One day I’ll pre-write my posts so they will be consistent and timely, but today is not that day. That being said, over two weeks into 2022 is the perfect time for a recap of what I read in 2021 along with some very short reviews/descriptions of each. This style of review is mostly inspired by my switch from using Amazon-owned Goodreads to keep track of my reading to the Black owned and operated site The Story Graph. Similar to Goodreads, the Story Graph will track your books, create statistics based on your input, curate personalized recommendations, and all the other book-related stuff Goodreads can do – all with the added bonus of supporting Nadia Odunayo & Rob Frelow instead of putting more money in Jeff Bezos greedy fat pockets. Admittedly, I didn’t use Goodreads very often as it was, and I’m hoping this switch will encourage me to be more social with my reading.
Which leads me to my Books Read in 2021 and my obligatory statement that reading should always be about quality over quantity. This year I read 36 books, last year I read 30, and in 2019 I read 8, so it’s really about doing whatever the hell you want to do and having that be goddang good enough, folks.
So, without further ado, I present my bite sized descriptions/reviews of the book I read in 2021 in (mostly) the order in which I read them:
- White Tears Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad // deconstructs how white feminism actively works against the liberation of all people of color – “…the cost of white tears is brown scars” (p. 241). A powerhouse ensemble of BIPOC feminist authors, poets, & activists: Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Alice Walker, Ida B. Wells, the list goes on & on. A necessary read for many, especially white women, and one that will leave a substantial impact
- The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab // pivots between current day NYC and 18th c. France where a young Addie Larue makes a deal with a ~god of the night~ to allow her to escape an arranged marriage; the caveat of the deal is that she is cursed to be forgotten immediately after an encounter with another human… until she meets Henry Strauss. Some notes – unlikeable female protagonist which is actually a plus for me, fantasy and dark magic, couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it, one of my favorite books of the year with a film adaptation forthcoming. Highly recommend for someone trying to get back into reading, truly feels like watching a movie in your head
- Killing Rage by bell hooks // discusses the intersectionality of racism, classism, and sexism as well as the “killing rage” experienced as a result of both the violence of white supremacy and the complacency towards dismantling the systems that perpetuate it. in 23 essays, bell hooks addresses nuanced topics such as internalized racism, liberatory mental health care, accountability, political resistance and more with direct prose and not-so-subtle, (rightfully) bitter humor. Very accessible academic writing and another must read for white folks. RIP to a force of a person – the sadness I feel towards her passing lives right next to the gratitude I hold for all she’s given and all she will continue to give through her work
- All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks // discusses different aspects of love, what it means to view love as a radical act of resistance, how to rewrite the ways in which gender roles allow us to think of and practice love, how to view love through the many different roles it plays in our lives – friendships, relationships, mentorships, etc. hooks provides personal anecdotes as well as a socio & psychological perspective of modern love. another accessible academic read that will broaden your perspective
- Begin Again by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. // a 30+ year scholar of James Baldwin, Glaude draws comparisons between what he refers to Baldwin’s discussion of “the after times” referring to the ‘failure’ of the civil rights movement of the 50’s & 60’s to bring about widespread social change and our current “after times” – the election of DT and the overt, violent racism unleashed due to his hateful rhetoric and baseless ideologies, among other things. I really enjoyed this application of Baldwin’s poetic approach to political issues and definitely recommend this one
- The Body is Not an Apology by Sonia Renee Taylor // if every person read this book and allowed themselves to fully absorb the message that instead of wasting precious energy, time, & money on what our bodies look like and whether or not they’re “accepted” in society, then we’d have more time to do what matters – love ourselves, love each other, and do all we can to leave this place better than we found it. Highly, highly recommend
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng // follows 2 non-Asian mothers and their differing views on the adoption of a Chinese-American baby initially given up by its mother for the well-being of the child. Ng does an amazing job of exploring how racism in daily life can appear innocent to some (white people) and obviously sinister to others. She also highlights the nuance and complexity built into certain situations, always changing with new context and perspective. Haven’t watched the tv adaptation on Hulu yet, but I enjoyed the book. I also recommend another book of hers, Everything I Never Told You
