Reading Review of 2020

Hello 2021. What a year 2020 was.

I’m grateful again to have had reading as my companion in this wild year. My reading did not go as I had planned or hoped: at the beginning of the year, I really wanted to do the Reading Women challenge, however a combination of factors made that pretty difficult. However, that said, I read books and many of them, at that, and I’m still happy about it.

Most notably, at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, I got involved in the world of diverse reading on Instagram and discovered Booktube (aka Youtube videos centered around reading). I made a book Instagram of my own (@reid.reads) to see even more content and enjoyed engaging with the world of reading there. I’m grateful to those communities and creators for influencing the way that I thought more intentionally this year about my reading than I have in previous years. Some of those people and creators include Seji (The Artisan Geek on Youtube and Instagram) and Ariel Bisset (Youtube and Instagram), as well as the aforementioned Reading Women (Instagram) and Diverse Spines (Instagram). If you’re looking to diversify your reading (a.k.a. reading less books written by straight cis white men), I highly recommend checking out those accounts. My life has been so enriched this last year as I slowly but surely changed what and who I was reading.

All that said! This year I read:

55 fiction
16 nonfiction
3 nonfiction about food
5 memoir
1 poetry
1 graphic novels
3 entire series
3 partial series
11 re-reads (ahem…Harry Potter)
38 female authors
1 non-binary author
13 male authors

I would like to humbly and highly recommend the following books:

1) The Racial Contract, by Charles Mills: This is truly a mind-blowing book about race and racism in the US and around the world. I feel a little funny recommending it because I read it for my Critical Race Theory class which I’m sure is a big reason I was able to stick it out and make sense of it as a semi-dense philosophical text. That said, I think it’s worth trying. It has given me so much language and context for understanding the world I live in and navigating and deconstructing white supremacy and my internalised racism.

2) Against the Loveless World, by Susan Abulhawa: I really believe that reading fiction set in complicated places and complicated times is one of the best ways to learn about those places and times. Abulhawa creates a stunning set of characters that really brings to light the world those characters live in. This book has brought to my mind the importance of learning about the complexities of the Middle East.

I would like to praise to high heaven the following books:

1) Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi
2) Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benin
3) Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

All three of these books have widened the scope in which I see life. As I’ll mention in my last category, reading allows me and requires me to see life fully and as it truly is. This means reading about the full scope of human experiences. Emezi writes of a teen in Nigeria exploring gender identity and sexuality. Dennis-Benin writes of an immigrant and mother trying to find happiness. Roanhorse writes a boy-god’s journey to his fate, oh, and also, a love interest. These are lives that are being lived by people who are not like me; I will never know what it is to be a Nigerian teen or Jamaican immigrant or boy-god in pre-Columbian South America. I am praising to high heaven these books because they take me out of myself and say to me, “There are people who are living a life you do not know and they are just as human as you.” Also — they are so, SO beautifully written. Please read these books and others by these authors and other fiction by and about people who don’t look like you and who are not straight white people.

I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the following book:

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin: Reading this book was a gift to me. Baldwin writes about race and racism in the US and he writes about pity for white people. We are unable to see our lives for their actuality; we are unable to accept the fact of our inevitable death. Without an openness to suffering we are unable to suffer without placing its burden on others, as whiteness has done to Black folk. This book gave me the language to begin to see my life as I imagine Baldwin might want me to. This book feels like essential reading for these times and I’m so grateful for Baldwin’s voice in my life.

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{A Man Driving A Tundra and A Girl Driving a Frontier}

We’re skip-walking into the Michael’s,
my arm hitting my friend’s.
It’s just before sundown and we’re on
a mission — well, a few, actually:
as many missions as there are 20-somethings
skip-walking into Michael’s at sundown.

I hate writing poems like this, the first in awhile,
like that time in high school when I couldn’t write until
a tree stump woke me up.

Ask us if we’re happy and we’ll
shrug.
Ask us if we’re bonetired and we might
find a laugh somewhere inside us.

