Hi, friends! Thanks for joining me today; I’m so glad you’re here 💙. Today I’m sharing my first post of 2022, and what better way to kick off the new year than by reflecting on the last one? This post, my 2021 End of Year Reading Survey, is one of two year-end wrap-up posts I plan to publish. If you’re a stats guy/gal/pal, then you’ll want to stay tuned for Friday’s post. I’ll be taking a quantitative look at my 2021 reading year with some stats, graphs, and other goodies. For now, though, let’s do some qualitative analysis and talk about how the last year went!
Introduction to the 2021 End of Year Reading Survey
Before I dive into the questions, I want to shout out Jamie over at Perpetual Page-Turner. She created the original End of Year Reading Survey way back in 2010. Since then, it has become the most popular annual wrap-up tag (that I can find, anyway). As I’m writing this post, I haven’t seen an update from Jamie with a 2021 version of the survey, so I’ll be using the list of questions she posted in her list last year.
This is also an adapted version of that list, as there are over forty-five prompts in her original post. Not all ofthem apply to my reading and/or blogging life, and some of them I plan to cover in more detail in my stats post on Friday. SO I guess you could say this is an abbreviated 2021 End of Year Reading Survey. Although, an abbreviated list still makes for quite a long post. Make sure to check out Jamie’s original post ･ﾟ✧here✧ﾟ･ to find all the prompts if you plan on participating in this tag.
Well, I think that’s enough preamble — let’s get into the survey!
2021 End of Year Reading Survey Part One: Best in Books
#1: What was the best book you read this year?
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Okay, maybe it’s a cop-out to pick one of the most enduring classics of the gothic genre as the best book I read this year. Oh well, here I am. I’ll probably be repeating a lot of what I said in my Goodreads review, so apologies if you’ve read that already. Long story short, when I read Frankenstein for the first time in 2019, I was expecting a scary monster story. For me, the melancholy philosophy of it all was a pleasant surprise. During my second read, I gained a newfound appreciation for the many layers of foreshadowing and character development present throughout the novel. Between its gorgeous writing and brilliant characters, it’s no wonder that Frankenstein has become a new forever-favorite.
#2: What book did you think you would love more than you actually did?
The Binding by Bridget Collins
Despite not being my lowest-rated book of the year, The Binding probably wins the award for most disappointing. The reason why is, simply put, its execution did not live up to the potential of its premise. The non-chronological plot only distracts from the original ideas at the story’s heart. Non-chronological storytelling isn’t always bad, of course. It hurt my enjoyment of this book simply because it seemed unnecessary. The events described in The Binding are intriguing, emotional, and tragic in their own right. Unfortunately, as I note in my Goodreads review, my reading experience was an emotional rollecoaster — for all the wrong reasons.
#3: What was the most surprising book you read this year?
Blindness by José Saramago
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that a book written by a Nobel Prize winner would end up being one of my favorites this year, but here we are. I expected to like this book, sure, but I didn’t expect it to affect me the way it did. Saramago’s unconventional prose and matter-of-fact writing style, combined with his dry, ironic sense of humor, created a truly one-of-a-kind reading experience. It was a heavy, brutal read at times, but it was also profoundly relevant. Since reading Blindness, I learned that José Saramago also wrote the book that inspired one of my favorite indie films: Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (2013). Now I can’t wait to read The Double and get lost in that story all over again.
#4: Who is a favorite new author you discovered this year?
Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indians
The Only Good Indians is the first book by Stephen Graham Jones that I’ve ever read, but it sure as heck won’t be the last. The Only Good Indians was not only a thrilling and unnerving horror story; it was a touching tale about family, culture, tradition, and intergenerational trauma. I already have SGJ’s follow-up, My Heart is a Chainsaw, on my shelf, which I can’t wait to start. And that’s not even mentioning that the audiobook is narrated by Cara Gee, the light of my life. So yeah, you could say I’m excited.
#5: What is the best book you read this year that was out of your comfort zone?
The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Despite my long-time fascination with Russian and Cold War history, reading long non-fiction books on the topic is still something I’m new to. Gessen takes a multidisciplinary approach to their exploration of Russia’s decades-long struggle for (and against) democracy. The book analyzes both personal and universal accounts of the many regime changes in Russia through the lenses of history, psychology, and sociology. While dense, it was never incomprehensible, and it’s only inspired me to keep exploring more “intimidating” non-fiction tomes.
#6: What was the most action-packed, thrilling, or unputdownable book you read this year?
