Ever since I was a small boy and first grasped the concept of a "year," the marking of time has retained a mysterious quality for me, and calendars especially seem to be potent with elusive meaning. That a year "ends" on a certain day and a new one "begins" … that every day in that new year is already laid out in advance on the pages of the calendar … there is a fascination to all this, a sense of forces only dimly understood.

I'm particularly conscious of this in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, a week which has long been special for me, set aside in a way, to think back and to look ahead. So it's fitting that this week we are concluding our annual roundup of books, including a few that are coming in 2004.

I've been re-reading John Gardner, one of my favorite writers, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1982 at the age of forty-nine. At the time of his death, he was—love him or hate him—a ubiquitous presence in American writing. Since then, in the last decade especially, he has slipped from view. I hope that Barry Silesky's biography, John Gardner: Literary Outlaw (Algonquin), coming in January, will prompt many readers to discover or rediscover Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogues and other marvelous books. As biographies go, Silesky's is very much in the journeyman's category, but it points in the right direction.

One of the books I'm most looking forward to is the second volume of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Ignatius Press), due any day now. The first volume, published in 1996, was a treasured bedside companion for months. (I hope we don't have to wait so long for volume 3!).

Technically a 2003 title but published right at the ...

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