I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I didn’t read that many books last year, and many of the ones I did read were school assignments. However, the books I read last year underscored the importance of integrating reading into my everyday life and fueled one of my 2022 resolutions: read more books! I love to read, but, as I’m sure we all know, finding books we want to read and committing to reading them takes motivation, time management, and the ability to remember to do it. With that in mind, I am glad I was able to read the books I did last year, and I highly recommend all of them to anyone who finds them interesting. For me, 2021 did not have a bad book.
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
I read Edwidge Danticat’s The Dew Breaker last spring. Published in 2004, this was the first modern novel I’d read after a long period filled only with textbooks, academic essays, and stories from a hundred years ago or more (I was taking a lot of those classes). Reading The Dew Breaker was like a breath of fresh air. Even though it was assigned reading, sitting down with Danticat’s characters was my break in the day; I always looked forward to it.
And, let me tell you, The Dew Breaker is quite the tale. Danticat herself is Haitian-American, and her book reflects her rich cultural background. The Dew Breaker is a collection of interrelated stories about Haitian people, immigrants, and refugees, who fled, endured, or learned about Haiti’s political turmoil and the far-reaching effects of it. I always love a book that breaks conventional plot structure, and, spanning multiple perspectives, locations, and times, The Dew Breaker does just that in an elegant and unique way.
In turn, this book taught me about the history and culture of a country I haven’t been exposed to very much. It reminded me the role immigrants play in our community and revealed how global crises, despite being “over there,” are woven into the culture of America through out diverse population. Therefore, this book brings people closer together, especially by encouraging us to consider the perspective of those who seem different from us. But, more than anything, this book reminded me of the feeling of sitting down with a good book, which was more valuable than anything else.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Over the summer, I reread Night Film by Marisha Pessl, one of my favorite books. Night Film is one of the best mystery books I ever read. It follows a journalist in New York, trying to uncover the reasons behind the suicide of the daughter of an infamous horror movie director. I’m not revealing anything, but I will say, somehow, the ending leaves you almost just as lost as the beginning of the mystery. This book is filled with rich descriptions, fascinating characters, and heart-stopping horror. Because of this, Night Film is one of my main sources of inspiration as a writer. I always strive to replicate Pessl’s exquisite writing in some way and create a story as enthralling as Night Film.
I can’t say I’ve done much writing this year either, but Night Film keeps me in touch with my craft and reminds me what a good story is. Anyone who likes horror and mystery books has not truly experienced the genre before reading Night Film. It does not disappoint, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dark fiction or appreciates beautiful writing. Maybe you’ll find it as inspiring as I do.
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
I read two books in the fall, which are fairly similar in what they try to accomplish. The first one is My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. Strange title, right? This book follows documentarian Jane, a Japanese-American woman, and her boss’ wife, Akiko, who lives half a world away in Japan. Jane works on a cooking show designed to sell American meat to Japanese housewives, but there is so much more to this book than television and meat. It is rich with cross-cultural perspectives, analysis of women’s issues, and advocacy for animal rights.
Anyone who wants to learn how to close read or analyze books should start with My Year of Meats because its themes are plentiful and easy to spot. I had so much fun with that book for this reason. It’s not a book you read passively because it is full of meaning that just jumps out at you and forces you to think deeper along the way. My Year of Meats is commentary, critiquing the way women and animals are treated in society. I learned a lot about issues that affect me—and everyone—directly. I mean, have you ever though about where the animal products you eat come from? You probably have, but we often don’t look at it as deeply as Ruth Ozeki has. In turn, this book is a great read for anyone who likes to learn, likes mentally stimulating reading material, and is interested in animal rights and women’s issues.
Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
The final book I read last year is similar to My Year of Meats in that it’s a commentary book and a great one at that. Solar Storms by Linda Hogan is the story of a Native American teenager, who reconnects with her heritage after leaving the foster care system. However, her family’s hometown is threatened when corporations insist on building a dam and using the town property as the flood grounds, forcing the vastly Native American population from their homes.
This book is truly beautiful. The rich descriptions embed you in a cold, Northern, yet lovely natural landscape. Many of the characters are deeply in touch with nature, including the main character, who dreams about medicinal plants she’s never heard of before and can locate them by following her intuition. Family is also very important to the core group of major characters, and anyone who reads this book becomes startling aware of the ancient ties that flow between people and places.
Solar Storms at its core is a book about a marginalized group of people. Like My Year of Meats, it taught me a lot about how Native American people are treated, as well as about their culture in general. It showed me the trauma they have endured across generations and how that trauma manifests today. These are not the Native Americans of the past, reduced to stereotypes of horse-riding, and teepee-living. No, these people are our neighbors, who get so little recognition by mainstream society. And that is one thing books are really good for, showing you perspectives other than your own and teaching about your fellow people.
Like I said, it wasn’t much. But the books I did read last year touched me deeply, reminded me why I love to read so much, educated me, and made me want to read more. What books did you read in 2021? How did they impact you? And what books do you plan on reading this year? I have four suggestions for you right there because I highly recommend every one of these books. So now what’s stopping you? Start reading!