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Black Sun is Rebecca Roanhorse’s 2020 fantasy novel inspired by pre-Columbian indigenous cultures in North America. The cultural basis alone makes Black Sun pretty unique in the fantasy genre. It also has several layers of interconnected political intrigue, warring cult factions, and morally ambiguous contractors, all determined to see each of their individual and opposing goals accomplished, no matter the cost. Black Sun opens with a woman performing a cultic ceremony with her son. The ritual involves carving a symbol into his flesh, blinding him, and telling him he’s destined to become a god. She does all of this before throwing herself out a window. When all that happens in Chapter One, you know the book is going to be one hell of a ride.
#7: What is your favorite cover of a book you read this year?
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Real quick: honorable mention to Black Sun, which I am only not listing under this question because I just talked about it. I’m so in love with that cover that I actually selected it for the “book on your TBR with the prettiest cover” prompt of my 2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. But, folks, how gorgeous is this cover, too?! I just can’t stop looking at it. And the story inside is quite lovely too. The Beautiful Ones is a great modern take on a Jane Austen-esque novel of manners with a historical fantasy / magical realism twist.
#8: What was the most beautifully-written book you read this year?
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Yes, I will gush a little bit more about Frankenstein; thank you very much. MWS’s writing in Frankenstein is simply magical to me. It is both hopeful and foreboding; romantic and heartbreaking; above all, it is a profoundly human story. There are so many quotes I could provide as an example of this brilliance. However, knowing that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in the wake of a terrible loss — that of her baby daughter — really paints the following passage in a new, tragic light.
It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed for ever — that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished, and the sound of a voice so familiar, and dear to the ear, can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection; and why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished.Frankenstein; or, The Modern prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818)
Just try to tell me your heart didn’t shatter into a million pieces reading that and knowing the context. Try it; I dare you.
#9: What was the most thought-provoking or life-changing book you read this year?
The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
To call The Body Is Not an Apology life-changing is no exaggeration. It spoke right to my soul about, as the title suggests, the power of radical self-love. As I mentioned in my February 2021 Wrap-Up, this book is part feminist manifesto, part social justice call-to-arms, and part self-help manual. The Body Is Not an Apology provides actionable steps for loving ourself — and others — on a deeper, truer, level.
#10: What is a book you can’t believe you waited until this year to read?
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
I know, I know, I’m a terrible fantasy fan! I’ve already given myself plenty of wrist-slaps for loving Middle Earth as much as I do despite having never read the books until this year. For waht it’s worth, I now know how much I’ve missed out on. And I will be remedying my other two errors (The Two Towers and The Return of the King) very soon.
#11: What is a favorite passage or quote from a book you read this year?
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This is another book that spoke to my soul this year. I have written a (messy) full-length review of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Feel free to read that at your own risk. In the review, I mention that one of my favorite sections of the book was “The Feminism Question.” And though the following passage mentions specific social justice issues by name, I believe it beautifully summarizes everything a modern, intersectional social justice movement should be about.
The mess we are living in is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people, and it can be rebuilt in a way that serves all, rather than a selfish, hoarding few.
Beyond the obvious demands — an end to sexual violence, an end to the wage gap — feminism must be class-conscious and aware of the limiting culture of the gender binary. It needs to recognize that disabled people aren’t inherently defective, but rather that non-disabled people have failed at creating a physical world that serves all. Feminism must demand affordable, decent, secure housing and a universal basic income. It should demand pay for full-time mothers and free childcare for working mothers. It should recognize that we live in a world in which women are constantly harangued into being lusted after, but punishes sex workers for using that situation to make a living. Feminism needs to thoroughly recognize that sexuality is fluid, and we need to dream of a world where people are not violently policed for transgressing rigid gender roles.
Feminism needs to demand a world in which racist history is acknowledged and accounted for, in which reparations are distributed, in which race is completely deconstructed.Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)
Yeah. I’m just going to leave that there.
#12: What book did you read this year that shocked you the most?
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Okay, y’all. When I say this book shocked me, I do not mean that in a good way. I am shocked — and appalled — that The Guest List won the 2020 Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery & Thriller. I rant quite a bit about my problems with this book in my Goodreads review, so I’ll try to keep my criticisms here brief. Essesntially, my two biggest complaints with The Guest List are these: first, way too many characters had way too specific of a motive to commit the murder at the center of this novel; and, second, the author implicitly equates one character’s choice to get an abortion with a completely different character’s choice to — I shit you not — publish revenge porn of their ex. Foley villainizes these decisions as if they are on the same level of “evil.” And that is just not it.
#13: What is your favorite book you read this year from an author you’ve read before?
