It’s time to welcome 2023! Happy New Year everyone!
2022 was certainly an eventful year, both on a personal and global scale. But before I could finally wave goodbye to the year that has been, let me look back to my reading journey in the last month of the year. Going into December, I only had one goal on my mind: to complete as many of my reading challenges as I can. I must say that I was able to do so. With Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, I managed to complete two of my most critical challenges, my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. With A Suitable Boy, I also managed to unlock a new achievement: completing at least 100 novels in a year. This has always been part of my reading bucket list but I constantly fall short. Just when I least expected it, I managed to pull through and achieve a new feat. So yay!
This mad dash I made in the last three and a half months of the year has certainly paid off. This has also allowed me to take it slowly toward the last two weeks of the year. But, of course, I most certainly would not slack off. Instead, I endeavored to complete yet another reading challenge, one that I deemed was achievable. A new fixture in my annual reading goalsetting is the addition of a “new books” reading target. For 2022, I set my goals to a conservative 15 books, a goal I knew I would be able to achieve. I did fail on reading at least 20 books in the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List but I was able to complete sixteen new books for the year. Before I lose it in a swirl of words, here is a peek into how my December journey shaped up. Happy reading!
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
When I started to realize that I would be able to complete my reading challenges, I allowed myself to try other works not part of any of these challenges. The first that came to mind was NoViolet Bulawayo’s latest novel, Glory, my second novel by the Zimbabwean writer. I was initially apprehensive about the novel because I was underwhelmed by her debut novel, We Need New Names. I decided to give the book a chance after it was longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. Apart from being longlisted for the Booker Prize – and eventually shortlisted, making the novel the first book from the six shortlisted books – what piqued my interest in the book was the execution. From snippets I read prior to opening the book, the book was a satire of Zimbabwe’s contemporary history and political atmosphere. In the guise of animals, powerful political figures that shaped her nation’s recent history came to life. The fictional country of Jidada with a -da and another -da turned into an allegory. I do have a bit of a background on the country’s history after encountering news about Robert Mugabe over a decade ago. However, my memory was sketchy but Glory provided me with a more comprehensive picture. In a way, the book examined the heritage of colonization to the nation and Africa as a whole. I did find the story meander here and there but overall, it was an insightful book about a country whose history I rarely read about.
You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
My next read was Akwaeke Emezi’s latest novel, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty, a book I added to my reading list after learning about their – they are nonbinary, hence, the pronoun – latest work. They first caught my attention with their debut novel, Fresh Water. I was, however, a little unimpressed with their second novel but it did not preclude me from reading their latest novel. You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty – the title alone was enough to convince me to read the book – was their first venture into the romance genre. The novel’s heart was Feyi Adekola, a Nigerian American visual artist. We first meet her during a Bushwick rooftop party, when she made a (sexual) connection with a stranger, Milan. We learn it was her first sex in five years; five years ago, she lost her husband Jonah to an accident and has since vowed to denounce all romantic involvements. That first sex was liberating for her but Milan was not the type to get emotionally attached. They would remain friends and through Milan, Feyi met Nasir who was the epitome of the perfect guy. Nothing, however, is as straightforward as they seem. So yes, several complications appeared later. In their latest novel, they grappled with trauma, healing, sexuality, and queerness. The book showed Emezi’s willingness to push the boundaries of their storytelling. However, I again found the book underwhelming. The writing was unremarkable. Trauma was romanticized. The romance was lukewarm, and a group of people needed to be vilified to justify the romance.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Capping (basically) what has been a very successful reading journey is Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. There was a reason why I had it last among the books in my reading challenges; it was the last book in both my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. The book was my 100th book for the year. Had it not been for must-read lists, I would have never encountered the book, which was also my first 1,000+ pager since Hungarian writer Péter Nádas’ Parallel Stories which I read back in 2020. The book’s heft was enough to daunt me, notwithstanding the fact that it was my first book by the Indian writer. The intimidation only grew as the novel moved forward. At the onset, the story seemed simple enough. We meet nineteen-year-old Lata, the youngest child of the widowed Mrs. Rupa Mehra. When we first meet the mother and daughter pair, we witness the marriage of Lata’s older sister, Savita, leaving Lata as the only unwed child. Mrs. Mehra did not waste any moment and started scouting for a viable partner for her daughter, hence, the title. However, the story got more complicated as the story moved forward. From one family, three more families were introduced, with one of their common connections being the Mehras. Their other main connection was politics. Politics was integral to the story as it was set during the infancy of the Indian republic. It took time before I found my footing in the story but once I did, the story seemed easier than it appeared. The heft was really meant to daunt. Overall, it was an insightful portrait of contemporary India, its colorful history, and its diverse people.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
