Happy New Year to you all. Just like 2020, my year of reading for 2021 continued to be fractured and interrupted by life, relationships and of course, the pandemic. For the blog record, I read:
DNFd but counted: 2
Picture books: 25
Graphic novels: 7 – 3 fiction and 4 non-fiction
Non-fiction: 23 – Memoir and long narrative: 15 ; Design and Travel: 6 ; Scholarly: 2.
Essays and articles: lots upon lots
Though my year kicked off with the successful completion of my thesis, I had a number of struggles to overcome, not in the least, needing to finally grapple with my inability to return to working in libraries due to the severity of my asthma. Unfortunately, this is not going to reverse itself but at least I am no longer crumpling into a heap, beating my chest, voicing my mourning when I speak about it. I know this sounds so very dramatic, but it honestly is how devastated I feel. Along with the asthma, I also had a stupid fall (I think I have mentioned this elsewhere), face planting into a gutter while I was crossing the road on my way to pick up my library reservations (I blame avid reading). I ended up with a black eye, scrapes and bruises, and a “mild” head injury which took me close to 6-8 weeks to recover from the headaches and some brain fog. And then came the lockdown. So much time for reading, so little concentration to actually read. Just like last year, I spent more time reading articles, essays, doom scrolling and staring at walls than engaging with books. I am not sure if this is an indication of my attention span or an indication that I am not finding anything interesting enough to read. It’s probably a mix of both.
Unlike 2020, the year I read only 2 mediocre fiction novels, in 2021 I read 18. Of the 18, only five were not romance, of those five, I read my first science fiction novel in more than 15 years. Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries series: All Systems Red was a fun read. The book appeal for me was its brevity which, unfortunately, continues to be rare amongst published fiction novels. I was deeply saddened to see that Wells has caved to the market and is now writing lengthier novels for the series with Book 5 clocking in at 350 pages – nearly double the length of the first four fabulous novels. Another loss for tightly plotted and written books.
Romance: Most of the romances I read this year ranged from mediocre to lovely, though none were awful. I did have two standouts Lauren Layne’s The Prenup and Kate Clayborn’s Love at First.
Layne’s The Prenup is one of friction and surprise and fun and depths unexpected in a green card romance spanning ten years. I was delighted by Layne’s writing which always seem to have these socialites who hold zero interest for me, and yet, the beauty of Layne’s writing makes me forget my disinterest and plummets me into some excellent fun storytelling. The best thing about this book is that I had a momentary forgetfulness. I read as though it was 2011 – the year before I returned to study. I have linked to my earlier blog post for The Prenup above so I won’t write more here but if you are searching for a fun read, I do recommend Lauren Layne’s books – I read three of her novels in the past year and all were good.
As for Kate Clayborn’s Love at First – this was such a gentle story. Mercurial in its pacing. Vivid in its setting. Nuanced emotions in its telling. I was charmed and so deeply taken by this book which barely has grand tensions or big misunderstandings or tempestuous feelings. The feelings are on the surface, even keeled. Still waters however, run deep and the issues that mire the two main characters are resolved slowly but not completely.
I loved this book for its softness. It’s soft hero. It’s soft heroine. Yet even with such kind and giving hearts, they both show their inner resolve for overcoming their personal and interpersonal problems which is what makes this book such a gem of a story.
Fiction: I really enjoyed Rachel Smythe’s Lore Olympus. First published as episodes on Webtoons, it is now published as a book. I read it on the app where it was infinitely superior than to the codex. Scrolling through each episode allowed for a flow of story, and a flow of emotions through illustrations continuing down the screen. The screen design builds tension and pace into a new imagining of age old stories of Greek gods Hades and Persephone and their often overlooked relationship. The scrolling down the screen also allows for such a visceral experience of Hades as the god of the underworld. I really feel strongly that this story should be read in the app or the website as I am unsure whether the book could elicit the same emotional reading. I look forward to reading through the new season of this story.
Non-fiction: Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke was a sombre read during an already sombre time. Having spent much of the year in lockdown or isolating from others, Seek You speaks to our disconnection from each other and how being lonely has deep impacts in the way we socialise with others. Radtke explores loneliness in its various manifestations, from radio, suburban sprawl, the sitcom laugh track and its insidious guidance as to what is and isn’t funny, the importance of connection with others, the physical pain we feel when we are rejected by others, disturbing research on the social deprivation in monkeys and the deep affects of loneliness. Radtke speaks of our need for the human touch, for connection with others, and the way that touch brings us to love. This book just made me sadder than I really wanted to be. It barely gave me hope but it did give me a way of seeing how I live now. And I really don’t like the way my world is unravelling into deeper loneliness.
