Countdown to 2022: 2021 Books

Last year, I read 11 books! This year I read 10. I just made my usual goal of 10 books per year. I also listened to a lot of podcast and have started including those at the end of this list.

2021 Books

Overall, I read 4 fiction books (3 contemporary, and 1 classic of short stories–same number of fiction books as last year), 5 non-fiction books (1 design/disability book, 1 history book, 1 product/business book, 1 book of letters/biography, and 1 Political Science/Abolition–last year I read 3 non-fiction), and 1 book of poetry. I read 2 non-American authors this year; last year I didn’t ready any. Last year I read 6 female authors, with 2 being women of color; this year I read 5 female authors with 1 being a woman of color. 8 books were for book clubs: 1 for my virtual book club with my college friends (last year there was 1), and 3 were for the fiction book club at work–last year there were 3, and then 1 was for the product book club at work, 1 was for the abolition study group, and 2 were for the ERG discussion groups at work. Usually I try to read 1 book by someone I know, and I did not do that this year. Last year I read 1 book because it related to something I was writing/working on (same as last year), but I did not do that this year either.

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s with slightly more non-fiction books. I kept up with reading women authors, although this year I read an equal amount of women and men, not more women, and I decreased slightly in the number of women of color authors. I did, however, read more non-American authors this year. I did keep my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, though I didn’t read any children/young adult books, and again I did not read a feminism book this year. My resolution has been to read 1 poetry book a year, and I have stuck to that, as well as to my resolution to read 1 Thornton Wilder book a year. One of my resolutions last year AND the years before that had been to read a biography, and the Thornton Wilder book, while not strictly a biography, should count as that.

Last year my goals were: Continue with at least a 50:50 ratio for women to men authors and continue with my reading variety–make sure to continue to read 1 poetry book a year, 1 feminism OR political science/abolition book a year, and 1 Wilder book a year–but make sure to read a biography as well. I did achieve these goals. Next year my main goal is to try not to do any more book clubs. I read too many books for book clubs this year and did not get to read what I wanted to read that much, and I had to cram my personal reading goals in at the end of the year, which was stressful. Only 1 book club/discussion group book allowed! My other goals are to read a feminism book this year, as well as a biography, along with the 1 book of poetry and Thornton Wilder book.

I also read 1 New Yorker (4 less than last year) and 3 New York magazines (1 less than last year) in between books, as well as various other magazine/web articles. Plus, a Barnard Magazine in print.I’m a little disappointed I fell yet again in my magazine reading. Last year I said I would try to bring myself up to previous years’ numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year, or at least 7 each. I did not do that and will try again in 2022.

I’ll still list the online reading/writing classes I was in. This year, I did ModPo this fall and continued working through my Police and Prison Abolition Group study guide. I didn’t read any short stories aside from the short story book.

My favorite book(s) of the year:
The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wildeedited by Edward M. Burns and Ulla E. Dydo with William Rice
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porterby Katherine Anne Porter

The List:

1. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
I did enjoy reading this book despite a few slow chapters toward the beginning, but I think overall I wasn’t as into this book as others seem to be. Yes, there are the themes of parenting that I’m seeing talked about with this book, but there’s also the relationship between the main character Lillian and her school friend Madison (who hires her to look after her step children). To me, that relationship was the heart of the book and should have been way more developed. The overt and insidious classism, as well as the attraction between them, was brought up but never fully addressed. The relationship was treated as secondary to the relationship between Lillian and the children when it was set up in the first chapter as being the primary one in the story. I’m always interested in a story about an adult babysitter (whether that babysitter is more like a nanny or a governess or whatever) because of my own experiences as one, and I thought that part of the story was done well and rang mostly true. One thing I couldn’t quite figure out was why this story was set in 1995–there didn’t seem to be a real reason other than maybe that way the political characters were far enough away from today’s politics and media. I read this book for a book club at work so I’m looking forward to discussing it more next week.
Finished: January 29, 2021

2. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porterby Katherine Anne Porter
I read three of these short stories (the three that make up the section Pale Horse, Pale Rider) back in October for one of my book clubs. It was great to go into depth with those stories. I had originally wanted to read this whole book of short stories because the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” (a story within the Pale Horse, Pale Rider section) had been mentioned in a few articles and social media posts as one of the few stories about the 1918 pandemic. I did like that story but I’m glad I read Katherine Anne Porter’s entire collection, which, incidentally, won the Pulitzer Prize. The stories had a wide range–some taking place in Mexico, some following one particular family over generations, some from the perspective of characters one doesn’t usually hear from, like a 4-year-old child. I loved the writing and getting to know another author writing in the first half of the 20th century. I recommend most if not all of the stories but if there are folks who only want to read some of them, I’m happy to give specific story recommendations.
Finished: April 24, 2021

