2021 Goodreads Reading Stats
A Reader in the Time of Corona, Season 2

When the pandemic started gripping the world, I initially thought that it would end as soon as it started. I can still vividly recall the SARS outbreak that nearly paralyzed Hong Kong back in the early 2000s. Over the course of a few months, the virus disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. I had the same notions in my mind when the Philippines went into full lockdown mode. I thought that it would go away as soon as 2020 ends. I was wrong, by a long shot. The pandemic still looming large was not how I expected to welcome 2021. But we have to take the cards we are dealt with. We have to buckle up for the uncertain ride ahead.

Amidst the sea of uncertainty that swept us in the past two years, reading and books were some of the things that have helped me keep my sanity. It comes as no surprise that the past two years were my two most productive reading years. 2021 was basically an extension of my 2020 reading journey as I tallied 92 books, just a book short of my 2020 final tally. 2021 was also just the third year I read at least 90 books; the first time was in 2016 when I read 91 books. In different ways, my 2021 reading journey was a distinct adventure compared to previous years, and it was not only because of the pandemic that still looms large.

With this in mind, I surged ahead with my 2021 reading journey. brimming with hope. Over ten months have passed and the Philippines is still mostly in lockdown to stymie the spread of the invisible enemy. Whilst it has been a Herculean struggle, the lockdown did have some positive impact. Our once frenzied lives teeming with activities slowed down. In isolation, we got the chance to ruminate and go over our lives. It was a time to meditate. For devout readers like me, it was an opportunity to immerse in the books we’ve set aside because we were too busy to read them.

Diversified Reading Journey

It wasn’t that long ago that I have started perusing must-read lists. As someone who grew up reading a limited oeuvre by the likes of Sidney Sheldon, Mary Higgins Clark, Danielle Steel, John Grisham, these must-read lists have opened a new literary door to me. These doors have transported me to different parts of the world, parts I never thought I would ever travel to, at least where literature was concerned. Since then, I have been acquiring the works of once unfamiliar names. The initial experience, while it was not always pleasant, made me dive into uncharted waters, helping me broaden my horizon. The diversification of my reading list has characterized my reading journeys in the past few years.

And 2021 was not different. I again immersed myself in the works of authors who are unfamiliar to me. I read the works of 91 different authors, resetting the record of 88 different authors I established a year earlier. 65 of these 91 authors were authors whose works I was reading for the first time; it was a number fairly lower than my 2020 figures but it was still a decent one. It was 65 different chances to discover new worlds. These 65 authors also came from different parts of the world, from Paraguay (Augusto Roa Bastos) to South Africa (Nadine Gordimer, Damon Galgut) to Chile (José Donoso, Roberto Bolaño, Luis Sepúlveda, and Alejandro Zambra) to Japan (Banana Yoshimoto, Mieko Kawakami, Sayaka Murata) to Sweden (Göran Tunström). In a nutshell, it was a lush reading journey.

As in the previous years, I dedicated reading months to certain regional literature. After opening the year by catching up on 2020 reads and on Booker Prize works, I took the plane and traveled all over the world. Not literally though for I have traveled the world through books. It started in March when I hopped across Africa, visiting nations such as Egypt, South Africa, and Nigeria. These works of African literature provided me with a vivid picture of the continent’s contemporary history, a different portrait from when I had my first African literature month in 2020. It was, nonetheless, a riveting experience and again, it was the Nigerians – Wole Soyinka Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Buchi Emecheta – who dominated my reading journey. The South Africans came in second after 2021 Booker Prize winner Galgut joined Alan Paton and Gordimer later in the year.