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
Don’t worry; I’m not talking about Frankenstein again. Between his knockout debut, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and this incredible sophomore outing, Stu Turton has quickly become an auto-buy author for me. Here, Turton blends historical fiction, supernatural horror, and classic murder-mystery vibes, all to excellent result. I spent mostof my reading experience alternating between trying to solve the mystery and trying to figure out the secrets of the demon that may or may not be haunting the characters of The Devil and the Dark Water. Honestly, this was probably one of the most fun reading experiences I had this year.
#14: What was the best debut novel you read this year?
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Speaking of books that were just fun to read, this was a blast. Becky Chambers just has a knack for writing characters in a way that makes you instantly want to be friends with them and/or to protect them at all costs. As I wrote in what is probably the shortest Goodreads review I’ll ever write: this book is just 400 pages of pure warm fuzzies.
#15: What book did you read this year that had the best world-building or the most vivid setting?
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Full disclosure: this book could have been an answer to so many questions on this survey. It is definitely a top-five read this year. The writing is stunning; the cover is gorgeous; the premise is original. I now want to read everything Marlon James has ever written. I’m trying my best not to repeat answers, though, so I’ve limited myself to just mentioning it here. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an African-inspired adult fantasy whose world feels as rich and lived-in as the cultures that give the story its basis. I cannot recommend this book enough. That said, make sure to look up content and trigger warnings (or shoot me a message!) if you’re concerned about any sort of graphic violence. This is a beautiful book — but it’s also quite brutal.
#16: What book did you read this year that was the most fun to read?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is another one that could have fit under several categories. The Hobbit is action-packed and thrilling. It’s fantastically quotable. I’m definitely kicking myself for waiting this long to pick it up. And I was surprised that I ended up loving it as much as I did. I knew I would like it well enough — I mean, it’s Middle Earth, of course I’d like it. However, given that The Hobbit was written for younger readers (namely Tolkien’s own children), I expected to find it a bit juvenile. Much to my pleasant surprise, while light-hearted and not as complex as the main Lord of the Rings stories, I thoroughly enjoyed following a lovable cast of characters through this monster-of-the-week storytelling style, featuring Tolkien’s signature splash of humor.
#17: What book did you read this year that made you cry (or nearly cry)?
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
It takes a lot for a book to make me cry, and what is War and Peace, if not a lot? I was always much more invested in the “peace” parts than the “war” parts throughout my read. Both halves were incredibly well written, of course. It is Tolstoy after all. And if you’re into military strategy, I can totally see how the “war” parts would be riveting. For me, though, the most moving part of the story was the final interaction between Natasha and Andrei. The two of them just make me melt. Also, honorable mention here for The Only Good Indians. That ending was honestly incredible.
#18: What book is your hidden gem of the year?
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
This is probably the newest release I read this year, so I’m not sure if it’s been out long enough to be classified as a “hidden gem.” Nevertheless, I’m going with it. Son of the Storm is another African-inspired fantasy, although it is much different and significantly less brutal than Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Danso is a fantastic protagonist; he’s likable, admirable, and sometimes a little dumb — but only in ways that prove he’s not flawless. Esheme is a brilliant antagonist as well, a hardass fantasy #GirlBoss if I’ve ever seen one. My only complaint about Son of the Storm is that I have to wait for the sequel!
#19: What is the most unique book you read this year?
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Okay, I know I said I was trying not to repeat answers, but I can’t not reiterate how unique this book is. The pre-Columbian North America-inspired setting brought a much-needed refresh to a genre that seems obsessed with medieval, western (white) cultures. Simultaneously, though, it also felt familiar to me, as I have grown up learning about and surrounded by North American indigenous cultures. So that balance of fresh and familiar, combined with an incredibly unique world and story, created a wonderful reading experience.
#20: What bok did you read this year that made you mad?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is a highly controversial book. It seems people either love it or hate it. So to say that my hating this book is an unpopular opinion is probably not accurate. But, friends, hate it I did. I wasn’t disappointed with this book because I had no expectations for it. I went into The Secret History with an open mind, I swear. However, I quickly grew frustrated with the characters, Tartt’s inconsistent writing, and the sheer circlejerkiness (yes, that’s a word now) of the text in general. The only good thing that came from my reading this is that I now have several points of evidence to use when discussing why this book was, to put it bluntly, not good.
2021 End of Year Reading Survey Part Two: Blogging and Bookish Life
#1: What is your favorite post that you wrote this year?
Is anyone surprised that the post I’m proudest of is also my longest post of the year? I, for one, am not surprised in the least. Books that leave me with mixed feelings are my favorite books to write about, and Never Let Me Go was no exception. I had so much fun putting on my literary analysis cap and writing this review. If you feeel so inclined, grab a snack and check it out ･ﾟ✧here✧ﾟ･.
#2: What was the most challenging thing about your blogging or reading life this year?
