All posts by Kevin D. Hendricks

My COVID-19 Experience

I haven’t given a pandemic update in a while, and that’s felt like an oversight. It’s helpful to capture how we’re feeling at the time. Unfortunately, it’s been a bit of a time lately.

Since late February when Russia invaded Ukraine, it’s all felt like a little much. I noticed my reading dropped incredibly after the invasion, and it’s only gotten worse.

Here we are, supposedly at the end of the pandemic, with health and safety requirements dropping like flies, and that’s when I get COVID-19. I got sick two weeks ago, after a weekend of family coming to town for a visit. Because hey, we’re all vaccinated and things are better so it’s about time, right? I guess not. I don’t actually know how we got exposed, but something like 8 of the 11 family members got sick. Fun.

Continue reading My COVID-19 Experience

But I Want Them to Live

Today is Trans Visibility Day. I see you. I love you. I am here for you.

These past few months have felt like a dark time for the trans community. I’m sorry.

We’re in a place right now where attacks on the LGBTQ community, and specifically trans folks, are coming fast and furious. Not just from a minority of bigots and haters, but from state governments and seemingly an entire political party. Not just a few red states (where these bills are passing and becoming law), but nearly the entire country.

I’ll say this as simply as I can: This is a civil rights issue. Some people want to deny LGBTQ people their civil rights because they some how think that’s wrong or feel threatened by it. But it’s discrimination, it’s rooted in hate, and it’s evil. It’s anti-American.

And no, I don’t care about your religious exemption or your fake concern for women’s sports or your gross and wrong conflation of abuse and homosexuality (ready for “grooming” to become the new scare-word?). There’s no excuse for hate.

Here’s why I think this issue is so simple: Kids are dying.

You either care about those kids and want to see them live, or you don’t.

Continue reading But I Want Them to Live

The Right Read for the Right Time

I loved John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society. It’s a fun, quick sci-fi story about a parallel planet Earth where animals evolved into Godzilla and we’re crossing dimensions to study them. Weird, quirky, fun.

I knew I would eventually read a novel that incorporated COVID-19 into the plot, and this is it. It’s relatively a minor part of the plot and not exactly crucial, but it does ground this work in time in a unique way.

Perhaps the most unique way is in how Scalzi describes how the book came to be in the acknowledgments. He was working on a dark, serious book when the pandemic hit. His work ground to a halt and he just couldn’t pick it up again. He eventually gave it up and found incredible freedom in letting it go.

There’s a right book for a right time, and that time wasn’t it.

As soon as he gave up on that idea, he got a new one and out popped The Kaiju Preservation Society. He calls it a pop song, saying: “We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness.”

So true.

While that’s a story about writing and creating, I think it’s also true about reading. There’s a right book for a right time, and if you’re struggling to get through a book, it’s probably the wrong time for that book. Its OK to move on and try something else. Don’t feel guilty.

As we’ve moved from one calamity to another (pandemic, protest, insurrection, back to pandemic, war), keep that in mind. If it’s really hard to read, that’s OK. Find the right read for the right time.

An Inspiring Quote in a Troubling Time

The news is really hard right now (as if it hasn’t been for months and years and… oh). Russia invaded Ukraine. Texas is trying to bully trans kids. People are trying to ban books and pretend racism wasn’t so bad and doesn’t exist today.

It’s just a lot.

It’s hard to focus, it’s hard to work, it’s hard to stop doom scrolling. (guilty)

When that happens, I find it best to focus on small acts of love and kindness.

So among other things, I shared this on social media today from my West St. Paul Reader accounts (nothing gives me more joy than using my platforms to be a positive voice):

“I could not look my granddaughter in the eye and tell her things needed to change but do nothing to change them.”

-KaeJae Johnson, the first Black candidate to run for municipal office in West St. Paul
Continue reading An Inspiring Quote in a Troubling Time

Anniversary Vacation to Maine

2021 became the year of vacation with trips to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Madeline Island, Rocky Mountain National Park, and corners of Minnesota. So it’s fitting that Abby and I finished the year with a belated 20th anniversary trip to Acadia National Park in Maine.

There’s something magical about winter, and with our anniversary in December we wanted to go somewhere that still felt like winter—not an escapist trip to the tropics. We finally settled on Maine as somewhere we’d never been to before that we could feasibly get to for a short trip.

