Friday, January 14, 2022

2021 book year in review

While 2021 wasn't a great year for a lot of things, it was a pretty great year for reading for me. I spent the first four months funemployed during a pandemic, leaving me with little to do but sit at home and read all day. For the first time since I've been tracking, I broke 100 books in a year!


Woman

Man

Trans Woman

Trans Man

Nonbinary

Multiple authors

Grand Total

Asian and Asian American

7

14





21

Black

17

4





21

Latinx

8

2





10

Middle Eastern

4

4





8

Multiracial

4

1



1


6

Native

5

1





6

White

19

15

1

1



36

Multiple authors






3

3

Grand Total

64

41

1

1

1

3

111


Gender diversity was pretty similar to last year:

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%

2021

63%

Overall

59%


Racial diversity was too, although I read more books by authors of Asian descent:

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%

2021

18.9%

18.9%

9.0%

7.2%

5.4%

5.4%

32.4%

Overall

6.6%

13.3%

4.1%

2.6%

1.7%

2.6%

68.3%


My favorite fiction books of the year were:
  • Transcendent Kingdom byYaa Gyasi. I loved her earlier novel Homegoing so I had high expectations for this one, and I wasn't disappointed. The protagonist is a neuroscience student, which resonated with my undergrad experience in a fun way, and the writing and character development are fantastic. I particularly liked the meditations on the relation between science and religion.
  • Everything by Kazuo Ishiguro, especially The Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, and The Remains of the Day. I know I am several decades late on this one, but holy crap he is an amazing writer (there's a reason he won the Nobel Prize in Literature!). I had to just sit and think for several days after finishing each of his books. I especially liked his play on the fantasy genre in The Buried Giant.
My favorite nonfiction books of the year were:
  • Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener. It's a memoir of her time at various startups and tech companies in Silicon Valley, and it is... uncanny... in how accurately it captures many of my experiences since moving here. It felt like she was spying on me and writing about my life, but in a more literary and insightful way than I ever could.
  • The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee. I've read a lot of books about race and racism in the US over the years, but this one approached the topic in a way that was new and eye-opening to me. She opens with the story of how most American towns used to have huge, well-maintained, and popular community pools, but when they were ordered to desegregate they drained the pools rather than integrate, thus making life worse for everyone - even the white people. She then goes on to show that this "drained pool politics" is basically the reason we can't have nice things that other Western countries have, and includes a ton of interesting policy history that I didn't know. She also includes lots of damning studies, like how more segregated cities are also more polluted - when there is a "Black part of town" to put all the factories, power plants, landfills, etc... there isn't much attention paid to mitigating their environmental impact, which results in worse air and water quality for everyone in the city.
  • Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 by Sarah Schulman. This book is an oral history of an activist group working to end the AIDS epidemic as it was first starting to emerge and be understood. It is fascinating both as a window into a history that I knew very little about, and a manual about how successful social movements happen. ACT UP included everyone from rich white gay men who used their connections to lobby pharmaceutical companies about pricing and clinical trial practices, to poor queer women of color who organized community clinics, needle exchanges, and ad hoc hospice care for AIDS patients, to periodic mass convenings of people that convened on places like the CDC and Catholic churches to protest. Everyone had a role to play based on their skills, resources, and contributions, but the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives is ultimately what led to the group's fracturing after several years. It was yet another book where every few pages I learned something new that I couldn't believe I had never been taught or heard of before, which is what makes great nonfiction. The theme of a previously unknown virus causing a pandemic with massive societal repercussions also strongly resonated given the past two years.
This year is off to a rough start with Omicron already having caused one preschool closure, so between that and me having a full-time job I'm not expecting to read as many books in 2022, but here's hoping I still have time for some great ones before the next variant emerges.

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.