If your job is to work with books all day, then what do you spend time reading?
As a person who isn’t a big fan of new years’ resolutions, instead I’ve started doing reading challenges. In this way, it is a non-traditional way of setting those goals for myself. As always, diversity is a major focus of the books on my list, even if I stick to a limited genre range or read several titles by the same author. Doing so can help me with my goals of working towards being more compassionate or making the effort to be more understanding and culturally competent.
This year, I challenged myself to read 52 books and 18,000 pages. Honestly, I accomplished this by mostly listening instead of picking up physical copies.
Some brief statistics on my title list in review: In terms of page count, most of my selections (75%) were between 300-499 pages. Only a few (25%) totaled less than 300 pages. I didn’t manage to pull off any 500+ titles, but I got close enough. The majority (89%) of them were fiction books, mostly mysteries and young adult novels.
My most-read authors were:
- Julie Mulhern (7)
- Maureen Johnson (4)
- Holly Jackson (2)
- Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2)
Here’s my abbreviated title list in review:
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae – 224 pages
The autobiography of television writer and producer Issa Rae; her hilarious memoir provided me with a good bit of laugh-out-loud moments this year. Named after her web series, it retells her life growing up in Oakland, CA as the child of a mother from Louisiana and a Senegalese immigrant father- being awkward and Black. I really liked this book because it reminded me so much of my friend group in college, many of them first-generation Americans of African parents. Our 20-something misadventures were that of an experience as Black women that our parents couldn’t understand or relate to. Moreover, it was the humbling reminder that I, a bumbling 20-something Black girl, will end up fine even if my life seems like a mess.
The 7 (and a half) Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – 480 pages
Most of the reviews of this book summarized it as “a paranormal retelling of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie”. That descriptor instantly earned a spot on my TBR list. This is the story of Aidan Bishop- in his many forms- and his quest to solve the murder of the mysterious Evelyn Hardcastle. This narrative combined some of my favorite literary elements: multiple unreliable perspectives, a race against time, a setting that functions as a character, a twist at the end, and other classic components of gothic literature. Turton masterfully creates a character development arc despite the alternating narrators; encouraging the reader to meditate on moral quandaries. Is the goodness of my soul determined by more than my actions? What would it take for me to be redeemed? Even though it took me a long time to finish this book, I enjoyed the diligence it required- close reading passages, going back to check on my hunches about clues, and piecing together events from multiple points of view.
My top non-fiction book
1968 by Mark Kurlansky
As I look over my choice literature from this year, my selections express a need to escape, dramatize my mundane existence, or explore the experience of living through a unique period in history. 1968 is the story of that fateful year in culture and international politics. Although Kurlanksy does not deprive the reader of necessary context, he keeps the events centered in that time period. His analysis mostly focuses on the (in)famous student protests of this year. Working at a college, it is important for me to understand the cultural phenomenon that is campus life. A difficult task, the author tasks his audience with being aware that history has a selective memory. It was the beginning of so many ends as well as the initial spark to shifts that society can never forget or reverse. Particularly, I appreciated the extended examination of the Prague Spring- as so many narratives of this time focus on the American and Western European experience. Alternating between hemispheres is important to the book’s purpose- progressive politics in a totalitarian state as compared to the experiences of marginalized and privileged people in a society that struggles to contain and resist the movement for change.
My book of the year!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
As someone who reads mostly fiction, the edition of this book that ended up on my TBR list was the one with lots of pictures. As the pandemic stretches on, I find myself gravitating towards historical examinations of important scientific breakthroughs to further my understanding of concepts that are well beyond my comprehension. It is easy to forget that behind breakthroughs in medicine, that often comes with a human cost. When Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins with an apparent case of cervical cancer, her biopsied cells were harvested. The He-La strain later became essential to medical research for its growth potential, while Henrietta Lacks died in an unmarked grave. What makes this book so well-written is Skloot’s care for the subject and her family. Her discussion of the history of medical racism in the United States and segregation in Baltimore bring much-needed context to the story. Skloot’s journalistic background builds the book on interviews with the Lacks family- making their understanding of how their relative has contributed to biomedical research a narrative arc of its own which values, above all, its resolution.