“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
― Douglas Adams
Like I said Yesterday – It’s that time of the year again. Most nowadays eschew New Year’s Resolutions. And this year, after the horrible shitshow that was 2020 a lot of people will be happy to survive. However, since I had a few days off work over the holidays and there is nothing to do because of the virus I decided to wax philosophical and make some plans for the upcoming year.
OK, first… my actual goals, more or less:
Weight loss – won’t bore you with this – everybody has this as their #1 goal… pretty much. So there it is.
Cycle equivalent – 3,000 days. Ten miles a day, with a few days off. This is either a real mile on a real bike or an equivalent on my spin bike. I put an odometer on the thing so I can measure it. The spin bike is a little easier than the streets, a little quicker… so be it.
Submit 100 short stories for publication (2 per week). I have well over 100 short stories written. But writing isn’t writing, editing is writing. I will edit… and submit. Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.
Publish 2 ebooks of short stories. One tentatively would be 100 Days of Flash… the other 30 Bad Ways to Die.
Write cumulative 300 words of fiction a day. This is about one hour a day of writing. I intend for the cycling goal above to be pretty much every day, while the fiction writing goal to be mostly a weekly thing. 2100 words a week.
…And those are the major goals. I went ahead and jotted some minor goals down, more as ideas.
I have to be careful about daily habits/goals. I can really pile them on and there are only so many hours in the day.
I also made a list of tools that I intend to add to/edit as the year goes on:
“Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”
― Neil Gaiman
It’s that time of the year again. Most nowadays eschew New Year’s Resolutions. And this year, after the horrible shitshow that was 2020 a lot of people will be happy to survive. However, since I had a few days off work over the holidays and there is nothing to do because of the virus I decided to wax philosophical and make some plans for the upcoming year.
First – to get these out of the way – A couple of small changes for me this year….
(1) For the last few years I have struggled with using a Bullet Journal as a planning and recording thing – and it didn’t work for me. For this year I have decided to go back to a ringbound planner. I use Steven Covey seven ring traditional size binders (these are half-sheets, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2, or approx. A5) – I have one at work and one at home and one small one that I carry around. I design my own filler pages, print, cut and punch them. I have found that I like to hand draw the filler pages (todo, notes, thoughts, contacts… and such) – it adds a bit of personality, plus I change them as the year goes on (usually print a week at a time).
I will use a fountain pen friendly bound notebook (an EXCEED A5 from Walmart, of all places) as a daily journal and electronic means (Google calendar) for appointments and set events.
I feel good about how this will work out – will keep y’all updated in case you are interested in how it goes.
Instead of RESOLUTIONS, I think of Themes for the year and then place Goals under these themes. I’ll put down my themes today and discuss my Goals tomorrow.
Health – Ever since my health emergency in New Orleans a year and a half ago I have been struggling. I was doing better for a while but backsliding lately – seeing a new specialist in a few days. Obviously, I have weight and fitness goals, like everyone does, but mine are taking on a new importance.
Live Outward – After the year of Covid isolation I am suffering from loneliness, claustrophobia, and acedia. I think everybody needs to dedicate 2020, especially after the restrictions begin to lift, to reestablish their connections to their fellow man.
Create – for me, that mostly means writing. In 2020 I was able to meet my goal of writing 100 pieces of flash fiction in 100 days and put then on my blog. I have been writing more fiction and keeping it to myself. I have goals for amounts written and stories submitted and publishing attempted. Wish me luck.
Tidyness – I am naturally chaotic and, if I’m going to meet some of my other goals, will need to be more efficient and distraction free. This is more difficult for me than it should be.
So there it is… I’ll post a few discrete goals tomorrow and see what I think about them.
You should ride for meditation for 1 hour per day – if you’re too busy, then ride for 2 hours
—- Old Zen Saying
I have read that one thing that I can do to help achieve my goals is to share them. This isn’t easy – important goals are, by nature, personal and can be embarrasing. Plus, there’s the problem that nobody else really gives a damn and they (you) will be terribly bored. But by sharing them, against my better judgement, I hope to:
A primary goal I had this year is related to fitness – and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that it is a cycling mileage goal. The basic goal is ten miles a day. That works out to, what? Three thousand six hundred and sixty (leap year, remember?) miles for the year. That sounds like a long way. I used to have a spreadsheet to track my mileage, but now I use Mapmyride.com.