I’ve been looking for ways to feel good and
One of them is going to Michael’s to
buy shit I don’t need.

Also, I’m cursing a lot more.
I imagine that my past selves are disappointed but
maybe they see where I am better than I do.

We were barreling down the hill
as usual, Moses at the wheel — not Jesus
but pretty damn close — and out of the corner
of my eye I saw it, the tree stump,
I mean.
It looked like a mother hugging her child or
maybe it didn’t but my fingers had been
hungry so long for a word to write.

That other night at Michael’s right at sundown when a man with a straight face parked near the rental truck I’ve been driving with his wife in the passenger seat while we were walking in looking for pots and air dry clay and pipe cleaners and felting wool and an umbrella, it was the same.

My fingers were hungry and I knew these words were coming from somewhere sometime and it probably has to do with that margarita I drank last night out of a plastic cup before you said you liked my rhythm and reminded me I could write but this is what it is to be alive in this body right now and I am bonetired.

{Always in the Morning} and a Reflection

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would mean for me to return to Kenya,
a place I lived for four years,
a place that held me during high school,
a place that holds in its arms humans who were colonized by the European Christians of whom I am a direct descendant,
a place that is only so recently technically freed from the European grasp but is still struggling under the reigns of the empire.

Recent connections through the alumni body of my high school
and a very well-timed Critical Race Theory class
have me thinking about what it means to actually love Kenya and the people to whom that land belongs
and what it means to act morally when my own blindnesses have been built around me
like a wall causing me to misunderstand the effects of my actions, if I can see them at all.

The following poem is the beginning of these thoughts.
They feel soft and fragile and also armed to defend themselves
in the way only white supremacy can,
with wrongly placed emotion and the all-consuming idea that I deserve comfort.


I sit this morning in our side yard,
            coffee in hand.
I am trying to read poetry
            but my mind is busy listening.
The birds in their trees and
            the woodpecker landing on the red hummingbird feeder.
The train in the distance,
            closer to our first home in this town than here.
Walkers and their dogs,
            leashes and collars jangling.

My mind is busy returning to other mornings.

Years ago (am I old enough now to say this?),
            sitting by the ragged shore of a lake
            in the heart of the Rift Valley
            in a country that was once a home to me,
            birds there, too, singing and flitting between trees.
I think of the stories shared,
            in a space we’ve built to bring
            ourselves and others with white skin
            into a hurt we could not and cannot experience.

I long to return to that place, to that lake, and I think:
How will I ever return knowing
            the damage I’ve done?
Would return mean trading my fleeting joy
            for another’s lifetime of pain?

What good is trying to be good
            if I know I can never undo the wrongs we’ve done?
I know what the answer is but
            I don’t know yet how to feel it.

I think of how I might learn to love the
            shallow blue lake — home to hippo, bird, and plant —
            without imposing my body and
            its centuries of harm and complicity.

No quick answer to be found,
            I stay in my own yard this morning,
            remembering.

a sunset over soft blue and green moutains with wispy clouds, orange light in the left, purple and blue sweeping across from the right

This* is a Whole Big Hurting Mess.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to become more human.

Many of us raised in the Christian church were taught that to love God fully; to become more divine; and to live into the image of an oftentimes male image of deity, was to deny our humanity. We were to ignore than desires of the body, controlling our innate longing for physical closeness, intent on keeping the temples of our bodies prepared for God. We were to recognize that to be human is to be evil, to make enemies of the original sin that made its home in us even before we left the garden.

Back in February, preparing for a sermon we’d been asked to give, a friend and I stumbled upon a website called the “Girardian Lectionary.” It is a compilation of resources inspired by and based off the Mimetic Theory, formulated by Rene Girard. The idea of the Memetic Theory is best summarized by Walter Wink:

“And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN … It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”

Anyways – before I start feeling like I’m writing an English paper, this idea felt really revelatory to me: “We are capable of becoming human.” It feels so much better to think about how my very humanness is what brings me closer to the loving presence of God. Instead of denial, we can embrace our humanness.

