Somehow, another year has gone by and here I am writing yet another reading wrap-up post.
It’s been a fun and eventful year, with the most notable event being the birth of my first grandchild Ames in May.
Celebrations were had, selfies were taken, and collages were made.
These pics only tell part of the story.
And how did the 2022 reading go?
Well, I read a lot of books, though not all, for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Here’s a challenge wrap-up if you’re interested in a looong post about that.
And, generally, here are the year’s stats.
Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats
Total books read: 107 (25 more than last year!!) Fiction: 64 Nonfiction: 43 Female authors: 89 Male Authors: 19 Nonbinary: 0 (Geez, must work on this ASAP.) Non-white authors: 24 E-books: 51 Audiobooks: 40 (15 fewer than last year) Re-reads: 24 (I leaned into the re-reads this year and re-read comfort books to my heart’s content.)
Fiction vs. Nonfiction: I’m not surprised to see that I read more fiction than nonfiction this year. I needed some serious distraction in the later half of the year, so I went on a fiction rampage, diving into all the stories I could. Sometimes, you need to be anywhere but here, amirite?
Female vs. Male authors: I am also not surprised to see the number of female vs. male authors. A couple years ago, I got decidedly tired of men telling me things, so I tend to avoid their books unless they are a person of color or happen to be writing on a subject I really want to know about (usually, it’s a nature book).
Non-white authors: I did make more of a point to read books by authors who are not white, but it’s a challenge. Like a lot of other people, I tend to want to read books written by people like me and those, of course, are white cis women. But there are more books written by people of color than ever available right now, so I want to work on getting my numbers up. How else will I learn from other perspectives?
Historical Fiction – 20 books
I really delved into this genre, one of my favorites. Here are 10 of the best historical fiction books I read this year. I really can’t pick a favorite!
Memoir/Autobiography – 16 books
No surprise that this is right below historical fiction. It’s obviously another favorite genre. Learning from other perspectives, right?
These are eight of my faves.
Classics – 15 books
Ok, almost all my classics were re-reads of Edith Wharton books. Wharton is my summer reading. I go back to her every year after having first read The Age of Innocence two summers ago.
I did sprinkle in a few others. Notably, a new Elizabeth von Arnim and a new modern classic favorite, The Women of Brewster Place.
These were my top six.
Nature – 10 books
I tend to read nature books in the spring when the world is coming back to life, but this year, I read them throughout and mostly in audiobook form. I love to listen to a soothing audiobook at bedtime or while walking or collaging. And books about nature, at least the ones I’ve chosen, are often soothing. I include books on flora and fauna in this category, as well as general books on the effects of getting out into nature.
Here are my top few from 2022. The Inner Life of Animals is a re-read.
Mystery/Thriller – 5 books
This is another favorite category, but I had trouble finding good ones this year for some reason. Does anyone have any recommendations? I usually like stories focused on women and I tend to avoid the grizzled detective (male or female) trope. Let me know if you have thoughts!
I wanted to make mention of three books I didn’t categorize above as they were three of my favorites this year and include two I wouldn’t normally have picked up.
One, The Wild Iris, is an incredible book of poetry that uses flowers as metaphors. I’m re-reading it this year for sure.
Two are books of essays, which I wouldn’t normally dip into.
I read The Lonely Stories, a moving series of essays on loneliness, for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. And I read Bad Vibes Only on a whim and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Another category that hit for me this year was general contemporary fiction. These are a few books I loved.
Do you pick a favorite book each year? Or a top 10 or top five?
I couldn’t pick a favorite. I tried. I could maybe be forced to pick a favorite from each category.
At any rate, that’s what I read in 2022! Overall, it was a hugely successful reading year. I enjoyed so many books, including some I wouldn’t normally choose to read thanks to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.
This year, I Decided I Need a Challenge and took on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. The challenge consisted of 24 categories of books with the goal of reading outside of your comfort zone. I read 14 books out of 24 for the challenge and, honestly, I feel like that’s pretty good.
Most importantly, I stepped outside of my usual reading habits and ended up reading books, like an anthology of essays, that I wouldn’t normally read.
Because I love researching and reading about books, I also had a lot of fun looking up books and figuring out which to read for each category.