With three birds hit with one stone, I can now steer toward other directions, like completing my New Books target. Back in 2020, fashion designer-turned-novelist Douglas Stuart made his grand entrance into the world of literature with the publication of his debut novel, Shuggie Bain. He would go on and win the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes out there. I found the book good but I wouldn’t call it great. This, however, did not preclude me from wanting to read his succeeding works. That opportunity came in 2022 when I learned that he was releasing new work, Young Mungo. The parallels between Stuart’s sophomore novel and his debut novel were ostensible from the onset. First off, Stuart transported the readers to a 1990s Glaswegian community that was permeated with the smell of poverty, alcohol, and other substances. Both Shuggie and Mungo were mid-teenage boys who looked up to their mothers. Their mothers were alcoholic and helpless. It was no wonder that Mungo’s older siblings resented their mother. Young Mungo, was, at its heart, the coming-of-age story of a young boy who simply does not fit in with the dark backdrop. The exploration of sexuality amidst the strife between the Catholics and the Protestants was a seminal part of the story. The novel also had overtones of romance. Their similarities notwithstanding, I find Young Mungo surer in its execution. It was palpable that Stuart’s prose this time around was more well-rounded.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
After a familiar writer, I ventured into the work of a writer whose prose I am not familiar with. It was midway through 2022 when I first came across Gabrielle Zevin and her latest novel, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. The book was receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from readers and critics alike. However, I was a little apprehensive about the book. I felt like the book was not my cup of tea. I changed my mind about the book toward the end of the year when it was included in many a literary publication’s Best Books of 2022 list. I then made sure that it will form part of my 2022 reading journey. It was the 15th new book I read in 2022. At the heart of the novel were Sadie Green and Sam Mazer who first met when they were teenagers. When Sadie was helping nurse her sick sister Alice, she came across Sam who was recovering from an injury. Sam and Sadie would bond over video games; it was integral in the story as it was the single thing that kept the two together. Over three decades, they formed a tumultuous relationship as business partners, friends, and colleagues. The novel did remind me of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with a sprinkling of Cecilia Ahern’s Dear Rosie sans the epistolary narrative. I must say that I am thankful I changed my mind about the book. While there were parts where I had to fill in, I was nonetheless riveted by Zevin’s prose and storytelling. It was easily one of my best reads of the year.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Capping my 2022 reading journey is the work of another unfamiliar writer. I first encountered Tara M. Stringfellow’s Memphis while browsing the books on sale by an online bookseller. Curious, I bought it along with Candice Carty-Williams’ People Person, another writer whose oeuvre I have not explored either. I have been meaning to read the book but my pivot toward books in my reading challenges resulted in a detour. Thankfully, the opportunity to read the book finally presented itself; my decision to read the book in 2022 was reinforced by the positive feedback from a fellow book reader. Maybe I did expect the premise of the story, considering that it was set in the Deep South and that Memphis played a seminal role in America’s racial history. At the heart of Stringfellow’s debut novel were three generations of Black women and a house that was built by the family’s patriarch. The matriarch was Hazel who had two daughters: Miriam and August. Miriam would have two daughters herself: Joan and Mya. The story was nonlinear as it weaved in and out of different timelines, sometimes without a preamble. Hurdle this initial challenge and the story started to unfold. We read about a group of resilient women who had to endure racism, sorrow, heartbreaks, and different forms of domestic abuse. It was an engrossing read and the writing was captivating; I, later on, learned that Stringfellow was an accomplished poet but I find that some poets transitioning to prose is hit-and-miss. Anyway, Memphis is a perfect way to close what has been a record-breaking year. Hoping for an even grander reading journey in 2023!
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 22/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 15/15; 87/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 8/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 103/90*
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 15/20
- New Books Challenge: 16/15
*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.
Book Reviews Published in October
- Book Review # 402: The Baron in the Trees
- Book Review # 403: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
- Book Review # 404: The Accident
- Book Review # 405: Palace Walk
- Book Review # 406: You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty
- Book Review # 407: Family Sayings
While I had high hopes of finding my mojo as the year approaches a close – at least where writing was concerned – I, unfortunately, failed. When the year started, I resolved to publish at least ten book reviews a month. There were months I was successful but the last five months have been a struggle as I had to juggle between my increasing responsibilities at work and my personal schedules. With things normalizing, I found myself going out more. I just hope that things will stabilize more in 2023 but we should still remain vigilant. Anyway, I capped the year with 107 published book reviews, the most I had in a single year. In the coming year, I will again try to achieve the same feat, if possible. I just know that the number of pending book reviews I have is slowly growing.
As I have started with 2022 books already, my first weeks of 2023 will also be dedicated to 2022 books; I did the same in early 2022 when I read the pending 2021 I had. This will be comprised primarily of writers whose prose I have not previously explored, such as the aforementioned People Person, Jabari Asim’s Yonder, Eloghosa Osunde’s Vagabonds!, Isabel Cañas’ The Hacienda, among others. Oh, I also have John Irving’s latest novel, The Last Chairlift, lined up. I am also hoping to find a copy of Nobel Laureate in Literature Orhan Pamuk’s latest translated novel, Nights of Plague.
Apart from this, I am inching closer to my 1000th novel. This means one thing, my time of reckoning with James Joyce’s Ulysses is drawing closer. The classic was part of my 2017 reading list but I had to stop midway through as the story barely made sense. I had to keep on going back and even researching. The progress was so slow that I did something rare: I read two books simultaneously. The book ended up being the only book I DNF’d but I resolved to read it later in my reading journey when I have matured more as a reader (I guess). Placing it as my 1000th novel seems right I guess. Anyway, apart from Ulysses, there are a lot of writers and books I am looking forward to in the coming year, such as Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
2022 was a big year and I hope that 2023 will be an even bigger year. And that was how I capped my 2022 reading journey. 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!