I repeat this mantra often, and it’s especially true when I’ve been in a reading slump. I just saw it summarized nicely by Angela Whited, the community sales coordinator and storyteller at Red Balloon Bookshop:
Whited also revealed another secret about reading more books: If a book is boring, she’ll quit.
I’ve always struggled with that idea. Quitting a book feels like defeat. I started it. Why not finish it?
But those books are a grind and the process feels arduous and less enjoyable.
Whited said that’s OK.
“You can quit in the middle if you don’t like it,” she said. “You only will live so long. You would never read all the books you want to read. And so this is how we read so many books at the bookstore. We don’t finish the ones we’re not loving. You’ve got your to-be-read pile. Are you ever going to get through it? I’m not going to get through mine. It’s OK if you don’t love it. That book is for somebody else.”
-Myron Medcalf, “My quest to read more books led me to ‘reading therapist’ in St. Paul,” Sept. 9, 2023, Star Tribune
I read 87 books in 2022, and here’s my favorite nonfiction reads. I don’t read very much nonfiction (16 out of 87, so 18%), so it usually has to be something I’m really interested in. And this year I struggled through several 2-star books (and even a 1-star book).
Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story by Julie Rodgers – A fascinating and difficult memoir about being gay in the church. From conversion therapy to excommunication, it’s not exactly joyful reading. But necessary.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson – As nutjobs try to ban books left and right, this one is frequently in the crosshairs. For no good reason. If you’re not gay, you probably have no idea what LGBTQ folks go through as they come of age. That’s why we need books like these.
On that note, definitely a theme this year with my LGBTQ nonfiction. Might keep it up in 2023 as I just picked up Danica Roem’s Burn the Page from the library.
Light Years From Home by Mike Chen – Another joyous read. I think I started my year with some real clunkers and to finally read a book that was so good was just lovely.
Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott – As much as I love Star Wars, it’s rare for a Star Wars book to be that good. This story is. It gives the backstory of Count Dooku, the Jedi turned Sith who makes brief appearances in the prequel movies. The book is really a script and as an audiobook it’s a full production.
Dead Space by Kali Wallace – A slow build of a sci-fi thriller.
Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell – The final installment of the Simon Snow trilogy, this one felt like a book-length version of the Scouring of the Shire (that’s the closing chapters of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where the real battle is over but the hobbits head home for one last adventure). Surprisingly, a great series.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers – Her books often seem to be short on plot, and this one has some of that as well, but it’s also just a fascinating dive into sci-fi exploration.
Cog by Greg van Eekhout – Robots! I’m a sucker for a robot story, and this is a fun one, especially the way the author captures the voice.
Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell – I don’t like short story collections. But this is an exception. Rowell has a delightful ability to tell ‘meet cute’ romantic stories, and this one is full of them. As a bonus, several of the stories feature characters from her novels, but in a way where you can enjoy them as standalone stories but also find some joy when you discover the connection.
(Really hard to order this year’s list. Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably put them in a different order.)
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.
The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey – Loved the conclusion to this post-apocalyptic trilogy. Really unique voice, good characters, unique world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.