I spent much of 2021 relieved that I could devote my year to reading. And I mean, really devote it to reading, without the buzz of distraction that I had while working on Seeing Ghosts. I turned in the final draft of Ghosts to my editor on Jan. 6, mired in a mildly-to-severely disassociated state while I watched news updates about the attacks at the U.S. Capitol, underway just miles away from where I live. There was something peculiar and jarring about editing a memoir of loss and melancholy and, really, at its most basic level—the slippery concept of American identity and survival—while my phone buzzed with tweets with words like attempted coup and democracy. I wanted very much to not have to sit in reality—especially my own reality—for a while.
In no particular order, here are some of the books I read this year that still linger with me:
I will be thinking about Chaney Kwak’s The Passenger for a long time. For a couple of years, I’ve been toying with a fiction project that has to do with a cruise, and so reading Kwak’s first-hand account of his time stuck on a Viking cruise ship that had an engine failure amidst a violent storm off the Norwegian coast was informative, heart-rending, and made me think so much about the distances we traverse in order to understand ourselves better.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
Katie Kitamura’s writing is always so precise, always so layered. Intimacies is a gorgeously quiet and propulsive novel, so sweeping in its examination of translation and what it means to speak for someone else. This is a novel that I cannot wait to read again, and again—a promise within each re-read that I’ll discover something new.
Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes by Albert Samaha
Concepcion is the journalist Albert Samaha’s latest book, and I’ll read anything he writes. Concepcion is no different. Samaha uses his own family as a lens through which to view the story of conquest and colonization in the Philippines, tracing their journey to the United States.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Very belatedly, I’m starting to dive into Octavia Butler’s body of work, starting with Kindred. It’s a tightly woven novel that crisscrosses time, from the 1970s in California to the early 1800s in pre-Civil War Maryland. I’ve been curious about works that blend genres, incorporating history with a fantastical element of time travel, and I’m struck by how deftly Butler does this.
I also devoured some books that will be coming out in 2022, which I want to shout out:
What My Bones Know, by my friend the journalist Stephanie Foo is as much of a quest about figuring out self-love as it is a journalistic exploration of Complex PTSD. It comes out in February, and I am very excited for everybody to get to read it. I Came All This Way To Meet You, by the always thoughtful Jami Attenberg, is another highlight for the upcoming year, as is Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho.
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