And that’s another year! Thank you 2021 for all the memories. It was fraught with challenges but there are still a lot of things to be thankful for. I just hope that things will get better in 2022 even though more transmissible variants of COVID19 have been discovered. I fervently pray that we get to contain, or even fully eradicate, the virus. I can’t wait for the pandemic to end.

Reading-wise, December was like my November reading month. Both months were slow reading months. The shift of focus to my active reading challenges figured largely in this slowdown. This was despite the reading momentum I have gained in the previous months. Despite the slow down, I must say it was a success for my mad dash towards the finish line made me complete three of my four active reading challenges; my only failure, like in the previous years, was my 2021 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To List. I am still glad I managed to complete three reading challenges. I thought my 2021 Beat the Backlist Challenge was a lost cause but I managed to pull through in the end. Overall, December was a great reading month, in part because I finally broke through with my 900th overall read.

With this being said, here is a peek into how my journey went. Here is my reading list for December.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I opened my December reading month with the 20th book in my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. Richard Adams’ Watership Down was one of the books that I kept encountering in must-read lists. However, I keep on dismissing the book because of an erroneous notion of what it was about. I initially thought that the book was about the War, in the same vein as Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Imagine my surprise when I learned how badly mistaken I was. Watership Down is about a group of wild rabbits! To redress this error, I acquired a copy of the book; I was curious about what the book has in store. Having a group of rabbits, led by Bigwig, as the main characters belie the seriousness of the subjects it has explored. The novel contained mythical elements such as that of Odyssey. What was scintillating was the anthropomorphizing of the rabbits. They have their own culture, their own societal hierarchies, their own poems and myths, and even their own language. However, their animal qualities and instincts remained palpable. It was a riveting read, one of my favorites in 2021, perhaps all-time. Watership Down was also my 85th read for 2021, hence, completing my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge; my final tally was 92 books for the year.

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

And more good news ensued after I completed my first reading challenge for the year. By reading James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain, the 21st book in my 2021 Top 21 Reading Rist, I completed my second reading challenge for the year. Yay! Even before I acquired my copy of the book back in 2020, I was already enchanted by Go Tell It On The Mountain. It was listed in several must-read lists but it also reminded me of a Christmas song of the same title: Go, tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born. I didn’t realize that the song already provides an iota of what the book was about. Religion was at the heart of the novel, with the focus on John Grimes and the complicated story of his family. The book, while rather slim, abounded by religious intersections as it studied the relationship between African Americans and the Pentecostal Church. Hypocrisy, greed, and sarcasm were among the elements that floated to the surface but on a positive note, the book also underscored how the Church creates a sense of belongingness. While the Church loomed above the narrative, the story was still about the characters and their lives. Magnifying these relationships made up for an immersive read and made me understand why Baldwin was a force in contemporary American literature.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

After completing two reading challenges, I shifted my focus to another reading challenge I signed up for in 2021, the Beat the Backlist Challenge. Essentially, the challenge is about ticking off books published before 2021. I set my target to 40 for the year and made a separate list of 12 books I intend to tick off. The ninth book on this list is Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. When I came across the book through a book sale, I had no inkling who Chandler was nor had I read any of his works. It came as a surprise when I learned the book was listed as one of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The novel featured a private sleuth named Philip Marlowe who was hired by wealthy and elderly General Sternwood to deal with a blackmailing attempt instigated by a bookseller named Arthur Geiger. The General’s two daughters have been causing him all sorts of headaches. Marlowe thought that there was nothing extraordinary about the case. But as he finds himself drawn in inch by inch, he slowly learned how wrong his presumptions were.

Drop City by T.C. Boyle

My journey into the completion of my last active reading challenge for the year continued with American author T. Coraghessan Boyle’s Drop City. Coincidentally, both Drop City and The Big Sleep were listed as part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This piqued my curiosity for the book doesn’t give off that vibe. Or was it just me? Haha. I was about to find out. The titular Drop City pertains to a Californian commune built by a group of free spirits. In another world, I would have referred to them as junkies for self-indulgence abounded in the atmosphere. The denizens of the commune lived a carefree life, unencumbered by capitalism and all the other things that existed beyond the boundaries of Drop City. After they were evicted by the authorities, the group journeyed to the freezing Alaskan landscape. How can they survive in their new environment when most of them are unequipped with basic survival skills? My first novel by the prolific writer, Drop City painted an interesting portrait of commune life.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë 

It was around the holiday season almost five years ago that I read my first novel by the famed Brontë sisters. Coincidentally, it was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Five years thence, I am reading my second novel by the eldest of the popular literary trio, Villette. I have also listed Villette for my 2021 Beat the Backlists Challenge, meaning I am just one book short of completing my last reading challenge. At first, I thought Villette was the name of the novel’s main character. But of course, I was wrong for the main character was Lucy Snowe. There were not many details about her family but readers meet her in the abode of her godmother, Mrs. Bretton, in the English countryside. In her early twenties, she eventually moved to the fictional town of Villette in the Kingdom of Labassecour. At Villette, she worked as a teacher for Madame Beck. The novel took elements from the author’s own life. Villette was an allegory for Brussels, where she moved to when she was 26-years-old. The novel has several outstanding elements that kept me invested in Lucy’s life in Villette. The spectral presence of a nun rendered the story a more Gothic atmosphere.

