Books I Read This Year

I believe books say so much about a person. From these you can glean: curious, irreverent, nerdy

Books I read in 2011
Books I read in 2012
Books I read in 2013
Books I read in 2014
Books I read in 2015
Books I read in 2016
Books I read in 2017
Books I read in 2018
Books I read in 2019
Books I read in 2020
Books I read in 2021

When I initially began this project, my intent was to try to fit more books into my busy life and to gain a little encouragement by seeing my lists grow. It was more successful than I expected it would be, and I have been reading many more books than I expected to be able to. My second goal was to help gain a better breadth of genres, so I will continue to try to improve that aspect. Please drop a recommendation into the comments if you know of a book that should be read!

Full disclosure:

Most of the time I read audio books on my iPhone. I love you, audible.com! Though I value holding a book above all other forms of reading, it isn’t practical in my life.  Always the multitasker, I read stories (and listen to NPR, BBC, and Link TV) while washing dishes, working in the garden, jammed in standing-room-only on the bus, mowing the lawn, going for a run, folding clothes. An unexpected bonus is that I now look forward to folding the laundry and washing dishes! Another bonus is that I am able to enjoy the impressive voice talents of many narrators. It adds an important dimension to books that I haven’t experienced before.

My reading dropped off drastically during the pandemic – not sure why. But for what’s it’s worth, I’m still reading! The following are books I read so far this year. If you want to see what I read in other years, hit the links above.

