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11.01.05

For a change of pace from the usual, and usually abandoned, New Year’s resolutions, why not read about someone else’s experiences of a year? Here are some accounts of people trying something new for a year, with interesting, entertaining, memorable results.

Travel is a frequent subject for year-long adventures widening one’s horizons. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia is an account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life. A Year in Provence details Peter Mayle’s experience of France. Frances Mayes has written alluringly about life in Tuscany. Her latest book, A Year in the World, describes her experiences in twelve different locales in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, England, and Scotland. She rents houses among ordinary residents, shops at neighborhood markets, wanders the back streets, and weaves together her perceptions with commentary on art, architecture, history, landscape, and social and culinary traditions of each area.

Journeys in the natural world fascinate and inspire, too. Northern Farm: a glorious year on a small Maine farm is a classic, chronicling the pageant of nature on a Kennebec farm, by Henry Beston. Edwin Way Teale and Hal Borland take us through nature’s year in A Walk through the Year and Twelve Moons of the Year, also classics. Bernd Heinrich is another wonderful writer; spend A Year in the Maine Woods with him and his pet raven Jack. Or go with Bill Bryson on A Walk in the Woods as he, newly returned from 20 years in England, rediscovers America on the Appalachian Trail.

Others have focused on a year of observation of the world closer to home. In Suburban Safari, Hannah Holmes spends a year on the lawn, watching all the creatures who inhabit her two-tenths of an acre and concluding that their survival is dependent on her stewardship of her environment. From his lawn, Charles Calia journeys through the seasons of the night sky in The Stargazing Year. Kathryn Miles adopts a shy shelter puppy and learns to see the world around their Maine town through his eyes in Adventures with Ari: a puppy, a leash & our year outdoors.

And there are interior journeys of reflection, seeking spiritual enlightenment and solace. Raised in a secular family but interested in the relevance of faith in the modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year in The Year of Living Biblically. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments, to be fruitful and multiply, to love his neighbor, but also to obey the many less familiar rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, to stone adulterers. The resulting spiritual journey is both funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history's most influential book with new eyes. Jacobs embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally: he tours a creationist museum, sings hymns with Amish, dances with Hasidic Jews, and studies Scripture with Jehovah's Witnesses. He wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle today, and discovers ancient wisdom of unexpected relevance.

After the sudden death of her husband, Joan Didion explores with honesty and passion a private yet universal experience. The Year of Magical Thinking, her portrait of a marriage and a life, in good times and bad, will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, a wife, or a child.

The desire to accomplish something useful or meaningful in a fixed amount of time remains strong. Try Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man: the adventures of a guilty liberal who attempts to save the planet, and the discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process or Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project: why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun.

Documenting a year in the life and culture of a social group is an approach writers often take. Barbara Ehrenreich drew nationwide attention to the plight of minimum wage workers in Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America when she worked undercover as a housekeeper, waitress, and big box store clerk for a year. In Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman draws a compelling, often hilarious, and compassionate portrait of life inside a woman's prison.

In September 2003, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Rory Stewart signed up to work with the Provisional Authority. Having spent time walking through the Middle East (The Places in Between), he was intimately familiar with the people and their culture. But nothing could prepare him for his time in the Amara and Nasiriyah provinces. Once on the ground he encountered a colorful mix of Iraqis, some of whom resented his presence. He also witnessed the many successes and failures of a fledgling government seemingly being built from the top down in The Prince of the Marshes: and other occupational hazards of a year in Iraq.

Food is a popular, comforting theme for a year's experiences these days. Julie Powell prepared the recipes of her idol, Julia Child, and blogged about it daily. The result was Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen, a hit movie, and reacquaintance with America’s favorite chef. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a year of food life is Barbara Kingsolver’s family resolution to eat locally, raising all they can on their Meadowview farm, and buying the rest from local producers. Margaret Hathaway takes us through The Year of the Goat: 40,000 miles and the quest for the perfect cheese.

If, after all this celebration of food, you still feel a twinge of guilt about the need to lose weight, immediately go to The Urban Hermit. Sam MacDonald graduated from Yale in 1995 and woke up in 2000 flat broke and weighing 340 pounds. He put himself on a diet of $8 a week and 800 calories a day, The Urban Hermit Plan, for what turned out to be a year and a hilarious journey.

For these and more ways to get your year off to a good start, visit us at www.tcplweb.org or call 988-2541.

 

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