- The Stranger by Albert Camus // written in 1942, this story follows the before and after of a French settler in Algeria who kills an Arab man during a conflict with one of his neighbors, leading him to be sentenced to death. My thoughts: overwrought description of scenery, mildly exciting, mostly boring, I feel that this one is over my head, and I would better enjoy it reading in a college literature class. Might give this one another go after reading more of Camus’s work
- Stamped by Ibram X Kendi & Jason Reynolds // accidentally ordered the YA version so def simplified the issues, but still lays a great foundation for understanding white supremacy & racism in the U.S. for those of us who didn’t learn shit about the important stuff in school
- The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho // a translation from Portuguese, this allegorical novel follows a young Andalusian shepherd on a journey to the pyramids of Egypt after having a recurring dream that he will find treasure there. It’s said that with each read, you will take away something different from the novel depending on where you’re at in life. I can’t remember what I got out of it to be honest, my notes just say “a story of dreams, trials, triumphs, and lessons for all” so I guess I’ll go back and reread it in the future? A pretty quick read so I’d recommend giving it a go
- The Selected Works of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde & Roxanne Gay // an enlightening blend of poetry and prose focusing on the lived experience of Audre Lorde. I found this to be a good one to pepper in with other reads if you’re the kind of person who likes to/can read multiple books at once. I also learned that in an African naming ceremony before her death, Audre Lorde, born Audrey Geraldine Lorde, took the name ‘Gamba Adisa’ which translates to “Warrior: she who makes her meaning clear” and wow do I love that. Extremely applicable and accurate
- Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson // follows an unnamed protagonist whose gender is never revealed undergoing an affair with a married woman. The writing is gorgeous throughout; even though the gender of the narrator is never revealed, the depth of feeling they express lead me to think of them as a woman more than once. “You said, ‘I’m going to leave him because my love for you makes any other life a lie.’ I’ve hidden those words in the lining of my coat. I take them out like a jewel thief when no-one’s watching. They haven’t faded. Nothing about you has faded. You are still the colour of my blood. You are my blood. When I look in the mirror it’s not my own face I see. Your body is twice. One you once me. Can I be sure which is which?” (p. 99)
- Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid // also the author of a book on my TBR list for 2022, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, this novel contains anecdotes and interviews, all of which seems to be up to interpretation as far as actual “facts” go, but that’s the beauty of it. A he-said-she-said of a rock-n-roll time where the drugs flowed the wine, baby! I really enjoyed this one, it was a fun read and puts you smack dab in the middle of the story but still makes you feel like the little sister watching from the sidelines because there’s no way you’d be able to hang with these guys
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion // iconic work of Didion’s, I got to read this one surrounded by redwoods in a secluded canyon of Big Sur, CA which is mentioned in the book. Didion was one of the preeminent writers of California culture in the 60’s and 70’s. written with her distinct journalistic style, Didion manages to seem subjective in the most objective way possible, commenting as though she fully understands the perspective for which she has no real experience. There are some problematic moments, a discussion of war in Hawaii that never seems to mention the experience of any native Hawaiians… Not something to gloss over, and also not something to completely negate Didion’s work. RIP to a true legend of a writer, I may reread A Year of Magical Thinking or Blue Nights to process all the great authors we’ve recently lost
- The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant // my notes for this one simply say, “sad, beautiful, and very human” and what is the purpose of reading if not to experience life through another’s eyes? The blurb on the back reads, “Watching Addie Baum escape the constrictions of her upbringing, find ways through literature and work to broaden her own appreciation of the world, and in retrospect draw the outlines of a life fully lived is engrossing and captivating.” Meeting the group of girls at Rockport Lodge one summer, Addie recounts her naive adventures as a young Jewish girl finding her place in the world. Historical fiction at its finest, this one is definitely worth the read
- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling // Loathed this book with every fiber of my being. perfect example of a pointless celebrity book filled with cliche anecdotes and tacky name-dropping, tried to give some space for understanding since it’s from 2008 but damn the internalized misogyny was strong in this one leading to extreme “pick me girl” energy from someone I thought I liked 😦 0/10 would not recommend
- Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt // heartwarming and endearing, a thrift store find I picked up because I liked the cover art. When Roger Rosenblatt’s daughter unexpectedly dies of asymptomatic heart condition, him and his wife Ginny move in with their son-in-law to help raise their 3 young grandchildren. A simply told, but deeply profound story of a family figuring out a new way of life, and how to hold an unspeakable grief in their heart while making room for all the life still to be lived.
