I actually began this write up a month or so ago, thinking to myself that I would be timely for a change and manage to post it before June, but the computer gods had other ideas and laughed at my hubris. I logged into my WordPress to post the update and proceed to trash my website when a routine WordPress update went horribly wrong. Of course I didn’t backup the site as suggested by WordPress before doing the update – remember the definition of hubris – “excessive pride or self-confidence.” I am not sure if it was excessive self-confidence, maybe more of a touch of absolute laziness and relying on the fact that nothing bad has ever happened before. Lesson learned. Shout out to the crew at DotInc.net for going above and beyond helping me recover the site. It was touch and go there for a while.
So without further fan fare I give you a much delayed update.
I had set a goal of 36 books in 2021 the same as the last few years and surprising no one but me, I only managed to read 12 books last year. I’d like to blame the ongoing pandemic for the distraction, but its more than that. I’ll be honest, I just didn’t make enough time to read in 2021 (not that 2022 is looking any better so far). Most of my book consumption the past few years has been audiobooks and I just haven’t been engaged enough or have long enough periods where I can listen to an audiobook.
So in 2021 I listened to 5 science fiction books, 3 fantasy titles, and 4 non-fiction books.
The oldest book I read was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court which was first published in 1889. Its not the first time I have read it, but the interesting thing about revisiting books at different stages in your life is that the speak to you in different ways. The first time I read Connecticut Yankee I was probably high school or university age and I was more engaged with the central struggle of how the MC will thwart the people of King Arthur’s time and get back to his own time. It wasn’t until years later that I understood more of what Twain was trying to do with that book and again re-reading in 2021 I came away with a much different take. Much of the satire and the MCs attitude towards the inhabitants of 6th century England is not about how technologically backward, or even how primitive their knowledge is relative to his own time, although there is that aspect of it. No Twain and his MC reserve their disdain for the both the influence of the Church and how willfully ignorant everyone is of simple truth and reasoning. Sound relevant 130+ years after Twain wrote it? Oh and added bonus the version of the audiobook I listened to was narrated by Nick Offerman.
I also explored another classic of a more recent vintage. I had never read any Samuel R. Delany before this year and set about correcting that by downloading an audiobook of Babel-17 which is from 1966 and won a Nebula and was nominated for a Hugo. What drew me in was not necessarily the premise of the novel which revolves around language as a weapon, but just Delany’s mastery of the prose. I was grooving on the book so hard, I ended up going out to my local used book store and picking up a copy just so I could follow along and marvel at the words on the page. Rydra Wong is a fascinating character and was sadly white-washed on the cover of the 1970s version of the paper back I picked up (See graphic on the left).
Of the Non-Fiction books I read one was Kari Byron’s autobiography Crash Test Girl that had come out a few years earlier and covered her life and career to-date. Another was an audio book about the early police force in Paris called City of Light City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris and covered a lot of the political and criminal machinations in late 1600s Paris. It was a bit hard to follow as there is no overall narrative and there are a lot of people introduced, but the author does a great job brining the era to life and making the people feel real despite relying on mainly court documents and other historical references.
Two of the physical books I read this year were pop culture retrospectives about music scene with two very different bents. The first was No Flash, Please!: Underground Music in Toronto, 1987-92 by Phill Saunders and Derek Von Essen. I was curious about this book since it covers a period of time where I had just moved to Toronto for school and was actively checking out the music scene of the time. The book relies heavily on von Essen’s photographs of the period highlighting indie bands of the era with text by Saunders who was a journalist and music promoter during the period. I felt like the book devoted too much space to appearances of American bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Iggy Pop, and Nirvana on the Toronto scene, that could have been used to explore more of the Canadian indie scene of the time. Would really love to read a biography with a little more narrative from either Saunders as a music scene columnist at the time or Van Essen’s career as a photographer of the scene. Both would be fascinating. I basically tore through the book in an afternoon and would recommend it to anyone else looking for a nostalgia fix of the Toronto scene from that period.
The second book was one that I had on my shelf for a few years now called Is this Live?: Inside the Wild Early Years of MuchMusic: The Nation’s Music Station by Christopher Ward. MuchMusic was essential Canada’s answer to MTV, but coming from a much different angle. The book is a wonderful oral history of many of the people that were there in the early years of this social and media experiment and their perspective on being a part of it. The book also serves as a bit of a defacto memoir for Ward recounting his own journey on the music scene and his relationship with Alannah Myles.
My science fiction and fantasy pics were a broad mix of styles.
- I listened to the first two books in Charles Stross’ Empire Games series – Empire State and Dark State that deals with world-walkers between alternate timelines (the third was just recently released and will probably be one of my 2022 reads).
- Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon is the third novel set in her Lady Astronaut Universe and while it seamlessly expands on previously established characters and themes its a bit of shift in tone. But in a good way, its essentially a mystery novel set on the moon. It was nominated for a Hugo award, Locus Award, and Goodreads Choice Award.
- Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi is a novella that came out in 2020 and has been nominated for a number of awards including the Hugo and Nebular and was the winner of the World Fantasy Award and Ignyte Award for best novella in 2021. I had heard good things of this novella and downloaded the audiobook of it. Its very raw and impactful story about two siblings with very different paths who discover their powers while dealing with structural racism and brutality in an near future America.
- We are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker was the second book by this author that I read. I have read Sarah’s short stories and immensely enjoy her style and insight into the worlds she depicts. This novel is a “quiet” SF book in that there is no big baddies and no climatic battles, but rather one families struggle to deal with changing technology and societal expectations. I think what I enjoy the most about the author’s style is the care which she shows her characters. It makes them all the more real and their stories heartfelt.
- Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was a bit of a gamble for me. I initially bounced off her award winning Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell from 2005 and Piranesi was getting all kinds of praise this year and up for a number of awards. I was glad I took a chance, because this one landed much differently with me. The fact that the audiobook was narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t hurt. I will listen to that man read the phone book (or whatever the modern equivalent is). Piranesi is a bit of a fever dream kind of story that you have to embrace and trust to go along for the ride. Its not perfect by any means and has some troubling aspects about the “villain” of the piece, but the world Clarke portrays here and the storytelling is without a doubt worth it.
So that was my reading journey in 2021. How about you? Anything good I should considering adding to my mountain of TBR pile. I know I picked up a lot of “new” titles in 2021 that I hope to get to in the coming months. Like I said at the beginning of this post, 2022 is not off to a good start, but I am still optimistic that once the weather warms up and I can lounge in my hammock (away from the distraction of the internet) that I will pick up the pace of my reading and listening to books.
Until next year’s round up. Ciao.