2015: Truly the Crappiest Year

This is the time of year when everyone comments on the best books they read, best movies they saw, best albums they listened to, most important political events that affected them, and basically whatever else they feel summed up their experiences during the calendar year.

The last two years of my life have been a depressive blur punctuated by extreme stress. I had calm moments, like when I proofread books for other people and when I would disappear into my office and mindlessly sew for days on end. There were brief periods when the desire to write or obsessively research grabbed hold of me, but those moments were indeed quite brief. I did very little reading because my attention span wouldn’t permit it for very long – reading for pleasure became impossible and this site suffered greatly because of it. I feel like I am coming out of it but I am also often wrong about what my brain is doing. We’ll see, but I can confidently say 2016 will be a helluva lot better than 2015.

Also 2016 will be better because I will begin to discuss the excellent media that did penetrate the blur:

In the Sky by Octave Mirbeau, translated by Ann Sterzinger, absolutely devastated me. I am reading it for the second time at the moment and I can’t imagine a better way to describe the last couple of years I’ve lived. The gorgeous infinity of a blue sky becomes a crushing, enveloping landscape of endless misery, and all pleasures and hopes will be devoured by that endlessness. Because I am a typical American, I can speak only the one language, so I sit in awe of any peer who is fluent in other languages. That awe is magnified when I consider how Sterzinger finessed Mirbeau’s words into a narrative that spoke directly to my own feelings, so direct and pointed and frighteningly accurate. It’s a beautiful, dark book.

Valencia by James Nulick is a memoir of a man from a fractured family, the story of a boy carelessly raised, who experienced the death of childhood while still a child, growing into a man whose peripatetic life managed to remain anchored a bit by the photographs he keeps in an old cigar box and the ties he maintained in that fractured family. It’s a memoir not so much of a phoenix rising from flames but rather a document that shows how even trees which may appear to be dead still have an endless network of living roots underground. What makes this memoir most remarkable is the way in which Nulick tells his story, in a disjointed manner that mimics the way old friends speak to one another. Nulick assumes his audience is his friend and speaks to us in a way that draws us into his story, bringing up events unknown to the reader but later expanding on those events, a hiccup in timeline that happens often when those who know each other well have conversations.

The Suiciders by Travis Jeppesen is a book I need a very clear head to discuss. I can’t even try to summarize it now. I don’t know whether I loved it or hated it. Perhaps both? Neither? It is a book that defies easy synopses and was a book I read in spurts, which made it all the harder to really grasp. I may reread it before I attempt to speak of it. But even as I have no fucking idea what this book really means to me, it’s still niggling away in the back of my head, demanding attention.

House of Psychotic Women by Kier-La Janisse is a book that gave me hope regarding my own approach to my media of choice. Janisse discusses neuroses in women as depicted in horror and exploitation cinema, and she discusses these films not so much using cinematic aesthetic criteria as she uses her own personal experiences as the relevant filter for these films. Her relationship to the films were the basis of the book, even as she discussed schools of cinematic thought and psychiatric ideas. I have always filtered literature this way and I have been told by a couple of academicians that it’s a lazy, self-absorbed and ultimately useless way to discuss books. That may be so but at the same time I cannot abide a review that doesn’t tell me simply whether or not the reviewer liked the book and why. We may all find value in beautiful prose, in deft characterization, in well-constructed plots, but if the book does not move that which is you, that part of you that exists beyond education and cultured reaction, then all the authorial skill in the world is meaningless. Discussing literature or any media this way has perils – I discuss far more of my life discussing books that connect with me than some diarists and you get to see all the dirty dishes behind the kitchen door. But it’s the only way I can discuss books, and it was heartening to see this approach used by a woman who is clearly a strong thinker even as she responds with herself as the filter.

There are other books I plan to discuss, like Trevor Blake’s Confessions of a Failed Egoist, as well as what I have now come to call The Borderline Personality Potboilers – books by Gillian Flynn, Claire Messaud and Paula Hawkins. I have great hopes that 2016 will be a wholly different year and I can reconstruct this site into the place I always wanted it to be. For those who still read here, thanks for hanging on, and hopefully more will join you when OTC is updated regularly.

Have a happy holiday, however you celebrate!

12 thoughts on “2015: Truly the Crappiest Year

    1. No problem regarding kind words – I’m getting my brain together to discuss In the Sky, hopefully for next week. Reading it was a meaningful experience for me and I hope I can convey that.

