End of the year writing has not gone so well (unless "spinning my wheels" and "wrestling with phantoms" and "second-guessing every second word") can be classified as writing that is going well), but the reading has been excellent:
1. Marina Endicott's The Little Shadows, a skillfully plotted and finely written novel about three vaudeville sisters.
Google searches after: vaudeville etymology, Buster Keaton, the Talmadge sisters, Alexander Pantages, Tin Pan Alley.
2. Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of essays about California in the 1960s. The opening of the title piece sounds eerily current:
The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-service announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers....
Except it is "the cold late spring of 1967." Has the center not been holding for 40 years?
Google searches after: Summer of Love, the Diggers, Haight-Ashbury, hippie, STP, psychoactive drug, LSD.
3. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, a novel about the son and daughter of performance artists who used their children as props. Descriptions of art in fiction can be tedious, but Wilson's descriptions of the Fangs' awful pieces are utterly compelling.
Google searches after: performance art, happenings, art intervention.
4. The History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil Macgregor: short illustrated pieces on human artifacts, from an Olduvai Gorge chopping tool to the credit card. Perfect iPad reading.
Google searches after: too many to list. Ongoing.