429 Cicatriz

bMaquetación 1y Sara Mesa, 2015

This book was recommended to me as stirring contemporary Spanish fiction, so I jumped at the chance to read it. The story focuses on a young woman named Sonia, leading a monotonous life, living with her mother and younger brother, and working at a mundane office where she enters data into files. In an effort to meet new people, she goes to a meetup-type group for a literary forum, only to find everyone completely boring. Things start to change when she gets a message from one of the members, who goes by the pseudonym Knut. Wanting to know whether she found any of the men at the meetup attractive, Knut immediately goes about inserting himself in her life from a distance, showering her with gifts and pulling her into what can only be described as the most toxic of relationships. Sonia, despite her seeming desire to do so, can’t quite extricate herself from his web.

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430 Stories of Your Life and Others

storiesofyourlifeby Ted Chiang, 2010

Have you ever read a book and thought, “Wow…this author is so much smarter than me! I love it!!!” That’s how I felt while reading the stories in this collection. Despite not loving the movie Arrival, I still wanted to give the source material a try, as I suspected that Hollywood was largely responsible for that movie’s focus on the potential love story over the sci-fi elements. I’m really glad I did. Stories of Your Life and Others is probably one of the best science-fiction collections I’ve ever read, and I was constantly boggled by the workings of Ted Chiang’s brain.

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428 The Premonition: A Pandemic Story

thepremonitionby Michael Lewis, 2021

Like many people, I’m highly interested in reading an exposé of everything that went wrong during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When I heard Michael Lewis talking about his new book on the New York Times Book Review podcast, I immediately put it on hold at the library. Lewis’s book is the story of the pandemic as experienced by several individuals working in government and health care. Similar to most of us, they are appalled at the lack of governmental action and feel the need to take matters into their own hands to do what they can to help prevent the loss of as many lives as possible. It is, essentially, an underdog story, and while that makes for an interesting premise, it’s also this book’s greatest downfall. Lewis isn’t interested in telling the story of the pandemic. He’s interested in telling a story.

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427 The Other Black Girl

otherblackgirlby Zakiya Dalila Harris, 2021

When Nella is first hired at the prestigious publishing company Wagner Books, she’s the only person of color on the editorial staff. She’s inspired by the black author/editor pairing of Diana Gordon and Kendra Rae Phillips who, through Wagner, put out Nella’s favorite novel in the 80s and shined a light on black creative work. Tired of being the only person interested in being educated on the importance of diversity, she’s intrigued when she gets a whiff of cocoa butter floating through the office. It can only mean one thing: there’s another black person on the premises. This appears in the form of Hazel, a newly hired editorial assistant whose long locs are the source of the scent. Nella is enthusiastic about the idea of having another person on her side, but it’s not long before she starts getting bizarre anonymous notes telling her to leave the company. Does one of the editors have something nefarious in mind for her, or is Hazel set on becoming the only black girl at Wagner? That’s the question at the heart of this so-called suspenseful thriller that has gotten a lot of buzz that, ultimately, fails in nearly every endeavor.

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426 Y: The Last Man, Vol. 7—Paper Dolls

ythelastman7by Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra, 2006

This volume opens with a journalist who’s chasing the story of a mysterious remaining last man. The people she interviews offer opinions that seem pretty in line with what we might expect to hear. Some reference an air raid bunker that’s supposedly holding a prize; another says she heard that some of the men in Rwanda were immune to the plague; another asks why no one thought about the astronauts. Most fittingly, one asks who really wants to know. Some accuse the journalist of giving people false hope by spreading the idea that there is a man still left, but she counters by saying that her gossip rag, no matter how much truth or falsehoods it holds, just helps people feel normal again. Of course, we know that there is some veracity to her search, and it’s only a matter of time before she finds him and exposes him—literally—to the world.

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425 Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay

everythingstrashby Phoebe Robinson, 2018
narrated by the author

In the fall, I found myself taking an impromptu road trip and I had to scramble to find something to occupy my ears during the day-long drive. Luckily, Phoebe Robinson’s second book of essays was available at the library, and I quickly scooped it up, eager to hear more of her thoughts on blackness and womanhood. I was quite a fan of her first memoir (which bears the title that I would have chosen for my own!). Its combination of commentary on race and feminism mixed with humor to highlight the absurdity of it all was the perfect thing to break me out of my reading slump when the world was on fire last year. Robinson’s sophomore effort is no different, bringing her signature wit to instances of racism and misogyny that would otherwise leave you in tears. Somehow, in Robinson’s voice, it all seems just a bit more bearable.

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424 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

doandroidsdreamby Philip K. Dick, 1968

Toward the fall, I started to get antsy for classic science-fiction stories, and as Netflix had acquired the rights to Blade Runner, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to take out this much-revered novel and see how it stacked up, both against the beloved movie version and against our times. Philip K. Dick is undeniably one of the most thought-provoking writers of plot in the genre, but his literature, in and of itself, can sometimes be a little lacking. I suppose your feelings on it will depend on whether you read more for plot or for style, but as I’m more a fan of the latter, I don’t always find Dick’s work to be as breathtaking as others may. That said, I do find his ideas quite interesting, and I was happy to see in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that the questions he poses are ones for which we still have no answers and about which we’ll likely continue to wonder for some time to come.

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423 Y: The Last Man, Vol. 6—Girl on Girl

ythelastman6by Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra, 2005

Volume six finds our crew aboard The Whale, a ship bound toward Japan where the three hope to recover Yorick’s stolen monkey, Ampersand. Unfortunately, the crew doesn’t take kindly to their new shipmates until the captain’s interests are provoked by seeing the last male person on Earth. That goes about as expected, until Yorick finds out the captain’s intentions with her cargo ship don’t meet his moral standards. More surprising to him, though, is his discovery of the developing relationship between Dr. Mann and 355, one that he reacts to with childish homophobia that is far less charming than it probably was back in the aughts. Yes, Yorick, sexuality is a spectrum, not a constant. Your early 2000s sensibilities are showing.

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2021 Checked In & 2022 Checked Out

At the end of year, I find myself, surprisingly, having read only two books in the past three months. Due to some changes in work and some less-than-enjoyable reads of highly buzzy books, I’ve spent these months with little desire to read and a lessened ability to focus on a single text. I’m not too worried, as I was about due for a reading slump, and, in any case, I had already completed all of my reading challenges for the year. That said, I’m removing one of them for 2022: the Read Harder Challenge. Yes, it’s introduced me to some great books that I would likely not have picked up on my own, but I need a break from feeling like I have to read certain books. I want to focus more on the books that I simply want to read. I’m not saying goodbye to it forever, but this year, I’ll try to pick up more of the books that have been languishing on my to-be-read list for ages.

Here are my annual colorful charts showing my reading stats for  the 71 books I read in 2021:

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422 Y: The Last Man, Vol. 5—Ring of Truth

ythelastman5by Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra, 2005

The adventure of Yorick Brown and his two traveling companions continues with the three having finally made it to California. This volume opens with Yorick entering a church and finding a former flight attendant taking refuge in it. We learn that the group has been on the road for two years and have had to do much of their travel on foot. They’re expected to reach Dr. Mann’s lab in another day or two, where she hopes to find out what killed all living beings with a Y chromosome and why Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand, were the only ones spared.

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