Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


2008: Where Hedonism and Ascetism Meet

I’ve been pondering my word for 2008. My word for 2006 was travel, and for 2007, it was beauty. However, this year I realised I needed a more spiritual word, a word that would encapsulate the things I want to achieve in my fortieth year, my goals both public and personal, and a word that would inspire me whenever I returned to it. My word – with such a lot of baggage wanting to attach to it – was eluding me, but I am glad to say I have found it. My word for 2008 is:


I am good at luxuriousness and at rewarding myself. I don’t stint when it comes to food, books or long, hot baths. I love a delicious glass of red wine and a langourous chat with a friend. I can wallow. When allowed, I can lose a day on the sofa. I am not afraid of fun, laughter or pleasure. Living in the moment, relishing the now, is not a challenge for me. I am a big fan of the here and now.

That said, I feel my inner ascetic call. Healthier eating, regular daily writing, more frequent exercise are all required to nourish my soul. Self-discipline means organizing my work better, being more up-to-date with my taxes and getting my invoices in on time, but it also means soul work. I want to be the disciple of me – allowing my self to grow and develop through more regular disciplines of daily writing, exercise and cleansing eating.

This is not just a response to the excesses of Christmas, birthday and New Year in 14 short days, but also a genuine need to tame my tendency to lavishness with a more streamlined personal approach. I want to shop less, acquire less, need less and with that spare time I want to think, write and meditate more. Also, I feel very strongly as I approach 40 that I need to include in my daily life things that are good for my soul. It is a discipline for me to remember and perform them.

Having come to this decision, it was fascinating to have read parts of a book that once belonged to my grandmother and that is now being lent to me by my mother. Joel S Goldsmith’s Infinite Way Letters 1955 is a series of meditations on leading a spiritual life. As I flicked through it before starting to read, I came across a passage noted in my grandmother’s beautiful curlicue handwriting. “V. important”, she notes. It reads:

For all the glorious Gifts of God, the great price is self-discipline. Each of us has the right to accept these Gifts in proportion to the degree to which we develop our ability to discipline ourselves. This is the price of truth!

I will probably have to meditate for some time to understand exactly what this means for me, but how apposite that my darling grandmother had this passage already marked for me, that my mother decided to send it with my brother and that in the last few days I’ve had the time to pick up the book and browse through it. Always my spiritual teacher, she has sent me a message through the years and in the pages of an old and crumbling book.

Along with this more serious bent, comes some different goals for my blog. It’s nearly two years old now, which makes it a grown-up in blog years. I gave myself serious blog fatigue in November posting every day, and now I want to swing away from that towards fewer posts of higher quality. I need to take some time away from blogging for my own writing because this is the year that I am committing to writing and submitting work. Blogging has opened my eyes and my mind to a new and fascinating world but it can also be a vortex into which I am sucked. I will be trying to discipline both my blogging and my reading of blogs into smaller and more manageable chunks of time, leaving time for creative writing, reading and thinking. However it is more than likely that I will break down, take part in memes and tease the Germans.

I have had fun reading everyone’s resolutions and goals for 2008, and I wish you all a wonderful, creative and happy year. I hope your dreams come true.


2007 in Books

100: the number of books I fondly imagined I would read this year

81: the number of books I actually read

60: books of fiction

32: books by US writers

22: books by British writers

22: books that were new in 2007

21: books of non-fiction

8: memoirs

6: books by African writers or about Africa

6: books by Canadian writers

5: business books

3: sets of short stories

3: books by Indian writers

2: classic novels (one French, one Russian)

2: books by Afghani writers

1: book by a Libyan writer

1: book by Turkish writer

0: books by German writers

Books That Made Me Cry:

28 Stories of AIDS by Stephanie Nolen, Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, A Special Relationship by Douglas Kennedy, Two Lives by Vikram Seth.

Books That Made Me Laugh:

Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the English at Table by Nigel Slater, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, Darkmans by Nicola Barker, A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka, everything by Janet Evanovich

Books That Scared Me:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar, A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walsh, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin, The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer, The Ice Storm by Rick Moody

Books That Left Me Gasping in Admiration and Thinking That’s There No Point Even Trying to Be a Writer:

Darkmans by Nicola Barker, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers, Runaway by Alice Munro

These five also constitute my favourites for the year. You might notice that I haven’t reviewed them either, because they all left me stunned, too stunned to feel I could say anything of meaning or add to the body of words already committed to their superlativeness. I loved and admired their vast sweep, their intimate characterisations, their humour, their compassion, their politics and the way each and every one reflected the truth of the human condition.

Reading Goals for 2008:

* Even out the imbalance between classics and contemporary

* Even out the imbalance between Anglo-American writers and everybody else

* Attempt to read a couple of books in German

* Focus less on the prize-winners, and more on books recommended by bloggers and friends whose opinions I respect

* Read more Alice Munro

* Read with a pencil

* Aim for 100!

I wish you all a happy reading 2008. I have my nose in Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie right now, and I know already it’s going to be on my favourites list for next year.