Winding Down and Wrapping Up (Part 2)

It’s amazing how the colours on the covers of the most memorable books I read in the second part of the year also match my mood during that period: much more colourful, even pinkish and coy, although normally I am not a fan of pink. Yes, this was the most optimistic part of the year.

In my teens I was (sort of) diagnosed with bipolar disorder: for me (everyone is slightly different) this typically manifests itself as periods of intense activity, almost manic energy and optimism which has no bearing to reality (the ‘up’ periods), to be followed by far longer periods of utter hopelessness and despondency (the ‘depressive’ periods). I was given lithium to even out these wild mood swings, but that made me feel like it was benumbing me, so I lost all of the positives of being on a high and only very slightly had the edge taken off my depression. Over the next few decades, I learnt to manage my moods with a cocktail of home-made and medical remedies, and over the past decade, I thought I had moved more into depression (partly sparked by external circumstances).

However, this year the manic period reasserted itself with a vengeance, perhaps because I travelled to see my parents for the first time in 2.5 years, or perhaps because I briefly thought I might like to have a relationship again. It was kind of lovely having the energy back, even though I knew about its dangers and limitations. For a couple of months, I felt invincible: I survived on very little sleep, had so many new ideas, wrote love poetry (which I had not done since high school) and so many other things, submitted regularly, took my boys on a trip to Brighton, went to plays and exhibitions, joined the Society of Authors, attended the Translation Day in Oxford, reconnected with old friends, investigated a possible collaboration with a theatre in London and so much more. Helped by the wonderful weather and by better news on the creative front, I was able to handle the growing anxiety about my mother’s incipient dementia or my cat Zoe’s state of health (she had started vomiting far too frequently, but we had not yet diagnosed her with cancer).

All this is reflected in my top reading choices. In April, I chose to focus on Romanian writers, because I spent two weeks in Romania, although some of the reading was entirely serendipitous since I just happened to come across Martha Bibescu’s journals set just before and during the Second World War in my parents’ house. I was also smitten with the two plays by Mihail Sebastian that I had not previously read (one was seldom performed during Communist times, perhaps because it talked about lies being published in newspapers, while the other was unfinished at the time of his death). I also reconnected with the work of surrealist, absurdist writer Urmuz, whose work was published largely posthumously when he committed suicide at the age of 40 and translated a couple of his short pieces (they are all very short, more like flash fiction, even a novella in flash). One of them, I am happy to say, will appear in Firmament, the literary journal issued by Sublunary Editions.

May was all about life in Berlin, often written by expats. The only one that impressed me and which gave me a bit of insight into the history and society of Berlin was The Undercurrents by Kirsty Bell, but I was intrigued by a different kind of expat, namely the anthropologist, in Mischa Berlinski’s rather epic, occasionally uneven but fascinating look at the ‘outsider going native’ Fieldwork.

June was my month for catching up with French writing, and I’d forgotten how eloquent and impressive Simone de Beauvoir can be in describing women’s experiences. Gael Faye’s Petit Pays taught me so much about Rwanda and Burundi and trying to integrate into French life. I also enjoyed books that fell outside my original reading plan (I’ve always been flexible about allowing others in): I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the relatively simple story about a love affair set in Japan, Emily Itami’s Fault Lines and yearning for love and companionship in Seoul in Sang Young Park’s Love in the Big City.

As I said, I might have been susceptible to love stories that trimester, even though mine never got off the ground (with the wisdom of hindsight, I’m inclined to say: thank goodness it didn’t!).

Finally, one crime novel that stuck with me because it was so post-modern and different and sly: True Crime Story by Joseph Knox. The danger with these seasonal summaries (rather than those done by genre, for example), is that crime fiction often gets sidelined. So, several crime novels might have made my ‘best of the year’ list among others of its genre, but they might struggle to compete with Simone de Beauvoir or Mihail Sebastian.

19 thoughts on “Winding Down and Wrapping Up (Part 2)”

  1. Phew! All that reading is quite an achievement, particularly in the context of all that’s going on in your life. All good wishes for Christmas and the new year, and hoping for an up-turn in … everything!

  2. So lovely to find someone else who has read Fieldwork! It’s under appreciated, I think, and I always love books about anthropology.

    1. Yes, once an anthropologist always an anthropologist (in terms of curiosity about others and wanting to find out their stories), so I always like books on that topic as well.

  3. That’s just a wonderful piece of writing Marina, especially describing the mood swings and the creative bursts, much of which I recognise. I have used my authorselectric blog as you know for a similar mixture of literary and autofictional pieces, and believe me love will come when you least expect it.

  4. I think that, for most of us, our reading is heavily impacted by what’s happening in our lives, our mental states, and so on, Marina Sofia. So it’s not surprising at all that you got so much reading done during that time of intense energy and activity. I think choice of reading is also deeply affected by those things. I hope this coming year will be a positive year for you.

  5. Lithium seems such a blunt instrument. I remember Kay Redfield Jameson describing it as draining the world of colour in An Unquiet Mind. I’m glad you’ve found other ways of treating your bipolarity. Adding The Undercurrents to my list.

  6. Such an interesting update. I enjoy learning more about you as well as hearing about the books. I did laugh due to the structure of one sentence, ‘the Second World War in my parents house’! Be well and looking forward to the next update!

      1. I think you do beautifully to keep so much going. I love the honesty around your own life and the connections with that and the books. As ever, I want for you to be well above all else.

  7. Like Jennifer I paused when I read the sentence that seemed to suggest that Martha Bibescu had a personal connection with your parents’ house. From what you’ve written about family origins and property, that didn’t seem too likely, but who knows! Fingers crossed for a better, smoother 2023.

  8. Such an interesting post, Marina, and I definitely agree that our mental and emotional state affects our reading. I have never been diagnosed with anything but I do have big mood swings, and books are usually my coping mechanism. And you certainly read a lovely range of books through this period.

  9. Interesting that the covers matched your mood – I guess those publishers must know what they’re about after all! Yes, that’s why I separate out my end of year summary by genre, otherwise it would always be dominated by heavyweight fiction at the expense of crime.

  10. Beautiful post, Marina! I remember you writing about Mihail Sebastian. Thanks for sharing more about yourself. You are so amazing and so brave! One of the things that I hate about medication is that they remove the upside and they don’t impact the downside much. Sorry to know that this was your experience too. Glad to know that you found other better ways of coping. Thanks so much for sharing.

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