Around this time, as the old year tilts downward into darkness and chill, the human brain compensates with tinglings of novelty. This isn’t science, you understand: This is just the way it works. The eye of day opens onto winter bleakness; the shape of a leafless tree at evening disturbs us; and so we incline, quite naturally, in the opposite direction—to thoughts of new buds, thrilling debuts, burgeoning trends, and upward curves.
In America these things absorb us perennially, of course, but late December gives our need for new beginnings a special keenness. We arouse ourselves, with perhaps disproportionate zeal, at the news that Katy Perry is launching another fragrance (her third). Or that the pope has opened a Twitter account—he’s started tweeting! Hooray! We might even dream, in feeble audacity, of greeting the new year with a new self: a self that eats fewer doughnuts and reads a better class of book.