When I tell people how many books I read this year, I don’t have time to give the following context:
I’m a fast reader
It’s kind of my job, as a writer, to read a lot
Also my hobby, since I’m doing a ~podcast~ like any good Millennial
Half of the books I read are audiobooks (and I listen on 1.5x speed)
I don’t do much else except read
Doing anything else this year (especially watching TV/movies) has been too emotionally draining for me, which is kind of embarrassing, but there you go
The last point probably has to do with yes, the global pandemic being never-ending and soul-sucking, but also still grieving my dad’s death from this time last year, partnered with the stress of releasing a book, ushering three small children through said soul-sucking pandemic, and starting a new job. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that everything I watch on TV makes me cry— it’s too much, so here I am, reading 180 books in a year.
I’m just Midwestern enough to ashamed at having read that much, even though I am proud, too. That’s about fifty more books than I read last year, and eighty-eight of those books were published in 2021. For the first time since I’ve started tracking my reading, I look at year-end lists and feel like I have an opinion on them.
I also read a lot of romance this year, and wrote one, too. I’m better for both of those points, and happier. Looking at a side-by-side of my most-read genres on Storygraph (like Goodreads, but better), I can see that even though I read more lit-fic this year, I dug into romance hard. No regrets, but lots of recommendations!
One thing I love to do is give recs based on mood and something completely random, so here are some recommendations requested from folks for drink/mood pairings to add to their TBR lists for next year.
A List of Books That Are Very Good that You Might Not Have Read Yet But Probably Should*
*snappier title forthcoming
“Robert Mondovi Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet; historical fiction, but not WWII related because that’s my go-to”
I absolutely loved The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi, which came out this year (though start with the first in the series, The Henna Artist). I’m so emotionally invested in these characters, and it explores a period of time I don’t know much about. I’d also recommend Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge, which is a coming-of-age story following a free-born Black woman in the Reconstruction era who moves to Haiti (heartwrenching and gloriously written).
“Campari and edgy dystopian scifi”
100% The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel. Here’s the first line of the blurb: “In the future you can have any body you want— as long as you can afford it.” Ties in baseball, cybernetics, horror and humor.
“Honeybush tea and escapist middle-aged reinvention tale”
After the death of her mother, a fifty-year-old woman finds a diary from the father she never met, and goes to meet him, and his family. My favorite book of the year, and excellent on audio.
“Diet Coke (yes, I know it’s posion) and things that are funny”
Please, I beg you, pick up Calvin Kasulke’s Several People are Typing. I snort-laughed my way through parts of it. If you’ve worked in an office environment and are forced to Slack or use Microsoft Teams, you will appreciate the form of it, too.
“Rosehip and hibiscus tea; fiction that completely sucks you in”
The fourth book I’ve read by Waters, and by far my favorite. For tea, think English countryside— but not any dainty English countryside in this book. I had trouble putting this novel down every night, and I had no idea what was going to happen in the entire last 200 pages of the book. SO good.
“Biography and Sauvignon blanc”
The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Kris Malcolm Belc
Okay, so it’s not biography, but I need to recommend this incredible memoir. It includes photographs and documents, as well as brief themed essays, on how becoming a gestational parent clarified the author’s gender identity. Would be incredible to read with a book club (and a glass of sav blanc at the ready). Another book I loved (an autobiography) would be The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert by Shugri Said Salh, which truly illuminated a world and lifestyle I’d never considered before.
“Earl Grey tea and a new book”
A book you might not have heard of, but that would be perfect to get cozy with a cup of tea in the middle of winter, is Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy. Set at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the early 1980s, it follows a young woman figuring herself out— and being touched by a horrific tragedy that will change her life.
“Brandy Alexander and I don’t love poetry, but I’d like to try more”
An accessible inroads to poetry is definitely Maggie Smith’s new collection Goldenrod. Smith makes poems feel as approachable as the nature she describes. Lots about family and growing into middle age, and it’s lovely. I also adored Jessica Abughattas’ collection, Strip, from this year, for a collection with poems that feel like being at a dinner party with someone smart.
“Vodka and Apple Cider, and I want something like what I’m reading right now (Midnight Library)”
If you want a book about life transformations, and you’re not afraid of shedding a few tears (of laughter and the other kind), highly recommend The Guncle by Steven Rowley. I put it off after being recommended it by too many people, but I’m so glad I dug in. It lived up to all my expectations and then some.
“Jasmine tea, and I’d like to read more magical realism or fantasy”
“Coffee, and I’ve been into witchy books lately, or travel books!”
I’ve also been reading a lot of “witch” books this year, and I loved Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian if you’re in the mood for historical fiction and want to examine how charges of witchcraft were used against women. If you want a fun, romp of a read, I recommend Not Your Average Hot Guy by Gwenda Bond, which is like a rom-com Good Omens.
And if that’s not enough recommendation and drink pairings for you, you can check out this Twitter thread.
I found out that my debut novel was chosen as the All-Iowa Read for 2022, so I’ll be tromping across the state next year. You can keep an eye on my events page for more information on happenings as they get scheduled.
I hope 2022 brings you good health, good times with friends and family, and good books.