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens 

I was ready to give up on my 2021 Beat the Backlist challenge when I checked the length of Drop City, Villette, and The Old Curiosity Shop. They were all quite lengthy, especially Charles Dickens’ novel. But since it is the last piece to my 2021 Beat the Backlist challenge, I resolved to complete it. The Old Curiosity Shop was my fifth novel by the timeless English writer; some of his works are among my all-time favorite reads. The titular curiosity shop pertains to a shop of oddities owned by Little Nell Trent’s grandfather (he was unnamed the entire novel). Like many Dickensian characters, she was orphaned at a young age and she also has no peers of her age. Her grandfather loved her so much that, in order to secure her future, he borrowed sums of money from Daniel Quilp, a malicious character who lusted after the fourteen-year-old Little Nell. As fate would have it, the Trents lost their properties and were forced to escape from Quilp’s strangling presence. It was a novel of contrasts but overall, it was a heartbreaking story, especially of the hardships that Little Nell had to go through.

Secrets by Nuruddin Farah 

And so I finally arrived at this, my 900th all-time read. I had considered several books for this spot; numbers somehow are special to me and it is incumbent upon me to have them be occupied by equally special works. After several deliberations, I settled on Nurrudin Farah’s Secrets. It was quite a risk for I have never read any of Farah’s works and it was only recently that I heard of him. Nevertheless, he was considered by many as a Titan of African literature. That was enough to convince me to have Secrets as my 900th read. The nucleus of Secrets is Kalaman and his childhood friend, Sholoongo. Fate diverged their paths but it also brought it back together, a quarter of a century later. The pregnant Sholoongo barged into Kalaman’s life abruptly. What ensued is the story about betrayals and hidden agendas. Their story was juxtaposed to the turbulent contemporary history of Somalia; the allusions were subtle. The writing was accessible despite the abrupt shifts in voices; I was surprised when the torch was passed to Kalaman’s grandfather. The story did take time to develop and it was not until the concluding pages that the titular secrets were unveiled.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Closing my reading year is another work by Charles Dickens, making him the only writer who I’ve read at least two works of in 2021. In keeping up with the holiday spirit, I have lined up A Christmas Carol, a book I have long been wanting to read. It is that popular! I mean who has not heard of Ebenezer Scrooge? The book has also become synonymous with the holiday season. A Christmas Carol was also my last book for 2021 and it was a fitting way to close both the year and the holiday season. As I have mentioned, the novella’s primary character is Ebenezer Scrooge, an old man who frowns upon all the tediousness of the holiday season. He thinks of it as “humbug”, a total waste of time and effort. Everything changed when the ghost of Marley, his departed business partner, dropped him an unexpected visit; he issued his friend a caveat should he fail to mend his ways. To help him change, three more spectral presences dropped by and visited him in the coming days. I know how the story is going to pan out but I was still drawn in. The book definitely deserves its place as the top must-read holiday book.

And that was how my reading year ended, in great spirits, literally and symbolically!

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2021 Top 21 Reading List21/21
  2. 2021 Beat The Backlist: 12/12
  3. My 2021 Books I Look Forward To List6/11
  4. Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge: 92/85 
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 23/20
Book Reviews Published in December
  1. Book Review # 296: Flights
  2. Book Review # 297: Enduring Love
  3. Book Review # 298: The Map of Love
  4. Book Review # 299: Shame
  5. Book Review # 300: Watership Down

For the last time in 2021, I have failed to meet my target of publishing at least ten book reviews. With the holiday season kicking into high gear, I guess it was inevitable. Nevertheless, I must still give myself pat on the back for I managed to complete five book reviews. More importantly, I have just published my 300th book review, another blogging milestone. Wah, it feels surreal hitting that number. I can’t believe I made it all the way from one to one hundred. I still have several backlogs but hey, every victory, whether it is small or big, must still be celebrated. The goal now for 2022 is to tick off all of my backlogs; I have quite a lot, to be honest, but I will labor through it, one review at a time.

Ah 2022. A new year and a fresh start. I have covered a lot of reading ground in 2020 and 2021. I am looking forward to covering even more ground in 2022. However, I must start with ticking off the 2021 books that have been waiting to be opened; they have been gathering dust on my bookshelf. Beyond that, I have no clear idea of how my 2022 reading journey will look like. I have been doing some goalsetting already, such as establishing my Goodreads 2022 reading challenge goal. I am also thinking about what books to add to my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and also my 2022 Beat The Backlist challenge. With the flurry of activities, the main goal is still to enjoy every book I read. After all, reading is not a competition. I needed to remind myself that.

And that was how my December reading journey concluded. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!