From Africa, my reading journey next took me to Asia. Asian literature has always been a comfort zone for me, perhaps because I am an Asian (haha). It was a mixed experience. I have read the works of familiar writers in Kazuo Ishiguro, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Chang-rae Lee, who all released new works in 2021. I was a little underwhelmed by Klara and the Sun (Ishiguro), and My Year Abroad (Lee), two novels I have been looking forward to. Another book I was looking forward to was Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul, a controversial work that resulted in Shafak’s ban in her native country. Coincidentally, the time I read the novel, US President Joe Biden announced the US’ acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide; this was the focus of the novel. But then again, my second Shafak novel fell short of my expectation. These disappointments were made up for by new names (at least to me) in Iranian Shahrnush Parsipur, Indian Mirza Hadi Ruswa, and Filipinos Gina Apostol and Jose Dalisay Jr. Each of them gave interesting insights into their respective nation’s history and culture.

For the first time since I started reading, I dedicated a month to reading works of Latin American writers. As it was my first time, I was looking forward to the experience. And what a grand experience it was, if I may say so myself. I kicked it off with Bolaño’s popular work – one that I have been looking forward to – The Savage Detectives. It was a roller coaster of a book that made me look forward to reading more of the Chilean writer. Speaking of Chile, it was the Chilean writers who stood out during my Latin American trip. Joining Bolaño are – Donoso (A House in the Country), Sepúlveda (The Old Man Who Read Love Stories), and Zambra (Multiple Choice). They were all writers whose works I was reading for the first time and they all enchanted me in different ways.

Beyond the Chilean writers, one of the writers who impressed me the most was Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé, who I first heard of in the lead-up to the announcement of the 2018/2019 Nobel Prize in Literature. Crossing the Mangrove was breathtaking in its study of a community and its denizens. My immersion into Latin American literature also reminded me of the continent’s colorful history; historical fiction was, again, my most prevalent genre in 2021. Details of colonialism, authoritarian governments, and the darker shades of history were depicted in varying degrees by writers such as Augusto Roa Bastos, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Cherie Jones. Some of these I can relate to my country’s own troubled past. I had a wonderful time reading works of Latin American writers that I extended for two more weeks before transitioning to one of my literary comfort zones, Japanese literature.

Having a Japanese Literature month has definitely become a tradition. For the fourth (or perhaps fifth?) year running, I dedicated six weeks straight for works of Japanese writers. Yes, I was finally able to read a book that I have been looking forward to for the longest time – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters. Tanizaki delivered a scintillating work brimming with nostalgia and a vivid portrait of pre-war Japan. Haruki Murakami also made his presence as I finally read the starting point of his career, Hear the Wind Sing. Other familiar names included Nobel Laureates in Literature Kenzaburō Ōe (Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids) and Yasunari Kawabata (The Lake), Yoko Ogawa (The Memory Police), and Natsume Sōseki (Kokoro).

One of the highlights of my Japanese literature month was reading the works of new and upcoming voices. Sayaka Murata, for instance, has recently earned global fame with her short novel, The Convenience Store Woman. It was, however, Earthlings that I read even though I have a copy of the book. Despite the depth of its message, it was a memorable experience, for all the wrong reasons. Mieko Kawakami was another rising Japanese voice that I was looking forward to. I was happy when I was finally able to obtain Breasts and Eggs. I liked the story and its message, especially how it depicted the patriarchal society and the struggle for body autonomy (same in Earthlings). It was, however, lamentable that Kawakami’s prose didn’t shine through for what I read was a generic translation, bereft of the nuances of language.

The Booker Prize and Reading Challenges

One of the most anticipated literary awards it the Booker Prize; I was one of those looking forward to the nominees. When the longlist was announced, it was only Kazuo Ishiguro (Klara and the Sun) whose works I had previously read; Francis Spufford’s Light Perpetual was included in my 2021 Books I Look Forward to List. It was an eclectic mix and without design, I started reading the books longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction. In the previous years, my focus was only on the books shortlisted for the award and I would read them only in the following year.

