2021 in Reading: The Big List

Trying not to be precious about year-end stuff right now because I’m feeling stuck, but here’s a big list of things I read in 2021! Reading was hard this year for…well, you know. All the reasons. I needed a lot of comfort food to get through the upheaval of moving home, and for huge swaths of time I felt as if I’d lost access to the part of my brain that thrilled to Alberto Manguel or Le Guin in the first part of the year. I’m still sort of there.

Read a lot of comics (thanks, Danielle’s studio library and also The Actual Library) because I started drawing a graphic novel and it turns out reading more comics helps your brain think in comics??? Who knew. I still feel like I’m scratching my way towards figuring out what really makes a comic work for me. It takes a lot to get me excited about them, which feels somewhat icky as a person who knows first-hand how much fucking time they take. But there it is!

Started trying to track rough start/end dates towards the second half of the year because I got curious. I’ll probably stick with that into 2022.

Bubble and The Liar’s Dictionary both made me laugh out loud. The Creative Habit and Always Coming Home reminded me how I got to be the way I am. I’m sure there are other books I felt feelings about but I’m just going to HIT PUBLISH.

See previously: 2020’s Big List

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Oh Hell Yes
  1. 📝 An Ocean of Static – J.R. Carpenter
  2. 📓 The Book of Delights – Ross Gay ❤︎
  3. 💬 Oksi – Mari Ahokoivu
  4. 📖 The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories – Ed. Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin
  5. 📖 Solaris — Stanisław Lem
  6. 📖 The Liar’s Dictionary – Elly Williams ❤︎❤︎
  7. 📖 There but for the – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎
  8. 📓/📝 Bluets – Maggie Nelson ❤︎
  9. 📖/🎭/📝/📓 Always Coming Home – Ursula K. Le Guin ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  10. 📖 Never Mind – Edward St. Aubyn
  11. 📖 Bad News – Edward St. Aubyn
  12. 📖 Some Hope – Edward St. Aubyn
  13. 📓 A Reader on Reading – Alberto Manguel ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📖 Mother’s Milk – Edward St. Aubyn
  15. 📖 At Last – Edward St. Aubyn
  16. 🔄 📖 Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett ❤︎
  17. 📓 The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit
  18. 🔄 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎
  19. 📖 The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  20. 📖 The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker ❤︎
  21. 📓 Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert ❤︎
  22. 📖 The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. 📖 The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien (Finished April 20th)
  24. 📖 Wonder Tales of Seas and Ships – Frances Carpenter (April 22nd – April 27)
  25. 🔄📖 The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall (July 20th – July 27th) ❤︎❤︎
  26. 💬 Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, Albert Monteys (August 4th) ❤︎
  27. 💬 Lucky Penny – Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota  (August 4th)
  28. 💬 Kodi – Jared Cullum (August 6th)
  29. 💬 The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist – Adrian Tomine (August 8th)
  30. 💬 Girl Town – Casey Nowak (August 9th)
  31. 💬 My Life in Transition – Julia Kaye (August 9th)
  32. 💬 Bubble – Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, Tony Cliff, Natalie Riess (August 12th) ❤︎❤︎
  33. 📖 The Accidental – Ali Smith (August 23rd)
  34. 💬 Don’t Go Without Me – Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (August 24th) ❤︎❤︎❤︎ 
  35. 🔄 📖 The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil – George Saunders
  36. 📖 Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (Finished Sept. 8th)
  37. 📖 All Systems Red – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  38. 📖 Artificial Condition – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  39. 📖 Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th-11th)
  40. 📖 Exit Strategy – Martha Wells (Sept. 11th)
  41. 📖 The Absolute Book – Elizabeth Knox (Sept. 30th? – Oct 17th)
  42. 📓 The Library at Night – Alberto Manguel (April 22nd – October 19th)
  43. 📖 Sphinx – Anne Garréta (Oct 28-30)
  44. 💬 Draw Stronger – Kriota Willberg (Oct 30)
  45. 📓 Goodbye Again – Jonny Sun
  46. 📖 The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Nov. 18th-20th) ❤︎
  47. 📖 Milk Blood Heat – Dantiel W. Moniz (Nov. 20th-22nd) ❤︎
  48. 📖 The Devil and the Dark Water – Stuart Turton (Nov. 27th-Dec 2nd) 
  49. 💬 Piece by Piece: the Story of Nisrin’s Hijab – Priya Huq (Dec. 6th)
  50. 💬 The Legend of Auntie Po – Shing Yin Khor (Dec. 7th) ❤︎❤︎
  51. 💬 Treasure in the Lake – Jason Pamment (Dec. 9th)
  52. 📖 The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel (Dec. 15th-17th) ❤︎
  53. 📓 The Collected Schizophrenias – Esmé Weijun Wang (Dec. 18th)
  54. 💬 Tell No Tales – Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells (Dec. 15th-21st)
  55. 📓 The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp (Dec. 22nd) ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  56. 📓 Intimations – Zadie Smith (Dec. 28th) ❤︎
  57. 📓 I Shock Myself – Beatrice Wood (Dec. 25th – Dec. 31st) ❤︎

