A Year in Reading, 2020

This was not a year for reading. By 26 December 2020 I had read one book.

One.

Granted, it was a great book, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It is a fantastic gothic horror book, and if it had been the only thing I read in 2020, it would have been a good reading year.

On the 26th, I decided I wanted to do a little better, so I picked up a book I had started in July, but only got about 40 pages in before life got in the way—The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, who I had discovered a few years ago with The Ghost Bride with a random, but successful Amazon recommendation. Both are historical novels in Malaysia, and both are fantastic reads.

And then on the night of the 30th, thought, why not one more? Why not. I picked up Black Sun bu Rebecca Roanhorse. Another great book, and a great way to see out the year.

As always, I read a lot of LampLight submissions, and can never discount the amount of work and emotional energy that goes into submissions. And I am always grateful for the writers who send me stories.

BRO!

For poetry, there is one shining ball of amazing from 2020, and that is the translation of Beowulf from Maria Dahvana Headley. It is fantastic, and so readable. I haven’t finished yet, but will do so tomorrow, bringing in the new year right.

Bro, tell me we still speak of kings!

TL;DR

Here’s what I read in 2020 and I recommend them all.

  1. Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  2. The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo
  3. Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse
  4. Beowulf – Maria Dahvana Headley

Practice, not Pain

The tortured artist trope is one I don’t agree with. The idea is simple: with great pain comes great art.

The thing is this, we get better at what we practice. To take myself for example, I am good at writing post-break-up poems, because for a long time that is what I wrote.

The ‘tortured artist’ didn’t make those poems better—the artist did. I worked on them, over and over, crafting good, if not limited, poems. They were the ones I edited, the ones I work shopped, the ones I gave at readings.

The pain provided influence, perhaps motivation. I used it as focal point to create.

But this created a new problem where I had to learn to write non-post-break-up poems, or even wider, non-personal-relationship poems—because that is was all I was practicing.

I played rugby for a half-minute (another post-break-up choice) and Coach would say to to us:

Practice makes permanent.

Didn’t me mean ‘perfect’? No. Perfect practice makes perfect. How you practice reflects on how you perform.

And ‘practice’ is something we do as writers. (Something I recommend doing consciously.)

When you only make art when you are in the dark places of life of it is going to be better than when you try elsewhere. You have to learn, to practice.

The thing is, the best poems I write are about breakup and heartache, not because of my pain, but because these are the ones I’ve written the most.

More practice = better art.

If I put the time into love poems or springtime poems that would be as good.

No, there is no special insight a tortured artist has, only focus that drives creation, specific creation. You can write, create, paint without the pain. You need practice.

Do you know how many happy horror writers I know? A lot. Because what we write doesn’t need to reflect on who we are when we write it.

Sure you pull from experience, but we are not bound to it. I don’t need to be going through a loss to write about loss.

And we shouldn’t think that either

A Day Off

It was 4 am when the puppy decided it was time to get up, followed by the cat deciding that I could not go back to sleep until I fed him, despite the early hour.

I read some submissions around 6, later tried and failed to go back to sleep (after I fed everyone at the correct time, Mr Cat)

And then I decided to do something. To take the day off. Like. For real.

For those of you who do this, you understand. You see I have two jobs: the one that pays for things; the one where I make books.

Which means my days off of one are days on for the other. And yes. One of those I choose for myself. Most of its stresses, deadlines, and todos are of my own doing.

But when I made this hobby public, started publishing, involving other people it was no longer a hobby, it was a business. One I love. One that I enjoy. One that still stresses. That still takes my time.

So I took today off. Of everything. And did something I’ve only done once this year: I read a book for fun.

So far the only novel I’ve read in 2020 is Mexican Gothic, which I highly recommend. I’ve not had time. Or energy. There is emotional labor in reading submissions. And it can drain you as you go through them.

Add on the time it takes to go through a packet of nearly 1,000, the time and desire to read can be nearly empty.

(Funny enough, I still seem to buy new books…)

I’ve had a few readers over the years and one thing I try to do with them is help manage this—it’s burnout, let’s not dance around that. The thing is, I’ve not done a great job with myself.

I frankly don’t have that luxury most times. The magazine is mine, and, for now at least, my labor is how it exists. No amount of burnout changes that.

So I took today off. No emails. No computer. No submissions. Sunlight. Some tunes and a book—The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo.

Get the well filled up even just a little to keep going because LampLight is worth it. The writers in LampLight are worth it.