I do cheat in two ways. I know that sometimes the weather is simply too awful to ride. If I ride my spin bike at home I count one hour as ten miles. That seems fair – ten miles per hour is pretty much how fast I usually ride (though I average a lot less – in the big evil city I spend as much as a third of my time waiting on traffic) plus on the spin bike I never coast. The other cheat is a little more controversial (in my own mind). When I take the bus to work, I have to transfer, usually at the Spring Valley DART station. It’s about 1.3 miles from my office – which I can walk in thirty minutes (if I walk fast). If I do that – walk instead of taking the second bus route – I give myself five miles biking credit. It feels about right, the mile plus walk is about as tiring as five miles on the bike – it takes thirty minutes, so I’m sticking with an hour or so of exercise a day.
Is that fair? It seems OK to me and gives me another option and a little flexibility.
So… Accountability… how did I do in January.
My total in January was 314.02 miles – so I beat my goal by four miles. Good enough.
31 Bike Rides – 199.02 miles
9 Spin Rides – 90 miles (eight episodes of The Witcher and one hour of watching music videos)
5 Walks – 25 miles
Looking at my Calendar – I had 7 days that I did nothing. That would be another goal – reduce those days.
One other interesting fact. I thought about a goal of, for the year, riding my bike more miles than driving my car (excluding long trips). I didn’t decide on that goal because it seemed impossible, especially in Dallas.
Well, as I think about January – I drove a car three times, twice to Love Field (once for work, once to pick Candy up) and once to Home Depot (to buy something too big for my bicycle). That’s a total of what? Maybe fifty miles? Everywhere else I went I either cycled, took DART (one other goal of mine for this year was to utilize the bus system – which I have been doing), or rode with someone else driving. I never drove myself to work (not always by choice). So I rode my bike two hundred miles and drove fifty. I didn’t think that was possible, and it probably won’t be for the rest of the year… but there it is.
My bike commute – the bike riding itself – is getting really easy. I told someone that, unless the weather is horrible, usually my bike ride to/from work is the best part of my day. They said, “How many people can say that their commute is the best part of their day.” I nodded, although I thought to myself that a big part of that is how unpleasant the rest of my day is. Unfortunately, changing clothes and such at work is the worst part of my day. My employer blathers on a lot about work/life balance – but it is all bullshit. They make it as difficult as they can to commute without a car.
Also, I have to be careful – when you don’t drive very much and live in a car-obsessed city like Dallas – on a tiny bicycle dodging giant killer hunks of steel that spew toxic fumes in your face even if they miss you or standing by the road waiting for a bus as the traffic roars by inches away – you begin to hate cars. You begin to hate the people that drive them, especially people that drive fast/aggressively, yak on their phones, and honk their horns. It’s a good opportunity to practice mindfulness and forgiveness.
So, sorry to bore you with my stupid little story – one month down, eleven to go.
Better finish this off and go for a bike ride – get my ten miles in. Don’t want to start February off behind.
“I had to ride slow because I was taking my guerrilla route, the one I follow when I assume that everyone in a car is out to get me. My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That’s why I don’t even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you’ve put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe–to see you, and to give a fuck–you’ve already blown it… We had a nice ride through the darkness. On those bikes we were weak and vulnerable, but invisible, elusive, aware of everything within a two-block radius.”
Santa doesn’t seem to bring me things any more – maybe I haven’t been a good boy – so I tell people what I want for Christmas. And what I want is gift cards.
In this day and age – Amazon gift cards are best.That way I get what I want and I get the fun of figuring out what I’m going to order. Also, a lot of times what I want is too expensive for someone to buy me (such as a new camera), I can save up cards over Christmases and Birthdays until I have what I need.
For this Christmas, I cashed in a gift card and bought a new cycling jacket.
There were myriads to choose from, in all price points, but after a lot of looking I decided on an ARSUXEO Winter Warm UP Thermal Softshell Cycling Jacket. In that crazy internet way things happen now – the next day it was sitting on my porch.
