The end of a year. Time to reflect. How did those beginning-of-year “must do better” plans work out? Not that I’m usually an enthusiast for them: but, for once, this last year I did make two fairly serious resolutions.
The first was relatively easy to keep — to lose quite a bit of weight. The secret? You just eat fewer carbs, exercise more. And keep going. Who could possibly have guessed? So, primed with this wonderful new insight, I’ll now have to write my sure-to-be-best-selling life-style-and-diet book. Move over Gwyneth. I expect to make a fortune.
The other resolution initially took significantly more will-power to put into practice. Keep off the internet from mid-evening. For a start, try to ignore Twitter, the newspapers, the political magazines, the political blogs, and the rest. Read novels and the like instead. In these days of Trump and Brexit and more, I really can’t recommend this enough for the sheer improvement to eudaimonia and well-being. Try it for a week (you can do it!), and then another week … You won’t regret it, trust me!
And I’ll add, don’t read the novels onscreen: there’s still something about sitting down with a real printed book that seems to engender a different level of engagement (and I don’t think that that’s just me).
I keep a list. I didn’t quite get to a book a week (unless I’m allowed to count the likes of Dombey and Son as more than one!). But I have read exactly twice as many novels and other books this year as the year before, and I feel I’m reconnecting to that much earlier self who seemed to have endless time for non-work-related reading. The novels’ explorations of our human world, the delights of encountering wonderful writing, the sheer fun of getting caught up in a story, have all given great pleasure.
There’s no plan to the reading, other than a rough intention to mix up classics and recent books, and first readings with re-readings. And sheer chance plays a large part: what turns up in a favourite haunt, the beautifully run Oxfam bookshop in Saffron Walden? Indeed, such serendipitous finds have been among the most enjoyable — Madeline Miller’s Circe, the collected poems of U.A. Fanthorpe, the novels of Helen Dunmore (I’m reading through an as-new set of the first ten, bought for a pound each …).
And what am I reading as the year ends? Clive James’s long poem The River in the Sky (which isn’t entirely working for me, but has its magical moments); Sue Prideaux’s I am Dynamite (not that I am a Nietzsche fan, but it promises to be a rollicking read); and, not least, this winter’s Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. All more than good enough to keep me happily sticking to that resolution to avoid frittering time (and to avoid getting stressed!) on the internet.