The year 2022 isn’t exactly the post-pandemic wonderland that we dreamed of, and many of us are entering another period of collective canceled plans. I’m obviously not happy about it, but I am a vaccinated Cancer Sun and I’ve always enjoyed canceling plans, regardless of vaccination status. We’re all likely going out less and staying in more, yet again, in the honorable name of health and safety. Whatever the current state of humanity, however, time keeps on moving, and with each new year comes the requisite reflection on the year past. And since you, dear subscriber, opened this email, I’m assuming you’re ready to read my musings about books.
According to my Goodreads account, I read 62 books in 2021. That seems like a pretty respectable number. I read everything from poetry to romance to classics and even finished a few series. Some books I love at the moment, but by and by I forget them, while others stick to my brain. These are the books I read in 2021 with the stickiest stories.
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson was recommended to me by a friend ages ago, and when I finally picked it up this year, I was so glad I did. It is set on a Haisla reservation in British Columbia where a woman, who has been visited by supernatural beings her whole life, goes on a search for her missing brother, who has likely drowned in the northern Pacific. Going back and forth through time and with a strong sense of atmosphere, this novel is full of magical realism, haunting otherworldly creatures (including a Sasquatch!), and dark humor.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a multigenerational family saga beginning in Korea in the early 1900s but primarily following the story of a Korean family living in Japan up until, during, and after World War II. Spanning about 100 years, this hefty book is educational, emotional, and accurate to each time period. Min Jin Lee approached the novel more like a history text but imbued it with lively and memorable characters. It is about cultural complexities and family loyalty, among other themes.
I cannot believe I hadn’t read The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende, translated from the Spanish by Magda Bogin, until this year. I seriously lived 32 years without knowing about the Trueba and Del Valle families?! Published in 1980, this magical realist classic is a profound indictment of the patriarchy and class structures. If you haven’t already read it or even if you have, I think it would be a fantastic book club book.
As a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of war novels; however, The Watermelon Boys by Ruqaya Izzidien is an exception. It is a searing narrative about the lasting effects of colonization and occupation on a people. This little-known book follows two characters, a Welsh teenager turned reluctant soldier, and a Baghdadi family man and soldier turned revolutionary during WWI. Although I found the writing to be heavy-handed in places, this book does exactly what it sets out to do: It rewrites the narrative of the personal and societal effects of the WWI British occupation of what is now called Iraq.
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Convenience Store Woman by Suyaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is short and sweet and deceptively simple while managing to hold space for deep conversations about the modern meaning of success and happiness. On the surface, it is the story of a 36-year-old woman who happily works at a convenience store while her family and friends pressure her into making decisions that are out of character, but under that, it is about societal expectations and our collective definition of “normal.”
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder follows Rachel, a young Jewish woman in Los Angeles who counts calories as though that were her religion. One day, she meets Miriam, an Orthodox Jewish frozen-yogurt purveyor with whom Rachel becomes obsessed and then soon falls in love … but is it love? This book is weird and erotic and lives within the space where desire and spiritual longing intertwine. I absolutely love Broder’s unique, sometimes gross, honesty and the light it shines on hidden truths within ourselves. Bonus recommendation: If you’re up for it, also read her novel The Pisces.
Severance by Ling Ma is a dystopian novel about a pandemic, so read it with caution. Candace Chen works in a New York publishing house in the Bibles Department, she is satisfied with her life, but a virus disrupts her routines. It takes over the city and the world, turning people into zombies for work. Severance is a thoughtful and well-built book that comments on our modern work ethic culminating in a polarizing ending.
Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series is a super-fun and entertaining dark academia fantasy series that leaves you on a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next installment of this completely unique world!
I also reread The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. These are two of my favorite books of all time, and I got even more out of them the second time around.
But in 2022, I’d like to read less and engage more with the books I do read. I want to practice marginalia, record interesting bits I love, and bribe my friends and family to read what I’m reading so I can have more conversations about the topics that intrigue me. I’d also like to reread more books I’ve enjoyed in the past and engage with more nonfiction that focuses on the human condition.
Here’s to 2022, a year that will be unpredictable and for which I have no expectations.
Thanks for reading.
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