Thursday, January 02, 2020


Review of 2019

2019 is over and we are now starting a new decade.

I read 82 books last year, the highest number of books I have read in any year of my life. I didn't plan to do this, it just happened. True, some of the books were short, i.e. single plays or slim poetry collections; but others were long novels and big omnibus editions. I doubt that I will ever read so many books in one year again, but who can say for sure? Anyone who cares to see what those 82 books were can check out my Goodreads page...

Reading highlights for me in the year 2019 were the 'Occupation Trilogy' novels of Patrick Modiano; Cities of the Red Night by William Burroughs (his best novel?); W.G. Sebald's Vertigo; the plays of Büchner, Ionesco, Lorca, Beckett, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Brecht, Rostand, and J.B. Priestley; the poems of A.E. Housman; William Goldman's The Princess Bride (surely one of the most charming fantasy adventure novels I've encountered); The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier; The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant; Silk by Alessandro Baricco; Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (one of the best non-fiction books about war I have ever read).

I also finished reading my reading of Richard Brautigan's prose works: there are none left for me to read. And I read a novel that has been sitting on my shelves for decades, in fact for 35 years, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, and I was astonished at how good it was, one of his best, perhaps his very best (and I am a huge Bradbury fan).I read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, a writer I have a special fondness for (because he introduced me to 'modern' literature when I was young), and I found it to be excellent; I also read the sequel Sweet Thursday, which isn't quite as good. I discovered John Williams, finally read the wonderful Stoner and the not so great Nothing but the Night, and went out and bought Butcher's Crossing as my last book purchase of the year. But my most significant discovery of 2019 was the work of Ingeborg Bachmann. I intend to seek out as much of her work as I can get my hands on.

And yet my 'book of the year' is this one. The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. I picked it up without any great expectations. And let's be clear: not every piece in this volume is excellent or even good. Far from it! There is a lot of pretentious nonsense here, word salad gibberish, and some of the best-known writers represented in the pages are responsible for some of the worst contributions. But there is enough brilliance to elevate the entire collection, and in fact I have even come to the conclusion that the gems are set off to better effect because of the presence of these duds. One of the things about this volume that works surprisingly well is that all the prose poems are presented in reverse chronological order, from our contemporary age right back to the 1840s when the prose poem first became a viable mode of artistic expression. I found this reverse order very affecting, I am not sure why.

As for my own writing.... 2019 was another busy year.

Books Published = 5
* The Nostalgia that Never Was
* Mombasa Madrigal
* Slap-on-the-Wrist Stories
* Arms Against a Sea
* Better the Devil

Books Accepted = 2
* The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelm
* My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand (my favourite of all the novellas I have written)

Stories Written = 36
Articles Written = 5 (I skimped on article writing in 2019)
Plays Written = 10 (one in collaboration with Vatsala Radhakeesoon)

This brings my total of books published up to 52 since the year 1995. A reader could read one of my published books every week for an entire year, if they wished to do that...
945 stories in total since the year 1989.
27 articles in total since the year 2017 (when I started again from the beginning).
15 plays in total since the year 2018.

This year I am hoping to have at least one of my plays performed on stage, radio or even as a film. We shall see :-) I began the year of 2019 in Kenya, and also went to Marseille, but spent too much time in the UK for my liking. Next year I am hoping to do a big trip in Africa, as well as a teaching post in Tanzania, before returning to the farm in Kirinyaga. :-)

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