Below is a synopsis of what I read and what I didn’t.
p.s. Please forgive any typos. This is a long post and I’m being a lazy editor. 🙂
Categories I Read
Read a biography of an author you admire—Harriet Jacobs: A Life by Jean Fagan Yellin
I adored Harriet Jacobs: A Life. What a difficult story to read. I’m glad I know more about her. Did you know she was hidden in a space where she couldn’t stand up for 7 years? I’d forgotten that from reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in college. Just, wow.
Read a book set in a bookstore—The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
I do not care that this book can be described as “cute.” I loved it. It’s the story of an English woman who gets downsized from her library job and, despite being fairly square and timid to boot, she moves to Scotland, buys an old van, fixes it up as a traveling bookshop, and becomes the local book dealer.
There are some love interests. It reads like a Hallmark movie—if Hallmark movies were actually good. I enjoyed it thoroughly. There’s also a charming intro. by Colgan about the best places to read a book. I love her even more as an author after reading that.
Read any book from the Women’s Prize shortlist/longlist/winner list.—Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
This contemporary novel is part love story (or marriage story, more like), part introspection on the part of the protagonist Martha, and part family drama.
If someone had described the novel in that way to me, I’d probably have passed. But I came to it with no expectations, not really knowing what the book was about, and was immediately sucked in by Mason’s incredible writing. Here’s the Goodreads link if you need a better description than mine!
Read a book in any genre by a POC that’s about joy and not trauma—The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America
What a wonderful category. It led me to The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris. Winfrey Harris explains the origins of stereotypes assigned to Black women and then takes them on, discussing the ways in which they hurt Black women and degrade their place in society.
From the “angry Black woman” stereotype to the “Mammy” stereotype, Winfrey Harris takes us on a journey of understanding. I finished this book a renewed sense of the unfairness and struggle placed on the shoulders of Black women.
The “joy” (per the prompt for this selection) is woven throughout, however. In interviews with Black women and experts who understand the issues, hope abounds. There’s also a section at the end of each chapter titled “Moments in Alright,” which presents examples of women, along with statistics, that defy the stereotypes society has put on Black women.
Read an anthology featuring diverse voices.—The Lonely Stories, Edited by Natalie Eve Garrett
In August, I read The Lonely Stories, a book of essays on the topic of loneliness. I found so many of these moving. The topics range from chronic illness to moving to a new country to taking care of an aging parent. I don’t normally like anthologies and I never seek them out, but I highly recommend this one.
Read a nonfiction YA comic—The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
This is a lovely memoir by a well-known artist who got her start in web comics. Sprinkled throughout the drawings are actual photos from Stevenson’s life, plus some solid writing. It’s a quick but touching work. Do recommend.
Read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40.—Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
This is the charming story of retired Major Pettigrew (68), who falls in love with the Pakistani woman who runs one of the local shops in his English village. Romance and foibles ensue. There is also a story line about his son with whom the Major has a rocky relationship, which I found interesting. The characters, story, and tone come across with depth and wryness—a tough combo that author Helen Simonson masters. Would recommend.
Read a classic written by a POC.—Quicksand by Nella Larsen
I fell in love with Nella Larsen last year after reading her perhaps more well-known classic Passing. There’s now a 2021 movie adaptation, which I have yet to watch. Need to get on that.
In the meantime, I enjoyed reading Quicksand in April 2022. The story centers on Helga Crane, a woman who quits her comfortable teaching job despite the security it offers and goes from situation to situation, moving to Harlem, Denmark, and eventually to Alabama for various reasons. Race is a major theme as Crane has her own thoughts about how her race (she is half Black, half white) has affected her life and situation.
This is a story about a woman trying to find herself and the various geographical locations she finds herself in each teach her something about who she is and what she wants. The ending leaves Helga’s own ending to the imagination, which is both frustrating and a perfect ending in different ways.
Read a political thriller by a marginalized author (BIPOC, or LGBTQIA+).–Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua
This is a bit of a cheat. It’s not a thriller exactly, but it is political, and because I generally hate the political thriller genre, this is as good as we’re gonna’ get. I’m still counting it.
Anyway, what a great concept for a story. Apparently, Chairman Mao loved ballroom dancing and while he was in power, his underlings organized dances for him and his comrades featuring the company of beautiful teenage girls plucked from all over China for his entertainment (and bedding). This story features the rise and fall of one of these young women.
