Finally, I’m getting around to making a post about my last year in reading, and what I hope to read in 2023.
2022 was a bear of a year for me, fellow readers. It was also a banner year, in many ways. I’ve alluded to my personal struggles on Instagram and also in this reading challenge post, but I’ve said nearly nothing about the good things. This time last year, I was at Under The Volcano Guided Writer’s Residency, where I met legendary writer and editor Sheree Renee Thomas and workshopped alongside Alex Jennings and Tracy Cross, both of whom released their debut novels last year. Thanks to a generous grant from Con or Bust, I attended World Fantasy Con for the first time in New Orleans and met lots of cool new people, including Nisi Shawl who is like…whoa. Imagine Yoda sidling up to a Storm Trooper at the bar with a compliment, a drink, and a friendly laugh. That’s about how it felt to meet them(they are Yoda, obviously.)
I also co-wrote a Korean children’s book with the illustrator Juha Chung, which was released simultaneously in Korean and English. It’s called Adventures of Mago The Cat: Where The Clouds Drift To Rest. (Because this is my book, I’m revoking my usual Amazon clause.)
In between and around the process for that, I wrote, edited, and revised a LOT of stuff that will be released across various platforms this year. Some of it’s already out: my sci-fi short Mothership Connection is out in khoreo magazine, and my essay A Repat’s Guide to Boston was published in The Statesider. There are at least three more things in the offing between now and September, and while I am really trying hard not to make this into a writer blog as I slowly move more and more into that world, I will be updating you all here as things come out.
What I think I’m trying to say is that 2022 was the second year in which I spent most of my time working hard at becoming a writer(albeit, not very successfully yet). While I did some cool things and met some clearly awesome people, this year my reading weirdly suffered for it.
In 2020, I read 122 books. In 2021, I read 96.
In 2022, I read 46, and about 20 of them were children’s books I read when I was having a Very Bad Time last March and that was the only thing my brain could hold for a couple of weeks.
I’m not saying trying to write is making me a worse reader. I’m just saying that while trying to reach the great and stressful goals I’ve set for myself, I also read fewer books, far less pleasurably than I think I have in any other year of my life since I learned how to read. Believe it or not, I’m not a reader who uses books as a coping mechanism (anymore), and one of the things I learned last year was that if I’m not in a good frame of mind, books have lost their ability to soothe me.
Last year was my first full year back in America after 15 years elsewhere, and…yeah. It wasn’t a great time, mostly. Bright spots included the aforementioned WFC, meeting lots of new writer friends and acquaintances, trips to Mexico(for Under The Volcano) and Colorado(to see family), but not a lot else, and nowhere near as much reading as I usually do.
I still managed to get in some good ones, though, so here’s a quick recap of my 2022 reading;
The Ones I Didn’t Review…
I read a lot of books that I didn’t review last year, fellow readers, especially at the tail end of 2022. Some of them were great, like Helen Hoang’s romance novel The Kiss Quotient and Tayannah Lee McQuillar’s manual of Black American ancestral spiritual practices, appropriately titled Rootwork: Using the Folk Magick of Black America for Love, Money and Success. Some were okay, like the quirky graphic novel Catboy or I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, a tale of two girls–one white, one black–trying to get home on foot through a city burning up in race riots. The latter was written by two YA authors, Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones, who switch off chapters, each one writing from a different girl’s perspective. That was one of the more interestingly constructed books I read last year, and I’d recommend it to young readers for sure.
A few of the books I read last year I avoided reviewing because they just didn’t speak to me and I wasn’t sure how to talk about that constructively. The Pacific Northwest thriller The Wives and Jeff VanderMeer’s Amazon short Wildlife fall into that category.
Out of all the books I read but didn’t review, the only one I regret not giving some page time to is Stephen Graham Jones’ Amazon exclusive The Backbone of the World. In it, a Blackfoot woman in Montana is facing the loneliness and social ostracization that comes with being a prison widow (her husband is in jail) when strange goings-on in the field behind her trailer begin to distract her. The story is funny, otherworldly, and extremely creepy. It manages to work with the tropes established by horror writers past in an entirely new context. The ending made me cheer but also made my skin crawl, which is quite a feat. I wish I’d reviewed it more fully, but I did get around to a full review of the author’s biggest hit The Only Good Indians, which is also worth a read if you like horror.
