Ah God. 2020. What a year. All that handwashing.
Was this year worse than 2016? Well, yes, but I have a feeling that 2020 was when we began to reap what was sown in 2016. Ask me how. (Please don’t).
So here goes. The annual statement for my imaginary shareholders. For 2020. Urgh.
— Robert Wringham (@rubberwringham) January 9, 2020
As you well know, I got a book out this year. It first appeared in Germany (because it was commissioned by a German publisher) as Das Gute Leben and then for the Anglosphere as The Good Life for Wage Slaves.
I also spent part of the year writing (but nowhere near finishing) two new books for 2021. It’s been a bookish year in terms of production, perhaps because of all the pent-up energy for book-writing accrued during my wasted years in the office (2016-18) and my year of hard-hustling (2019) for similar reasons. I remain keen to make up for lost time, though I recognise there is only so much attention and patience one can expect. I’m grateful for what I get.
I spent 402 hours of the year (I know this because I was paid by the hour) editing an ambitious multi-volume collection of travel writing for my friend Tim. It was a joy, especially during lockdown when travel was impossible, to see far-flung places through my friend’s eyes, often from a time before he and I knew each other. I’m not sure when we’ll see the work in print but it was a pleasure to be involved.
In 2019, I chose not to travel and to focus instead on local pursuits. In retrospect this was a mistake! What I wouldn’t give for a flit to Montreal or Berlin today! The lockdowns of 2020 meant zero travel, even to England, and a cancelled trip to Portugal was the first pandemic-related blow of the year. Worse, the travel book I was writing at the start of 2020 became unpublishable, the landscape of travel being changed beyond recognition and future people’s attitudes to travel now impossible to predict. So I was 25,000 words in the hole by March and wondering what on Earth I’d do instead. I suppose this was part of what led to the desire to return to more pure writing: I wanted to do it anyway but the precarious reality of writing a so-called commercially viable book came home to roost this year.
Elsewhere, our ceiling collapsed (it’s still not fixed, we’ve just stopped thinking about it), we fell afoul of the famous virus, I learned to stop worrying and break the chain, I worked with my lovely friend Dan on a piece for The Modernist, and I raved briefly about fellow Dudley Bug James Whale.
— MrDanielJamesGodsil (@MrDanielJGodsil) March 16, 2020
No end-of-year review would be complete without the book list. I read an obscene number of books while ducked and covered. As usual, an asterisk* means I read it out loud while a dagger† denotes a re-read. Unusually, I abandoned not a single one.
Ian MacPherson – Sloot
Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5†
Bea Johnson – Zero Waste Home
Sarah Hyndman – Why Fonts Matter
Jeanette Winterson – Sexing the Cherry
Richard Ayoade – Ayoade on Top
David Sedaris – Calypso
Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women
Box Brown – Is This Guy For Real?
BS Johnson – Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry
Jan Morris – Conundrum
Tove Jansson – Two Moomin Stories*
Robert Wringham – Escape Everything!†
Olga Tikarczuk – Flights
SP Rosenbaum – The Bloomsbury Group Memoir Club
Michael Kupperman – All the Answers
Aefa Mulholland – The Scottish Ambassador
Stevyn Colgan – Colgan’s Connectoscope
Compton Mackenzie – Whisky Galore
Eleanor Davis – Why Art?
Dan Keiran – The Idle Traveller
David Sedaris – When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Paul Kingsnorth – Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist
Sayaka Murata – Convenience Store Woman
Alice B. Toklas – Murder in the Kitchen
John Sladek – Roderick
Evelyn Waugh – Scoop
Richard Brautigan – The Hawkline Monster
Miles Kington – Selected Letters
Nalo Hopkinson – Brown Girl in the Ring
Richard Brautigan – Dreaming of Babylon
Michael de Larrabeiti – The Borribles Go for Broke
James Geary – Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It
Michael de Larrabeiti – Across the Dark Metropolis
Ben Hatch – Are We Nearly There Yet?
Arthur Conan Doyle – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes*†
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The Little Prince
Anthony Burgess – Inside Mr Enderby
Tove Jansson – Comet in Moominland*
Cynthia Heimel – Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Goodbye!
Jad Adams – Hideous Absinthe
Muriel Spark – The Driver’s Seat
Walter Tevis – Mockingbird
Patricia Highsmith – Strangers on a Train
Robert Heinlein – The Door into Summer
Katie Skelly – Maids
Emil Ferris – My Favorite Thing is Monsters
Muriel Spark – The Ballad of Peckham Rye
Robert Macfarlane – Underland
Eva Díaz – The Experimenters: chance and design at Black Mountain College
Leonora Carrington – The Debutante and Other Stories
I’m currently reading George Orwell’s Diaries and Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard.
The pandemic has prompted (for many) a life of working from home, a dramatic reduction in commuting, a potential end to offices, and the promotion of amateur tinkering: all things I have long encouraged at this blog and in my books.
On paper, my own life looks highly compatible with this “new normal” and I should be, if not one of the winners, at least untouched by it all.
In reality, this has not been the case. My days since late February have been spent in a state of high-fretting. Like the environmentalists, I don’t want things to go back to “normal” but at the same time I can’t stand the knowledge that so many people are unhappy and struggling, and that physical proximity to others (a basic mammalian need) is verboten. The world feels like a writhing mass of sorrow and if the feeling has reached the happy spires of Escape Towers, it will be far more intense elsewhere.
Apparently, to be happy, I need my own circumstances to be pleasing, but also for the whole of the world to be happy too. Which is obviously an impossible thing and I have no idea what to do with it. I end the year feeling nervous about what happens next but optimistic as always.