A Good Year?

It seems that the summary judgment of 2009 is that it was wholly unsatisfactory, and there are many reasons to agree. And yet this was a very good year for me personally. I say that not to gloat, and I don’t believe that this makes up for the considerable misfortune that has befallen so many others, but I think it would be ungracious not to recognize and be grateful for my good fortune. Unlike most of the developed world, I had a great year at work (which was especially gratifying after the sanity-threatening year or two that preceded it), and am now in the midst of a company-wide, week plus holiday given as a reward for such a successful year. My ear finally healed, and I’ve had a chance to work my body back into shape, even managing to lose some weight through the holiday season. Our dog seems fully recovered and is thriving after surgery precipitated by a frightening brush with cancer. My nephew continues to grow more charming, and I’ve managed to maintain contact with him and his parents. As they say during Passover, that would have been enough, but there was more. There were so many little things that made me smile and say, “Cool.”

There are all sorts of summaries of the year in gadgets out there, but for me, there were two particular gadgets that made me happy this year, one of which I’ve had for twelve years. I had the watch that my wife gave me for my thirtieth birthday refurbished, and I’ve gone back to wearing it every day. It’s not flashy or remarkable, but it keeps very good time without a battery or winding. It is purely analog and mechanical. It’s an astonishing feat of craftsmanship, and I often find myself staring at it on my wrist in awe, trying and failing to imagine the precision of its inner workings.

Similarly precise and well-crafted, but not so purely analog and mechanical, is the new camera I got in October. Though a carpenter isn’t supposed to blame his tools, may I give credit to mine? It’s made me a much better photographer. I’m still amazed by the simultaneous sharpness and creaminess (for lack of a better word) of the images it produces, and its ability to work in limited light. And I don’t yet have the lens that’s supposed to make this camera so remarkable, though it’s on its way and should arrive early next week, suggesting still more wonders from this camera in 2010.

The more fully digital world of computers has offered its own pleasures, though for me, they’ve been almost exclusively software. I haven’t really gotten any new hardware this year (except for the Magic Mouse, which, meh), but the hardware I already had became far more useful, with impressive updates to Mac OS X, iPhone OS, and AppleTV. Even Windows 7, the release candidate of which I installed in VirtualBox (another fun discovery in 2009), is a clear improvement.

But the most significant advances by far have come from Google. The Web and mobile Web versions of Google Reader were already the way I consumed the vast majority of Web content, and the Google Mobile iPhone app had already proven handy. In 2009, they added the Chrome browser, Latitude, Google Voice, and Wave, and showed a preliminary version of the Chrome operating system. I’m very curious to see where these will converge in the coming year, but I expect an exponential increase in the usefulness of the Web–much of which is already provided for me by Google–to ensue.

I can’t tout the arrival of any great new literary voices in 2009, but I’ve still managed to find much that is new to me. On vacation in May, I picked up a used copy of Philip Roth‘s Sabbath’s Theater and read it through in a week. I had previously read only Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint and enjoyed them, but wasn’t moved to read any further. But mature Roth proved to be a different matter entirely–audacious not in the superficial way so commented upon in Portnoy’s Complaint, but in the profound way running from Dante and Cervantes through Beckett. I went back through the great mid-period Roth from Zuckerman Bound to Operation Shylock, and was impressed by the many achievements he managed in that short period, including especially The Ghost Writer, The Counterlife, and Operation Shylock. But they all still seem to be a sort of rehearsal or maybe extended sketches in preparation for the grim news of Sabbath’s Theater. And I still have the American Trilogy to look forward to.

And against all expectations, just as I was reconciling myself the likely reality that Against the Day would be Thomas Pynchon‘s last novel, Inherent Vice appeared. It’s lighter and more accessible than most of his other novels, but it’s still great fun. It may prove to be an even more effective gateway to his writing than The Crying of Lot 49 has often been. Perhaps there will be yet another novel from Mr. Pynchon in the coming years.

Oh, and The Awl started publication.

These are among the many reasons I look back on 2009 fondly, while still looking forward to 2010. I know that many won’t remember this year happily, but I hope you all have something like the joy I’ve had this year in the coming year and those that follow.

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