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Finally! It’s March and I finally read a book. I can’t explain why my reading has slowed down so drastically, but anyway… This one should have been a book I liked, because it is science fiction and set a little way into the future, so I recognize everything. It’s sort of post-apocalyptic, but no one “event” ever happened. It’s chillingly close to our current situation of wealth disparity, racism, hopelessness, climate change, and clueless politicians, and everything just got worse to the point of breaking. It’s set in a future where the wealthy have been able to spend their way into some sense of normalcy, some sense of clinging to the past, but many many people who used to be middle class are the new poor, and work thankless jobs to buy fiercely expensive water and mend their own clothes and grow their own food when they can or else starve. The previously poor, forget about it. They are slaves or prostitutes, but probably dead. So the protagonist, a teenage girl, decides she has to leave her suburb of LA and go north to seek a better life. The book sets up the terrible situation at home and shows the reader why she must go, then the rest of the book is her going. There is a second story, of the protagonist inventing a religion, in which she finds parallels to sowing seeds and growing things and harvesting. For all this focus on growing food, it was a little annoying that the people in the book apparently have ripe fruit and vegetables all year round, fresh pears in January and such. Maybe that’s how it works in southern California, I shouldn’t judge. The story was too slow, basically following people day by day as they walk north, with some chaos thrown in. There was an earthquake where Californians totally overreact, there’s a wildfire that is described well, there’s free water available as they get north of San Francisco, which is legit. There’s drugs and violence. Anyway, the religion started to seem like the main reason the author wrote the book, and I could barely stand it. I’m staunchly atheist and this constant talk of God and Bible-like verses, and the reactions of people to the new religion was so annoying. I think the idea of the religion was fine: get used to change, you are your own destiny, etc. is great. That’s how I live my life right now. So why make a religion out of it?
  2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Enjoyable. I questioned the failure to address another perspective of why the Count was on house arrest to begin with. The book didn’t really cover what led up to the revolt and the conditions outside the hotel, and I would have liked to learn more about it than what could be gleaned in the story. I found interesting irony that apparently, he was there – and not killed – because he published a poem under his name instead of Mishka’s, when his friend Mishka was afraid of getting into trouble. Overall I enjoyed the writing and the characters very much, and I couldn’t help but think about Russia as I read the book. I wish I had learned more about Russia in the story, but rather I was reminded of the deep goodness and humanity of some people that can be found in every single country in the world, even Russia in 2022. It was also funny and entertaining, and what a clever tool for the author to use: keeping the man within the walls of a single hotel, so that the scope could plausibly be narrowed down so far that we were forced to think only about personalities and relationships. It was lovely.
  3. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. This is a re-released edition of Sanderson’s first published book ever. It’s a very cool story, and this edition has Sanderson’s comments about writing it, and as a gift he gives us chapters and scenes that were deleted from the final version. A strange catastrophe happened ten years earlier, and the occupants of the city of Elantris suddenly lost their powers to create, mend, feed, and heal. Neighboring cities were thrown into chaos when they could no longer rely on Elantris to guide them. People are still afflicted by the condition that wipes out powers, and the afflicted are easily detected by the changes on their skin and their loss of hair. These people are thrown into the city of Elantris, which becomes a leper colony of sorts. Characters include a clever princess who knows the power she wields, a prince afflicted and thrown into the city at the beginning of the story who begins to build hope in the community, a terrible king, a good uncle, a wicked priest – isn’t there always a delicious wicked priest. Unlike his later epics, Sanderson pretty much wraps it up in a single volume, and we get some explanation, some unscrambled misunderstandings, some revenge, some resolution, and yeah – sweet love and a marriage between two people who should be together.
  4. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. The main character, Marie, is awake (thankfully), when an intruder breaks into her house in the night and attacks her. She tells her scared little boys it’s ok, and dispatches the intruder. The police come and ask all the questions and let her know they’ll be following up. Marie knows that her chances of getting a fair chance at justice as a black American spy are slim, and decides to leave the country. She goes to the island of Martinique to be with her mom, and she decides she needs to leave again to settle unfinished business. Before she goes, as insurance, she writes a long letter to her small twin boys. This is what makes up most of the book: Marie telling the boys her story. It’s fascinating, well told, based on real life events.
  5. Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockart and Daniel Mulilo Chama. When this book ended I said out loud, “That was beautiful.” Somehow the authors took some of the most painful and disturbing concepts to grapple with – all falling under the category of Innocents Suffering – and tell this story in a way that opens your heart. It’s about four children who live and work as garbage pickers, beggars, thieves, and prostitutes in one area of Lusaka, Zambia. Their lives touch each others in ways they don’t even realize. It is told as a novel, but advertised as a true story. The overarching fable, called Walking the Bowl, seems like wildly misplaced optimism in a community like this, with death and drugs and starvation, but somehow it works. The book discusses corruption and failures of government as though they are inevitable. I was educated about the lives of street children in Lusaka, and while the authors only mildly judged the children themselves when they made bad choices, I felt judged as a privileged reader. If children live like this anywhere in the world, are we not complicit? I’m not sure if I can believe it is all exactly a true story, but I can believe a great part of it is true. I was often reminded of the recognizable humanity that emerged among the people of the slums of Bombay described in Shantaram, but this was much darker.