I have grand ambitions on bike commuting in 2020. I need to lose weight, up my fitness, and we’re short a car – so it’s on the bike to work I go. The ride is getting easy enough that the actual bike riding part in the best part of my day (the getting ready and changing clothes at work is the worst). Dealing with weather is tough – and even here in Texas, there are cold, windy days in the winter time. I’ve had a few days of riding around the ‘hood, and a couple of commutes in already.
The jacket works great. The key to getting in miles when the weather is whipsawing around is to layer effectively. I can go three or four layers under this thing, and peel some off if the sun comes out and the day warms. The jacket has some areas that let in the breeze – I can feel it when it is really cold, but necessary to evaporate out the sweat.
The best part is the visibility. That geeky green-yellow color is a lifesaver at dusk and dawn in Dallas rush-hour traffic.
So it’s time to charge my lights for tomorrow, make sure my tires are good, and get some sleep. Dawn comes early.
“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.”
As I worked on commuting the 5 miles to work on a regular basis – I realized I needed storage attached to my handlebars to keep some stuff that I could reach without getting off my bike.
First, and most important, I needed a place to keep my badge. I work on the big Texas Instruments campus at Hwy75 and 635 (though I don’t actually work for Texas Instruments) on a little peninsula of Dallas sticking up into Richardson, Texas. I need a badge as I ride past the security gate to get onto the campus. I can’t really ride the whole way with the thing banging around on my neck (for safety and comfort) so I would stop a block short of the gate, dig around in my pack or panniers and put my badge on. Although the quick rest was good (help my heart slow down and a little less sweat) I didn’t like wasting all that time looking for my badge mixed in with all the rest of the stuff. I realized I needed something small on my handlebars to keep my badge.
Also, after trying a lot of lights, I prefer some knockoff lights with a USB on the end that I run from portable cell phone battery packs. They are cheap and I can carry extras as backup. But I needed something on my bars to carry the battery. I had been running the wires all the way to the bag on the back of my bike and it kept getting caught on stuff. Finally, I wanted a place to keep my phone and wallet that I could keep my eyes on. Peace of mind, you know.
My cockpit is crowded with lights, bell, plus interrupter brake levers and a standard handlebar bag would take up too much space. So I started looking around and asking other cycling commuters that I know what they use. They all recommended a feed bag style of stem bag.
These looked useful and I was leaning this way. However – I didn’t like the shape – they seem designed for a water bottle and I already have three cages on my bike. What I wanted to store was flat in shape. Also, these seemed a bit pricey (I know, you get what you pay for… I am horribly cheap) – so I held off and kept looking.
After looking around I came cross these things – Toughbuilt Fastener Bag – Heavy Duty Mesh Window, Hanging Grommets
These were inexpensive – 3 for around twelve bucks. I knew they’d be strong and well made. People (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) that use these things don’t fuck around with stuff that breaks. Plus they were flat in shape, you could see into them, and had a stout metal grommet. So I bought some.
When they arrived I mounted one on the stem of my bike with a carabiner clip and an old bracket from a bike reflector that I had laying around. It worked great.
I know that my love for cheap gadgets and using things not for their original purpose is often self-defeating – but this is perfect – just big enough and it moves sideways through the wind without much resistance. I can keep an eye on my badge, phone, and wallet while I ride and get my badge out when I need it. In hot weather I keep a small paper towel in there too to wipe sweat or clean my glasses while waiting at a stop light. I’ve learned that with bike commuting – when you have to get out that door every morning – it isn’t only about what you carry – it’s about how you organize it.
These little indestructible pouches are a big help with the small things.
Looking back over old journal entries I realized it has been over seven years since I first rode my bike to work:
Not long after that I wrote a detailed description of my ride home from work (at that time I was only commuting one way):
Over that vast span of time I have been up and down on the bike commuting… mostly down. However, lately, to aid in recovery from my sickness this summer and because of various things we now have three people at home with only two cars, I have been bike commuting more and more. Things have changed a lot since 2012 – I am riding a different bike now (a vintage Cannondale 1987 touring bike) and have recently done some serious route tweaking….
As a matter of fact, my two main bikes from 2012 – a Yokota Mountain Bike, and a vintage 1986 Raleigh Technium – have both been broken in the meantime and replaced.
