maura @ 9:07 pm
Wow, reading was hard this year. So hard that I have piles of books hanging out around the house, each with a bookmark about 20-odd pages in, and digital piles too, hanging out in my ebook reader when I didn’t finish them before they returned themselves to the library. I mean, lots of things were hard this year, are still hard. It’s still a pandemic, we’re all still staying home and working from home and trying to keep it all together during a pandemic. Understandably there are also some weird gaps in my reading this year, more books than usual that I started in February or March but didn’t finish until July or August.
Nonfiction reading in particular was a challenge for me in 2020. My problems staying focused and awake while reading contributed to the nonfiction difficulties, though they are for sure not unique to me (nor new to this year). Nonbook reading also suffered a bit, magazines piled up, and my rss reader filled up too. Maybe lay some of the blame for that on the large volume of pandemic, protest, and political news I consumed this year? I also confess to falling into doomscrolling more often than I’d like, though I’ve been more successful recently in putting down the phone and picking up a book instead.
Today on the last day of this hard year I’m feeling pretty good about finishing my 4th book in 8 days; unsurprisingly, today’s my 8th day of staycation. It’s been much much easier to read in the middle of the day with a cat curled on my lap as opposed to nighttimes zoomed out after a full day of work, also unsurprisingly.
Fiction definitely predominated for me this year, though the nonfiction books I did manage to read were all terrific. I started the year with a giant academic book about menopause, as one does, which pulls together biological and historical sources from around the world. Her conclusion is that menopause is neither a medical condition nor is it an aberrant stage, and that the move of a significant proportion of a population to postreproductive status before they die enables women to help ensure reproductive success for younger women and children, and contributes enormously to our success as a species. Super interesting, even if it’s a huge bummer that the one physical complaint of menopause that does seem to be crossculturally distributed is hot flashes.
I am not the biggest fan of poetry, but I was blown away by Eve Ewing’s 1919: Poems. I love Chicago, and was ashamed to discover that I did not even know about the race riots in Chicago in 1919. Ewing juxtaposes each of her poems with passages from a report about the 1919 riots that had been researched and written by a panel of 3 white and 3 black men in the early 1920s. Powerful and a gut punch — I checked this out from the public library, but I’ve been thinking that I need to buy it, too.
In fiction, well, I read a lot of pandemic or otherwise (post)apocalyptic fiction this year. They went down easy in March and April, as sirens filled the empty streets in NYC, and in the summer, as I protested, met friends for socially distanced chats and picnics, and went for endless park walks. I also read a couple of books by First Nations authors that were especially terrific, Moon of the Crusted Snow and Empire of the Wild, the latter by Cherie Demaline whose YA book The Marrow Thieves I read 2 years ago and loved. Other fiction standouts for me were The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel and Weather by Jenny Offill.
And definitely among the best books I read this year was N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. Awesome, just so so so good, I cannot wait for the sequels. The first of a trilogy about embodied multidimensional cities, NYC is being born in this book but the boroughs are each embodied too, and have to help birth the primary avatar. Lots of fun stuff about NYC that locals will know and love — the big baddie ensnares Staten Island and turns her against the others (so real!). I read this during the summer as the city was protesting, Brooklyn spots like the Barclays Center and Grand Army Plaza were being used as public squares, and it helped remind me that even in this hard year this is my home and I love it.
This year’s book count is 28, lower than many previous years but still above an average of 1 book every 2 weeks, which I think I’ve decided is my minimum annual goal. Starred books are ebooks (that number surely increased), and the list below is in reverse chronological order, as in previous years.
Here’s to better days — for reading and pretty much everything else, too — in 2021.
*Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi
*Long Division, by Kiese Laymon
Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick
The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
*New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl
*The Down Days, by Ilze Hugo
Earthlings, by Sayaka Murata
*The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon
*Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice
*Empire of Wild, by Cherie Demaline
*Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin
Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango
*The Factory, by Hiroko Oyamada
The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel
*Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
*Severance, by Ling Ma
*Weather, by Jenny Offill
*Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli
*The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care, by Anne Boyer
*This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
*The Tiger Flu, by Larissa Lai
Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
1919: Poems, by Eve L. Ewing
Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi
The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, and Meaning of Menopause, by Susan P. Mattern