What do I do that is most human and therefore also brings me closest to being holy? I felt wholly human a few weeks ago sitting around a fire (that was sputtering and that I could not make burn without my constant attention) with my friends. I felt wholly human just this morning wading into the shallow waves on the South Carolina shore after a slow, also a little sputtering, run with the dog.

But also this: when I am full of despair for this country that is my home, that feeling too is human and, in this framework, it is a feeling I can lean into instead of run from. When I am full of hope for this place and its people – those here before my ancestors and maybe even my ancestors – that too is a human emotion worthy of attention.

I don’t know completely. This isn’t a sermon or the start of a really great blog series or anything and I have a lot of questions. Is fear human and therefore divine and worthy? Is anger? How do we begin to create humanity in ourselves after all the shit we’ve done? Are we capable? Thousands of years after our eviction from paradise into these fertile lands, do we know how to create a heaven on earth? I don’t know.

I do know that the freedom of letting myself be human feels a whole hell of a lot better than trying not to be human. If we’re all human, then maybe we can all understand each other’s need for shelter, warmth, connection, food, water, health care, love. In moving closer towards humanity, can we move away from systems that disenfranchise, oppress, abuse, and take advantage of people that are not white? Maybe in moving closer towards humanity, we will find that repenting of the sins of our ancestors feels a lot more human that pretending they don’t exist. Maybe we will begin to “see glimpses of our humanness.”

For now, I’m pressing forward. I’m trying to do what makes me feel human, even when actually being human hurts a lot more than fancying myself above it all. I’m redistributing the wealth I was born into so others can do things that make them feel human, too. I’m learning about our history and the present tense so I can know what it looks like when we are not humane toward one another. I’m doing what is asked of me to support the people in my life and in my community that are not white, even when I’m terrified that I’m messing it all up. I’m learning what it means to show up over and over again when my sense of self is built on the same ideas we’re burning to the ground. Being human, I’m learning, is not always a lot of fun and doesn’t always feel soft and fuzzy and full of love. 

I am hopeful, though, because I believe that we can change and grow and I believe that, made in the image of God, “we are capable of becoming human.”

*becoming human

{8 Stanzas are Enough for Now}

The boys sitting in front of us at the concert keep their
shoulders touching the whole show, hands on their laps,
and they lean in, mouth toward ear, to speak.

At breakfast, we sit around a table
and we gesture-speak our stories,
voices and laughs loud in the early morning.

My friend is having her blood taken,
drawn from a needle to a tube to a bag rocking beside the chair,
when she tells me that her grandmother has died.

There is a spider building her web over a manmade pond,
her shadow falling on the water
where orange fish swim.

The setting sun lights up the side of the branches
I can’t see from where I’m standing in the courtyard while
the same orange light hits my face.

//

Lately it seems I can’t write a poem without at least
two shimmering images waiting
in the recesses of my mind.

I’ve been haunted for years by this idea that
the words don’t come unless they feel welcome, so I do
my best to make my space/heart/life a home for them.

I keep the windows open so the wind can blow in.
I keep the quilt untucked so my legs can kick in the night.
I keep my chest turned toward the sky so God can march right in.

My Year in Books: 2019

I am proud of my reading in 2019. It is the first year I’ve ever kept track of everything I was reading and I so enjoyed the practice of it. I love now, too, that I can go back and remember my year through the lens of the books I was reading.

I would love to write great reviews of all the books I read, or at least to rate all the books I read, but, for reasons that include lack of time and also insecurity about my opinion being valid at all, that does not happen.

What I have done instead is created a kind of year in review with a few categories that I made up and a few that were inspired by other readers. Because of the things mentioned above, my categories and picks won’t come with a lot of explanation, but I enjoyed going through my books and categorizing them.

I hope you, too, enjoy my not-very-serious but maybe still interesting Year in Books for 2019. 🙂

Here we go.