Non-fiction essays and articles
I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief as a long essay in the New Yorker, and it has since been expanded upon and published in book form. From the beginning, this essay captured me through its form, her use of Notes felt similar to my use of notes for writing many of my blog posts. Adichie writes of the shock of her father’s death and the ensuing events, from remembering her life and relationship with her father as a young child and into adulthood, to her struggle to return to Nigeria for his funeral during the peak Covid lockdowns. Adichie explores her love of her father, their ancestral home, her life as an immigrant, and the difficulties of being a cosmopolitan citizen in a world that has shut its borders. This essay was filled with sadness – a core theme in my 2021 reading choices.
The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Uncovering Secrets, Reuniting Relatives, and Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland was a fascinating read. As I have gone out of my way to leave as small as possible biometric trail of my life (no thumbprint or facial recognition to unlock my phone, no fitbit linked to an app, no entering nightclubs/bars that scan your eyes etc), doing a DNA test has zero interest for me. However, many of my friends and family are spitting into jars (so much for not sharing my biometrics!) and doing these tests to discover who they are, who their (biological) parents are etc. This book takes a deep look into the world of DNA testing, the ethical conundrums of the secrets that are revealed, as well as delightful news too. This book was wonderful, with many personal stories to accompany the more technical and scientific explanations of how DNA does and does not reveal our lives and our ancestors lives. I probably think about this book more than any other that I have read in 2021.
One of the unexpected joys that this miserable year provided me is a different way of reading. I started doing buddy reading with Kay from Miss Bates Reads Romance, and with my goddaughter.
Miss Bates Reads Romance. Miss Bates and I chose to buddy read Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City. I was introduced to Gornick by Miss Bates and I was enamoured by her writing style. Having already read The Odd Woman and the City, Kay and I chose to reread it together. 30 pages at a time. Meeting weekly. It was a joyous way to read. Sometimes our conversation took us on tangents, other times it took us a while to get to our book choice, and we always always swapped favourite quotes and delighted in shared highlighted passages. We didn’t necessarily deconstruct the text as much as complain/enjoy/laugh at the text. I deliberately have not reviewed, or written further about this book which is my only reread of 2021. I just want to remember how much it resonated with me. How much my body – shoulders, neck, hips – relaxed as I read this book, and relaxed as I chatted with a dear friend about this book. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience as it led me to doing some buddy reading with my goddaughter.
Fancy fairy reading godmother fancy reading fun. So at the end of June, Sydney went into hard lockdown. With an abysmally low vaccination rate (not through hesitancy but through the continued application of dirty design by our despised Prime Minister who did not procure enough vaccines for the population), everyone other than essential workers stayed at home, schools shut their doors and silent chaos ensued. Sadly, this is not unique to most people across the world. One day, I called my goddaughter’s mum to see how she was coping, and drawing from my Miss Bates fun, offered to do reading after school with my goddaughter. At first I thought it would be a weekly meet up, but we had so much fun that it immediately became a daily Zoom call. In the 2 months of our reading fun, we read 26 books – 24 picture books and 2 novels. We used a variety of methods from physical books which had to be held to the computer’s camera so we can see images, buying duplicate books so we can read in turn, to ebooks where I could share my screen and we would read in sync with each other. My favourite of the buddy reads with my goddaughter was Steven Herrick’s Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus. Written in prose, we read a chapter each until we found ourselves singing the story (out of tune) while using the Zoom tools to draw the characters. I honestly don’t think I would have considered this style of shared reading in the before times. Lockdown sapped me of energy and but it did give me a stronger connection with my goddaughter and a completely different way of reading. However, no pandemic would have been better for both of us.
Reading in 2022
Last year, I kept my reading goals low by setting myself 21 books. This year, I have decided to not take part in any competition. I have set my Goodreads challenge to 1 book only because I enjoy the “My year of reading” wrap up that they post in early January. I also get to show off this wrap up to my sons in comparison to their annual Spotify stats and I force them to feign interest (LOL). I haven’t made plans for reading this year. 2020 left me exhausted. 2021 has left me with depression and heightened anxiety. I have secured some sessional teaching/facilitating with two organisations and I have a paper to present at a Valentine’s Day symposium. Tiny steps in the work prospects which, for now, is all I want as I still haven’t decided what I want to do for the next 20 years. Long term goals will have to wait. With the pandemic still going strong, I am settling for short goals and maximising rest time for now.
Happy reading year to you all.