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What I’m Reading, (Most of) 2021 Edition

It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these, hasn’t it? Almost a year, in fact.

While I did read some good books over the past nine-ish months, most of them were fine. Here are the standouts.

Fiction

The Rosie Result by Graeme Simison: I loved the first Rosie Project book and was indifferent on the second, but the third book was a heartwarming ending to the trilogy. It’s ten years later and Don and Rosie’s son is having trouble at school, especially in social situations. We finally hear the word autism, something readers of the first two books have suspected the whole time. I can’t speak for the autism representation from an ownvoices perspective, but the story addresses the power of labels and whether a diagnosis is necessary to consider yourself autistic. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of other stuff going on in the story as well, like Hudson using his talents for profit and Don and Rosie opening a bar.

The Seven-Day Switch by Kelly Harms: This was the Mommy Wars version of Freaky Friday and I still enjoyed this despite not being a mom or having any desire to be one. Two neighboring moms switch places for a week and they couldn’t be more different: a stay-at-home mom with the perfect husband who seems like the perfect mom and a busy business owner mom who has it all with her business but her family doesn’t help with anything. And you know what, it works. It definitely fit the “light reading when my air conditioner fan broke during a heat wave” criteria. It’s not high literature, whatever that means, but it’s a fun read.

Kindred by Octavia Butler: Damn. This is a classic for a reason. I knew going in that this would be a heavy read (hello, it’s about a Black woman traveling back in time to the antebellum South), but I wasn’t prepared for how heavy, or how much the book would make me think about everything. I don’t even know what to say besides what numerous scholars have already pointed out: the slaves’ own complex stories, the shift in human behavior as Dana and Kevin find themselves in the past for longer, experiencing firsthand the brutality that the slaves experienced, comparing the past to the present and noticing how little yet how much progress has been made… This book is a perfect connection between the past and the present. Go read it. I’m going to finish the rest of Butler’s books. (I still have Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling left.)

The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells: I’m lumping all the Murderbot books into one entry here. There are five novellas and a novel so far, and you can speed through one of the novellas in an evening or less. Murderbot is a SecUnit, a cyborg that provides security for humans going on missions, but Murderbot hacked its governor module so it can’t be fully controlled by humans and loves watching soap operas. Murderbot is dark, witty, and sarcastic; you can read some of its quotes (spoilers abound) on a @MurderBotBot Twitter feed. Its relationship with humans is ever-evolving as the series goes on, and Murderbot changes a lot throughout the books, especially as the story turns toward corporate evil.

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang: I feel Seen(TM). Expected to perform and be a specific person all the time, putting on a mask saying yes I can do this thing when really I just… don’t, personal hangups about who how you present yourself, pressure to keep going with your specific talent (internal or external)… damn. I was sobbing during parts of the book and I don’t care who knows. Even though this book is a romance it’s not all happy; the second half gets into some deep dark non-romantic stuff.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: This was a book club selection. You’ve probably thought about the person you would be in another life: if you said yes or no to that thing, if you went out with someone else or broke up with them sooner or cut off that person. How would that have changed your life? That’s what this book centers on, bookended (see what I did there?) by a hopeless main character wanting to die (so trigger warning for suicide, by the way). We see a lot of what ifs in Nora’s life: what if she went through with her band? What if she became a glaciologist? What if she went on that trip to Australia? She gets to live all these lives and more but then discovers certain things in her life that she expected never happened because it’s a different life now. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’d probably feel the same way. Having a different life seems like a good idea, but the moment I find out certain friends are gone, or I never did NaNoWriMo, or I actually became an alcoholic math professor, I’m out. Also, this book could be comped as two books I’ve already drafted and if that doesn’t get my butt in gear, nothing will.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: I watched the movie last year and enjoyed it, but the movie is far different from the book. They’re both really good, just different. The first half of the book felt like the movie, but that changed as the book went one; the book got darker for one. I recommend both, just don’t expect them to be the same.

Nonfiction

Last year was a much better year for nonfiction, interestingly.

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck: I remember learning about intersectionality in my college women’s studies class. As with all things that can completely change a worldview, I didn’t get it at first. This book is an explanation, so many years after I did start getting it. Breaking the glass ceiling has been a goal for white women through history, concentrating on what the individual woman can do and not on how we can lift all women up. We never hear about missing Indigenous women. Women of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, often working the low-paying jobs that can’t be done from home. All those women in X events are expensive, which means only well-off women can afford them, and let’s face it, those events aren’t all that diverse. (I would know; I’ve been to a few.) Wealthy white women rely on the labor of women of color in order to become more successful. On and on it goes. Step one is recognizing there’s a problem. Step two is acting up. White women (and hell, men), read this.

The Making of Asian America: A History and America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States by Erika Lee: I’m combining these two books since they’re both immigration books by the same author. These are two long histories of what it says on the tin, and they go deep. The author is a history professor, so that’s no surprise. But I was surprised at how accessible the topics were despite being so indepth. I only wish I had read these books in dead tree or ebook format instead of listened to them because they were still a lot to take in.

Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price: I found myself yelling “YES! SO MUCH THIS!” while reading this book, which got awkward after awhile because I listened to this book and was usually out walking around and wearing earbuds. Oops. Anyway, the premise of this book is that we don’t know what other people are going through. The person who looks lazy may be struggling with depression or executive function or poverty or anything else that takes up a lot of spoons. (Side note: the author points out that being homeless is a lot of fucking work.) We need to stop shaming ourselves for being lazy when what we really need is a break. (I’m still working on this one.)

Miseducated: My Journey by Brandon Fleming: The title doesn’t refer to a cult; it refers to what he learned was important and how he (and many poor Black youth) learned that wrong due to his upbringing. Brandom Fleming wasn’t uneducated; he was miseducated. He was educated on drugs and thinking basketball would help him make it big but those turned out to be the wrong things. He survived abuse, poverty, depression, a suicide attempt, and failure after failure to become a teacher and founder of the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Program. This story stuck with me because it was local. I know the school he taught at. Atlanta is one of the most unequal cities in the country, and Fleming’s program takes talented Black high schoolers and trains them in debate so they can compete in Harvard’s summer debate program. He’s smart, he’s direct, and his story is stark and awe-striking at the same time.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody: It’s no secret that I hate outlining with a passion. I can’t say this book made me like outlining, but it did make me view plotting in a different way. Yes, sometimes the basic plots are formulaic but that’s for a reason. It’s how stories get told. This book made me think about the types of stories I’m trying to tell and how I can do that more effectively, and I’m trying to work that into my editing.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado PĂ©rez: Women and data. My home. This book breaks down some of the data gaps because no one thought to test on women because the male is the default. Like how the default crash test dummy has an “average” male body, which not only ignores women but anyone significantly bigger or smaller than average. Or how men tend to design public transit systems but women use public transit more, so public transit often goes out from cities. Great for going to and from work, but not so great for going to the store and picking up the kids and stopping by the post office. And guess who’s more likely to do those things. Here’s your book’s worth of evidence that the world was designed by men, for men.

Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks: I read this soon after bell hooks died, realizing I hadn’t read anything by her yet. This book is one of the big works on Black feminism. hooks makes the argument that the feminist movement was predominantly white and middle/upper-class, leaving behind women of color and poor women (who often happen to be both). She also looks at stereotypes of Black women throughout the slavery era and how that contributed to the contemporary image of Black women.

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