This year I read:

  • 42 fiction books 
  • 2 poetry collection
  • 2 graphic novels 
  • 1 collection of short stories 
  • 4 complete series or some books from a series
  • 1 book I had previously read
  • 25 female authors 
  • 20 male authors

Easiest Book I Read: The Penderwicks series, by Jeanne Birdsall

The two easiest books I read by far were the last two books in Birdsall’s series, the first three of which I read when I was younger. I loved her books then and I still love them now.

Hardest Book I Read: Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish slang in this book made it a little difficult to get in to, but it was definitely worth it for the story.

 

Most ~Enlightening~: We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled, by Wendy Pearlman

I had not previously known very much about the Arab Spring so reading this book felt like a revelation. Reading it has allowed me to learn even more about the Arab Spring and has really enhanced my understanding of events in the Middle East.

Most Beautiful Cover: Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

(Also a fantastic book, the cover of this book is just striking to me.)

 

Most Beautiful Content: Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

I loved this book for the story and the characters, but also simply for the beautiful descriptions of the land and the creatures in rural Virginia.

Out Of All the Books I Read, You Should Read This One: The Overstory, by Richard Powers 

This is an incredible book. Story, character, heart, message. It reads like poetry and is so important. Trees are so important.

Most Important: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A necessary read for all of us who are white.

Newest: graphic novels

I had never really read graphic novels before this year. I read two, the one below, The Prince and His Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, which was simply adorable. And I read a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I’m looking forward to reading more graphic novels and seeing what the combination of word and visual art can do.

Longest: The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

This book took me many months to complete, reading pretty consistently. It was dense and at times sad, but it was compelling and so well written, and taught me so much.

{How I’m Beginning This Year}

Also known as: {Personal Affirmations}.
Also known as: {Truths of which to be Reminded}.
Also known as: {How I Take Care of Myself}.

1. I build a routine that feels good and, recognizing the value of structure in my wellbeing, I stick to it.
2. I recognize when I need to slow down and listen, instead of speak.
3. I recognize places that I do not need to be in charge and in so doing, remember that the world runs without my micromanagement.
4. I let others take some of the weight off my shoulders: it wasn’t all mine to begin with.
5. I release jealousy because my worth is not tied to how useful, needed, or special I am to someone, in someone’s life, or in the process.
6. I recognize the cycle and the trap of my own negativity, pity, pain, and helplessness because none are 100% true and none are everlasting.
7. I remember that writing it down gets it out.
8. I allow myself to dream, regardless of its possibility.
9. I remember that though I am alone in my skull, I am not alone in the world.

{The Pools}

At the 9.11 memorial,
the sound of the pools,
so much water going over so many edges,
almost drowns out the sounds of the city.
People, however, you can hear
just as well.

The body holds a memory the mind
cannot remember, so I
put my fingers to the names
cut into stone.
The people flock to the pools,

take photographs of pools framed
by trees framed by city’s buildings.
The waters rushes forward in its endless practice.

Guards with guns stand by doors,
pose for photos with admirers and
I remember the Wendell Berry poem:
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.”

I remember it could’ve been any of us.
It could be any of us.

{Today, I Took the Life of a Grasshopper}

right out of its body as
I was extracting it from the leg of my jeans after it somehow got itself there as
I walked through a field in the fall with a friend by my side with
another friend’s binoculars in my hands as
I was trying to get closer to a bird I saw in the trees
just beyond the binoculars’ focusing power from where
we sat in the grass drinking hot water with mint while
we felt the wind in our hair.

The sky was so blue & so full &
the air tasted soft & new & the lungs
of the grasshopper were pumping desperately.

{An Age Old Poem}

Belle Pepper the cow grazes this morning,
The push of her neck repetitive and calm.
I don’t think she knows that it is Easter,
But maybe she does.

Maybe this is how she is celebrating.
She eats the food available to her while
The sun lifts itself to our part of the world.

We know that it is Easter, so we sit
On the porch with warm drinks in our hands as
The birds fly by like always, singing.

Yellow and orange light sweeps over the mountains
And the mystery comes with it:
Washing everything,
Pulling back the curtain,
Rolling away the stone.