Monday, January 5, 2009

Looking back at 2008 (part 1)

I seem to recall that, a few years ago, some academic with too much time on his hands calculated the most depressing day of the year to be 24 January.  My recollection (I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong) is that the supporting 'evidence' was one of those meaningless pseudo-mathematical formulae that do nothing more than confirm the blindingly obvious - in this case, the fact that, on top of all the other winter miseries, by 24 January the credit card bill for Christmas will have just popped through the letter-box.

Be that as it may, it's always seemed to me that this first day back after the Christmas and New Year break is usually the most depressing, even for those of us who don't quite have proper jobs to go back to (I do things as well as writing to earn my living, but they don't generally involve me having to turn up at the same office every day).  And this year the bleak open steppes of the new year look even more unnerving than usual  - especially, perhaps, for those of us who don't quite have proper jobs to go back to.

There's no doubt that 2008 was an extraordinary year.  For me, some domestic factors compounded the strangeness of what was going on, but frankly the wider world needed no help in the surrealism department. The novelist James Meek provides an excellent, and nicely provocative, summary of some of the main points of the year's madness in today's Guardian.

Above all, 2008 confirmed my long-held suspicion of financial 'experts'.  The truth really is that, to borrow William Goldman's famous phrase, 'nobody knows anything'.  Almost nobody saw the crash coming - and certainly not with this speed and ferocity.  And now we discover that, all the way along the line, most of these ludicrously overpaid individuals didn't even have a clue what they were really playing with.  Funnily enough, it turns out that we ordinary citizens - the ones who kept saying, 'You know, call me stupid but I can't really see how this works' - were right all along.  Which reinforces another of my long-held views - that you can persuade a man (I'm not so sure about a woman) of anything, provided he's clever enough. 

The only good news, at a personal level, is that, through a mixture of cussedness and inertia, I've managed successfully to ignore most of the financial advice I've been given over the past decade.  With the result that my finances are now in a much healthier state than might otherwise have been the case.

With that off my chest, I can perhaps look back at 2008 with less Osbornesque anger.  Actually, financial meltdown aside, there were some very good parts to the year for me - the paperback of The Adversary, the publication of The Shadow Walker in the US and Germany. and the UK hardback of The Outcast.  I suppose the highest of the high points was the starred review of The Shadow Walker in Publishers Weekly, but that was one of quite a few. 

More widely, 2008 seemed to be another pretty good year for crime fiction.  I'm one of those people - I think there's probably a self-help book about us - who Buy Far More Books Than They Can Read (though never self-help books, as it happens).  The result is that I tend to pick up on books pretty randomly, as the whim takes me.  This year, though, I did manage to read some highly promoted new crime as it appeared, and a fair few others at least before they had disappeared entirely off the critical radar.  And, on top of that, I finally managed this year to get to grips properly with a handful of writers who came burdened with friends' or reviewers' recommendations - in most cases, as itturned out, entirely justified. 

Having whetted your appetite, though, I'm going to pause here before this posting becomes novel-length in its own right.  But I'm planning a daily posting at least for the rest of this week just to compensate for the long hiatus over Christmas.  I only hope you can contain your excitement. 


1. Maxine said...

Could not agree more with your comments about the financial crisis, spot on. Like you, I am one of those people who buys more than I can read, and now that I have started reviewing books, I also "get sent" more books than I can read (and in some cases, would not have chosen to read). Times always seem to be good for readers, but harder for writers, given the current economic drivers of the publishing industry and the as-yet barely tapped potential of self-publishing in the widest sense. Happy New Year!

2. Michael+Walters said...

Thanks, Maxine...hard times but interesting ones, perhaps. Hope you have an excellent 2009.

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