2021 Year End Book Round Up, Plus Made-Up Awards

Background: picture of fireworks in the sky. The sky has a pinkish hue.

Black text reads: 2021 Year End Book Round Up Plus made-up awards

As it turned out, 2021 did not fix all the bad of 2020 even though we hoped it would. The good news, though, is that books are still wonderful. As of this post, I’ve read one hundred and one of them in 2021. Because I am 300% a nerd (yes, that’s right– I hit one-hundred percent nerd and then went around a few extra times) I did some analysis. Get ready for graphs, people.

In 2021, I read fourteen more books than in 2020. I attribute the bump to several factors. First, I’ve learned the synergistic relationship between reading and writing. To help my writing, I set a goal of reading one hundred books this year. Second, I joined several book clubs. Getting to talk with people about books nourishes my passion for reading. By the way, I help coordinate one of these book clubs. It’s called Writer’s Virtual Book Club and we discuss books about the craft of writing. New members are always welcome. If you wish to join, you can sign up here.

This year, I also read more nonfiction by percentage– I was only at 9% last year. I credit Writer’s Virtual Book Club for this.

Pie chart on white background titled "fiction vs nonfiction."
Smaller red slice is labeled "nonfiction 22.8%."  Bigger blue slice is labeled "fiction 77.2%"

Of the nonfiction books I read, most were about the craft of writing.

Pie chart. Title: "Craft Books vs Other Nonfiction."
Smaller red wedge is labeled "Other 39.1%"
Bigger blue wedge is labeled "Craft 60.9%"

Within the category of fiction, I read slightly more Adult than YA. Given that I write primarily YA, I was initially displeased with this result. Then I realized I have better things to do than judge myself for this particular percentage. 😊

Pie chart. Title: "YA vs Adult Fiction"
Bigger red wedge is labeled "Adult 52.6%"
Smaller blue wedge is labeled "YA 47.4%"

Looking back at the titles I read this year filled me with a pleasant sort of nostalgia. Though I could happily tell you about how much I enjoyed almost every single book on my list, a few titles stood out particularly as worthy of mentioning. Thus I present…

MADE UP AWARDS

Funniest Book:
BOYFRIEND MATERIAL, by Alexis Hall. It is challenging to both run and laugh at the same time, but this charming enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating, rom-com had me doing just that as I listened on audio. It was filled with all sorts of hilarious background characters and setting details such as CRAPP, the dung-beetle charity where the point-of-view character works, or the friend who’s almost but not quite on trend with memes. Best of all was the way the opposites-attract main characters played off each other. If you’re looking to laugh and you’re looking for a charming love story, this is your book.

Best Craft Book:
Thanks to Writer’s Virtual Book Club, I’ve read a lot of craft books this year, and many were fantastic. Narrowing it down was challenging, WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT, by Dennis Palumbo particularly stood out. Writing is hard. It’s hard to translate an idea from brain to paper, it’s hard to find the time, and it’s hard to receive critique. All of this is before we even start talking about the publishing industry and its many rejections and disappointments. Yet, for a certain portion of the population (clears throat, points at self), writing is also vital for us to function as our best selves. How do we reconcile this hardship and this need? Palumbo, addresses this issue in a book that feels like the adult equivalent of hug and warm mug of hot chocolate without ever crossing the border into saccharine.

Best Comfort Book:
HOLD ME CLOSER NECROMANCER, by Lish McBride. When I was in grad school I went through a rather discouraging time. My aunt recommended this book to cheer me up. It worked marvelously. I was charmed by the banter between the chosen-family cast of characters, the surprising premise, and the references to my old Seattle stomping grounds. This summer I went on a trip with an especially suboptimal travel schedule and needed a book to help keep me cheery despite my likely sleep deprivation. Almost a decade later, Lish McBride’s tale was as charming as ever.

Most Holy Cow How Did You Write That? Book:
Now that I write regularly, I appreciate books differently than before because I know certain types of writing are harder than others (at least for me). For instance, unusual forms tend to be harder than forms with lots of examples and analysis. DAISY JONES AND THE SIX, by Taylor Jenkins Reid is, as far as I know, a one-of-a-kind form. It’s written like a documentary about the eponymous fictional band. The thing is, it somehow feels like an actual documentary. My hat’s off to you, Taylor Jenkin’s Reid.

Congratulations on having survived another year, friends. May this next year treat you well. Cheers to 2022!

Why Do You Write? A Question Answered at Several Levels of Snark

Mysterious Interviewer: Hey Suzanne, why do you write?

Suzanne: Well, why do you breathe? Because it’s innate and it beats the alternative, right? There you go.

Mysterious Interviewer: *Rolls eyes.* Cut the crap and answer the question.

Suzanne: Fine. I wrote a lot in elementary school. But as a kid, (and now) I struggle(d) with perfectionism. When I realized I wasn’t always going to be the goose who laid the golden story-egg, I stopped writing. However, the impulse remained, always at the back of my brain. Fast forward to approximately 2016. I had my dream job as physical therapist, my dream partner, and a wonderful group of friends, but I still wasn’t happy. One day a patient asked if I was a writer. Even though I hadn’t written much in fifteen years, I intuitively said yes. This led to a lot of introspection. Eventually, I decided to pursue writing seriously. Once I did, that sense of lingering dissatisfaction vanished.

Mysterious Interviewer: Great, now we’re cooking with gas. Let’s go deeper. Why are you pursuing publication rather than scribbling into a notebook under the cover of blankets?

