Not much makes me happier than thinking about books and reading. It’s been a good year. I would love to hear what everyone has read, been challenged by reading, or enjoyed. I upped my game this year and reviewed every book I read on Goodreads (some at much more length than others).
I pulled together some stats, some from Goodreads and some on my own, which gave me pause. It appears I have lots of defaults:
- 52% of the books I read were by white authors
- 58% were fiction
- 60% were by female authors
- 78% were print copies
- 82% were by straight, cis authors (or those who chose not to identify as LGBTQ+ in their bios or interviews)
- 88% were from the library
So, whenever I am looking for something to read, most of the time I will find a library book in the fiction section (physical copy) by a straight, cis, white woman!
Now, you might think the library is biased in favour of such books. I would say not – at least, not my library. Their range is really good. It is more likely my bias, that I see or seek out books similar to ones I’ve already enjoyed, or they just catch my eye and I think, “That looks good!” without pausing to consider, “I should expand my tastes.” However, I do catch myself sometimes, and that results in many of my best reading experiences.
I looked up the background of every author whose works I read this year, and saw that I had read 14 works by Asian authors, of whom 9 wrote about experiences of being Asian and 5 did not. I read 6 books by Black authors and 3 by Indigenous authors. Of 11 LGBTQ+ authors, ten of them wrote about queer or trans experience. Interestingly, of the 13 Canadian authors whose books I read, eight of them wrote about experiences of being Canadian or living in Canada. My list was very lacking this year in books by Central or South American authors, American and Mexican Latinx writers, and writers from Arab countries.
Here is a view of all the fiction I read this year, including two books of poetry and a graphic novel for young teens:
My hands-down favourite book was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. Have you read Kristen Roupenian’s book You Know You Want This? Both books of short stories are unsettling and veer into creepiness and mild horror, especially body horror, which I didn’t know existed until this year. I have zero interest in horror novels, which I equate with fear-creation and violence: not things I want to experience. But the feelings in Machado’s book are more like the sickly things you already think about, taken to a further extreme. Plus, the stories are woman-centred, feminist, do not lean toward cis and straight, and are full of imagery. I am not a body-centred person, or centred on emotions either (what is left, you ask?) so this was all new ground for me. I tried to listen to the audiobook but the writing was so good, I just had to see it on the page, so I switched to a print copy!
My next favourite book was Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. A dour 60-something villager looks after neighbours’ homes in the off-season, and notices something is afoot. Duszejko’s passions for William Blake and astrology are much more real to her than any present-day human, and we find out where her real loyalties lie. Not for everyone (it is truly weird) but I adored it.
I read four books from before the current era, which some might call classics, since they have survived into our own age. They were:
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
A young socialite in New York does the right thing by marrying well, but he is drawn to his wife’s (scandalously) divorced cousin, who was also his childhood friend. The story dwells on his anguish and indecision, while he maintains his very comfortable life.
The book has a contemporary sensibility but it didn’t keep my attention throughout. I later watched the 1993 movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer, none of whom I would have imagined in those roles!
The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
Sci-fi and absurdity hand-in-hand, for which Vonnegut is known. I liked the commentary on celebrity and consumerism, but some key plot points are very disturbing, and the book doesn’t translate well to the 21st century.
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
A poignant novel in which an intellectually challenged man becomes the subject of medical experiments and gains “intelligence,” realizing what his life had been lacking. I had read this in high school and I feel it has stood the test of time.
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
A war story, riddled with absurdities throughout, making a point about war being pointless. This is one of the most challenging books I’ve read because of the circular conversations (akin to “Who’s on First?”), repetition, and the type of humour. I had a hard time finishing it, but persevered.
On to cheerful fare! By far the most fun book I read this year was:
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Everyone is reading this funny mystery about a young woman living in a traditional household, whose mom and aunts discreetly come to the rescue when she murders a guy by mistake. Hits the “home country” culture angle just right. Headed for Netflix!
Another light, fast-paced mystery is The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett, in which Queen Elizabeth 2, at age 90, quietly solves a palace crime with far-reaching implications.
For deeper contemplation, two Canadian queer authors both published books of letters this year. Ivan Coyote comes from a storytelling background and does a lot of tours in which they provide inspirational and educational talks on LGBTQ+ inclusion. In Care Of, Ivan answers fan letters and writes public letters to people who need them. Ivan reveals a lot of personal history and reassures others they’ll be OK. Meanwhile, in Missed Connections, Brian Francis writes letters to men who answered his gay personal ad decades ago, that he didn’t have the courage to write or send at the time. The letters form a history of a gay man’s life-and-times over several decades. Both are very moving books with heavy and light passages.
In literary fiction, I had two favourites:
Butter Honey Pig Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi
(Nigeria and Canada) Twins separated by different experiences, different continents, different ways of loving, and different ways of being loved by their intense mother. Packs a punch!
Love After Love – Ingrid Persaud
(Trinidad and USA) A widowed mom, her hard-to-reach son (so realistic!) and a house guest who becomes much more. But not what you think! I love how this book breaks expectations – and hearts.
My nonfiction reading this year featured four books on food and nutrition, one on mushrooms and one on microbes…a good mix! Here is a view of all the titles:
I wish you many, many hours of engrossing reading in 2022. What were your most notable titles this year?