Book Review: B, A Year in Plagues and Pencils

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“I’m not looking for perfection here: I’m marking time”

On 19 March 2020, Edward Carey drew a pencil sketch of ‘A determined young man’. He posted it on Twitter with the comment, ‘I’m going to do a drawing a day until all this nonsense is over.’ He continued his daily drawings for five hundred days. Sadly, this nonsense is not yet over.

Carey describes the book thus:

“a journal in pencil of a year in misery and hope. Small marks. Daily scratchings, as evidence of life”

As well as including reproductions of the pencil sketches he drew each day during the first year of plague lockdown, there are short musings on the life the author was leading and how hemmed in he felt. Local and world news was available in abundance across the internet, but day to day he was required to stay at home, in and around his Texas bungalow with his wife and two children. For a family used to regular travel, this required an adjustment in perspective.

“I’m forgetting faces. I miss people, of course, terribly. Yet every day out of the window there are still people there. I see these individuals walking up and down the street. Can’t see their faces. Only their eyes and the top of their heads. Like a new breed of human, with no nose, no mouth, no chin.”

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The author writes of the pleasure he has long derived from drawing, and how this project gave him something to focus on, although at times he considered quitting. The short prose sections are imbued with a melancholy he tries hard to suppress. They reflect how so many have felt.

“Sometimes these drawings feel like shed skin. They were former times, stacks of yesterdays”

The subjects chosen vary. They include: people representing events from the year, well known characters from reality and fiction, family, nature. Some were requested by others. Carey chose to do many himself.

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“Hours a day I drew. Just with a pencil mostly. Drawing being an alternative to words, another way of communicating”

The art included is wonderful to peruse. The style is distinctive – a hint of gothic but also playful. The writing pulls them together to form a keepsake of a time we will look back on with sorrow but also wonder – what we learned and how we and others felt. Although the reflections are personal, they resonate.

The forward, written by Max Porter, reminds us of the appreciation Twitter users expressed when the project was ongoing.

“It’s beautiful work. It makes the great mean machine of Twitter a momentarily nicer place. You land upon the carefully drawn image as you scroll through aggressions, bullish assertions, the snide, the sarcastic or the statistically devastating.”

We have here a book that offers readers these fine artistic creations alongside succinct reminders of previously unimaginable events now lived through. A poignant yet beautifully produced chronicle of a year those who have survived will never forget.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Gallic.