Read an entire poetry collection.—The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
I said I would read this one and I did. It’s WONDERFUL. I began reading it in February and finished it in August, which is kind of perfect because the book takes you through the seasons from the perspectives of the plants that grow throughout each.
This may be my new favorite book of poetry. The imagery and perspective are so unique, with the content being both playful and profound at turns. If you like poetry, and especially if you are obsessed with plants like me, this is a great volume for you.
Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author.—Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I LOVED Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This is a heart-rending story of slavery and a young Black boy’s coming of age. The adventure comes in when Washington Black, an 11-year-old enslaved boy who lives on his master’s sugar plantation in Barbados, is selected by the master’s brother to assist him as he builds a “cloud-cutter,” a giant gas-powered balloon-like flying machine. Wash’s story is woven with heartbreak, adventure, love, and joy, and I lived it right along with him.
Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).—The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Did you know this book was the second in a series? I had no idea. There are more Hannibal Lecter books, apparently. News to me.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. The book was just as gritty as the movie, but I found it slightly less dramatic because it’s definitely a police procedural. Not my usual brand, but I still enjoyed reading the book, then watching the movie again for comparison.
Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.—Mirror Girls by Kelly McWilliams
On the recommendation of an old friend who commented on a Facebook post asking for suggestions, this was my selection. Mirror Girls is a gothic-y YA novel set in the South at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. It centers on two sisters, one Black and one passing for white, who have just found out that they are sisters. Drama ensues. It’s good, but I don’t know that I was in the mood for the breeziness of a typical YA novel. It wasn’t too scary and it didn’t delve deeply enough emotionally for my tastes.
Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.—Beast by Brie Spangler
Of course the Read Harder Challenge would have me read a retelling. I do not like retellings. I was becoming disheartened in my search for a good one back in March, finding all the books a bit plodding, and with my inability to suspend disbelief, it wasn’t going well. But I happily stumbled on Beast by Brie Spangler and it was great.
First, I couldn’t resist that pretty cover art. Second, I didn’t find it plodding. Third, the “retelling” part of the retelling was more of a theme than this overriding airy-fairiness that I usually can’t abide in retellings.
It’s about an exceptionally large and hairy teenager named Dylan. In the first scene he falls or jumps off of a roof–we don’t know whether he’s fallen or jumped, but readers will have their suspicions. After doctors treat his broken leg, Dylan’s mom sends him to group therapy because she has her own suspicions.
This is where he meets Jamie, a trans girl with issues of her own. The thing is, when they first meet, Dylan doesn’t hear Jamie say that she’s trans. Dylan falls in love and complications ensue. There’s a lot about identity in this one (and not just gender identity) so if you like books with that as a central theme, I recommend this one.
Categories I Didn’t Read
Read the book that’s been on your TBR the longest.
Read a new-to-you literary magazine (print or digital).
Read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes.
Read a memoir written by someone who is trans or nonbinary.
Read a “Best _ Writing of the year” book for a topic and year of your choice.
Read an award-winning book from the year you were born.
Read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character.
Read a history about a period you know little about.
Read a book by a disabled author.
Pick a challenge from any of the previous years’ challenges to repeat!
Can you tell I ran out of steam after awhile? It would’ve been so easy to pick a category to repeat from a previous year or to read about a historical period I knew little about. And Ben recommended at least 10 ideas for the “read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes” category.
But after awhile, I couldn’t be bothered. I just wanted to read what I wanted to read.
So here we are at the end of the challenge year. All in all, not too shabby.
I have such a hard time writing about books I really love.
Books that make me put my hand over my heart when I set them down. Books that affect me so much that, by the time I finish them and lay them aside, I only feel overwhelming gratitude.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay falls into that category for me. I realize I’m late to the party on this one. The book was published to much acclaim in 2014. The reason I waited so long to read it is that I suspected I would be required to feel deeply while reading it. I’m not always ready to dig into my emotions so deeply and I sensed this book would require that of me. It did. But in the best ways. And it was worth it.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin. She is an extremely talented reader. Her voice is excellent, for one, and she seems to get the material. It’s as if she studied it, knows what’s coming, and is fully behind it. Thus, Gay’s voices seems to channel right through her.