      2015 bit for so many people. It’s startling how many people I know are so happy 2015 is over.

  1. Am I the only one who didn’t have a particularly awful year?

    I can vouch for In The Sky and Valencia. Both are excellent works. Jeppesen’s been on my radar for some time. The reviews on his books are pretty divided, which really just makes me more curious about them.

    I went ahead and added House of Psychotic Women to my list. I’ve been wanting to read more film and literary criticism, and it sounds like a good read.

    Happy holidays and hopefully 2016 will be better year for everyone.

    1. Thanks, Ben! I’m really looking forward to getting my discussion of In the Sky up online this month, hopefully by next week.

      Jeppesen is a mindfuck. Suiciders reminded me a bit of Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps, albeit a bit more linear. I wanted to understand it but by the time I knew it was a book that could not be understood and simply experienced, I was already a bit frustrated. I need to reread it with the right frame of mind and see if I am still as unsettled.

      I LOVED House of Psychotic Women. Loved it. And now have a list of movies I never knew existed that I hope to watch this year. Janisse is a woman who really knows her topic – I’m in awe of her knowledge.

      I already feel better about 2016.

  2. Season’s Greetings and here’s wishing you a better new year, Anita. My 2015 was pretty bad, though I’ve definitely had worse from the past and won’t be surprised if I get worse from the future.

    I have to say it was a poor year for books on this end. I guess my choices were unusually ill judged. Reading highlights include Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (http://ingreencanoes.blogspot.no/2015/07/the-vegetarian-by-han-kang.html), Tartt’s The Goldfinch (not very odd – but have you read it?) and Dworkin’s Intercourse, which has to be among the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Hoping to write a discussion of it soon.

    Looking forward to the coming reviews – they all look great. I’ve been thinking about buying In the Sky, so perhaps I will. As for Borderline Personality – I don’t know whether it’s available with subtitles, but I saw a really great Norwegian film this year called Idas Dagbok (Ida’s diary). It’s a documentary pieced together from videos a woman made of herself over a decade from the time she was first diagnosed with the disorder. Worth a look if you can get hold of it.

    Once again, hoping 2016 is a much better year for you.


    1. I’m hoping 2016 is a better year for all of us. And all in all, it wasn’t even close to as bad as 2009 in terms of financial disaster, physical injury, mindrending pharmacology and over all stress. But it did suck a’plenty. 2016 is already feeling better to me but that may be because I’m not waiting for the worst to happen as I pace in a hospital. No where to go but up!

      I intend to discuss The Goldfinch in a “this is not an odd book” discussion. I adore Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History. It’s in my top ten books of all time. But The Goldfinch fell apart for me in the last 150 pages. Tartt needs a stern editor but given the genius of her first efforts I suspect people are unwilling to curb her enthusiasm. I love her looks at life on both sides of the tracks – her prep school, New England/New York perspectives. Her characterization is always perfect – no one captures the balance of human emotion the way Tartt does. No one is evil, no one is holy – just human beings, mostly benevolent, caught up in life events that test them. But the plot wore me out and I was desperate for The Goldfinch to end.

      Thanks so much for the rec for Ida’s Diary. It sounds fascinating. I’ve known some women with BPD who tested my belief in genuine human evil, which sounds melodramatic, but once you’ve been on the receiving end of such symptoms, you find it difficult to remember it’s a disorder and not a calculated attempt to destroy your life. Personality disorders can be so exhausting and life-wrecking for the person who has them and those who love the sufferer. It would be very interesting to see a woman who tracks what happens to her after her diagnosis. Loud in the House of Myself by Stacy Pershall is also a fascinating look at a young woman who has BPD and her quest to deal honestly with her condition – her book helped me understand the condition in a way I never anticipated and humanized the women who have it.

      Here’s to a better 2016, Vince!

    1. Thanks so much for the info and the link! I really want to have a look at the documentary and I will definitely need English subtitles. I’ll be sure to give it a mention in my “film” entries once I finish.

      Excellent New Years for us all!

    1. Thanks, James. I am very nearly at the end of the “first” anniversaries. First birthdays, first holidays. She lost all higher brain function on 1/2/15 and died on 1/10/15. I feel like I’m treading water until that last first date passes by but I’m also experiencing better mental and emotional stability so there’s that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *