At last, the hell-year is over.
I don’t know about you, but surviving 2020 really made me look around and take stock of my life. It made me see things in new ways, let go of old habits that weren’t serving me any more, and want more and more to stop letting change happen to me, but to make it happen for me. I’ve decided to work on my graduate school application, fulfilling a life long dream to get my doctorate and study how women write about their fears. I’ve decided to learn Spanish, to commit myself to an exercise practice that heals and strengthens me instead of slims and starves me, to spend more time here on this blog writing about books and what they mean to me, to build healthy boundaries in my relationships with others, to love myself as unconditionally and honestly as possible. I’m ready to stop feeling sorry that life doesn’t look the way I want it to, to stop lamenting that it doesn’t immediately turn perfect with the smallest amount of effort on my part. I’m ready to start painting on the canvas of my life, one brushstroke at a time, so I can enjoy my life as I’m living it and look back one day and remember where each stroke came from.
All of these New-Year feelings also had me considering where my reading life will be in 2021. Obviously, reading is a huge part of my life, and so I can’t expect to make shifts in my life without also shifting my shelves. I think in the past, I approached my reading life wanting more quantity over quality, believing that if I chased the ever-threatening Goodreads counter goal, people would be impressed by me and take me seriously as a reader and thinker. I doggedly stuck to reading lists recommended by “experts” that I didn’t like because I thought it would be impressive to others that I read them. I let other people tell me what to read, what was worth my time, what would make me look the best. I thought I couldn’t call myself a reader, much less aim for graduate school in literature, if I didn’t read all the Big Boy Books that others had.
I believe reading makes us smarter and wiser and more understanding and emphatic, but roaring through novels I didn’t care about, that I forgot about a few days later, that didn’t make any lasting impact on me, is no longer serving me. It’s time to slow down and figure out why reading matters to me and how I can use it to accomplish my other goals. It’s time to care less about what will impress my followers on Goodreads, and what will make an impact on my heart and mind and ultimately the way I live my life.
As I wrote my Best of 2020 list, it became abundantly clear to me which books mattered out of the 80 or so that I read in 2020. My top ten list is populated by women almost exclusively (only Wally Lamb making the cut, but I think if I expanded my list to twenty or even fifty, he would still be the only male author there). The stories are about women, exclusively, and are racially and ethnically diverse. Seven of my ten were by women of color, five of those being Black women. Half were fantasy, and the other half were coming-of-age stories about women. Half of them had queer characters or queer-coded characters. Taking a look at the stats, it’s clear what books kept me up at night, which ones I’m still thinking about. Several of my top ten picks this year landed on my Best of All Time list.
So in 2021, I’m throwing out everyone’s lists but my own. Goodbye Great American Read, good bye “must read before you’re thirty,” good bye “NYT best sellers,” good bye “bookstagram and booktok”, good bye “books that will make you look smart”. In 2021, I’m reading with my whole chest.
In order to keep myself focused, I’m only going to pin-point three areas to focus my reading, many of which will over lap.
First, I’m reading Black literature. I’ve created a list, which I will share soon, that distills several recommendation lists from all across the internet and includes nonfiction and fiction. I think that for the most part, I’m going to focus my efforts on the Zora Canon, so that I can continue to prioritize women. I’m not going to aim to check off every book this year, but instead use the list to guide me and inspire me. I’ve spoken already about how hard it can be to find Black authors on the shelves, and so I want this list to be a physical reminder to me of all the options that I have so I don’t get falsely discouraged. I want to read through classics as well as more contemporary works that put on display the Black experience in America. This goal will not only inform me about issues facing Black Americans, but also work out that often avoided discomfort muscle. I want to be able to recommend more Black voices to people and to be able to celebrate Black voices in fiction that are deepening and crafting the American novel.
Second, I’m reading fantasy. I really enjoy the escapism of a good fantasy novel, and I think 2020 made me realize just how much fantasy has been a comfort to me in my life. Magic and monsters have long been sources of inspiration for me in my own writing, but they also make me feel powerful and unbound as a reader. I read some really amazing fantasy this year from people of color and I want to expand that in the new year. Fantasy is meant to push boundaries and to create new worlds, and I think Western fantasy has gotten prime billing for way too long. All the top fantasy novels are the same story — mostly focused on men, mostly based in the political history of Britain, mostly populated with stock characters from Dungeons and Dragons, mostly filled with shock factors and Men Who Don’t Feel. There are so many voices out there now crafting brilliant fantasy from their cultures. Game of Thrones style fantasy is out! Frankly, I don’t think I could ever go back to Western-inspired fantasy after reading The Poppy Wars. R. F. Kuang raised the bar to such heights, that even with their dragons and giants, the Western authors cannot reach it for me. I’m really excited to delve into new worlds and see what I find.
Finally, I want to read more memoirs from non-white Americans. I found a lot of really interesting and exciting reading lists about the experiences of BIPOC in America while working on my global challenge, and I made myself put them aside to read voices from the areas of my challenge, but it was so hard! There are a lot out there that I’m excited to get my hands on. I think if anything this year has shown us just how different we all experience life as Americans, and with the rise of platforms like TikTok, those differences are even more on display and more accessible than ever. On TikTok, I’ve been able to hear from and see cultures from all over the US and globe that I’ve never seen or learned about before. There are teens out there really trying to make themselves seen a world that profits off their invisibility. I want to go even deeper into the American experience by prioritizing the American lives that TV, film, and books often don’t show us.
So there you have it! Those are my reading goals in 2021. I’m really excited about this challenge, and excited to enter the new year without a strict list, but with a roadmap that will not only ensure that I get what I want out of my reading journey but that is also sure to see my Best of Time list grow and mature. I’ll probably still do fun little challenges like the Pop Sugar challenge, but I want to really leave myself open this year, to follow my heart in my reading instead of list.
If you have any recommendations for me based on my goals, please let me know in the comments! I plan to begin posting reviews and wrap-ups more regularly in 2021, so I hope you’ll stick around to see what I read and chat about your favorites with me!
I’m wishing you a warm, safe, and healthy new year, my dear readers. And lots of reading.