Suzanne: Oh, so you want to go there? Cool, cool. Give me a second to shake off the remaining snark. *rolls shoulders.* OK. Here’s the for real answer: it’s complex. I’ve lived a pretty darn good life, but I do live on Earth so it hasn’t been all kittens vomiting sunshine. During challenging times, I’ve found two consistent sources of comfort: the people I hold dear, and stories. Both made me feel seen. Both made me feel a part of something greater than myself. Both provide pleasant distractions. I can’t replicate my relationship with my family, friends, and partner, and put it out into the world for others, but I can write stories.

OK, Mysterious Interviewer, are you happy now?

Mysterious Interviewer: Yes.

Suzanne: Good. Now that we’re done with serious mode, I have a joke. Two cupcakes are in the oven and-

Mysterious Interviewer: *Slams door*

About the Author in Ten Bullet Points or Less

A woman in a black knitted hat with curly hair hides behind a tabby cat. Only her eyes and the top part of her nose are visible. She appears to smile.
The author and the Kendall cat.
  • At five months, inspired by my giant floor companion, I uttered my first word: “doggie.” I’ve been all about words (and dogs) ever since.
  • I don’t know how this happened to me, a supposed dog person, but my husband and I have two cats. They run our lives and I’m completely besotted. Let me show you pictures! It will only take a few hours.
  • I am, and always have been, proudly 300% nerdy. Cases in point:
    • In high school, I was co-captain of both the debate and knowledge bowl teams.
    • The first conversation I had with my husband was about the (at the time) lack of hierarchical organization system in iOS for iPad.
    • Our cats (Anova and Kendall) are named after statistics functions.
  • I love to dance. I’ve mostly done Lindy Hop and Blues, though I’m always excited to learn new styles and/or for stand-in-a-circle-and-wiggle dancing.
  • Speaking of dance, here’s a short list of places I’ve danced deliberately, in public, with a partner:
    • In a movie theater during previews.
    • In front of my college organic chemistry class (my partner accidentally dropped me at the end).
    • In Australia’s capital building.
  • If you tried to make me decide between my morning workout and my morning coffee, I would give an impassioned speech about why I deserved both until you relented, you monster.
  • I have strong opinions on: pens, cilantro, goat cheese, and the proper pronunciation of the words Spokane and Gonzaga.
  • I hold a B.S. in Biology and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT). I told you, 300% nerd.   
  • What’s that you say? You are unsatisfied with this random assortment of tidbits and you want to know more about me as a writer? I suppose I can do that, too. Click here.

2020 Year End Book Wrap-Up (Plus made-up awards)

Stephen King says “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I love reading, so no complaints here. However, after staring at more than one title thinking “have I read this before?” I realized I have the memory of a goldfish.*

Thus, about a year and a half ago I started to keep a log. This means when a friend asks “have you read anything good recently?” instead of saying an enthusiastic “YES!” followed by awkward silence, I can follow that “YES” with hours of book recommendations. My enthusiasm causes me to speak faster and faster until my words blur into a high pitched squeak and my friend ends the phone call before they get a headache. My more headache prone friends have learned to only ask me about reading over text. OK, the last two-and-a-half sentences might be an exaggeration.

For giggles, I compiled some statistics about my 2020 reading life, then make up my own totally inconsequential book awards. As of 12/20/20, I read eighty-seven books. Ten were non-fiction, seventy-seven were fiction.

Pie chart in red and blue on a black background. The majority is blue and labeled fiction. A silver of about 1/8th of the pie is red and labeled non-fiction.

The book with the most beautiful prose award:

This is How You Lose the Time War– Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. El-Mohtar is also a poet, and it shows. Here’s a quote: “I want to meet you in every place I ever loved. Listen to me. I am your echo. I would rather break the world than lose you.” The entire book is that beautiful.

The book which almost made me cry award: (two way tie)

It takes a lot for media to make me cry. Getting me to almost tears is an achievement.

The Beginning of Everything– Robyn Schneider. Human brains are complex. We can feel multiple emotions at the same time. If you need proof, read this book and prepare to feel everything. If you’ve dealt with the intensity of someone important moving into and/or out of your life , this story will make you feel seen.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe– Benjamin Alire Sáenz. This book almost made me happy cry. I can’t say much without giving it away, but holy mother of spork, this book sticks the landing.

The book which made me laugh the most award: (two way tie)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life– Anne Lamott. This is a well respected non-fiction work on the process of writing. In my experience, writing advice tends to fall into one of two categories: “lets talk about the nuts and bolts of plot, character development, etc,” or “you can do it little writer!” Lamott’s work fits in the second category. It’s also hilarious. Her brand of hyperbole driven humor had me laughing out loud.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson– John Green and David Levithan. This story is narrated by Will Grayson and Will Grayson, two high schoolers with the same name. When they accidently meet in a porn store neither planned to enter, hijinks ensue. If you’re looking for a good example of distinctive character voice, this is the book for you.

The books which changed my worldview award: (two way tie)

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain, And Body In The Healing Of Trauma– Bessel van der Kolk. A patient recommended this book to me, and I’m so glad I read it. In physical therapy school we learn that emotional trauma can impact prognosis. Learning about the connection between emotional and physical health more in depth and from the perspective of a psychologist helped improve not only my physical therapy practice, but my ability to be an empathetic person in the world.

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America– Ron Powers. I knew the mental healthcare system in the US was inadequate, but I didn’t know how inadequate. It’s part journalistic exposé, part memoir of the author’s experience with his two sons who have schizophrenia.

Made up awards and colorful pie charts aside, reading helped keep me afloat in 2020. It helped me escape when I was sick of the real world, and helped me feel seen when I felt invisible. This is why I read. This is why I write.

Congratulations on having survived most of 2020, friends. May next year be easier.

*I did the research. Apparently goldfish can remember for up to five months. Thus, my memory for what I read is worse than a goldfish. C’est la vie.