Another winter solstice: A dark year ends brightly

2017 has been a difficult year for many, personally and globally. It has become my custom to stop on this day—the shortest of the year, 7 hours, 54 minutes to be exact—and tally an account of sorts for the year just passed. That typically also includes some variation on a “books of the year” theme. This time I will refrain from the attempt to gather a formal list, but will work in some of my literary highlights.

My year began on a very low note.  2016 had been a year marked by significant creative achievement tempered by great personal loss. With the advent of the new year, I was awash in a mix of complicated emotions. Toward the end of February, probate was finally granted on my father’s will and I received the first part of my inheritance. This relieved the serious financial concerns that had been haunting me for months, but paradoxically, I felt worse than ever. As a wave of loneliness, threatened to completely overwhelm me, I sat down and composed a short blog post that, much to my surprise, garnered more views on the first day than any post I’ve ever made. Clearly I was not alone in my loneliness.

I don’t think I can say that post changed my life, but it represents the beginning of an awareness of the extent of the very real community that can develop online. Most tangibly it led to an invitation from fellow blogger Tony Messenger to take part in the annual extreme walk for charity he organizes in central Australia. And of course, because nothing is as perfect as we would like, I picked up an extreme cold somewhere between Calgary and Alice Springs, so I didn’t walk very much (or very fast), but to have almost two weeks out in the heart of the desert was an experience I’ll never forget. And the beginning of a deeper level of grieving for my parents. At the moment, much of the journey is, like so many of my photo files, unprocessed.

These things take time.

And, having travelled halfway around the globe, I had to at least stop into Melbourne and Sydney and catch up with some Twitter and online friends along the way. Every encounter was wonderful, and contributed to shrinking a large, lonely world a little, even if just for a few hours.

Brighton Beach, Melbourne
Glebe, Sydney
Sydney icon

Over the course of the summer, my brothers and I managed to get our parents’ home fixed up and ready to go on the market. They lived on an acreage outside a small village in a region of the province where the real estate market had been dormant for over a year due to the depressed oil industry. However, things were just starting to turn when we listed the house in late July. Within a week we accepted an offer. Now there are still some estate matters to clear up (and lots more stuff to dispose of), but with a measure of closure we can all start to move forward.

My highlight of the autumn was my city’s annual reader’s festival, Wordfest. I volunteered as a driver for the first time and had a blast. One has an opportunity to engage with authors in a completely different way when driving them around town. And this year’s event featured a strong line-up of Indigenous writers and an excellent poetry cabaret. But by far, my singular thrill was an opportunity to witness the phenomenal M. NourbeSe Philip performing from her experimental epic Zong! I had several opportunities to speak to her privately, and she was generous, supportive, and enthusiastic about my own writing project.

However, when I think back over 2017, I feel like I have been less productive as a writer. I would like to think that the work has been germinating… In truth, 2016 saw the publication of a couple of pieces that had been fermenting for a few years. This year it has been harder to find the focus, but I feel that shifting. I also limited critical writing off my blog, again an energy and concentration issue, but I am very pleased with the reviews I did publish. I’ve also been editing more, an invisible but very highly rewarding activity. And I’m excited to see where my new role with 3:AM Magazine will take me in the year ahead.

And so, at last, to the year in reading. I read many great books—and acquired many more that I’ve not yet gotten to—but here are some of the highlights:

This year I read, for the first time, several writers I have been meaning to get to for a while—Fleur Jaeggy, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Gerald Murnane—and I was in no instance disappointed.

I collected and read an embarrassing amount of poetry. These are a few of the collections I’ve been spending time with:

And somehow I’ve ended up with a healthy selection of contemporary Australian poets (with a few more still on the way):

Meanwhile, a couple of Canadian Indigenous writers really caught me off guard and I have since gathered earlier works by each to catch up on:

As a memoirist (or memoirish writer), I paid special attention to a variety of excellent (and different) memoirs:

And although I can say with confidence that almost every book I read this year was published by an independent publisher, I took special pleasure in supporting some very small indie outfits:

I also like to think that reading should be both intelligent and fun,so with that in mind, these are a few books that really surprised and delighted me:

And finally, I loved every single book released by Two Lines Press in 2017, including two of my absolute favourites novels of the year:

Last, but not least, 2017 is the year I became rather obsessed with French author Michel Leiris. I read the first part of his autobiography, Scratches, which I will write about soon, and purchased the next two parts (the last part has not yet been translated), along with his essays, fiction and correspondences. But, by far, the most demanding and rewarding reading experience I had all year was his monumental journal Phantom Africa. (With the exception of most of the poetry, I wrote about every book pictured here on my blog or for other online magazines. Links can be found on my Review Index 2017 page.)

Now, as the year is coming to a close, I am, of course, still reading. I’m also writing, and looking forward to an upcoming trip to India where I hope to be able get even more writing done. But the true reason this winter solstice is brighter than those of the past few years is that, as of tomorrow, my son who is just about to turn twenty-eight, will have been sober for two weeks. After eight years of heavy drinking and all of the discord, danger, and stress that loving an alcoholic entails this is something I feared I’d never see. I don’t know why he suddenly stopped. I have not asked. I am simply being supportive and hoping that this is the beginning of a new future for him.

So, at least for the moment, it’s all good. I hope everyone else finds a little goodness in the days ahead.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

29 thoughts on “Another winter solstice: A dark year ends brightly”

    1. It feels good to write a positive post. It was, in many ways, a difficult year, and there are still challenges. But I am in a better, more stable mood than I’ve been in for years (and that does colour what you focus on). However, my son’s current sobriety is the brightest light for me right now. I’d given up hope that I’d ever see him make this decision.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Joe, I am often astonished by some sentences in your writings. In this post, the moment is, when you write ‘These things take time.’ Also, a couple of them even as you helped me over that twitter exchange. It certainly benefits me to read your perspective on work, life and living. Thank you!

    I am glad the year ends on a brighter note for you. Happy new year! I hope to be around Kolkata when you visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sachin. I don’t know if it’s the sentences so much as isolating lines to allow for space, breath, pacing. It’s something I’m learning from poets and essayists I admire.

      Happy new year to you too. I do hope we can connect in Kolkata.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Melissa! Much of the darkness over the past few years has been rooted in low level depression that has lifted in the past few months, but my son’s sobriety is a great source of hope than I realized it would be.

      I hope you and your family have a Christmas filled with good cheer (and good books)!

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  2. Such an inspirational post, Joe. I am glad the year has seen things turning round for you, and your writing successes are wonderful. So too the news about your son. I hope things keep going well with you and that your journey continues along the high road. Here’s to a positive 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It made me smile to see my book among the remarkable set of books you picture here. That you wrote about each of them is a staggering thought. What you say about your son is an echo of my own thoughts and feelings about my dear son who fights that vicious beast every day of his life . Solstice is Sonnenwende in German-the turning sun. I wish for you and for me a productive turning as the darkness gives way to light!

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    1. Thank you Scott. It is so painful to watch someone you love struggle with addiction. It’s been so hard because, although alcoholism runs through both sides of his family, I didn’t grow up with it in my immediate family. His other parent did, but has been, until recently, very little support. All the best!

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  4. I loved peeking into your year in this way, and the photographs are gorgeous and colourful (both the bookish ones and the landscapes). May the holiday season continue to hold more moments of light – and through the year ahead too – for you and your family (blood and choice).

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  5. As you waxed into more fruitful blogging, I found myself waning ever further awat. Yet, what a lovely post you have written, affirming the beauty to be found in relationships with fellow readers, and books, and writing about all of it. Merry Christmas!

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