- Love – Penhaligon’s Scented Treasury of Poetry and Prose by Sheila Pickles // first let’s talk about that name, Sheila Pickles, god I love it. Next, yes, it really does smell like roses/florally which is beautiful and cool. Finally, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and the poetry and prose featured throughout is an assemblage of all the greats: Keats, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Henry James, the list goes on and on. Visually stunning, and a lovely little addition to any poetry collection
- Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney // I enjoyed her other novel/tv series Normal People a touch more, but this one was still entertaining and light enough for me to label it a “beach read” (it’s a genre in itself, no beach required). As with Normal People one of my favorite aspects of this novel was the natural dialogue and the realness of the characters. This story follows 2 friends living in Dublin, Bobbi and Frances, who become friends with an older couple, Nick and Melissa. After a few mutual hang outs, Frances finds herself becoming attracted to Nick, which she later finds out is a mutual attraction. A very entertaining plot with great dialogue and interesting characters
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris // rocked me to my core, as many Holocaust stories will. Bittersweet, simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking. Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a young man trying to remain true to his morals while also trying to survive in the face of complete inhumanity and his love-at-first-site romance with Gita Furman, a 19-year-old occupant of the concentration camp where Lale works. Although Lale is Jewish as well, and is also a prisoner, he is given the job of permanently marking each new prisoner with their identification number. This story is incredible, hard to read, and so necessary. I can’t recommend this one enough
- Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert // A play on words, Stern Men holds the double meaning of the obvious, men who are stern, and the not so obvious, a term for the lobstermen working in the highly competitive markets of twin islands with harsh environments off the coast of Maine. This story follows a lifelong inhabitant of one of the islands, Ruth Thomas as she decides to forego the usual path of “get the hell of the island as soon as you can” and instead plans to follow in her father’s footsteps and take over the family lobster business. This book is slightly entertaining, but mostly very boring book with just a touch of character development to keep you interested… but not enough to make it not feel like a chore to finish. It certainly ain’t no Eat, Pray, Love that’s all I have to say
- The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami // this was my first Murakami read and it was just as mysterious, odd, and interesting as I expected it to be. Crossing the border between separate realities, “in these stories, a man sees his favorites elephant vanish into thin air; a newlywed couple suffers attacks of hunger that drive them to hold up a McDonald’s in the middle of the night; and a young woman discovers that she has become irresistible to a little green monster who burrows up through her backyard.” described as “by turns haunting and hilarious” I recommend this one to get back into fiction if you’ve taken a break for a while and don’t feel like committing to just one story
- Three Women by Lisa Taddeo // a thrift store find that drew me in for its lack of jacket cover and plain white exterior – very mysterious. Described as a work of non-fiction in the opening author’s note, Taddeo follows 3 women – Maggie, a highschooler groomed by her male teacher and later accused of lying to destroy his reputation (he’s voted “best teacher” just before her case goes to court, SMDH); Lina, a housewife in Indiana struggling through a loveless, passionless marriage who then turns to an old flame and begins an illicit affair; and Sloane, a poised restaurant owner who marries young and then finds herself in the middle of an “open relationship” gone wrong (her husband likes to watch her have sex with other people, but one of the men they invite into their relationship fails to mention he is already attached and his partner is unaware of the set up). A very nuanced, very real, sometimes heartbreaking depiction of the dynamics of gender and the power men continue to hold in our current system. A bit too focused on the man/woman binary, and would be much improved with some stories from other individuals along the spectrum of both gender and sexuality
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury // a re-read, a classic that was ahead of its time whose message becomes more relevant as the years go by. Bradbury plops the reader into the world of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job is to start fires. In this future society, books are banned, and freethinking can equal a death sentence. dystopian, deadpan, wacky and weird this is one of my favorites of Bradbury that I plan to return to several more times.