My goal for 2020 is 3,000 miles – my commute is five miles each way – so if I commute every day for 300 workdays I’ll hit my goal. I won’t be able to commute by bike every day (weather, laziness, I often need to drive to other sites for work) so I will have to ride extra on the weekend and in the evening, plus I will count an hour on the spin bike as ten miles.
Like I mentioned, I have been doing some serious route tweaking – mostly for safety purposes. I’ll write later about what I’ve learned about bike safety riding daily in big city traffic – some of it is counter-intuitive. I was a bit peeved that, after working on my route, it turned out to be something like 4.95 miles each way… and that is less than my 10 miles per day goal. So I tweaked it a little more to add a couple tenths of a mile. I know that’s nuts – but a goal is a goal.
Here’s my current route home from the Texas Instruments campus to East Richardson – I’m pretty happy with it.
I’ll have to duplicate my 2012 entry and document my route. I can’t take photos on my commute – it’s dark now both ways – so maybe I’ll ride the route this weekend and take some pictures, then write it up.
Summers are tough, it is so hot here and I don’t have a shower available at work. I arrive drenched in sweat and have to towel off and change clothes in a handicap stall – not a lot of fun. The key is to get up really early, before dawn, and take my time.
Now, though, is another kind of problem. I hate being cold. But I’ve been working on my cold-weather gear, my layers. This morning it was right around freezing, which is pretty cold for Texas. I was nervous last night, I have ridden in the cold before, but never commuted in these temperatures. When I went out of the garage the ground was rimed with frost and clouds of vapor pulsed out of my mouth. I glanced at my car as I clipped in my pedals and noticed the glass was covered with ice.
At least when you bike commute in the cold, you don’t have to scrape your windshield.
As it turned out, I did fine. I was wearing multiple layers of various kinds of clothing and once I was moving and working I warmed up and was comfortable. Changing into my work clothes (and back again for the ride home) was a pain, but it is what it is.
This time of year I’m riding home in the pitch dark (on my trip in the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon). Today was bad because there was some kind of wreck at Beltline and Greenville and traffic was spilling out onto all the neighborhood roads – the drivers were in a bad mood – angry and fast. That makes for much unpleasantness when you are on a tiny unprotected and vulnerable bicycle.
But I made it home, checked the forecast (cold again) and set out my gear for tomorrow morning. Another day, another ten miles.
“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
― Jordan B. Peterson
I am working on a list of “Bill’s Rules” – hopefully coming up with a list of useful, yet pithy, statements that I, more or less, came up with on my own. I’m up to four, but have serious doubts about the fourth – probably goin’ to give that one up.
At any rate, Numero Uno:
The key to creativity and innovation is to embrace failure
This seems obvious at first – of course if you are to be creative and innovative you have to be willing to fail. What I’m saying goes beyond that – you have to embrace failure. You have to crave failure. You have to have failure as your primary goal.
To illustrate, I’ll give an example from that white-hot furnace meant to burn away all and any trace of creativity and innovation (and joy, and human-ess, and anything else worthwhile) – the world of the modern giant corporation. It is a world of metrics, and goals, and people scurrying like ants to meet those metrics… and the world be dammed. Not meeting goal, having that dreaded red box on the monthly PowerPoint metric presentation – projected on that screen in that sterile conference room – , is the worse thing in the world and a source of executive shame.
And they don’t understand why other companies (usually very small) always come up with the new ideas.
Here’s my idea – everyone should have on their annual review goal list – “I will initiate at least six major projects in the coming year that will fail… preferably fail in a spectacular and embarrassing manner.”
That would spur some creativity and innovation. And what happens if your projects all succeed in wild and unpredictable ways? Well, you weren’t innovative and creative enough – if you manage to hold on to your job you better try harder next year.
“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:
Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.
But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.
At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.
At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.
So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.
I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.
And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.
There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.
It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.
“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa
Oblique Strategy: Distorting time
I am working on my goals for next year. One thing that I wanted to do is to up my reading game. I was thinking about a goal of reading a hundred books in 2018.
That seemed a little silly. Though an avid reader, I am not as fast as I used to be – brain and eyes are letting me down more and more. I don’t have very much free time and even less excess energy. But that century mark of tomes read was such a siren call.