3. Klara and the Sunby Kazuo Ishiguro
I read this book for a book club, and we had an interesting discussion about it, but ultimately I think this book fell a little short for me. The pacing of the book felt off in most parts–the first 2/3 move slowly and then when it seems to pick up in the last third, there are still some slow sections in there, at least for me. I think my main problem with the book that also contributed to my problems with pacing was that the titular relationship between Klara and the Sun was not that interesting to me. It seemed like the author was drawing comparisons to religion, but I wasn’t sure to what end, and I found those sections of the book to be kind of a slog. The most interesting parts for me were the relationships between the human characters, and I thought those were well written. The hints of the dystopian society were also intriguing. I wanted to know more but was fine with not knowing everything. For the most part, I liked seeing the whole story through the eyes of a non-human being–it let information come forward slowly, like readers were also piecing together this puzzle. But it also left me with a few questions about the robot character herself since she only described herself through her experiences, I could never get a clear picture in my head of what she looked like and how she functioned.
Finished: May 29, 2021

4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander
I read this book in a book group, which was the perfect environment for discussing it. I thought it presented its thesis and ideas really clearly, and while it doesn’t give answers (that would really be a different book) it should do a lot to open and change minds about mass incarceration. I came to this book in the context of police and prison abolition, so I was already of the mindset that our prison system needs to be abolished, and my mind was still opened to how black people, mostly men, are thrown into what Michelle Alexander refers to as a caste system, which is an extension of slavery and Jim Crow. If anything, Alexander warns us that if we don’t dismantle this system with an eye toward it being a caste system as she describes, then another caste system will replace it. At points I got a little lost in some of the legal cases, but otherwise it’s a good and definitely worthwhile read in looking at what is happening, and has been happening, in our country.
Finished: July 13, 2021

5. What a Body Can Do? How We Meet the Built World by Sara Hendren
I read this book for a book club, and it was great to discuss in a group setting. The book is written by a parent of a disabled child who works in design, and it’s about how to reimagine design for disability. It also weaves in issues in the disability community for a broader understanding of what’s at play. I enjoyed the focus on design, and the book sections deal with everything from limbs to the street to the clock, and through these designs you realize how so many of them would benefit everyone, regardless of disability. I think “Clock” was my favorite chapter because it brought up so many issues of how our world is structured that we think of as “normal” but can and probably should be changed. A major theme in the book, and with disability in general, is that disability will eventually affect most of us, so thinking in this way will only help everyone.
Finished: September 15, 2021

6. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
I was reading this at the same time as other books but it turned out to be a good book to put down and pick up again later as it’s basically like a book of short stories, or a book of myths. I loved the writing and perspectives in all the stories. The idea of the book is that it’s the story of the Trojan War told completely from the perspectives of the women in the stories. Some of the stories I knew well and some I didn’t know at all. The book as a whole didn’t have much forward momentum, so sometimes it would take a while for me to pick it back up again, and a few stories were not as interesting to me as the others, but as a whole I really enjoyed the book. A few stories in particular were reminders of how devastating war was/is for the women involved, and the final story of Andromache was a great way to end, showing how some devastated women still go on. It made me want to read more myths and the Iliad to look at how these stories were originally told and how others tell them. I read this book with my company book club, but at the time of the meeting had only read the first 100 pages. Everyone said they loved the book though, so it gave me motivation to stick with it, and I’m glad I did.
Finished: November 16, 2021

7. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter
I re-read this book in order to lead a discussion group for it at my workplace. I thought I remembered it, but I really only remembered bullet points. It was good for me to re-read it all again, this time discussing every chapter with others. It’s only been a few years since the first reading and since working on the opera that I initially read it as research for, but that time feels so far away. The Stonewall Operas was a significant project for me for my writing, and leading this discussion group was in my workplace life. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but there’s a lot in there to learn about and understand, both about those nights in June 1969 and about the political activism work that came after. Stonewall was over 50 years ago at this point, but there still seems a lot to explore about it, and I hope there’s more written about it in the years to come.
Finished: November 23, 2021

8. Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Loveby Marty Cagan
I read this book for a discussion group at my tech/finance company because I really do love reading and discussing books about product management, it’s just that all the books I’ve read about product management are kind of boring. Still, in the ones I’d read previously, there were interesting theories that I thought could be broadly applied. This one, not so much. It was more of a nuts and bolts of how to be a good product manager. Well, more the nuts, as it seemed like the bolts were missing. The book did get a bit more technical as it went along, but what it lacked pretty much throughout were examples. Occasionally there would be a 2-page case study or profile of a good product manager at a well-known company, and sometimes the author would describe something and add an extra sentence on how it could be applied, but for the most part the chapters just laid out broad guidelines without going too deep into examples of how it could be applied or had been applied for people in the past. If there’s anything I’ve learned about writing from people like Sondheim it’s that god is in the details–be specific! Maybe if I were already a product manager reading this book would be an easy course correct for anything I was already doing incorrectly, and maybe that’s this book’s audience and I should have read something else. But I think anyone should be able to read a book about something from the outside in, and using more examples throughout the book would have gone a long way in helping that along. That said, I know business books are written by people who aren’t really writers, but I CRAVE a business book written by a real writer. Like if Thornton Wilder or Victor Hugo wrote it. Now that would be something to read.
Finished: December 11, 2021

9. The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder edited by Edward M. Burns and Ulla E. Dydo with William Rice
I’ve long been interested in the relationship between my favorite writer Thornton Wilder and Gertrude Stein, whose work I mainly encounter in my yearly Modern and Contemporary American Poetry online course. Finally I picked up the book of their letters, which I’d gotten three years prior. There was a lot of backstory to their meeting–Stein was on a lecture tour in the U.S., Wilder was teaching at the University of Chicago, but once their relationship picked up I got to see the nuances of their personalities and what they got from each other. Stein seems hung up on conquering narrative, which Wilder excelled at, and Wilder seems enchanted by Stein’s ideas and theories, which found their way into the plays he was writing at the time. Stein comes across as a bit of an opportunist, and Wilder flits about Europe and America, which I knew from reading his biography. I read his biography in 2014 so I enjoyed returning it in this context, especially zeroing in on this particular period in his life when he’s around my age and writing his great plays. I also found fascinating the backdrop of World War II, both the lead up to it and the war itself, as little throwaway lines about each person’s politics crept into the letters. Stein’s politics and how she survived the war as an American Jew in occupied France were both new to me. Wilder loved letter writing as a form, and I enjoyed reading his actual letters, both for content and how they told the story of two friends from different continents coming together and apart during the second World War.
Finished: January 3, 2022.

10. A Turning Wind from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser by Muriel Rukeyser
Every year I read a poetry book and lately I’ve been making my way through The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser. This year it was the 1939 book A Turning Wind. While I always enjoy Rukeyser’s poetry, this book didn’t have anything in it that made it stand out to me. I did like the “Lives” section with poems about specific people, as the poems felt like they had a little more direction to them. That’s not always necessary, but I appreciated it in this collection. I usually read each poem twice but this time, because of time, I just read each poem once. I will probably go back and re-read these but wanted to get this book in for 2021, and I’m already a little over.
Finished: January 5, 2022

Short Stories:

Essays/Long Articles:
“WHAT BOBBY MCILVAINE LEFT BEHIND: Grief, conspiracy theories, and one family’s search for meaning in the two decades since 9/1” By Jennifer Senior

Online Classes:
ModPo, 9th Year (University of Pennsylvania)
Together We Lift the Sky: Abolition Study Group

Scene to Song
The Plot Thickens Season Three: Lucy
This is Reality
Three on the Aisle
Sunday Pancakes
Nice White Parents
Zack to the Future

And episodes of:
Poem Talk
The Original Cast with Patrick Flynn
Moonlighting the Podcast
Dance and Stuff (episode 124 with Tina Satter)
Oklahoma: Oklahoma is O.K.
New York Theatre Barn’s The Musicals of Tomorrow
Riffs and Scripts
On the Nose: A Jewish Currents Podcast
What’s Up Broadway?
Parenthood Pals
Maintenance Phase
Now & Then with Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman
You Are Good
Sounds Fake But Okay
Disney Inside Out
Superhero Ethics
The 10glo Show
Voicing Across Distance
You’re Wrong About
Broadway Refocused
Millennials are Killing Capitalism
Piece by Piece
Thesis on Joan
Buried Broadway
In the Spotlight
Little Known Facts
Decoder Ring
Death, Sex, & Money
Aria Code
Strong Songs

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