In some past years, I’ve set reading goals for myself–a certain number of books in a year. Somehow, when the pandemic hit, I stopped reading. I’m still not sure why. Normally I’m a voracious reader, but for those first couple of pandemic years, I just didn’t read much at all.
After a reading dry spell of a couple years, it felt intimidating to set a reading goal, so instead I decided just to keep track of the books I read. I’ve found that if I do this electronically, I won’t pay attention to it, so I kept a running list in the back of my journal.
I did set one criteria for the books I read last year. They had to be by writers other than straight white men. I read twenty-three books in all, which is far fewer than I’ve read in years past, but to just be reading again felt monumental.
I started with comfort food–Jane Austen’s Persuasion. This was a second read. The second time around, I was struck by how much of the book is about books, writing, and words. The story opens with the protagonist’s father obsessing over his own entry in a book of British gentry, and continues to unravel the theme of how we see and present ourselves through words and writing in the form of books, letters, and conversation, as well as the main character’s rich inner life.
The next book I read was a gift from my mom–The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1–The Howling. I read it aloud to Thing 2, who vastly prefers experiencing books this way. It was our bedtime reading, and it was delightful. The story recounts the adventures of Miss Penelope Lumley, who graduates from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females and becomes the governess to three remarkable, incorrigible children who were literally raised by wolves. Thing 2 and I both found it wildly entertaining, and over the course of last year, I read him the next three books in the series. We’ve just started Book 5–The Unmapped Sea, and are sad that there is only one more book in the series.
My second read for myself, at my brother’s enthusiastic recommendation, was T. J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea, which was hands-down my favorite book I read in 2022. I can’t say enough good things about it, so I’ll just say–read it. It is one of those books that I never stop thinking about. If you want recommendations for excellent LGBTQIA+ books and fun video tours of bookstores in various parts of the world, check out Will’s YouTube channel.
A couple of duologies were next on my list–first Daughter of the Pirate King and Daughter of the Siren Queen, by Tricia Levenseller. I loved the premise of these lady pirate books, but wasn’t as thrilled with the execution. Still, they were fun romps. I much preferred Adrienne Young’s Fable and Namesake, which center around an abandoned girl who makes her living diving for precious minerals. The worldbuilding was fascinating, and I’ve never read anything quite like these two books. They were also beautifully written.
My neighbor and I traded books at some point, and I read her copy of Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. I enjoyed it, but as I think back to August I don’t remember much about it. I think I need to read more Allende–I read her Zorro years ago, and that’s all her long fiction I’ve read. Definitely a gap in my literary education.
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, was a gift from my sister a few years ago. I finally made time to read it, and really appreciated it. Kimmerer’s balance of science and spirituality is very appealing to me, and her message is vitally important.
I continued reading my way through books I’d accumulated over the last few years, and finally picked up the massive Ursula K. LeGuin anthology that I bought at a World Fantasy Convention back before the pandemic. The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition contains magical illustrations by Charles Vess, who spoke at the convention. I gradually read my way through A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tales from Earthsea, Tehanu, and The Other Wind. These were re-reads–I read the Earthsea books as a child. While I loved them at the time, there was a depth and richness to them that I didn’t grasp back then–and a fascinating evolution in LeGuin’s writing. The anthology also contains all of LeGuin’s related short writings, as well as afterwords by her to each book, and these were incredibly illuminating.
LeGuin took me from summer to autumn, when I needed a book to take with me on our Thanksgiving travels and grabbed one from my shelf that I didn’t think I’d read–Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. I’d gotten far enough in to be hooked when I realized that I had in fact already read it–but I didn’t remember how it ended. So I kept going–devoured it. It has everything I love about Jane Eyre with a much less problematic relationship dynamic. Still problematic, but way less so. That set me on a Bronte kick. I reread Jane Eyre, and then, out of Charlotte close at hand (note to self: buy all remaining Charlotte books), turned to Anne. Agnes Grey was yet another reread, and I loved it even more the second time. I looked for more Bronte books in a local bookstore but couldn’t find any I hadn’t read, so I ordered The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. While I waited, suffering from a massive Bronte book hangover, I turned to Jane Austen, completely forgetting that that was where my 2022 reading had started. I reread Sense and Sensibility and then Mansfield Park, which I had forgotten was so utterly hilarious.
In an effort to expand my literary horizons (and because I needed something to read while I waited for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), I picked up my husband’s copy of Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie. I can’t remember the last time I read sci-fi–I don’t, usually. So far, I am finding it challenging and enjoyable. So this is my in-progress first read of the new year.
My takeaways from a year of reading:
~I love me some Jane Austen. Certain British novels will always be my literary comfort food.
~Maybe I am kind of a snob? I tend to like older stuff better than newer stuff. Is my brain just old??
~Charlotte Bronte was a freaking rebel genius.
~I need to read more recent fiction.
~I need to read everything T. J. Klune has ever written.
~Ursula K. LeGuin is my queen.
~It’s time to expand my library. Again.
~I would love your recommendations!