This is where I recommend whether you should read this book or that book.
You know my policy on New Year’s resolutions: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But every now and then, I get in a mood to change my life and that usually coincides with the start of a new year. It also was brought to my attention, by my mother, that New Year’s resolutions represent hope, hope for the future and hope that there are better things yet to come.
Per my usual with unofficial New Year’s resolutions, the results were not bad but not great. Headway was made in understanding the New York subway system, my main unofficial resolution, my screen time was not cut out fully by reading books but dented, as you will soon see, and I did not go out on a single date, although that was not for a lack of being asked. All of those were some nice New Year resolutions that sort of happened but didn’t fully pan out in 2022.
In 2021, I read an embarrassingly low 13 books and therefore set myself the loftier goal of reading 25 books in 2022.
In the name of full disclosure and at the risk of not sounding like a bad bitch, I will now admit that I did not read 25 books. I read 21 and that pissed me off.
There were many books that I started but didn’t finish and plan on finishing in the new year. However, here lies the books that I did read, in their entirety this year, and what I thought of them.
This esoteric list of books is an amalgamation of recommendations from friends I trust, strangers on the internet, professors who passed me, Instagram pages, Youtube channels, celebrity book recs, and, of course, the New York Times Bestsellers list, in the hopes that it would all amount to a nuanced book list with good taste.
Judge for yourself…
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkin Reid– tells the story of a fictitious soft rock band in the 70s that’s loosely based on Fleetwood Mac. The story is told from each character’s perspective as they get interviewed about the band’s success, and failure, in a novel that captures the hipness of the decade, the torment of genius, and the abuse of the music industry. It does all of this while remaining sensitive to the topic of addiction. I found myself wishing that they were a real band with the dreamy way they sound. In particular, I loved Daisy, a talented, misunderstood, and messy woman working up to a world level, because, as the novel puts it “we love beautiful, broken people. And it doesn’t get much more obviously broken and classically beautiful than Daisy Jones.” The six were fine, but I could have read an entire novel just about Daisy Jones.
White Ivy by Susie Yang– is a twisty, moody novel that explores ideas of assimilation, familial backing, ownership, and orchestrating the life that you want. Ivy Lin positions herself as the perfect woman in order to marry the guy she has been in love with since childhood, conflicting with her true nature. I could not predict which direction this story was going in until it had already gone there. The novel is smoothly written and very enjoyable and therefore highly recommended.
Cultivating Creativity by Iain Robertson– emphasizes the importance of facilitating creativity in classrooms and generates discussions around the creative process. In it, Robertson describes the relationship between rigid and fluid thinking and demonstrates the immense discipline that goes into creating. “Cultivating Creativity” includes exercises designed to improve students’ creativity and reconceptualize how they think about their own relationship to creativity. It is a far more distilled, less nuanced version of what I studied in my “Theories of the Creative Process” class, but offers a refreshing look at the creative process, interwoven with commentary from students who took part in the creative exercises. It is a very rich topic.
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech– is a novel written in the form of poems. It’s a story about a young boy that is not interested in poetry until he discovers the poetry of Walter Dean Myers and begins to explore his own feelings in writing. This is one of those stories that would be ruined if the author revealed too early on what the story was about, but churns out the story so subtly that you are midstream before you realize that the story is about a little boy grieving a loss. You realize then that everything he writes is colored by that experience. I love the unreliable child perspective that the story is told from since it proves the complex emotions that children have and how we can feel the same visceral emotions even when they are shown through the lens of a child’s first brush with heartache.
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin– is also a novel written in poems, because this is a thing, apparently. Technically, it is written in verse, originally in Russian. Pushkin is seemingly one of the lesser known Russian writers and Eugene Onegin is one of the lesser known great works of Russian literature, at least in the United States. Translating Pushkin out of Russian is like translating Shakespeare into any other language since Pushkin, I’ve been told, never wrote an ungraceful line in his native language. I find that easy to believe having read the story myself.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adiche– Many of Adiche’s ideas are no longer surprising to us as feminists, since her talking points have gone far and wide, becoming synonymous with feminist ideals, yet, she has a way of phrasing things so brilliantly that it made me think about it entirely differently. I recommend everybody read this sliver of a book in order to acquaint themselves further with her ideas.
Divining Chaos: The Autobiography of an Idea by Aviva Rahmani– Aviva Rahmani has exactly what a person needs in order to write an excellent memoir: an interesting life. Yet, it is not solely her life that makes this story interesting. Her philosophy and her belief in “trigger point theory,” as well as the politics that form her principles, are what she devotes her memoir to discussing. It is a true feminist story and should be read as such.