  6. Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke. I can’t help it; I love Dave Robicheaux and his demons and his temper and his bad decisions. This time he tries to both get revenge and help an innocent young black man by going under cover on an operation by the DEA. He is able to hand over evidence to clear the young man’s name, and he gets his revenge, but not by his own hands. I hope he knows that its easy to be magnanimous when your enemy has very little hope of survival. More suffering as a result of horrors of Vietnam are revealed. He falls in love again, and maybe because all parties know the relationship is certainly doomed, he marries her.
  7. Invasion by Terrance Mulloy. Weird little freebie from audible.com. It begins in the future with a young cop who gets to go and arrest some bad guys for the first time. It was slow to gain my interest, or maybe it never did. The guy makes an arrest and has custody when the Earth is attacked by aliens. The cop and the criminal soon witness massive destruction and widespread massacres. It is the introductory chapter to the rest of the story, which I won’t be purchasing. The writing is not very good, the violence tropes are a little too tired and predictable, there is nothing to make me think the rest of the story will offer anything new and interesting in the way of sci fi.
  8. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Two main thoughts: one is that this book could have been better if Lewis built it up and got the readers involved in how things came to pass. He starts describing murders on every page and it’s so casual a mention that I was never horrified, just surprised. His point is to show that the society in the book considers murders unimportant, but the book was too much a documentary of a dictatorship than a story. Later on, when Doremus finally begins to resist, more storytelling happens, and I was able to join the author on his journey. Second thing is that this book tells what is happening in the United States right now. Today. There are so many things that happen in the book that are supposed to be examples of over-the-top atrocities that are actual real, live current events that I have forgotten most of them. It’s so ridiculous it’s like the current psychotic conservative movement is taking all its cues right out of the book. The Minute Men, for gods sake. The book burnings, the unrestrained lying for political gain. Unapologetic antisemitism. Racism. The reference to making America what it used to be again. The intelligent and hard-working honest people are ruined as quickly as the administration can find time to do it. This could have been an excellent and chilling book, but the style of the writing is not at all engaging. I’m bored out of my mind most of the time as I plod through, punctuated only with more and more moments of recognition of the dark, uncouth, fallen from grace world that I live in right now. Today.
  9. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel. The two main adult characters are a beautiful couple who fell in love at the right time and built a beautiful family and only grew more beautiful and more strong the more years they were together. Trying for a girl, they kept having more children and finally decided to stop after five boys. It could have been a blessing then, when the youngest boy began preferring dresses and dolls and insisted at a very young age that he no longer wanted to be Claude, but Poppy. The parents do a brilliant job of supporting Poppy as she grows up, and the parents are not even aware of how brilliantly Poppy’s brothers support her too. You end up wishing every family in the world could consider this family like their own. It should have been a lovely book, and I think for most of you it will be. For me, the parent of a transgender child, it hit too close to home. The catastrophes and all the tiny agonies both parents must confront and then absorb about their youngest child were excellently revealed and true to life. The author revealed the smallest difficult details that I’ll bet no one but the parent of a transgender child will even catch them all. It reminded me of the many many traumas I received – due to being raised the way I was raised – while fighting my instincts so that I could support my child instead of melt down. Reading this book was a catharsis rarely allowed me, because of course my child has more trauma and more danger in daily life than I could ever have, so my grieving and shock and confusion is inappropriate to mention most of the time. But it IS hard for some of us to be the parent of a transgender child. So very hard. I will offer only one critique of the book, and that is that at the very end, Poppy realizes she is not actually a girl, but a mix of girl and boy “None of the above,” she says. And this concept has been the absolute hardest in my journey as a parent: trying to get my head around how to know my child who is not-boy, not-girl. I feel like I could write a whole book just about that complicated topic. I ached and cried through much of this book because we do have a beautiful and supportive family just like this one, and because I was reminded of the fucking pain and beauty of living an honest and earnest life, and making parenting mistakes.
  10. A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke. Can’t have too much of a loved author and his loved main character, Dave Robicheaux. Dave is happily married for the moment, though tormented by the agony of the Lupus destroying his wife from the inside. They both remember going to school with the kids of a local family, and the dark rumors of how awful their parents were. Everyone is in their 50s now and somehow the kids have survived but there are major problems even though their evil father is finally gone. But has he resurfaced against all odds? In his role as police officer, Dave tries to make sense of the crimes in the family while learning some of the reasons behind why the kids are such a mess.