Come again, be again

1.

Jez and I talked about bonsai trees a lot tonight. He’d gone to the Pacific Bonsai Museum. We talked about creative work that becomes a conversation between a craftsperson and a living being—a conversation that will outlast its originator. A conversation across multiple generations.

The oldest tree he saw dated from 1850.

2.

Lives stop, but life keeps going. Flesh begets flesh.

Great cathedrals were built by generations of stonemasons to whom the architect was a man who might once have greeted their grandfathers’ grandfathers. How agreeable, then, to believe in God.

To set stones on stones not for the architect but for eternity.

The Latin epitaph in one seventeenth-century cathedral translates: Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.

The words are carved in a disk of black marble set beneath the center of the dome. The disk was placed there by the architect’s son.

It’s easy to imagine the great man, but try to imagine the son who knows his father’s cathedral will be loved longer than the flesh of his flesh.

Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

3.

I’m in a cathedral. My dad is in the cathedral. Our friends and neighbors—we’re all in the cathedral, eighteen-foot tall and wool-woven. Ostensibly we’re saints, but anyone from town would look around and just see people they knew. She lost her house in the Thomas Fire. He passed away last Christmas from pneumonia. This is the real record.

A panel from John Nava's communion of the saints tapestry from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. A group of pious-looking figures all face to the right, hands clasped in prayer, wearing a variety of garments. In their midst in a young girl with blonde hair.

I posed for the portrait in 1998. Before Y2K, but after the release of Spiceworld. When we saw the Cathedral open its doors in 2002, I was 13 and felt so worldly compared to the child self hung high on the yellowed walls.

September 4th 2002

The truth is: she’ll outlast me.

I haven’t been back to the Cathedral since, but I think about it all the time.

Maybe I’ll go.

5.

The Seed Jar.

6.

It was by this making of comparisons to analyse her feelings that Taryn returned from her period of healing to who she was, what mattered to her, and what was inescapable. Her troubles had pressed on her for weeks, not just ill health caused by the demon but the Muleskinner’s slow approach and what she thought she owed him—or worried he’d think she owed him. And there were other failings: how she took her former husband’s generosity for granted, and how little kindness she seemed able to show to her father. The rest of it—her book, the festivals, her agent’s and publisher’s expectations—receded. But what had taken the place of the pressures wasn’t Taryn’s own tranquillity; it was the land itself, the Sidh, promising always to be there, always to be the same. Promising also that it would be the same Taryn who stepped out with sound knees and clear eyes from this blue lake, or stone hearth, or apple shade. Come again, be again—that was its promise, a sense of permanence Taryn hadn’t felt since she was under ten years old and only able to imagine that she would always stay at Princes Gate with her grandparents, always find the same old Monopoly set, quoits, croquet hoops and mallets, the familiar punt, the cats—only a little indifferent whenever she arrived—but all as it should be, the same, permanent. The Sidh was turning Taryn into a child again, a child who knew everything sustaining would last. It gave her back that knowledge beyond faith—what the faithful meant when they said ‘faith’.

Elizabeth Knox, The Absolute Book

7.

I got a card at the Ojai Library last week. Walked into this building for the first time since I was a child and breathed the particular scent of spines and plastic and dust. Things were different, of course. Fewer shelves in the children’s section, no more chunky CRT monitors blinking green on black, keyboards shrouded in that satisfyingly tacky plastic skin. Keys you really had to punch to pull up the author of your choosing.

When I went looking for the books I remember devouring as a young reader, I found the same phalanx of Nancy Drew titles intact.

The Moomin novels, though, the ones I really wanted to see again, they were gone.