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury // this man writes 1,000 words every day, he simplifies the writing process and makes it feel less daunting, made me rethink the obvious “write what you know” as use your memories as inspiration for short stories and go from there, I borrowed his other tactic of word association to begin letting the ideas flow freely – the good, the bad, and the ugly. What better way to find inspiration and motivation for your craft than to listen to the advice of those individuals you one day aspire to be. “We never sit anything out. We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” (p. 120)
- The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen // a nostalgic reread from middle school, easy to read writing with simple but just deep enough characters, revisted my crush on a fictional character (wassup, Wes?) When highschooler Macy’s dad unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, she decides the best way to avoid more pain is to close herself off to people and not let anyone in. When she finds herself working a catering job, her coworker Wes slowly but surely begins to peel away a few of her layers, often without Macy even realizing she’s opening up to someone once again. kinda cheesy, kinda cliche, and that’s exactly why I love it
- The Reader by Bernard Schlink // “statutory rape made romantic” – it feels like it’s treated differently because of the genders involved (woman is the older one in a position of power, younger boy is groomed and unaware of the trauma this creates for him until later in life. Might suggest this to someone who things Lolita is a love story?? It was a good book, but it also makes you feel weird reading it and if you don’t then probably go talk to someone ASAP
- Bluets by Maggie Nelson // had a professor recommend this author in college, really enjoyed the form of the book – numbered paragraphs sometimes related, sometimes random thoughts, all focusing on her obsession with the color blue and what it represents at different times in her life. “229. I am writing this all down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water” (p.92). Her other work The Argonauts has been on my TBR list for approximately 8 years at this point, and has been recommended to me by several people, so maybe 2022 will be the year I actually attempt to knock a couple books off that list, starting with that one
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders // started off very confused, a quick google search cleared some things up and made it more readable (sick-box = coffin, bardo = in Tibetan Buddhism, a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death) Featured an entertaining plot, even though it’s quite sad since it’s the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie as he succumbs to typhoid fever at just 11 years old. The characters are eclectic for sure, and a lot of the back-and-forth banter was either a bit over my head or lost on me entirely. I’d venture to say there were a bit too many characters so it easily becomes muddled (i assume that’s deliberate on the part of creating the atmosphere of “the bardo” or a spirit realm of the afterlife that i imagine is muddled and confusing) All of that being said, once i got used to the interesting structure of the novel, I quite enjoyed it and found it an interesting genre of “faction” (fictionalized facts)
- Clock, Star, Rose, Spine by Fran Wilde // a Lanternfish Press poetry collection, love me some independent small presses! A google search revealed Fran Wilde teaches at the college 40 mins from my little CO mountain town. wut a smol world. This collection also peppers in some of Wildes original art and doodles which I really enjoyed. Featuring poems about the complexity of sadness, poems about being a mother, poems about being your authentic self – I had so many dog-eared favorites from this collection. Some pieces read like prose, telling a story, others read more lyrically describing a feeling – all come together to form a lovely collection I look forward to revisiting again
- Girl A by Abigail Dean // true crime, def kept me interested but also felt a little too formulaic almost? like the author googled “aspects of psychological true crime thrillers” and then just went down a checklist of things like “foreshadowing, flashbacks, recovered memories..” things like that. Told in present day and retrospect, Girl A recounts a family of children horribly abused for years in what came to be known as “the House of Horrors” – emaciated children chained to walls, unspeakably unhygienic conditions, etc.. Told through the unreliable narrator of Lex (“Girl A”) we learn how each sibling has dealt with the trauma of it all without slipping into trauma porn which I appreciated. Though moments of flashbacks can be hard to read, it never felt overwrought or unnecessary. Overall, it kept me interested but left me wanting more. If I were to write it, I don’t know if I would’ve chosen to filter everything through just one character, it feels like a lot of layers and depth were lost by not including any other perspectives of what went down. Compared to other heavy hitters in the genre, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and Room by Emma Donaghue, Girl A keeps you hooked, even if it wasn’t my very favorite
