The year is dead
Toll him out with twelve strokes more, one for every passing month (a book roundup)
Well! That sure was a year! I feel like I spent the year vacillating between optimism and anxiety, doomscrolling and unable to read anything more challenging than fanfiction. (I am so, so grateful that there does not exist a Spotify Wrapped for AO3.) Looking at my list of books read I only have 47 listed—my lowest for years.
That’s all right, though. If I learned anything this year it’s that sometimes you just gotta go with the flow. And if the flow is panning for gold in the Kinnporsche tag, so be it. It wasn’t a total wash—I wrote two books this year, two books I’m immensely proud of. Hopefully I can tell y’all more about them soon. Reconnecting with myself as a writer was a lot of fun, and I’m really excited to see what the future holds.
Even though I didn’t read my customary forty bajillion books, what I lacked in quantity I made up for in quality. I also skewed both more and less literary: I read a higher number of literary fiction books than I usually do, and also a metric fuckton of romance novels. Overall, there were a number of books this year that have stayed with me in one way or another, nestling in my imagination and giving me lots to think about. Here are the highlights, in chronological order:
How Lucky by Will Leitch
Will Leitch is nominally a sportswriter, but he has a galaxy-sized brain and a huge talent for character. I highly recommend his weekly newsletter, where he covers a wide range of subjects with humor and thoroughness—here is his tribute from last week to his dear friend, the soccer writer Gran Wahl, who died of an aortic aneurism covering the World Cup in Qatar. How Lucky is only a sports novel in that it takes place in a college football town. The protagonist, Daniel, suffers from a debilitating condition that has left him unable to speak or walk, but he leads a rich life, with friends and family and a remote work job. One day he’s almost certain he witnesses a kidnapping, which kicks off the plot, but the novel is more concerned with the minutia of Daniel’s life—going to the bathroom, eating, existing in the body.
READ IF YOU LIKE: Rear Window, Wolf in White Van, Nothing to See Here
Memorial by Bryan Washington
Absolutely one of my favorites of the year. Benson and Mike are two long-term boyfriends who aren’t quite sure why they’re still together, but just as Mike’s cranky mother Mitsuko arrives in Houston for an extended visit, he finds out that his estranged father is dying back in Tokyo, and leaves Benson to hang out with his mother. Benson, a black day care teacher, doesn’t speak Japanese, but he and Mitsuko fall into what is first an uncomfortable, awkward roommate situation that turns into a lovely connection. Back in Japan, Mike learn more about his past and his father as he comes to terms with his own history. It’s a poignant, lovely novel about family and relationships, and also a great food book. (Washington is also a prolific food writer.)
READ IF YOU LIKE: Feeling hungry while reading, Crying In H-Mart, Real Life
The Work of the Dead: a Cultural History of Mortal Remains by Thomas Laqueur
I’ve probably thought more about this book than any other this year, mostly because I bought it as part of my research for the fantasy novel I’ve been working on all year. This mammoth tome is basically a history of burial in the West, from Diogenes asking to be tossed over the city walls to be eaten by wild dogs to the European graveyard. It looks at philosophy and practicality both—one chapter in particular dealt with excavating London graveyards for new construction. If you like long books about weird subjects, highly recommend!
READ IF YOU LIKE: Stiff, Dark Archives, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste Into Wealth and Health
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
This book has been on a number of best-of lists for good reason. Nghi Vo is the author of one of my favorites from last year, The Chosen and the Beautiful, a queer fantasy reimagining of The Great Gatsby. Siren Queen is a masterful followup. It’s the story of Luli Wei, a Chinese-American girl determined to be a star in pre-Code Hollywood. Vo’s Hollywood is a twisted place powered by dark, violent bargains, complete with a Wild Hunt that claims the lives of its brightest stars. Atmospheric, suspenseful, with a heroine at its heart that you can’t help but root for even at her worst. Highly recommend.
READ IF YOU LIKE: The Cabinet, Tam Lin
There were a number of other books I really loved this year that I want to highlight, in no particular order:
The Cabinet by Un-Su Kim
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System vol 1 and 2 by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu
The Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
That’s all, folks! I’m still working through Barbara Tuchman’s mammoth book on the 14th century, which will probably take me through the end of the year. I’m going to start January with a book purge, a project I’m oddly excited for.
How did your year in reading go? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or in replies what your favorites were, what were some surprise duds, books you’d like to revisit in the future!
I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who subscribes to this newsletter, all three-hundred something of you. This has been a weird year for everyone, and I’m glad I could come back to this space and find y’all still interested in my rambling. I hope your holiday seasons are stress-free and filled with love.
Realistically speaking this is the last newsletter for the year, since we are now fully in the death march towards Hannukah/Christmas/New Year’s.
In an effort to control my work load, I’m going to be doing editing slots for January and February. There are four available right now for each month, so if you’re interested in getting an edit from me, book now! You can do so via Reedsy.
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
Alexander Ovechkin has hit 800 goals scored, which means only he, Gordie Howe, and Wayne Gretzky have hit that number in the history of the sport. Elsewhere, the Stars’ Jason Robertson is leading the league in goals scored, making him the first Asian-American to do so. All in all, a fun time to be watching hockey!
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.