  11. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. This was a great book! I was excited to keep returning to this one almost as much as his first blockbuster. I fell absolutely in love with The Martian, when I read that one. I liked the movie too. I read his next one, Artemis, and was less than impressed. In the newest story, a new alien life form is discovered when it begins eating the sun. Yes, teensy microbes use the sun’s energy and as a result, our sun begins to slowly dim, causing catastrophe on Earth. In a desperate “hail mary” plan, the major political powers of planet Earth get together and build a spaceship they call the Hail Mary. This ship is designed to go to a star in the galaxy that is not dimming, to find out the secret of why, which might help Earth’s sun. Like The Martian, where Mark Watney spends most of the book alone and talking to himself and making dumb jokes…in this book it’s Ryland Grace alone on a spaceship. He originally had two astronaut companions, but they died enroute during their enforced comas to assist with the long journey to the star Tau Ceti. It gets very exciting when Dr. Grace finds another spaceship parked outside the star for the very same reason, and he realizes that both of them are desperate to find a way to save their own star.
  12. The Enduring Genius of Frederick Law Olmstead by Adam Rome. This was an audible freebie about a ground-breaking landscape architect. The author is clearly a huge fan, and sets out to explain all the reasons why his admiration is valid. I was impressed. Frederick Law Olmstead was a visionary and a force of innovation and invention, spreading his interests across multiple fields but always coming back to the driving need to improve society in whatever way he could. I’m so glad to have found out about this guy and now I wish he was in our history books in school.
  13. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crighton. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Crighton book before, so I did not know what his writing was like. This book was published in 1969 and is not his first novel but is the first published under Crighton’s own name. I read a book called The Andromeda Evolution by a local Cherokee writer, Daniel H. Wilson, which is a thrilling sequel to the first book (Read my review under the 2020 book list). That book had me on the edge of my seat for hours, so I was expecting the same from The Andromeda Strain, and was sorely disappointed. The original storyline, though the idea is truly clever and outstandingly intriguing, was written poorly. It is so uninteresting and plodded so slowly through events that I was yawning all the way through and bored to the point of often not having any idea what was going on because it just wasn’t interesting enough to keep me paying attention. There is intense violence which does suit the story, but it’s mentioned too casually most of the time, as an aside or a minor comment, when these moments could have been used to build fear and dread. The story builds and builds and anticipates for hundreds of pages (I mean, as much as one can anticipate while dozing), and then the final scene is pretty mild and based on a lucky deus ex machina that Crighton doesn’t even fully explain. It’s sort of like, the hero is in sight of his escape and he lunges, and the scene cuts to the end, six months later, and everything is great. So what happened? We’ll never know how he was saved and recovered. Weird. Disappointing. Thank the gods Wilson came along and saved Crighton’s book.
  14. The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson. Naturally, I had to read this one again next. It was no less exciting the second time, and this time I understood a lot of the references, like to the project Wildfire, that originated in the first book.
  15. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor. I read this again because after I read it for the first time in 2017, I failed to write a review. It continues to be a compelling compilation of short stories.
  16. The Break Up Artist by Erin Clark and Loren Lovely. No this is not one of the movies by the same name, or one of the books by the same name, this is a new one called the Break Up Artist…ha ha. I’m not sure why I picked up this book on audible, maybe because of the rave reviews. But it’s an ok romance novel. On a whim, the main character Zelda begins writing break-up letters for clients that the client can then choose to send on to their partner if they want to. Zelda argues herself of out responsibility saying that they clients aren’t forced to forward the mean emails, and if they do, it’s not her fault. Things I liked: main character is a sexy young woman who uses a wheelchair and is into fashion and wants to start her own ad business with her two best friends, one is gay. A side plot is Zelda making peace with her father’s remarriage very soon after her mother’s death, and the twenty-year age difference is never shamed. Didn’t like: love interest was unrealistically perfect and he got over his painful breakup in seconds, leading me to question how hurt he really was. Best thing about the book: it is a nice teaching moment about taking responsibility for the hard things in your life that you must face in order to really become a grown up.
  17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Another book I read in 2017 and never reviewed. In fact, there were a bunch that year and since I’m making such good progress on reading now, I’m challenging myself to re-read all of them and complete the reviews.
  18. Self Help by Ben H. Winters. A freebie offered by Audible. This is an audacious dark comedy. Well-written, but hard to get into because it was too unrealistic. When Jack steals the Oscar, and just decides to pawn it, all the warning bells went off. He had just told his name to the snooty director, and she would certainly put the cops on his trail, and if it was noticed at the pawn shop, it would immediately be noticed by someone who knew who it belonged to. When Jack uses the Silent Partner app dozens of times to steal, complaints would pile up and the app would be shut down or some kind of action taken. The rest was pretty clever and there was good material here. It was not laugh-out-loud funny as some reviewers said, because the dread and cringe factor was too great. It was hard to believe that Jack had no idea that he was a terrible criminal. But at least it kept my interest all the way through and the ending really was original and well done, though violent, and still unrealistic because Jack apparently never did face any consequences for the millions he stole or the two murders he committed.
  19. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