Then I thought, “They don’t have to be long books.” I could salt my reading list with shorter works (less than 200 pages) and then my goal might be doable. To experiment, I walked through the shelves of the Richardson library looking for thinner editions and found there were plenty to be hunted down.
It was a quick leap from that to heading out onto the web. I typed in “list of best short novels” into Google and opened up the first half-dozen hits or so. An hour of copying and pasting later, I had 66 books in a list. I included the title, the author, and a little blurb from whatever website I scoured the information from. There were a lot of duplicates in the various websites, of course (I think I’ve caught all of those) and I threw out half the books because I had already read them.
One cool thing is that I kept thinking, “Oh, that’s not really a book I would read,” and then I’d catch myself – these are short so there is little lost in starting a book that I might not relate to… this is a great place to experiment, to branch out, to try something new. Of course, there is a satisfaction at finishing a great weighty hunk of a book – maybe I’ll make 2019 the year of reading a few really big books.
The more I think about this, the more excited I get. I think I’ll start early – 2018 is only a couple weeks away. I think I’ll head down to the library with this list in hand and see what I can find. Wish me luck. If you have any recommendations or ideas – I’d be glad to hear them. A hundred books in a year – sounds like a plan.
Here’s the list, so far:
1 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
“Dept. of Speculation, a series of short dispatches from the front line of a marriage, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and often both in the same sentence.”
2 We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
“A gripping tale of murder most foul on the estate of the Blackwood family, Shirley Jackson’s final novel is the kind of book you’ll want everyone to read just so you can talk about it.”
3 The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
“A book about cultural identity as much as politics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a Princeton-educated Pakistani as his life in America collapses post 9/11”
4 Heartburn by Nora Ephron
“In Nora Ephron s hilarious novel, based on the breakdown of her second marriage, group therapy and infidelity share the page with recipes for pot roast.”
5 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“Achebe’s classic novel follows Okonkwo, a man who finds himself at odds with society and history amid the changing cultural landscape in Nigeria. 209 pages.”
6 Shopgirl by Steve Martin
“An exploration of loneliness, softened by Martin’s witty observations and dry humour, Shopgirl follows the titular character as she navigates life in Los Angeles.”
7 The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
“Classic Christie, classic Marple. When the body of a young woman is discovered in the library at Gossington Hall, the hunt is on to find out whodunnit.”
8 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
An examination of life and the narratives we construct for ourselves that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.
9 Sula by Toni Morrison
“Sula follows the contrasting lives of two girls growing up in a poor, black Ohio neighbourhood, and the different paths they choose.”
10 The Dig by Cynan Jones
“A sparse, dark, brutal novella about a Welsh farmer struggling to make a living from his sheep, and an unnamed man digging up badgers to bait.”
11 How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
“An absurd, delightful novel about a Polish immigrant in Los Angeles who schemes to reinvent herself in order to gain access to the Twin Palms nightclub.”
12 Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Two friends plot the downfall of a politician in this Booker-winning novella
13 Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
“The aftermath of a gang rape on a young mother is explored in a searing indictment of rape culture and the lack of justice, care, and understanding for victims.”
14 The Quiet American by Graham Greene
A seasoned English journalist in Vietnam watches as a young American turns good intentions into bad policy and bloodshed in this powerful anti-war allegory.
15 The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
“A fantastical, lyrical love story set during the Napoleonic Wars”
16 Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
“A novel in verse, Autobiography of Red gives voice to a minor character in Greek mythology, updating his story to the present day. There are those who love it and those who haven’t read it. Be the former”
17 The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
A stream-of-consciousness journey into the mind of a man on his lunch break
18 At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
“A collection of 16 utterly compelling, gorgeously crafted short stories.”
19 Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
“A horror novel following the 12th expedition into the uncharted Area X. Any guesses what happened to the previous 11 expeditions Nope, weirder than that.”
20 The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
“Written when Toole was just 16, but not published until after his death. Well worth a read for fans of his A Confederacy of Dunces.”
21 Speedboat by Renata Adler
“An experimental novel that defies literary convention and category, this mix of fiction, critique, memoir, confession, and essay demands to be experienced.”
22 If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki
“A darkly comic novella in which the narrator tells her unborn daughter the story of how she came to be. A romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy, not romance.”
23 Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome struggles to tend to his farm and his wife then her beautiful cousin comes to stay.
