I finished 37 out of my 40-book goal for 2021. Here are five standouts, in no particular order.
Some Desperate Glory by Edwin Campion Vaughan
My sister and I have our own “tiny book club.” We read Dracula together last Christmas and take turns picking books. My sister likes to pick one topic and then read a TON of books about it, and recently she’s been plowing through WWI primary sources. Some Desperate Glory is the actual diary of an English officer who served during WWI, starting in the winter of 1917 and ending shortly after the infamous Third Battle of Ypres.
In short, I LOVED this one. Maybe loved is the wrong word, though – reading what Vaughan and his soldiers went through during WWI was heartbreaking. Every time I read about any war I become more of a pacifist, and WWI was maybe the most futile, idiotic war ever. But even throughout the sheer gruesomeness of the trenches, and despite the obvious PTSD, Vaughan maintained his humanity and managed to write with more eloquence than most writers I’ve read.
What he describes is raw and vulnerable, and he conveys emotion even in what he doesn’t say. We watch him go from being aghast at the horrors of war to going numb to it before coming back around again to pure despair. It’s a tragic story, especially when you learn that Vaughan died only a few years after the war because of a medical mixup (his doctor meant to give him novocaine and gave him cocaine instead – I wish I was kidding). I’ll be honest – it dragged a bit in the middle because military life, when not on the front lines, is often monotonous. But it’s a beautiful book in the way that only raw humanity is.
White Feminism by Koa Beck
We’re somewhat past the point in time where calling yourself a feminist is radical. It doesn’t take much to claim that label; to slap it in your bio or on your laptop as a sticker. But, as Beck argues in White Feminism, a lot of us – and by us I mean white women – don’t stop to think about what feminism really means. Feminism means believing in equal rights for men and women, yes. But white feminism, corporate feminism, empowerment feminism, girl-boss feminism — these don’t take any look at the intersectionality of actual women, and by extension, the intersectionality of their needs. It focuses on the individual rather than the collective, a very American – and very white – brand of feminism.
One thing I loved about this book was the connection Beck drew between white feminism and capitalism. White feminism has become a brand you can put on. It’s concerned with the gender wage gap, with the fact that women can and should have both a job and a family, with what you look like and what you buy to display your feminism outwardly. It’s about economic success. It all comes down to money ultimately, and while those issues matter, it completely overlooks the other women we step on to climb ourselves up to girlboss status. You can be a successful career woman with a family, but who is cleaning your house while you’re at work? Who is watching your baby while you and your spouse are on Zoom meetings? Who is delivering your grocery order? Is that woman thriving the same way you are? And if not, why not? Is she earning a living wage? Does she have accessible healthcare? What are we doing to make sure she does?
“White feminism of then and now has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to focusing only on sexism and has deflected multi-generational attempts to expand this lens,” Beck writes. She highlights the racism and lack of intersectionality in the beginning of the feminist movement in part one, describes how feminism became capitalism-but-“progressive” in part two, and talks about how to move forward from where we are today in part three. I underlined the heck out of this book; it was wildy thought provoking and started changing the way I think about my own work and viewpoints, and is definitely one I want to return to next year.
Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
This book stuck with me all year long. It had everything I love in a book, a fantastic sister relationship first and foremost. I have not read a more realistic, immersive setting in a long time (or since I finished this), and fell in love with the characters’ rawhumanity. It was beautiful. Here’s my full review.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I really, really enjoyed reading this. I read it earlier in the year and had a lot to say, but thinking back on it now, I think I loved it because it was such a nostalgic reading experience. Reading I Capture the Castle felt like reading Anne of Green Gables or Little Women, ie it felt like reading about girls growing up while I was doing that too. Because of that, even though it had some more serious themes, this was a pure comfort read. I’d like to revisit this one with my sister for tiny book club sometime.
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste introduced me to a whole different way of thinking about racism in the US. The structure was a little weird at times, but the fact that it was so thought provoking overruled that. It was a good one for making clear connections between events that happened hundreds of years ago to the injust systems that exist in the US today. It’s easy to get bogged down in details with history books like this, but because Wilkerson jumped around in time so much, it was a little easier to get a bird’s eye view. I admit I didn’t love this one initially when I read it, but it’s making my 2021 top 5 because of how much it gave me a different lens to understand racism in the US. Here’s my full review.
What were your favorite books of 2021?