Saturday, January 1, 2022

My Year in Books, 2021

Each year, I set a goal of 52 books a year, averaging out to one a week. I usually beat that, and I did it again this year, finishing book #85 right before midnight last night: 

I read a huge variety of books (scroll to the bottom to see the covers for the whole set): nonfiction, literary fiction, horror, romance, science fiction, fantasy, women's fiction, mystery, holiday themed work, classics, young adult, children's, poetry, graphic novels, commentary (you can click on the links on the book titles to see my review for each one). 

Some on paper (six, mostly graphic novels), some on Kindle (about thirty), some on audiobook (about forty-nine). Those last two intermix, as I often buy a kindle edition AND an audiobook edition of a book and go back and forth between the two. 

According to Goodreads, I read 16,048 pages, with the shortest work (The Best Girls by Min Jin Lee) coming in at 18 pages and the longest (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas) coming in at 1,276 pages. 

Classics: One of the great pleasures of my reading life is my First Monday Classics Book Club, which meets once a month on the first Monday to discuss a work of classic fiction. 2021 was rough going for keeping the group together, since our library closed during the pandemic and still hasn't fully reopened, but we met via video and then later outdoors, and finally in a small business's sitting area.

This year's reading list included The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt, Kindred by Octavia Butler, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley,  and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. 

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is our January pick, and I finished it a few days ago. 

On my own, separate of the club readings, I also read a few other books that might be considered "classics":  The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, The Wharton Gothics by Edith Wharton, The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 

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People often ask me about my classics reading habit. Older books are often dense, difficult, or suffer from antiquated attitudes that are cringe-inducing to read, which can make them problematic for some readers. 

For me, though, that's part of the appeal. Classic novels reveal as much about the eras they were written in and the authors who wrote them as they do about the stories and characters, giving me a wider historical understanding and a big-picture view of how attitudes on things like race, religion, and sexuality have changed over time. 

Plus, I just have this feeling that I "ought" to read these books. It makes me feel informed and like I understand the wider context of the literary world more fully. 

The very difficulty is part of the appeal, too. Completing some of these works feels like a trophy-worthy accomplishment. The Count of Monte Cristo was like that. 

Escapism: Like many readers, I was first drawn to books by the escapism. The chance to travel and explore without leaving my house, experience things I could never experience for real. That desire has never left me, and my reading list tends to lean heavily towards speculative fiction for that reason. I read some great ones this year (a few pictured below), including mystery, romance without speculative elements, ghostly romance, and 1980s nostalgia horror. 

Here lately, clever romances have gotten a larger amount of reading time. I have a need for happily ever afters, but also need the characters to be smart and good-hearted, so I can cheer them to get together and feel good when they do. My favorite find in this regard this year was Lucy Blue's Stella Hart Romantic Mystery series. Witty dialogue, a good balance of sexual heat and relationship building, a fun historical setting, and, oh yeah, some corpses. 

Thinkers: Some books give me a lot to think about. While it's good to just shut down my brain and go for a ride sometimes, I also enjoy a meatier book from time to time, one that tackles difficult themes and lingers in my consciousness long after I've finished it. I read a lot of great books of that sort this year. 

In my fact, my top three picks for best books I read this year fit this category. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, and Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell don't seem to have much in common on the surface, but they do all feature complicated, interesting heroines in difficult situations. All three also tackle BIG themes like racism, sexism, grief, and ethics. Which made all of them perfect books for me. Gorgeous prose and interesting settings didn't hurt a bit either :-)

I didn't even tell you about the great graphic novels and nonfiction that made my list this year, but if I go on much longer, this post will become a book of it's own, so I'll stop here, leaving you with the images of my reading list below. 

Did we share any reads this year? What makes your top few reads of the year? Did you read one of mine? I'd love to hear about your year in books in the comments. 

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