Becoming Myself: reflections on growing up female edited by Willa Shalit– takes stories from an eclectic group of prominent women, including Kate Spade, Lily Tomlin, Julia Stiles, and many others. Coming from different walks of life, these women all have different interpretations of the question: “what does it mean to grow up female?” Marlee Matlin’s story was head-and-shoulders the most interesting excerpt in the book, in which she details how she struggled to speak Hebrew for her Bat Mitzvah due to her deafness, but how she was determined to do so anyways. All of this she connects back to the concept of girlhood by explaining that Bat Mitzvahs are a tradition that previously excluded girls, but one that she was happy to participate in.
Tasha by Brian Morton– is a memoir about the difficulties of looking after an elderly, senile parent, written by one of my writing professors, thus making me extremely biased. The mother in question, Tasha, was clearly a colorful woman with a colorful life and did not go quietly into that sweet good night. It discusses the turbulent relationship between mother and son and how taking care of a parent can be admirable, but exhausting work.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz– It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down. This book was that for me, although I wanted to slam it shut every time the author mentioned anything about a successful writing career not panning out. The book was all about writers and writing, focusing on a disgruntled, down-on-his-luck writing professor from a creative writing MFA program. The author in question steals the plot of his novel from a deceased, former student leading to an onslaught of anonymous threats made against him from someone who knows of his subterfuge. Despite the initial hook, however, I felt that the story progressed in a way that was fairly obvious. I kept reading in the hope that the book would confound my expectations, yet, in the end, the plot did not thicken like I wanted it to. The bad guy was so obvious that it was as if the writer said, “bad guy enters stage left,” and the rest of the novel proceeded in a fairly straightforward manner. The writing, however, was insanely good, making it worthwhile.
Inheritance by David Gerson and Stephen McMaster– So say for instance you’re me. You’re standing in front of your family’s book nook, when you discover that thee David Gerson has written a book. You then learn that he has such an incredible turn of phrase. I was impressed with the way in which he managed to tell snippets of his life story in a clear and eloquent way. His writing is so lucid and dispassionate, yet evokes such strong emotion in the reader. I was very smitten with his writing, and, as always, with him. Stephen McMaster did a fantastic job as well. Both stories deal with identity and being gay and what that means to them.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath– What is left to say about The Bell Jar? The Bell Jar, though it needs no introduction, is a story about a young, college-aged girl who works for a fashion magazine in New York City, who is having a slow mental breakdown. As a girl who lives in New York and writes for a fashion magazine, I had to read it. The Bell Jar lives up to its reputation of being a psychologically robust, feminist novel. As she is treated without dignity in her asylum, the reader cannot help but sympathize with Esther Greenwood and by dealing with the issue of getting her hands on birth control and refusing to marry a man that she’s been dating for years, this novel is a true feminist piece of work. With all of its references to fashion and cosmopolitan life, the novel feels chic and girly in the best possible sense.
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion– is a bare-bones novel in which most chapters are only about half a page of a few lines of dialogue. I went into the book knowing nothing about the premise, wanting only to experience the writing of Joan Didion, a woman who I am now having a love affair with. I discovered that it was very apropos for the summer in which I read it, since it depicts a woman getting a back alley abortion. This prescient story revolves around Maria, a soon to be washed-up actress in a failing marriage. Anyone who reads this story will always remember to never pick up a rock because you’ll find a rattlesnake and to play it as it lays.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine– is a memoir from the lead guitarist of the 70s, all-female punk band “The Slits.” The title gets its name from Albertine’s mother, who used to tell her that when she entered high school all she would want to talk about was “clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music, boys, boys, boys.” Then, she became a rock star and her life became all about “clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music, and boys, boys, boys.” (Doesn’t sound too bad to me). I believe that this is the type of book that all teenage girls should read. She covers everything a girl should know: marriage, decaying marriage, abortion, sex acts, infertility, masturbation, feminism, feeling self-conscious, and owning your sexuality, with a cast of characters such as Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungeon, Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McClaren, Steve Young, Mick Jones, and Johnny Rotten all making multiple appearances in her life story. It also happened to be viciously funny and deeply heartfelt, bolstered by her ability to divulge hard information about herself and her clean turn of phrase.