As diverse as the selection for the Booker Prize was my reading journey. There were several writers who stood out with their works. In particular, I was spellbound by Anuk Arudpragasam’s meditative prose and lyrical language in A Passage North. I also liked Richard Powers’ Bewilderment and its study of father and son dynamics in a dystopian future; I even tagged it as the potential winner. The eventual winner was Damon Galgut’s The Promise, his third book shortlisted for the award; the third time’s a charm! Through the story of a South African family, the book painted an evocative portrait of South Africa’s contemporary history. Another stand-out was Nathan Harris’ debut novel, The Sweetness of Water. By the end of the year, I managed to read all six shortlisted works and ten out of the thirteen longlisted novels.

Apart from the Booker Prizes, the second half of the year was spent mostly catching up on my reading challenges, especially towards the end of the year. I didn’t realize that I was falling behind in my reading challenges. Of my reading challenges, I focused on my Top 2021 Reading List. For the fourth consecutive year, I successfully completed all of the 21 books on my reading list; the only time I failed was the year I started, 2017. It was also a wonderful experience, with a mix of new (at least to me) and familiar names. Through this reading list, I was finally able to read books I have been looking forward to for the longest time, such as James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek.

I was also successful in reading at least 20 books on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, and in reading at least 40 backlist books. I was also able to tick off the 12 books I listed for my 2021 Beat the Backlist Challenge. I am, after all, the backlist type of reader. Unfortunately, I again failed at one reading challenge, my 2021 Books I Look Forward To List. This was nothing new I guess. HAHA. I was only able to read six of the ten books on my list. I haven’t been successful in completing this list since I started doing it. I came close once, in 2019 when I fell short by one book. Nevertheless, this is not going to dampen my mood and in 2022, I prepared a similar list.

Milestones and Breakthroughs

Overall, 2021 was another year of milestones and breakthroughs. It was the third year that I have read at least 90 books; I completed 92 books in total. What was even more fascinating was that these 92 books were written by 91 different writers, a new record for me. These writers also came from different parts of the world, from Africa to South America to Europe to Asia. I was all over the globe in 2021 and it was thanks to all these books. In 2021, I read two memoirs – Wole Soyinka’s Ake Aké: The Years of Childhood, and Nadia Owusu’s Aftershocks – the most nonfiction I read in a year, so far. With Richard Adams’ Watership Down, I have published my 300th book review.

The biggest milestone I have achieved in 2021, however, was reading my 900th book! Like in my previous century reads, my 900th read was by a writer who was new to me, Nuruddin Farah’s Secrets. It was a strategic choice as well for each of my last four century reads were by writers from different parts of the world: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (500th, Colombia), Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (600th, India), Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (700th, USA), and Peter Nadas’ Parallel Stories (800th, Hungary). With this, I can’t believe that I am inching closer to my 1,000th read. I have been reading for one and a half-decade but it feels surreal, how close I am to achieving this feat. I am thinking about reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, the unabridged version, for my 1,000th read. Ulysses remains to be the only book that I did not finish. I started reading it in 2017 but I stopped midway because I found myself confused. I decided to reread it once I have become more prepared. I hope I am!

2022 in Perspective

COVID-19 remains to be a global concern. The emergence of different variants has put the world at a standstill, at least for a while. With the vaccination drives kicking off all over the globe, hope springs eternal. There are still a lot of uncertainties but I know that we are inching closer to the end of this tunnel that has enveloped us these past two years. While the future remains unpredictable, the silver lining we have been waiting for is within reach.

The past two years are like bad memories we’d rather forget. I can still recall starting 2020 brimming with hope but I never thought for one second that it would get waylaid. But hey, that is life! Nevertheless, despite the virus looming large, I was still able to achieve a lot, at least in terms of reading. I had several goals and I am happy that I was able to achieve them, and then some more. While I slowed down towards the end of 2021, I want to reestablish my reading momentum for there are still quite a lot of goals I want to achieve in the coming years. There are also a lot of books I want to read; too many good books yet too little time. The past three years have been marked by huge strides and milestones. I am looking forward to breaking even more barriers in 2022.

Here’s a toast to an amazing, healthy, and safe 2022! May it be a great year for everyone, may it be in terms of reading or not. May we all achieve all our goals this year. Happy reading!