2021, unlike its predecessor, was an excellent reading year for me. I regained (most of) the attention span I lost in 2020 but, for long stretches of the year, there was little I could responsibly do outside my apartment. So I read. And read. And read. Mostly fiction (given my day job, reading NF after-hours feels unpleasantly like work), but also some essays and how-to books and niche history.1 Below are ten books I heartily enjoyed, in case you need written fodder to get you through this Omicron winter:
If you, too, are a sucker for multigenerational sagas told from multiple characters’ perspectives, may I recommend The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer? Runner-up: Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen. (I know, he’s deeply uncool, but I really enjoyed this one.)
If you want a book you can tear through in one weekend without feeling like you read the equivalent of a Snickers bar, may I recommend Sisterland (or really anything else) by Curtis Sittenfeld? Runner-up: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris.
If you, like me, are trying to plan a wedding without any Pinterest boards, may I recommend A Practical Wedding Planner by Meg Keene? This isn’t an anti-wedding book by any means (I’ve read some, and they are also good), but it did give me the courage to admit that no, I do not care all that much about table centerpieces and color schemes.
If you are interested in the politics of desire and/or want to spend some time in the mind of a smart-but-not-overly-pretentious thinker, may I recommend The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan? I may yet write about this one.
If you are in the mood for something truly bizarre, may I recommend A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer? I didn’t expect to like this, but I couldn’t stop talking about it.
Finally, a bonus recommendation: the best book I’ve read thus far in 2022 is Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. Just trust me - it’s really, really worth your time.
What else should I read in 2022? Leave a comment, por favor - I would love your recommendations.
Reader response of the week
“Our toddler asked for make-up, nail polish, and a purse for Christmas, and of course we got it for her. I swear I would have done the same for a little boy if he asked, but it feels like a weird failure that my daughter is aware of these things and wants them. She is far more interested in her floral prints and pink sweatshirts than any of the black, gray, navy, and red solids I’ve stocked her drawers with. I know there’s so much room for her to grow and change from this point, and I just hope that everything we do in these early years helps her realize she’s not limited by a gender identity, even if much of her world seems that way.”
I’ve heard a version of this sentiment from many parents: “Help! My daughter likes pink and my son likes toy trucks!” I want to be very clear that this doesn’t necessarily represent a personal failure on your part. In a world where gender was less central, we’d still expect some girls to like pink and some boys to like trucks. Further, there’s only so much you as a parent can do, given all the other influences (media, teachers, peers, grandparents, neighbors, etc.) your child will be exposed to. (Okay, I suppose you could pull a Rapunzel and lock your child away in a tower until they turn 18, but this might cause a different set of issues).
IMHO, it’s better to focus on process than outcome: has your daughter been exposed to a wide range of colors, toys, games, etc.? Have you been thoughtful about what behaviors you praise/critique, and what language you use to do so? If your daughter suddenly eschews flowers and goes all-in on camoflauge, are you supportive? If so, you’re probably on the right track.
That said, others would argue that it’s worth going out of your way to raise a “gender-neutral baby.” If you’re interested in learning more about the gender-neutral parenting movement, see this first-person account from a parent trying to do just that. This psychologist studies how children learn stereotypes, and she’s written a practical book about her findings.
Shoutout to my Niche History Book Club, which has provided me with much of this year’s most interesting conversation fodder. Apologies again for the unforgivable act of selecting a 700-page book when it was my turn to pick.