I’m not sharing my “best of” books list this year, and it’s not because there weren’t books that knocked it out of the park this year. There were. The books which really stood out to me were able to carry me through seasons of this year that were challenging, frustrating, joyous, and uncertain. They held me when I felt untethered. They gave me fuel to survive another day, especially those months of lonely maternity leave between baby naps, feedings, changes, and snuggles. I spent June reading and reading and reading and immersing myself in words in a way I hadn’t in a long time and doing so truly kept me sane (alongside medication, of course).
There’s not a best of for me this year, though. I don’t have it in me to look through what I’ve read — a little under 100 books, which is both better and weaker than I’d hoped — and talk about why these books were so great. I’m tired and burned out and worried.
It’s been nine months since my child was born, and in those nine months, I’ve done nothing different than I have since I was pregnant in July of 2020. Nothing different since the pandemic ignited in March of that same year. To explain just how lonely and painful it’s been would be impossible. Words don’t describe the feeling of lying in bed after hitting snooze four times and desperately wanting to do anything but get up. Words don’t explain the reality of navigating simple errands like grocery shopping and having to use the precious free time you have on weekends to coordinate childcare to do it so your unvaccinated, unprotected child isn’t put in the possibility of harm’s way. Words can’t convey the complex and crappy math equations done every single day to determine if this scenario is safe enough for you or if it’s once again time to say sorry, but those obligations won’t be met.
I’ve never looked at books as a form of escape, and I still don’t. They’re just part and parcel of how I navigate life, weaving periods of ravenous consumption with periods where I don’t touch a book or audiobook for weeks. This year, they punctuated the most stressful times and the ones where I could let out a breath.
I remember just a day after having my baby and being readmitted to labor and delivery for postpartum preeclampsia and holding her. i looked at her, looked at the monitors on my body, the beep beep beeps of alarms going off because things were still not okay with me. In those moments, I thought about how I needed to do something that would make an impact, something that would touch people’s lives in their most vulnerable and challenging moments. I believe I’ve had a good dose of doing that this year, especially in highlighting the efforts to ensure censorship doesn’t dismantle the First Amendment rights of all people in the US this year.
Those things have added to my life in substantial ways. Those actions made me fiercely passionate for what else I could do, even if from the space where I’ve set up an office at home: my beat-up, third-family-to-own couch, pockmarked with rabbit holes, cat fur, and stains of unknown origin.
A lot of wheels are in motion and continue to move.
This year, I don’t want to celebrate the best books of the year because every book I picked up this year mattered to me in some way. Maybe I didn’t like it, but I embraced quitting this year more than ever. If a book didn’t grab me, if it didn’t compel me to keep going, I dropped it and moved on.
Those books which did move me I spent all year talking about whenever and wherever I could. I know I could do more, could shout about them more here, but I’m not. Instead, I’m going to let the things I took from those reads sit within me and only within me. To let them fuel what comes next and what corners I can turn in the coming year.
I don’t believe 2022 is going to be different than this year. I’m not being cynical or pessimistic. Rather, I’m coming from seeing what’s played out the last two years, both globally and in my own backyard, and I’m approaching it from a place of realism. There will be good days and there will be bad ones. There will be moments when I don’t think I can get out of bed and other days when I could stay up all night, lying to myself I’ll close my book when I finish one more page, one more chapter.
The book of my life had so many twists this year, as did the larger narrative of what life is and means more broadly. I don’t plan to ever stop talking about books and reading, nor do I plan to stop blogging about either. But this year has given me the tools to see when it brings me something and when it takes something from me. Reading and writing are and always will be first and foremost for me. Everything else is secondary, and so sometimes, being depleted from non-book life means setting aside things like book celebration in order to turn inward, to embrace the darkness, and to know that the things that bring light will be there when I’m ready. I only ever need to operate at the rhythm of my own heart, as well as the hearts and needs of my closest and truest.
That means books, but it means more than books, too.
To close out 2021, my heart and my love for books and reading are begging to be left to settle. I’m going to honor that and not push myself to produce in the sake of tradition or expectation. The best books I read this year have already given me value that can never be seen or understood, and, without doubt, that’s the best present and best celebration of a year in reading that I could ask for.