This was a powerful reading/listening experience for me. If I took the time to list how many times I felt “seen” by this book, I would end up citing every passage.
Walking home, listening to an audiobook
A few bullet points on items that struck me:
♦ Much of the book involves Gay’s essays critiquing books, TV shows, and films. She’s known for this. And several of the essays were previously published on their own in various magazines and on websites.
I have a low tolerance for this kind of writing, especially if I haven’t read or watched the book/show/film that’s being discussed. This time, I didn’t care.
Gay’s talent for dissected the cultural background and then implications of these works, from Fifty Shades of Grey to the movie Django, pulled me in to the very end. What a mind this woman has. I wish I were half so intelligent.
♦ If you are a white person who struggles to understand, or who just wants to understand, elements of “the black experience” regarding popular culture—OK, overall culture—this book may help.
I appreciated Gay’s tuteledge on topics ranging from the “magical Negro” trope to Trayvon Martin’s murder. I need someone to help me understand such issues from a perspective that is not mine, namely that of a middle-class, cis, white woman.
♦ If you are fat, as I am, Gay’s essay “Reaching for Catharsis: Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny” may help you feel seen, as it did for me.
♦ In “What We Hunger For,” we learn that Gay was gang-raped as a young girl. This essay is brutal and heart-wrenching and all those other words we use when we don’t know how to describe something that terrible. It ripped my guts out. After listening to it on my walk home from work, I had to turn it off, sit very still on the couch in the silent house, and let my feelings wash over me until they settled.
♦ Don’t worry, there is humor and fun in this book! Gay takes on serious and important subjects, no doubt. But her great talent in addressing some of them, when appropriate (not in the cases of rape, murder, or racism, of course), with humor provides relief and inspires commeraderie.
Throughout the book, too, she discusses the ways in which she feels she lets the side down as a feminist. Shaking it to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” for example. She calls her dad for car advice. She reads Vogue, and not ironically. She loves pink and dresses.
Gay acknowledges that she is not a “perfect” feminist, and then she helps us go even further, dismantling the idea that the perfect feminist even exists:
At some point, I got it into my head that a feminist was a certain kind of woman. I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are—militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humorless. I bought into these myths even though, intellectually, I know better. I’m not proud of this. I don’t want to buy into these myths anymore. I don’t want to cavalierly disavow feminism like far too many other women have done. Bad feminism seems like the only way I can both embrace myself as a feminist and be myself, and so I write. I chatter away on Twitter about everything that makes me angry and all the small things that bring me joy. I write blog posts about the meals I cook as I try to take better care of myself, and with each new entry, I realize that I’m undestroying myself after years of allowing myself to stay damaged. The more I write, the more I put myself out into the world as a bad feminist but, I hope, a good woman—I am being open about who I am and who I was and where I have faltered and who I would like to become.
No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.
I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.
This was a long post, after all, which wasn’t my intention. I just can’t say enough how much I love this book. If you’ve read this far, thank you! And if you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you thought.
What would we do without Mary Oliver? Honestly. Her words, whether prose or poetry, speak to me, like, on a deep level, man.
And that’s how poetic I’m feeling today. 😉 I know she’s one of the more accessible poets out there right now and so some feel her poetry isn’t, I don’t know, as high-brow as some others’. But who the hell cares?
Anyway, I picked up her recent collection of essays, Upstream, from the library and was totally delighted, though not surprised, to find myself at turns reading at break-neck pace, then turning back to previous pages to re-read, then slapping the book down on the mattress to repose in some combination of awe and I don’t know what else… Mary Oliver does this to me. I’m sure you have writers that get you straight in the feels too. I’m struck. I read a passage like the one below and I feel stricken. With, I guess, awe and some feeling of being heard, or included, or just the feeling that the words on the page somehow reflect me or understand me…
“Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats. I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.”
Just a recent view of the river on my walk home from work. You’d never know that this is one of the most urban sections of my walk.
I ask you.
The book is heavy with imagery, especially in the beginning, where each paragraph almost seemed to me like its own poem. Like so:
Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats. I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.
I generally prefer a quick pace when I’m reading but Mary Oliver is one of the few writers whose work demands that I slow down, dammit. This book definitely follows my current theme—I’ve been reading so many things lately that remind me to pay attention. I’m doing my best to answer the call.
