Welcome to mid-January, that time of year when fresh resolutions begin to buckle under the weight of reality. But some stick. “Resolution” can also mean to reach the end of something, to finish it, close the book, turn the page. It’s a good month to shed what’s no longer works and what’s no longer needed. Time to toss out old habits and old stuff, and reassess what serves you now.
This month I’m wrapping up a structural household reorg that kicked off back in the fall when I realized I had finally, after all this time, gone through every last box of my mother’s stuff. As of now, I’ve condensed and boxed up three generations’ worth of school papers and distilled the family photo collection into manageable batches.
I was on a roll, so I kept going. I sorted the gift wrap (nightmare!) and the table linens and the batteries and household miscellany. I cleaned out the tech morgue under my desk. I took two shopping bags of computer stuff, some of it more than a decade old, to the Apple store to be recycled. I don’t want to think about how much $$$ my family has forked over to Steve Jobs and Tim Cook over the years.
All that disencumbering felt good. Existentially necessary. A past-due mental cleanout as well as a material one. I’m done sorting my mother’s stuff; my offspring have left for college; I have a Big Birthday coming up this year, and new work I want to do. At this crossroads in time, I needed clear space around me in order to see the road ahead.
And, miracle of miracles, I have created that clear space—I should say “clear enough,” because my house and yours aren’t museums; people and their stuff come and go and come back, and life happens in all its messiness. I don’t aim for perfection, just a good operating system to keep the household, and my thoughts, on track.
I might be done with clutter, but it’s not quite done with me. Because my book debuted during the pandemic, I didn’t get to do in-person events to support it. So I was thrilled to kick off WMRA’s 2023 Books & Brews author series at Pale Fire Brewing Co. in Harrisonburg, VA on Jan. 10, in conversation with the wonderful Mary Katherine Froelich of Stone Soup Books.
I wasn’t sure how many folks would show up to a book talk on a Tuesday night in January, but we had a great crowd. (Note to self: Do more author events in breweries.) I took a night off from Dry January (are you taking part? how’s it going?) and had a pint of Pale Fire’s Red Molly Irish Ale at my elbow while I signed books.
Much love to MK and all the people who turned out, bought books, and shared their own struggles with clutter during the Q&A and in the book-signing line. It felt like a group therapy session, in the best way. Two hours went by in the blink of an eye.
WMRA posted a recording of the event on YouTube, so check it out if you’re curious.
What I’ve been working on when I’m not clearing space: a book review (due February 1st), a road-trip/empty-nest/dead-relatives essay (drafted and queued up for what I hope will be one last revision, but these things take on a life of their own, and I could decide I hate it), a synopsis for a novel (!), and reading/research for a possible next book that’s shaping up as a response of sorts to Clutter. (Not a sequel! Lord no. I’d like this one to involve less personal trauma, thank you very much.) More in good time.
New/forthcoming books I’m excited about:
The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine by Katherine Marsh (just out!) Kate and I have been in the same book club for years, and I’m a big fan of hers. Her latest novel draws on her maternal grandmother’s family history, threading together a story of the Holodomor, the famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine in the early 1930s, and a narrative set in our own COVID era. The NYTBR loved it:
Marsh’s novel, inspired by the struggles of her own Ukrainian grandmother’s family, is a haunting story of survival in which children’s anxieties — whether about famine or Covid — are masterfully wrapped in layered prose. It is also an engrossing mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat.
No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating by Alicia Kennedy (Beacon, 8/15/23). I’ve plugged Alicia’s newsletter before; it’s one of my weekly must-reads (yes, she shares recipes too). As a vegetarian with vegan aspirations, I appreciate the way Alicia works the joys of cooking and eating into sharp analyses of farm-to-table systems, so I have high hopes for her book.
Flight Paths: How a Quirky and Passionate Group of Pioneering Scientists Solved the Mystery of Bird Migration by Rebecca Heisman (HarperCollins*, 3/14/23). I got to know Rebecca a few years back when I had a day job running press for a bird-conservation group. She knows and loves birds, and she’s a top-flight (see what I did there?) science communicator. The phenomenon of bird migration fascinates me, and I know Rebecca’s book will be fascinating as well.
*NOTE: As you might have read, about 250 HarperCollins employees in NYC—including many editors, designers, and publicists/marketers—have been striking for more than two months now.
What do they want? Decent wages, for one thing, as they explained in a Jan. 12 press release:
The mainly women workers average $55,000 annually, with a starting salary of $45,000. Many employees cite pressure to work extra hours without additional compensation. The company, one of the top five book publishers globally, reported record-setting profits in the past two years. The Union is asking to increase the starting minimum annual salary to $50,000.
Hard to argue with that position. Long ago, I made entry-level publishing wages in New York City; without family support, I wouldn’t have been able to pay rent and eat.
A lot of authors (including Rebecca) and literary agents have declared their support for the striking workers. (See this open letter to the publisher.) Many have refused to submit new work to HC until management strikes a fair deal with the union, which has also asked readers and reviewers not to review any HC books while the strike lasts.
I’m not currently a HarperCollins author but I support the strike, which means I will not review any HC titles until it’s resolved. I just passed on what would have been a significant (and fun) assignment for a major book review outlet, because the book in question is a HarperCollins title. Bummer.
Obviously this hits HC authors hard, through no fault of their own. To help ease the pain, the union has set up its own Bookshop.org page through which you can buy HarperCollins books; as with other Bookshop affiliate pages, the union gets a small cut, so you can support authors and strikers at the same time.
Reading: I’m about to start Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, which almost everybody I know seems to have read and loved. I’ve decided to keep at least one habit from last year: posting mini-recaps of books I’ve read on my Instagram account. I’ve found that if I have to set down my reactions to a book, even in capsule-review form, I pay closer attention. That’s a resolution worth keeping.
Thanks for reading!
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"Do more author events in breweries" 💯 We have two local breweries that do a lot of events, but I don't think either have done any author events. Mostly art and music.
Congratulations on your book!
This newsletter is inspiring. I have been on my own clutter clearing mission, and as we approach the one year anniversary of moving into our home, I just might be completely out of boxes...