Like many of us, I’ve found the pandemic greatly enhanced my reading life, allowing me to attend many more online book groups and author readings than I ever could have in person and to read more than 200 books over the past two years, with more and more of them being “read” as audiobooks. Some of these books were so fantastic I wanted to take a moment to recommend them. And I wanted to share what I’ve learned about my reading habits and how I hope that will affect my reading goals for 2022.
I counted up and categorized everything I read by genre and author, by gender and race and topic, and discovered, no surprise, that I read mostly literary fiction and thrillers by white women – but few, if any, of those books made my list of favorites. So I was happy to see that I’ve increased the number of books I read by Black authors and other POC by 5 percent over the past two years from 24 percent in 2020 to 29 percent in 2021, and I hope to continue hitting about a 70/30 split in my reading this year. Having this as a goal can help guide my choices as I’m deciding between two books. Since I’ve now joined Netgalley, become a regular user of my library app Libby, and am an avid user of the amazing app Scrib’d, having to be judicious in my reading choices is a daily concern.
Deciding to read more books by authors of color is not an act of altruism; it’s a direct benefit to me. Turns out my favorite novels tackle issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and/or or the environmental crisis, and in my experience, authors of color are more likely to include these subjects as part of their storylines. It’s not that I love reading about depressing topics, but books about something bigger than navel gazing (e.g., infidelity, murder solving, family secrets) are just more compelling and make for a better read. Plus in deft authorial hands, these subjects are not depressing; seeing brave characters confront challenges and overcome them is inspiring.
I used to think I didn’t like non-fiction, but as I’m aging, I’m coming to enjoy more memoirs, plus reading more poetry and discovering several excellent books about how to be more anti-racist have increased the number of non-fiction books I’ve read, too. I also am surprised to see how many of the books I’ve enjoyed have been speculative or sci-fi books, as I hadn’t previously thought of myself as a fan of sci-fi; this is probably because of the surging popularity of near-future dystopias.
I am a high grader on Goodreads, giving most books I finish a four or a five, but that’s because I don’t finish a lot of crappy books. (Life’s too short.) But of all the five-star reviews I’ve given, only a dozen or so novels are still sharp in my mind, all books I would definitely highly recommend if you’re looking for a good read. Here they are, starting with the most recently read. Each one links back to my Goodreads review.
The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe – Two misfit, outcast kids with no stable parents, one a gay boy and one a freakishly tall girl, become best friends and help one another through high school until their paths painfully diverge.
And here are my top 10 favorite non-fiction reads of the past two years, which I am disappointed to see doesn't include any poetry, something I will also focus on more in the year ahead:
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents -- A master class in presenting a well-supported, compelling argument. Makes clear how much our society is based on an unspoken system of racial caste.
Take some time to think about what your favorite reads have been since the start of the pandemic. What subjects stand out? Which authors? I am surprised to see that even though less than 30 percent of the novels I read were by people of color, 50 percent of my favorites were. How might studying the breakdown of what you’ve been reading affect your own reading choices for 2022? I'm excited that this examination of my own reading has helped guide my reading for the year ahead.
Happy reading, everybody! I love to talk about books almost as much as I love to read them, so please share your own thoughts and recommendations in the comments.