There are also sections of the book that are guided by narrative, including a tale about happening upon the breeding ground of snapping turtles, the ending of which totally surprised me. I won’t say any more.
Oliver also includes several reflections on those she calls “mentors,” writers who’ve gone before, who’ve paved the way. They include Emerson, Whitman, and Poe, all of whom get a brief bio and so I learned something new about literary titans I’ve not paid much attention to as they’re not required reading for adults – did you know there’s no required reading for adults? You can, like, read whatever you want whenever you want. Honestly, that’s one of the great joys of my grown-ass life.
This was a long, meandering post, but I think Oliver would be OK with that. I’ll leave you with this gut punch about poetry:
“But first and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing—an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness—wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak—to be company.”
Lately I find I’m reading books that give me permission to be the person I want to be.
Does that make sense?
For example, Diana Athill’s Alive, Alive Oh!, which reassured me that looking was a thing. Yes, of course! Looking. I do this all the time. I cherish the experience. But I needed Athill to name it for me and therefore grant me permission to spend time on it. Isn’t it wonderful when someone reassures you that spending time doing things that achieve nothing is OK? I need that, like, all the time.
In it Thoreau lauds the virtues of setting one’s feet out the door and discovering new places, while also giving curmudgeonly voice to his concern at the disappearance of wild territory. Meaning, if we’re not good stewards, there won’t be anything wild left to discover.
Some wildflowers along the shore of the river. I couldn’t ask for a prettier commute.
On a personal level, I empathized with his need to get out into the natural world. Being in nature affects me on all levels of my being. Even something so simple as a walk through the woods seems to change my brain chemistry for the better. I’m sure there’s some science behind that, but I also just feel it to be true, so that’s enough for me.
Now that it’s not such a swamp in Northern Indiana, I’ve been walking home from work more often and it’s such a joy. I get to totally decompress. I listen to audiobooks. And I just go as slowly as I please and notice all the trees and gardens in people’s yards on the way. It’s cultivated land (which Thoreau does not approve of) and I cross over a polluted river, but you know, I’ll take what I can get on a weeknight.
So, looking and walking. Two simple pleasures that make a world of difference in my point of view and mental state. Thanks, books.
When my favorite book blogger, Sarah of Citizen Reader, suggested an essay reading project for 2018, I thought, man that sounds boring. Essays? But she’s my favorite book blogger and I can be kind of a joiner despite my introvert tendencies, so I went ahead and checked out the first book under discussion: The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity, About a Boy, and a number of other excellent, I assume, novels and memoirs. I haven’t read any of them, honestly. But I loved High Fidelity the movie starring John Cusack.
Anyway, it turns out, I like essays. I’d forgotten that. I mean, I read blogs and articles all the time, and those are kind of like essays. But as soon as you categorize something as an essay, it takes on this heightened status in my head. It starts to feel like a blobby cloud of LITERATURE hanging over me, judging me for not wanting to read it.
But Hornby is a witty guy and he loves books and generally lives a very writer-ly life. And all of that, plus his signature sardonic tone, made this collection of essays, first published separately over a year in The Believer, quite enjoyable.
Things I Liked:
At the beginning of each essay are two lists: Books Bought and Books Read. I love seeing what intelligent people read (and buy) and why. And I love that he includes this directive, “I don’t want anyone writing in to point out that I spend too much money on books, many of which I will never read. I know that already. I certainly intend to read all of them, more or less. My intentions are good. Anyway, it’s my money. And I’ll bet you do it too.”
Hornby reads books I don’t really read and it’s great to get exposure to the interests of other people. I don’t care at all about Tobias Wolff, for example, but I’m happy to hear what Hornby has to say about his work.
Hornby makes a distinction between “literary” novels and regular novels. He continually asks what the difference is and that became a theme threaded through almost all of the essays.
The cat ad on the back of the Country Living issue on my nightstand was all the paper I had at hand.
I came away with a few recommendations (see phone pic, right). And as you can see from the scribbled entry “Try to read Mystic River again?,” I enjoyed Hornby’s essays so much that I’m even considering re-trying books I’d given up on. So that’s a plus.
And, bonus: there are three or so more collections just like this one. Gonna’ delve into one of those next.