Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 book year in review

 Well, 2020 was... a year. I will leave it at that.

Despite everything, I still managed to read 70 books, which was actually slightly up from 2019. Here's the author breakdown:


Female

Male

Trans Man

Grand Total

Asian American

3

3


6

Black

14

6


20

Latinx

2

3


5

Middle Eastern

5

2


7

Multiracial

7

1


8

Native

2



2

White

12

9

1

22

Grand Total

45

24

1

70


I slipped a bit in gender diversity:

Time period

Authors that aren’t cis males

Childhood

39%

High School

18%

College

56%

Post-College to 2016

41%

2016

69%

2017 and 2018

68%

2019

79%

2020

66%

Overall

57%


But I improved a bit in racial diversity, and definitely made up for not reading any multiracial authors in 2019:

Time period

Asian & Asian-

American

Black

Latinx

Middle Eastern

Native

Mult-

iracial

White

Childhood

0.6%

1.8%

0.6%

0%

0%

-

97%

High School

0%

3.7%

0%

1.2%

0%

-

95.1%

College

1.4%

2.9%

2.9%

11.4%

1.4%

-

80%

Post-College to 2016

2.1%

22.4%

2.8%

4.2%

0%

-

65%

2016

8.5%

22.3%

11.7%

11.7%

4.3%

-

33%

2017 and 2018

4.5%

36.4%

4.5%

3.0%

1.5%

6.1%

43.9%

2019

14.2%

24%

9.5%

9.5&

6.3%

-

34.9%

2020

8.6%

28.6%

7.1%

10%

2.9%

11.4%

31.4%

Overall

3.1%

12.7%

3.4%

4.2%

1.2%

2.3%

72.4%


My favorite novels of the past year were:
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It follows the life stories of many different Black British women who are connected to each other in various ways (e.g. best friends, mothers and daughters, former classmates, etc...). Each story is beautiful in itself, and the way they fit together in increasingly complex patterns is really impressive. I really loved it, and stayed up late reading it because it was hard to put down. It was also interesting to get stories of what it's like to be Black in the UK, since mostly when I read Black authors they are American.
  • Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby. This was the funny, smart but not self-serious book I needed over the summer. I then went out and read everything else by Samantha Irby, who is a national treasure.
My favorite nonfiction books of the year were:
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. I consider myself fairly well-read about things like the history of segregation in the US, and this book still blew my mind with tons of info I had no idea about. For example, I didn't know that the government often created segregation where it didn't previously exist - there were many meticulously documented examples of government housing projects destroying successfully integrated working-class communities to build either all-white suburbs or all-Black slums, and legally preventing people of the other race from returning to their former home. His central argument is that federal, state, and local governments played an active role in creating and deepening residential segregation for most of the 20th century in violation of the 14th amendment, and so the government has a constitutional requirement to rectify the segregation that exists today as a direct result of their actions. Now if only we lived in a world where that was actually likely to happen...
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book since I'm not usually an outdoors person, but the rapturous way she writes about nature and ecology made me want to go live on a farm. Her writing is beautiful and she weaves lessons about life into the lessons from the plants. Her writing about motherhood resonated a lot too.
  • Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch. This was another fun read for my pandemic-addled mind. There were lots of random insights that crystallized things I'd noticed but never quite put together - e.g. emojis serve the same role in written communication that gestures do in verbal communication. I also learned the term "familect" for the unique dialect spoken within a family, which as a family with a newly-verbal toddler we have a lot of.
I am trying to have no expectations or predictions about 2021, but hopefully a year from now I will at least have read some more good books to report back on.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 book year in review

I actually read a decent number of books last year - more than one per week on average! Still not back to my pre-baby peak, but much better than the last two years. Here's the author breakdown:

Female
Male
Multiple authors
Grand Total
Asian
1


1
Asian American
6
2

8
Black
13
2

15
Latinx
6


6
Middle Eastern
4
2

6
Multiple authors


1
1
Native
3
1

4
White
15
6
1
22
Grand Total
48
13
2
63

It was my best year yet for gender diversity:
Time period
Authors that aren’t cis males
Childhood
39%
High School
18%
College
56%
Post-College to 2016
41%
2016
69%
2017 and 2018
68%
2019
79%
Overall
58%

Racial diversity was up too - although I didn't realize until right now that I didn't read any multiracial authors :/  I'll have to try and remedy that next year.
Time period
Asian & Asian-
American
Black
Latinx
Middle Eastern
Native
Multi-
racial
White
Childhood
0.6%
1.8%
0.6%
0%
0%
-
97%
High School
0%
3.7%
0%
1.2%
0%
-
95.1%
College
1.4%
2.9%
2.9%
11.4%
1.4%
-
80%
Post-College to 2016
2.1%
22.4%
2.8%
4.2%
0%
-
65%
2016
8.5%
22.3%
11.7%
11.7%
4.3%
-
33%
2017 and 2018
4.5%
36.4%
4.5%
3.0%
1.5%
6.1%
43.9%
2019
14.2%
24%
9.5%
9.5&
6.3%
-
34.9%
Overall
2.6%
11.5%
3.1%
3.8%
1.1%
1.3%
75.8%

My two (and a half) favorite novels of the past year were:
  • A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. The story of an Indian American family as the three first-generation kids grow into adulthood. It's hard to describe how beautiful it is - I read it over the summer and I'm still thinking about certain scenes. It will have you in tears over seemingly mundane details of family life. The author is an incredibly keen observer of people and how they interact, and the various ways we can end up hurting the people we love most out of desire to protect them.
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. This is a modern retelling of Antigone, which I did not know when I picked it up, so I was completely shocked by the ending. It follows the story of a British Muslim teen who has run away to join ISIS and been killed. His family wants to bring his body home to the UK for burial, but the government won't let them. It's beautifully written and has you feeling like you personally know the characters by the end of it.
  • The "half" is two books by authors I listed as favorites last year - Exhalation, which is Ted Chiang's new book of excellent short stories, and The Dreamblood Duology, which is a two-book series by the always amazing NK Jemisin. It feels like cheating to count them as new favorites though, since I already recommended them recently.
My favorite nonfiction books of the year were:
  • On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Bliss. This book is hard to describe - it's part history, part ethnography, part philosophy, and part personal reflection about the role of vaccination in society, and more broadly how we think of risk and how we think of our bodies and their relation to the community and world we live in. She had lots of unexpected insights for what I thought was going to be just a straightforward recitation of facts, and her background is as a poet so her prose writing style is really lovely.
  • Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold. The story of a family in Southwestern Pennsylvania as a fracking site opens up next to their farm and proceeds to destroy their land and their lives, and their desperate attempts to stop it or at least get compensation are basically completely fruitless after many years. I thought I knew about fracking, but it's so much worse than I realized - including how straight-up evil the oil companies are and how feckless the EPA is.
  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller (aka Emily Doe). Her victim impact statement went viral in 2016 because of her powerful writing, and her book is just as well-written an impactful. It made me extra happy that I live in Santa Clara county and was able to vote to recall the judge that handed down such a short sentence to the rapist.
Lastly, I've started a fun project of reading as many diverse retellings of Pride and Prejudice as possible. So far I've read Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal (set in contemporary Pakistan) and Pride by Ibi Zoboi (set in an Afro-Latinx family in Bushwick). It's really cool to see how the authors keep the same basic structure of the story, while changing many of the characters and details to fit into different settings (as a small example: in the original book the family's last name is Bennet, in the Pakistan version it's Binat, and in the Brooklyn version it's Benitez). I'm on the library waiting list for a third retelling, Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which is set in a Muslim community in modern Canada. If you know of any other good ones, let me know!