11 thoughts on “Books I Read This Year

  1. Gee, someone who reads much the same things I do. Would like to recommend a couple of Japanese novels that I absolutely love: “Deep River” by Shusaku Endo and my all-time favorite read, “The Old Capital” by Yasunari Kawabata. I read Kawabata’s novel once a year and always find the writing wonderful. If I ever could write something like that, I would be so happy I would just die. That’s the way my mama would put it.

    1. Thanks for the recommended titles! I find it amusing that you say we read much the same thing, because my tastes are all over the place. but yes, you read Joyce and Kawabata annually, so you are making your case. 😉 I am curious to see what else Shusaku Endo would write, since Silence was so overwhelmingly pious. Are you a writer? Oh, of course you are; you have a blog. I guess I’ll get myself over there and read it!

  2. one of the reads in my life that truly hit home
    I didn’t read it until age 50
    If you haven’t crossed paths with it
    my vote would be don’t wait as long as I did .

    * The Road Less Traveled – M Scott Peck *

    Michael

  3. I was at “Laurelhurst Buds” when I saw the books I read at the top. How have I missed this all this time?? Well, you got me. If it’s funny, I’m all in. I’ll have to get to those last 2. I have the headboard stacked with to be read books and rarely do audio, which I should because I can’t see. 🙂 So now I’ll go back where I started and come back here for more later. Darn, more books. There will be some tech issues to be worked out living down in the hole here but I’ll make it work. Thanks for the reviews. BTW, fingers still crossed. 🙂

    1. Ooh, my 2015 list is so short, too, so I’m glad you found two that you like. Yes, they are both very funny. I have purchased multiple books that claim to be funny, and they usually only rise to the level of “amusing.” These two are FUNNY! I can loan you Hyperbole and a Half after we unpack.

      1. 🙂 Tech support had to rebuild my closet yesterday. The shelf started coming down. Something about too much weight. .;( Tuesday he hooked up his sisters stereo with surround sound and my rails are up the terraces. I’m a very good worker! ( pointer actually) 🙂

  4. Hi CMLove,

    Great set of books. Recently, due to the problems in the US and given my background, I read three books about refugees in Europe from about 1935 -1942. Ground level of a refugee experience. Martha Gellhorn’s A Stricken Field, Anna Seghers’ Transit, and finally Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight. I worked with refugees and IDs for 25 years and what I see now is the same thing that has been going on for hundreds of years. I agree with you the root cause is racism with a touch of xenophobia to spice it up a bit. Also, I am reblogging your recent post. Nice writing. Good luck. Duke

    1. Hi Duke. I just now spotted your comment because I am belatedly updating my 2021 book list. I am sad but not surprised to hear that you have decided that refugees today are created the same way as refugees from any time in history. What’s your opinion of those three books? Would you recommend one over the others? I read a surprisingly chilling YA novel in 2019 called Internment, by Samira Ahmed. Chilling mostly because of how easy it was to believe that the apocalyptical United States portrayed could actually happen in a few years. This chilling reality is why The Hunger Games (also with refugees) freaked me out too. What is it with scaring the bejeebers out of our teens? haha.

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