24 Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
“In a reverse narrative, the protagonist moves backwards from death towards the story’s beginning and his role in one of the most horrific events in recent history.”
25 Lucinella by Lore Segal
“A witty and searing indictment of the ’70s New York literary scene, in which a poet observes her peers at a writer’s colony upstate.”
26 Night by Elie Wiesel
A harrowing account of the author’s time in Nazi concentration camps.
27 Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
“An alcoholic bartender in Los Angeles observes the lonely, broken, and grotesque characters who populate his bar, among whom he may be the most broken.”
28 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world
29 Cheri by Colette
“L‚a de Lonval is an aging courtesan, a once famous beauty facing the end of her sexual career. She is also facing the end of her most intense love affair, with Fred Peloux known as Ch‚ri a playboy half her age. ”
30 The King by Donald Barthelme
“In The King, a retelling of Le Morte D’Arthur, Donald Barthelme moves the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table to the cruelty of the Second World War.”
31 Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
“This short novel is a dream: the kind you dip into, just for a drowsy second”
32 Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
“The final novel from the acclaimed American author, about an elderly man and woman who come together to tackle their loneliness. A low-key, melancholy yet beautifully tender read about making the most of life.”
33 The Vegetarian By Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith.
“Set in South Korea, this is the story of Yeong-hye and her decision to become a vegetarian and the shocking reaction that this rebellion triggers in her family. A deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.”
34 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
“Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf’s story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a fashionable, wealthy and accomplished hostess, and Septimus Warren Smith, a shellshocked survivor of the Great War, is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction. ”
35 Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
“Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and one of the most highly acclaimed novels of recent times, Max Porter s debut novel is an astonishing, and surprisingly humorous, study of a man and his two sons dealing with the loss of their mother.”
36 A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
“Andreas is a simple man of few words, yet he lives an extraordinary life. At under 160 pages, Robert Seethaler’s novel is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude.”
37 The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
“An elliptical meditation on the mysteries of love, life and time, this is a sad yet beautiful novel from America s true masters of fiction, Don DeLillo. ”
38 Bonjour Tristesse by Fran‡oise Sagan
“Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible C‚cile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.”
39 Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson
“Highly praised by the likes of Lena Dunham and Alice Sebold, this is a compelling read about a poet leaving behind her sensible boyfriend for a renowned artist, a decision which causes her rational world to begin to unravel.”
40 All This Has Nothing To Do With Me by Monica Sabolo
“MS interviews the mysterious XX for a job and hires him because she fancies him. As their relationship develops, and then collapses, MS lays bare her feelings in emails, text messages, photographs that show the tragedy and the comedy of her obsession. ”
41 The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
This charming novel about a cat that brings joy into a couple’s life was a surprise bestseller around the world.
42 The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher by Ahn Do-hyun
“Wise, tender and inspiring, this is the story of a salmon whose silver scales mark him out as different – who dares to leap beyond his fate. It’s a story about growing up, and about aching and ardent love.”
43 The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
“In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. ”
44 By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano
“There s a passage in Bolano s own great tome, 2666, attacking people who prefer the perfect exercises of the great masters to the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. Admittedly, By Night in Chile is not quite on par with 2666, but it manages to be both a perfect exercise and a blazing path into the unknown.”
45 Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
“Perhaps McCarthy s second greatest novel, after the incomparable Blood Meridian, Child of God is an Appalachian nightmare written in gorgeously lush prose.”
46 In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
“Brautigan at his best and weirdest. This surreal novel is set in a commune named iDEATH where different colored watermelons provide building materials. A lot of modern indie fiction seems indebted to Brautigan s unique combination of whimsy and sadness, but few if any match his power.”
47 The Third Policeman by Flann O Brien
“One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, this underrated book is a wild roller coaster of dark comedy, surreal images, and just plain brilliant writing.”
48 Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser
“Walser seems to be experience a well-deserved revival in recent years. If you haven t read his joyous yet bizarre writings, Jakob von Gunten is the place to start.”
49 Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
“Dreamy and completely beautiful, Robinson s slim 1981 novel is frequently cited as one of the greatest American novels of the last 50 years. I agree.”