The Ones I Loved…
I didn’t read a lot of books that I outright, unreservedly loved last year, if I’m being honest. The only three books that I read that gave me that meditational book hangover after I turned the last page were The Only Good Indians, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom’s Black woman migrant novel In Every Mirror She’s Black and actress Constance Wu’s memoir Making a Scene. I think I loved both of these for the same reason; they feature women of color being whole, flawed, normal creatures who don’t have to proclaim that things like racism and sexism suck out loud for that to be obviously so. Instead, they live their lives fully in pursuit of happiness and love, and I am entirely here for that kind of narrative. Come to think of it, I also loved the Brown Sisters series of romance novels for exactly the same reason.
There were other books that I really, really enjoyed, mostly because they surprised me. The Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky’s collection Deaf Republic shocked me in a good way and opened up an empathy void that I needed to examine. I was convinced that Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn would be really, really stupid but instead, it knocked my socks off. And while I didn’t need any extra help to remain a TJ Young and the Orishas fangirl, the ending of the second installment of the African wizard school series really stunned me in a good way and upped my anticipation for the rest of the series greatly.
The Ones I Appreciated…
There were plenty of books that I read and liked, even if they didn’t flood me with serotonin and literary brilliance the entire time. David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood, which formed the basis of the Sylvester Stallone franchise Rambo, surprised me with its deeply sensory descriptions of nature and genuine empathy for PTSD-stricken veterans. Rebecca Roanhorse’s hotly anticipated Fevered Star, the sequel to her pre-Columbian fantasy started Black Sun, had some exciting moments and set us up perfectly for the inevitable third installment of the trilogy. The Argentinian cannibal dystopia story Tender is the Flesh was…well, really gross, but I got what the author was trying to tell us and while I’ll never read that again and did not like it one bit, I definitely appreciated it.
The “no thank you, but I respect what you did” club was pretty crowded for me last year, come to think of it. Child star Jenette McCurdy’s abuse memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jasmine Mans’ poetry collection Black Girl, Call Home, and CM Nascosta’s orc romance novel Girl’s Weekend also fall into that category.
My 2023 Reading Plans…
2023 is already shaping up to be a better year than 2022 in many ways. I feel hope and excitement for what’s to come, and while we’ll see if my optimism is truly warranted, I’m enjoying the feeling that my hard work is getting me somewhere, and therefore have time and emotional energy to read again.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room; reading challenges. Last year I did a monthly reading challenge and while they were fun to do and a lot of you had positive things to say about them, I am actually not great at planning and implementing things that are even remotely related to book clubs.
Which is why I’m going to do it again this year. *sigh* If anyone tells you reading makes you smart, point them to this paragraph and laugh, okay? I’m still thinking through all the logistics to ensure that it will sustainable and interesting, but reading challenges will be back in February, this time connected to the book club app Fable. At least, that’s the plan. Watch this space.
As far as my own reading, there are two things I really want to do this year. One is to read more deeply in the backlist. The bookish internet clamors very loudly over new releases and that’s great. However, I’ve found so many gems from the backlist–not just from this decade, but literary eras past–that I want to start reading older books a little more conscientiously. I’ll still read new releases too, but I’ll be highlighting a few forgotten backlist classics–or should-be classics–in reviews this year.
I also want to read more African writers. I say this every year, and I read one or two. Africa is in a bookish boom right now and I want to see what it’s all about. So, more African authors from across the continent will be on my shelves and on my Kindle this year, and you should expect to see some reviews.
All that said, there are some things that won’t change. For example–I have no intention of reducing my romance novel consumption. The spicier, the better, although I’m still not sure how much I’m into the monster trend. (No kink-shaming intended if tentacles and fangs are your thing, of course.) I also have no intentions of straying from the initial purpose of this blog, which is to read, review, and discuss books by most of us–meaning Black, Brown, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, neurodivergent, gender-diverse, poor and otherwise normal but under-recognized writers. This is still a space that centers us and y’all and me, and that won’t change.
Beautiful people–I just realized that this May we’ll celebrate this blog’s third year of existence. There are over 200 posts on this site, and countless more on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram. (Don’t even get me started on Pinterest…yes, I’m over there too.) We’ve been interviewed on NPR, shouted out by Stephen Graham Jones, Blerd.com and in countless lovely supportive posts by other bloggers and bookstagrammers. I think my little pandemic project has far exceeded my initial goals, and I’m glad you’re all still here reading along with me.
Onward and upward into 2023, fellow readers. I’m excited.
(I hate when I have a great inspirational ending line and have to ruin it with the obligatory legal disclaimer saying that this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any links you click here that result in you purchasing something over there will result in a commission being earned by this blog, which we(meaning I, this is a one-woman nerd show) will use to buy more books and gratefully read weekends away in a big comfy chair. There. Disclaimer done. Thank you for reading, and go read something good. Peace!)