- The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz // I really wanted to like this one, and it entertained but for some reason it just didnt give me what i wanted it to give me. I liked the quirkiness of it, but I think I went into it expecting more of a plot and that’s where I went wrong. It almost reminded me of the movie Napoleon Dynamite where not much happens but that’s kinda the point? Told through the voice of his college roommate turned friend, Yunior, this story follows a young Dominican-American boy named Oscar as he experiences the trials and tribulations of growing up in New Jersey, struggling to find a sense of community or sense of self. A big turn off for me was Diaz’s use of the N-word throughout as well as some other anti-black moments that sure could be intentional to show the struggles on BIPOC with different marginalized groups, but at times it bordered on distracting, so I’ll give this one a “good not great” from me
- In a Dream You Saw the Way to Survive by Clementine von Radics // will never not comment on how much i love the name clementine von radics. this reads as more mature & less cliche tumblr poetry. Another one of my favorite works from her is her debut collection “Mouthful of Forevers” which features one of my favorite pieces of all time titled ” For Teenage Girls with Wild Ambition and Trembling Hearts” – both collections are brutally honest in the most lyrical way and the controlled (or uncontrolled at times) rage von radics displays gets me so fired up. Another great book to add to any collection
- The City of Folding Faces by Jayinee Basu // another Lanternfish Press publication, I really wasn’t sure if I would like this one because it leans towards the analytical, scientific side of things but I ended up really enjoying it. An extremely interesting concept, it feels as though Basu predicted Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, or at least drew inspiration from it. A game called Roulette allows individuals to upload themselves into an online system that expands their consciousness far beyond natural human limits. The story follows Mara, a young woman who’s experienced the system and the “dimensional dysphoria” that occurs as a result, leaving her struggling to recount basic memories, affects her speech, and changes her dreams. To combat this, she undergoes a body-mod surgery that changes the physical structure of her face on a molecular level to give her a way to express herself beyond language. People who undergo this procedure are called Ruga and are the only ones able to understand the facial readings of other Ruga. Her boyfriend is non-Ruga and “it is through her struggle to remain connected to him that she at last discovers a way to adapt, living with a divergent psyche in a linear world”.
- Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven // I had seen this book seemingly everywhere and saw it at the thrift store one day so figured I’d grab it. By the same author as All the Bright Places which I enjoyed in a YA fiction kinda way, Holding up the Universe tells the story of Libby Strout, a highschooler whose binge eating disorder developed after her mom’s death leads to her eventually needing to be physically removed from her house with a crane. She finds herself unexpectedly becoming close with the cool hot kid at school, Jack. Turns out, Jack has a rare cognitive impairment that doesn’t allow him to recognize faces. this story felt a little too disney channel for me and although it’s important to have physically diverse characters, the storyline discussed Libby’s fatness an awful lot for the number of times she talks about being more than her weight. An entertaining read but not one I absolutely loved
- When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka // Kinda picked this one up randomly but was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It follows a family during the Japanese internment camps oh the 1940s, providing perspective from each family member. “A novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated…a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakable resonant lesson for our times”. I really liked reading this book and at just under 150 pages it’s a quick one to jump back into reading with
WHEW, lots of words, lots of thoughts. In 2022 I’m going to try to be better about posting more in-depth reviews and opinions as the year unfolds rather than cramming one big post in at the end of the year. I really appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and would love to hear your opinions on any of these you’ve read, as well as any recommendations to add to my never-ending TBR list. Try to stay sane my friends, and when you can’t, escape into someone else’s insanity through literature.
Thanks again, and happy reading!
2 thoughts on “2021 book roundup”
I love books on the craft, and Zen In The Art Of Writing does seem like something I’d like. I like your take on it too, because now I know what to expect. Might also check out that Murakami one, because I’ve read a couple books by him and I don’t believe I’ve seen that title before. Thanks for this post!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Stuart! Delayed response, but I really appreciate your comment and you taking the time to check out my post. Reading about writing is one of the best ways to find motivation, personally. I read a few posts of yours and really like your conversational writing style and your writing tips. I’ll stay tuned for some more writing inspiration. Thanks again//happy reading (& writing).
LikeLiked by 1 person