Year-End Wrap Up: My Changing Headspace about Reading

Audra Brown Kerr, Philip K Dick, and Dahlia Lithwick

I used to review more than 50 books each year. I mention it here not to brag but to marvel. Since the pandemic arrived in all of our lives in 2020, I have found it difficult to read. I have trouble concentrating and lose the thread more easily—which makes the thorny literary fiction I love particularly challenging.

I should make clear that this is not due to any physical ailment. The general state of the world just seems to get between me and the pages of books far more than it ever did in the past. For most of my life, very little could get between me and the pages. This shift in my attention has left me feeling unmoored and uncomfortable.

It’s not that I haven’t read anything, of course, but here’s a marker of the change: this is only the eighth column I have submitted to The Iowa Source this year, and one was a reprint of an interview that (unfortunately) felt timely again. Given that this edition is a year-end wrap-up, that means I only reviewed six books this year. I read and listened to more than that, but not a huge number more.

I share this in the hope that if you haven’t felt yourself lately (or for a long time) and you have been finding it harder to get lost in a book, you will find some solace in knowing that you are not alone. The good news is that the books will wait for you—and for me—and will offer rich rewards, whether we read a single book or an entire shelf of books in 2024.

Here’s a quick look back the books I wrote about this year.

In January, I wrote about the Star Trek: New Frontier series by Peter David (and droned on about issues of canonicity). All these months later, I’m six or seven books into the series, but bogged down on some alien world or another because . . . well . . . I’m not sure the books are very good.

I wrote about two graphic novels this year. In March, I shared an interview with Fritz McDonald and Tom Jackson in which we talked about their book 2184 ½, a dystopian look at America in a post-fact world. The collaborators, both of whom reside in Cedar Rapids, offer up a dark vision brought to life by Jackson’s striking images.

In October, I wrote about a graphic adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Long and short: The book is lovely to look at, but does not measure up to its brilliant source material.

I covered two nonfiction books this year as well. The first piece, published in August, was 2012’s How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Resurrection by David F. Dufty—a fascinating look into some early AI efforts centered around one of my favorite sci-fi authors. The second piece, published in November, celebrated the paperback release of Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America by the absolutely indispensable Dahlia Lithwick.

In June, I shared an interview with Audra Kerr Brown, who lives in rural Iowa and is an avid writer of flash fiction. Arguably, flash fiction—stories no longer than 1,000 words and often much shorter—is the perfect antidote for a reader struggling to stick with novels and other longform texts. I wrote of Kerr Brown’s chapbook, “The stories in . . . hush, hush, hush may (of necessity) be short on plot, but they are long on mood and moment.”

As another year winds down, I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season—and many, many books to choose from as the new year gets underway.