B: A Year in Plagues and Pencils by Edward Carey – review

Published by Gallic Books

Publication date – 4 November 2021

Source – review copy

‘I blame the pencil. I hadn’t meant to do it. I wasn’t thinking. It just happened that way.’

In March 2020, as lockdowns were imposed around the world, author and illustrator Edward Carey published a sketch on social media, with a plan to keep posting a drawing a day from his family home in Austin, Texas, until life returned to normal. One hundred and fifty pencil stubs later, he was still drawing.

Carey’s hand moved with world events, chronicling pandemic and politics. It reached into the past, taking inspiration from history, and escaped grim reality through flights of vivid imagination and studies of the natural world. The drawings became a way of charting time, of moving forward, and maintaining connection at a time of isolation.

This remarkable collection of words and drawings from the acclaimed author of Little and The Swallowed Man charts a tumultuous year in pencil, finding beauty amid the horror of extraordinary times.

When lockdowns began to be imposed around the world, author Edward Carey picked up his pencil and drew. He found himself committing to drawing a picture every day for the duration of the lockdown, or until things returned to normal. Soon he found himself with enough pictures to cover his living room floor. And so a year in pencils and pictures soon emerged.

I was wondering if it was too soon to be reading a book about or referencing the pandemic. We are living through it still and for many of us, reading is an escape from it. However, I had heard of Edward Carey’s commitment to drawing a picture a day and was curious to see them and find out why. I was not disappointed.

The book is a look at how Carey and his family dealt with lockdown. Away from the place of his birth, though living in a home in a city he resided in for years, Carey’s immediate geography took on a new light, as it did for many people. Drawing has always been a part of his life, as the reader discovers in the book, and so one day he picked up his paper and pencil and drew. And when he found himself vowing to draw a picture a day, he didn’t put the pencil down.

Each picture is shown, varying from famous faces to animals to imagined personalities. Some were drawn to commemorate a birth or death, a special historical date or a newsworthy event. Others were requests from people around the world, looking to Carey to help let a little light into their lives with a drawing of a fox or a hummingbird. There are drawings that were easy to do, others that were produced late at night, a chore to be completed before the end of another day without seeing anyone outside of immediate family.

The pictures are interspersed with narrative about how the pandemic hit the author and his family and it’s wider ramifications around the world. It is something that many people can empathise with, who will see their lives and thoughts echoed in the book. Readers will take away different things from it, depending on their experiences of the pandemic. At the very least, they will be able to enjoy some beautiful pictures.

A reflective, intimate look at one person’s perspective of a tumultuous year.



4 Comments Add yours

  1. I loved seeing these on Twitter throughout lockdown. Such a talented man: a brilliant writer and illustrator, too.


  2. I too am a bit wary of reading anything pandemic related at the moment, but I think I’d make an exception for this – sounds lovely!


  3. Good review–I immediately added this to my TBR, thanks!


  4. BookerTalk says:

    Interesting that some days he was drawing late at night just to keep to his commitment. Did he wish at any time he hand to made the commitment?


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