50 The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
“If you are like me, there s nothing you love as much as a witty grump. Bernhard s novels take the form of acerbic rants, and The Loser is among the best of them.”
51 Giovanni s Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin s second and perhaps best novel is a beautiful and moving story about a homosexual American man in Paris.
52 The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
“Most people seem to read Lispector s also very short novel The Hour of the Star and call it a day. However, her other novels are even stronger. The Passion is an energetic yet philosophical short novel that everyone should read.”
53 The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
“A dark nightmare in the form of a crime novel, Hawkes explores terror through innovative prose. I only just read The Lime Twig this week and already feel happy recommending it.”
54 Ray by Barry Hannah
“One of the greatest Southern American writers which is saying something given that the region has given us O Connor, Faulkner, Hurston, and more Barry Hannah s prose is acrobatic and addictive. Ray, his shortest novel, is a great starting place if you have never read him.”
55 Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
“This is a weird hallucination of a book reading it feels like an experience, like something that happens to you, as infectious and mysterious and unstoppable and possibly magical as the disease that powers its plot. There is absolutely no way to put it down without breaking the spell, so make sure you re comfy.”
56 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
“A lovely, slim novel that tells the stories of the various inhabitants of a house on a wooded bit of land near a lake outside Berlin, before, during and after WWII but like Woolf s To the Lighthouse, it is not really about the inhabitants, but rather very pointedly about time, and the pull of place.”
57 A Separation by Katie Kitamura
“This one s a cheat, because it doesn t actually come out until February, but mark your calendar for sleeplessness, because if you re anything like me, you ll read it straight through without stopping. The plot is, essentially, this: a woman follows her estranged (and unresponsive) husband to Greece, where she proceeds to look for him (and discover the mysteries he s left in his wake). Kitamura s spare language somehow seems barely able to control the emotion it signifies. In some ways, this is a meditation on the stories we paint onto other people, and how little we can really know them which, honestly, keeps me up at night as much or more than any missing person.”
58 A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
“A surprisingly terrifying short novel about children kidnapped by pirates, elevated from its silliness by surprising moments of violence and introspection, as well as repeated flourishes of literary brilliance. Also, it s funny. Take for instance, this passage: Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child: and children are human (if one allows the term human a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies are of course not human they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. ”
59 Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
“At this beginning of this novel, Sophie Bentwood is bitten by a cat that may or may not have rabies. The ensuing domestic drama wonderful and terrible in its own right is then overlaid with this crazed, manic specter of disease that had me turning pages like a madwoman.”
60 Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World by Donald Antrim
“For my money one of the best novels ever written, of any length. Something bad is happening in Pete Robinson s town something that has his neighbors building moats around their homes and all the members of the Rotary Club finding their inner animals (his wife is, apparently, the prehistoric coelacanth). Oh, and the mayor has been drawn and quartered. Even if you don t want to know what happens next, this novel will have you flipping pages just to get to each new delicious surrealist detail.”
61 Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
“You d think that the structure of this novel, a sort of mythologized retelling of the Chappaquiddick incident, would strip it of any of its tension after all, it begins with the car going off the road. But as Oates goes over and over the event and everything that led up to it from different angles, from different moments, from different points of view the reader keeps hoping that that repeated phrase ( As the black water filled her lungs, and she died. ) will somehow be made untrue. And yet, we know it will not be. And yet, we keep reading, more horrified by the moment.”
62 The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
“This novel is the diary of a fugitive, hiding on a strange island, who falls in love with one of the mysterious tourists that appear on his shores. A hallucinatory examination of the nature of reality, with a romantic twist, which won high praise from Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz, among others.”
63 Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
“I ve always thought of Lispector s first novel as a pulsing, beating thing not just near, but the wild heart itself. It’s not a plot-heavy book, but the internal life of the amoral, incendiary Joana and what she will do, and what she will think, and what she will say is endlessly fascinating.”
64 The Room by Jonas Karlsson
Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafkaesque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.
65 We the Animals by Justin Torres
“I was sold on this book a coming of age story told in luminous prose from the very first paragraph, which by itself might keep me up for a few extra hours, looking for some of that more:”” We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more. ”
66 Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
“The story of a disaffected housewife with a cheating husband, who starts an affair with wait for it a 6-foot-7 amphibious monster man named Larry. So.”