On Monday we took a drive to the Schoodic Peninsula and found this frozen bay.
Continue reading Anniversary Vacation to Maine

Top 5 Nonfiction of 2021

I read 71 books last year and here are my favorite nonfiction reads of 2021.

I don’t get through much nonfiction these days, so when I do tackle one, it’s because I really want to read it.

  1. It Is What You Make of It: Creating Something Great From What You’ve Been Given by Justin McRoberts – Sort of a book about the creative process, but really it’s just good stories.
  2. Becoming Better Grownups: Rediscovering What Matters and Remembering How to Fly by Brad Montague – A great book for anyone looking for hope in the world and any person who creates things for a living.
  3. Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman – Poetry in my top five? Yikes—clearly I’m desperate. But seriously, there are a few really good poems and several just masterful turns of phrase.
  4. Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubled Times by Michael Curry – The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church—everybody knows him as the guy who preached at the royal wedding—offers a needed refocus on love and breath of fresh air.
  5. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer – A really detailed dive into the history of American Indians after the Wounded Knee massacre, filling in a lot of political realities most of us overlook.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

And how about previous top non-fiction lists: 20202019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

Top 10 Fiction of 2021

I read 71 books last year and here are my favorite fiction reads of 2021:

(Really hard to order this year’s list. Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably put them in a different order.)

  1. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Initially I only gave this one four stars, so I’m not sure how it’s ending up at the top of the list (again, ask me tomorrow and that might change). It’s a flawed story. But Andy Weir just does something really interesting when he makes death-defying feats of engineering so gripping. It’s why The Martian was so amazing. This one has some holes. There’s a weak amnesia set up and there’s some overly complicated bits. But overall it’s still a fun story, has more heart than you might expect, and just leaves you wanting more.
  2. The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey – Loved the conclusion to this post-apocalyptic trilogy. Really unique voice, good characters, unique world.
  3. Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark – I’m not always into fantasy, and P. Djeli Clark’s stuff tends to be weird. But this was a really interesting straggling of fantasy and realism, exploring racism and hate.
  4. Brood by Jackie Polzin – My neighbor down the street and around the corner wrote this one. It’s not my usual read, but it’s so good. It’s darkly humorous and feels very fitting for our pandemic age.
  5. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – Probably one of the best Star Wars novels I’ve read. It follows the original trilogy really well, but it’s a standalone love story that’s not upstaged or overshadowed by the original movies. Quite a feat.
  6. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – Another really unique world and a fantasy epic I didn’t think I’d go for. I’m eager for the sequel.
  7. Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A prequel of sorts to Sea of Rust, and just a fun story of societal collapse (Fun? Uh, I’m kind of messed up, aren’t I?). I’m a sucker for a good robot story.
  8. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – Speaking of a good robot story, here’s another one. Took a while to get going and it’s heavy in philosophy, but it settles into a nice balance.
  9. Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – And from robot story to AI story. Local author Naomi Kritzer hit it out of the park with her two-book CatNet series. This second installment keeps hitting all the right notes.
  10. Salvation Day by Kali Wallace – A far-future civilization, escaping to orbit, paired with an abandoned space station and a mysterious virus, and there’s just a lot to like here. A good space thriller.

Honorable Mentions

Hard to choose which books to mention this year, and these are all worth a shoutout:

  • Hard Reboot by Django Wexler – More than a giant battling robot story, this is a story with great characters.
  • Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells – More Murderbot!
  • We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen – A really fresh superhero story.
  • Into the Dark by Claudia Gray and A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland – These new Star Wars stories are set in the High Republic era, several hundred years before the prequels in an attempt to tell more Jedi stories without conflicting with known characters (i.e., sell some content). We already know Claudia Gray can write a good Star Wars novel (see above), and this one is interesting and fun. I had low expectations for Justina Ireland’s entry. I liked her Civil War zombie series, but her middle grade Star Wars books have been meh. But her third middle grade Star Wars outing was downright fun. These are hard stories to do well, and I thought they really achieved something.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

And how about previous top 10 fiction lists: 2020, 2019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

2021 Reading List

I read 73 books in 2021. That just barely passes 2020 and hopefully doesn’t start a pattern of lower reading numbers.

Graph of books read per year

Here are my top 10 fiction and top 5 non-fiction for 2021, as well as my reading stats for the year.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2020201920182017201620152014201320122011201020092008200720062005200420032002, and 2001.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Continue reading 2021 Reading List