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover– (TW: domestic abuse and sexual assault) I read “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover when it was #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List and was surprised to find that it was a nothing special novel written in a simple, conversational tone with clunky metaphors, expressions, and a frustrating amount of cheesy romance cliches that long outstayed their welcome. After ignoring a series of red flags, including anger management issues and possessiveness, a woman finds the strength to leave her abusive husband with her child in tow, the end result of which being her co-parenting with the man who sexually assaulted her, something that the novel largely glosses over. It is a supposedly happy ending for her but not the triumphant she-unloaded-a-double-barrell-shot-gun-into-his-chest that I had been hoping for. I do appreciate her depiction of an abuser being an affluent doctor and not a man in a wife beater in a trailer park, how the woman did leave her husband in the end, and her central point that everyone blames the woman for not leaving, while ignoring the man that did the abusing.
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur– I don’t want to join in on the gentle-ribbing that has always been directed at Rupi Kaur and her collection of poems “Milk and Honey,” but I have my thoughts. “Milk and Honey” falls into the genre of “Instapoetry,” which means that she wrote poetry on Instagram before she wrote a collection of poetry set to her line-drawing illustrations. I wanted to like it, since there are a handful of strong feminist points, a clean turn of phrase at times, and she clearly has many, many ideas, but overall, the whole collection feels like wasted potential. Perhaps, I don’t get it because I’m not a romantic, but most of the poems come across more like inspirational quotes rather than full-fledged poems.
Here is the entirety of her poem “more”:
I don’t want to be friends
I want all of you
That’s not a poem, that’s a drunken text to an ex.
(Her poem women of colour was pretty good though)
Witches, Sluts, Feminists by Kristen J. Sollée– After reading one or two underwhelming books, I was pleased to pick up this exciting manifesto on how we as a society went from viewing women as witches to sluts to feminists and how much of our initial reactions to women as witches bleeds into our modern-day perceptions of women. It covered all of the basics: the sexism of the Salem witch hunts, the way that sexism was weaponized to bring down Hillary Clinton, r*pe culture as seen on college campuses, and the ways in which feminism, much like witchcraft, has been made fashionable and commodified, all as they relate back to the idea of a woman as a witch. WSF is a slim-volumed, intersectional feminist page-turner that makes a point of straying away from the oft-observed white, cisgender feminist narrative, only to not go thoroughly in depth on any concept of the witch or the feminist outside of the western world. I’m not trying to sound too angst-ridden about this since I mostly agreed with her point-for-point on the points that she does make and overall enjoyed the collection of essays.
A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch– Is all about a young woman in her 20s, working on a novel and her first ever relationship. Naomi, the protagonist, becomes obsessed with her partner’s previous girlfriend, going so far as to stalk her and make her the subject of her new novel. The story is stylishly and excitingly written (though there were moments where I wanted a more experiential, close-narration). It gave me many new thoughts on being a young female writer and plenty of new places to visit in New York City.
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams– Is a strongly-worded romance novel about two writers who spent seven days together in June, only to reunite for another seven days in June years later, and to realize that all of their writing over the years has been about each other. I wanted them to get together, but I was waiting, 40 pages before the end, for the other shoe to drop when their happiness, and now mine, would be shattered by a fresh tragedy. I’m not much of a romance reader, but even I could see that this was a beautiful book about regret and past trauma. I will also now be using many of the expressions that Williams uses in her book, starting with “F-train reads” (topically-relevant and politically-savvy books that people read on the subway so that they can look socially-conscious).
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts– It should be painfully obvious that I picked this book up for strictly Harry Styles purposes. My Policeman is an epistolary novel told from the perspectives of a policeman’s two lovers– his wife and his boyfriend. The title reflects this balancing act and the idea of ownership. Whose policeman is he? Based loosely on E.M. Forster’s own relationship with a policeman, this novel tells the story of forbidden same sex love in 1950s England. The book largely revels in gay suffering too much for my liking since it is another gay love story that is simultaneously a tragedy, but it is well-written
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman– I read Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman as I was leaving Italy and was surprised to discover that it was mired in controversy. The fact that the protagonist is 17 when engaging in a relationship with an adult makes the relationship seem predatory, while many in the LGBTQ community objected to the depiction of obsession in the relationship (but many loved this depiction). Either way, it is a beautifully written novel that gives the reader a sense of the balmy weather, the sexual tension, and the obsession. Even though it is a work in translation, it had very sensual language that contributed to the enchantment of the overall novel.
My three favorite books of this year were White Ivy, The Bell Jar, and Play It As It Lays.
Despite not hitting my goal, I am still assigning myself a higher goal next year. I am striving to read at least 30 books in 2023. Wish me luck on that assignment! Happy reading.
The Tragic Queen,