

  • I can reverse sear. It isn't that complicated, but, wow, it is delicious. 2018 was the year of me learning to cook properly (2018 was also the year of 'Anne being really, really patient with mediocre and overly ambitious food'). The reverse sear is simple, but it also means that I had to crack all the really basic stuff that I was rubbish at in the past - from building the fire (seriously) to indirect heat to patience (so much grilling is about patience. That is not my forte). I've coasted in the past on sleight of hand and excellent marinade skills, but I think I can, finally, almost, somewhat, properly grill.

  • All our books are off the floor. We have a lot of books. Anne's a literal professional book-making-person, and hasn't thrown anything away since the early 1980s. And she's not even the problem. But for the first time - possibly since we moved in together, and probably ever - we have every book on a shelf. It required a year's worth of ruthless discipline and heartless disposal, but, by gum, our hideous carpet is now unobstructed by reading material!

  • I finally achieved a resolution! Five (!) years ago, I set myself the New Year's resolution of 'play cricket'. Reader, I have played cricket. It took a lot of help from my friends (and beer), but I have whacked a thingummy to the sixes and unstuck the powerthwack for wickets. Or something. It was a really fun and memorable day, and now I need a new resolution for the next year half-decade.

None of these are particularly sexy soundbites, but they all meant a lot to me. Well done, me. Great 2018. #winning

Get: Anyone consuming cultural content (even a tweet)
To: Feel slightly less shitty
By: Thinking about success differently


Inspired by this absolutely spectacular list of reading recommendations from Kirsty Logan - fifty recommendations from my own 2018 reading.

(* if published in 2018)

Crime and Thriller

  • *Give Me Your Hand (Megan Abbott)

  • Red Harvest and The Glass Key (Dashiell Hammett) - Hammett deserves to be regularly re-read. he's so damn good - as a writer, as a plotter, as a stylist - that he serves as a fixed point of reference when it comes to judging quality. This is what great looks like.

  • East of Hounslow (Khurrum Rahman)

  • *Something in the Water (Catherine Steadman)

  • All Her Father's Guns (James Warner)

SF and Fantasy

  • Age of Assassins (RJ Barker)

  • The Drowning City (Amanda Downum)

  • The Crystal Cave (Mary Stewart) - I need to write more about this, but as well as being beautifully written and brilliantly composed, I think it is one of the best explanations of Britishness and national identity. Not just what the Arthur myth is, but why it means so much. Which makes it both timeless and timely. Not bad, Stewart.

  • *Paris Adrift (EJ Swift)

  • *The Stars Now Unclaimed (Drew Williams)

Romance

  • Miss Wonderful (Loretta Chase)

  • *A Princess in Theory (Alyssa Cole)

  • A Lady's Code of Misconduct (Meredith Duran)

  • The Masqueraders and The Reluctant Widow and all the other Heyers (Georgette Heyer)

  • Once Upon a Marquess (Courtney Milan)

Young Adult

  • Overheard in a Tower Block (Joseph Coelho)

  • *Slay (Kim Curran) (BOY BAND VS DEMONS)

  • The Way You Make Me Feel (Maurene Goo)

  • Ghost (Jason Reynolds)

  • This Lullaby (Sarah Dessen) - I wrote about Dessen in March, which feels like a million years ago

Gold Medal (that's a publisher, not a genre, but they're my comfort reading and deserve the recognition - plus, my rules!)

  • The Turrett Room (Charlotte Armstrong)

  • The Expendables (Richard Avery)

  • Castle Ugly (Mary Ellin Barrett)

  • Meet Morocco Jones (Jack Baynes)

  • The Magnolia Murder (Wyatt Bell)

  • The Hideaway (Nikki Content)

  • Smoky Valley (Donald Hamilton)

  • Guns Along the Brazos (Day Keene)

  • Sinner Take All (Wade Miller)

  • Steal Big (Lionel White)

Genre categories are self-defeating and diminishing and, more importantly, I don't know how to categorise these

  • "Dr Frankenstein" (Selma Dimitrijevic)

  • *There's a Witch in the Word Machine (Jenni Fagan) - my personal 'book of the year'

  • The Talisman Ring (Georgette Heyer) - I could just list every Heyer I read or reread, so appreciate that this is only the third I've listed. The Talisman Ring deserves particular attention as a romance/mystery/historical hybrid that's laugh out loud funny, with a terrific cast of characters and two utterly charming central romances. Could someone please, please, please start making a prestige HBO/BBC series out of the Heyer novels? 

  • *And the Ocean Was Our Sky (Patrick Ness / Rovina Cai)

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) - I reread this for the first time since high school (and wrote about it), and, hey! it is really good!

Graphic novels

  • Afterlife with Archie (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa / Francesco Francavilla)

  • Josie and the Pussycats (Marguerite Bennett / Cameron DeOrdio)

  • Mockingbird (Chelsea Cain / Kate Niemcyzk) - This funny and mature and touching and very, very pretty; of course it was cancelled. Fits on the Hellcat / Hawkeye / Vision spectrum of character-centric reinterpretations of classic, if secondary, characters. As funny and joyous as Hellcat, as beautifully designed and witty as Hawkeye. Highly recommended.

  • In the Pines (Erik Kriek)

  • Goldie Vance (Hope Larson / Brittney Williams)

Nonfiction

  • Made in Bradford (M.Y. Alam)

  • Hold Everything Dear (John Berger)

  • Community (Peter Bloch)

  • The Nasty Bits (Anthony Bourdain)

  • The Age of Jihad (Patrick Cockburn)

  • Poverty Safari (Darren McGarvey)

  • State of Insecurity (Isabell Lorey)

  • The Mosaic of Islam (Suleiman Mourad)

  • Bloody Nasty People (Daniel Trilling)