New Year, New Book: Which One’s Right For You?

December 30, 2015
by Maryland Humanities

New year, new book. Or maybe it’s time to revisit an old favorite? We asked around for book suggestions that spotlight New Year’s and came up with this list of books that will inspire, no matter your opinion on resolutions. Bonus: we’ve included a sample snippet from each title!

Holidays left you feeling overwhelmed and lonely (or wishing you were alone)?

Check out Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down (2005):

 “I don’t know you. The only thing I know about you is, you’re reading this. I don’t know whether you’re happy or not; I don’t know whether you’re young or not. I sort of hope you’re young and sad. If you’re old and happy, I can imagine that you’ll maybe smile to yourself when you hear me going, He broke my heart. You’ll remember someone who broke your heart, and you’ll think to yourself, Oh, yes, I can remember how that feels. But you can’t.”

More excited by the Jazz Age than the prospect of 2016?

Go find Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility (2011):

“It was the last night of 1937.

With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground.

From a look around the club, you couldn’t tell that it was New Year’s Eve. There were no hats or streamers; no paper trumpets. At the back of the club, looming over a small empty dance floor, a jazz quartet was playing loved-me-and-left-me standards without a vocalist. […]

The spare clientele were almost as downbeat as the band. No one was in their finery. There were a few couple here and there, but no romance. Anyone in love or money was around the corner at the Café Society dancing to swing. In another twenty years all the world would be sitting in basement clubs like this one, listening to an antisocial soloist explore their inner malaise but on the last night on 1937, if you were watching a quartet it was because you couldn’t afford to see the whole ensemble, or because you had no good reason to ring in the new year.

We found it all very comforting.”

Want 2016 to be the best year yet? You need a masterpiece!

Try George Eliot’s magnum opus Middlemarch (1871):

“Naturally, the merry Christmas bringing the happy New Year, when fellow-citizens expect to be paid for the trouble and goods they have smilingly bestowed on their neighbors, had so tightened the pressure of sordid cares on Lydgate’s mind that it was hardly possible for him to think unbrokenly of any other subject, even the most habitual and soliciting. He was not an ill-tempered man; his intellectual activity, the ardent kindness of his heart, as well as the strong frame, would always, under tolerably easy conditions, have kept him above the petty, uncontrolled susceptibilities which make a bad temper. But he was now a prey to that worst irritation which arises not simply from annoyances, but from the second consciousness underlying the annoyance, of wasted energy and a degrading preoccupation, which was the reverse of all his former purposes.”

Resolutions failed you before, but you’re willing to give self-help one final (humorous) try?

You need Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996):

“I WILL

Purge flat of all extraneous matter.
Give all clothes which have not worn for two years or more to homeless.

Improve career and find new job with potential.

Save up money in form of savings. Poss start pension also.

Be more confident.

Be more assertive.

Make better use of time.

Not go out every night but stay in and read books and listen to classical music.

Give proportion of earnings to charity.

Be kinder and help others more.

Eat more fiber.

Get up straight away when wake in morning.

Go to gym three times a week not more to buy sandwich.

Put photographs in photograph albums.

Make up compilation “mood” tapes so can have tapes ready with all favorite romantic/dancing/rousing/feminist etc. tracks assembled instead of turning into drink-sodden DJ-style person with tapes scattered all over the floor.

Form functional relationship with responsible adult.

Learn to program video.”

Think life’s a game of chance but expect only the best from your literature?

It’s time for Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000):

“[…] then, just because he felt like telling her, ‘You won’t believe me, but I almost died today.’

Clara raised an eyebrow. ‘You don’t say. Well, come and join de club. Dere are a lot of us about dis marnin’. What a strange party dis is. You know,” she said, brushing a long hand across his bald spot, “you look pretty djam good for someone come so close to St. Peter’s Gate. You wan’ some advice?’

Archie nodded vigorously. He always wanted advice, he was a huge fan of second opinions. That’s why he never went anywhere without a tenpence coin.

‘Go home, get some rest. Marnin’ de world new, every time. Man… dis life no easy.’

What home? Thought Archie. He had unhooked the old life, he was walking into unknown territory.

‘Man…’ Clara repeated, patting him on the back, ‘dis life no easy!’

She let off another long whistle and a rueful laugh, and, unless he was really going nuts, Archie saw that come-hither look, identical to Daria’s; tinged with a kind of sadness, disappointment; like she didn’t have a great deal of other options. Clara was nineteen. Archibald was forty-seven.

Six weeks later they were married.”

Have another recommendation? Comment with your favorite New Year’s book or scene!

One thought on “New Year, New Book: Which One’s Right For You?

  1. DC area residents, students of diverse environmental studies and social history, and lovers of sparkling prose will enjoy this read! Ask for it at your library or Independent Bookstore.

    Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Counterpoint Press, November 2015)
    http://www.lauretsavoy.com/books/trace/#overview

    “Savoy is a geologist at Mount Holyoke, but this sui generis creation, wherein John McPhee meets James Baldwin, dissolves all academic boundaries. Trace is a memoir, a meditation on landscape and identity, and a travelogue with a mission. ‘As an Earth historian,’ writes Savoy, ‘I once sought the relics of deep time. To be an honest woman, I must trace other residues of hardness.’ Digging for her family roots in America’s tripartite legacy—natives, African slaves, and European settlers—she unearths some genealogy, but more fruitful are the connections she makes between philosophy, ecology, and race.”
    — Boris Kachka, Vulture (New York Magazine)

    ENJOY!

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