Hands down, the most challenging part about my blogging life this year was my mental health (or lack thereof) inhibitng my motivation to write. 2021 was the fist year I managed to complete my fifty-book reading challenge. Despite that, I struggled to find the time, mental energy, and/or focus to dedicate to my writing. However, thanks to some therapy and a few extra chemicals, I’m working on getting to a better place in that regard. I’ve already got a plan for the blog posts I want to write in the coming year, and, more importantly, I’m excited about writing again.
#3: What was the most popular post on your blog this year?
Unsurprisingly, my most popular post this year was my reading list for the POPSUGAR reading Challenge. This is pretty much exclusively due to SEO, and the post has no comments, so trust me when I say that this is not me bragging. But hey, good news if you like reading challenges: I’ll be posting my list for next year’s POPSUGAR Reading Challenge next Friday, so keep your eyes peeled for that!
#4: What post did you publish this year that you wish got a little more love?
This was the first book review I published on the blog this year. It might not be my best-writen review, but I’m still proud of what I put together for that post. And I can’t help but laugh at myself in hindishgt for thinking that review was wordy when it’s only one hundred words shorter than my review for Never Let Me Go. And, anyway, now I’m not afraid to publish long reviews because I enjoy writing them, and that’s all that matters.
#5: Did you complete any reading challenges or goals you set at the beginning of the year?
As I mentioned under the “most challenging” question, this was actually the first year I managed to read fifty books in a year. This is almost certainly because it was the first year in my entire life that I wasn’t a full-time student. However, while I didn’t set any concrete goals for my blog in 2021, I definitely hoped to post more than I actually did.
That said, I am working on reframing my mindset around many of my hobbies — reading and writing included. A personal goal of mine for 2022 that relates to my blog is to do things and create things for myself first. I want to focus on slowing down and creating with intention, not for consumption.
2021 End of Year Reading Survey Part Three: Looking Ahead
#1: What’s one book you didn’t get to read this year that you will prioritize next year?
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Folks, I have the biggest case of FOMO from not having read this series yet. I have all three books on my shelf as we speak, and they haunt me every day they remain unopened. The past year has been filled with refreshing and culturally diverse fantasy stories. Despite that, I have yet to read a fantasy story inspired by southeast Asia. I plan to rectify that with this series and a few other books on my 2022 reading list. Here’s hoping I get to it soon!
#2: What is a non-debut novel that you are excited to read next year?
The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
I was instantly intrigued by this book when I saw that beautiful dragon staring out at me from the Sci-Fi and Fantasy aisle at my local Barnes & Noble. Then I learned that this is the first in a new series by the author of a different, apparently-beloved fantasy series: The Faithful and the Fallen. I don’t know how that series flew under my radar for so long, given that it has excellent ratings. I’m excited to check out John Gwynne’s latest release, and, if all goes well, I’ll have a new series to add to my TBR.
#3: What is a debut novel you are excited to read next year?
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
So I’m not sure if this question is asking about a book coming out next year that’s also the author’s debut novel. Regardless, I’m choosing a book that is the author’s debut, despite being released in 2015. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is another book that has been on my TBR for some time, and I’m excited to finally get to it. It’s fantasy, it’s political, it’s sapphic, and my body is ready.
#4: What is a sequel you are excited to read next year?
Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James
If you’ve made it this far into the post, I don’t have to repeat how much I loved Black Leopard, Red Wolf. This book, its sequel, is set to recount many of the same events of Black Leopard, Red Wolf from a different character’s perspective. That character, Sogolon, a several-hundred-year-old moon witch, was one of my favorite characters in the last book. She’s witty, wise, mysterious, and very selfish. She also knows many things the characters in Black Leopard, Red Wolf don’t learn until late in their journies. The book comes out in mid-February, and I can’t wait to dive back into this world!
#5: What is something you hope to accomplish in your reading or blogging life next year?
On top of reading all fifty books for my reading challenge, I’d really like to publish at least thirty blog posts next year. As I’ve been alluding to, I have already planned several posts I want to write throughout the year. These include the usual monthly wrap-ups, in addition to quarterly stats reviews and a couple of book tags. All in all, I have twenty-three posts already planned for 2022. That means I only have to come up with seven other posts to reach my goal. I think I can do it!
Author’s Note: If you’re reading this in 2023 and I did not publish a total of thirty blog posts in 2022, I give you full license to cyberbully me in my own comments section below.
That’s a Wrap on the 2021 End of Year Reading Survey
And that’s all she wrote for the 2021 End of Year Reading Survey! and by she, I mean me. That’s all I wrote. Well, not true — I still have a few more things to say. Firstly, if you made it this far, thanks so much for reading. I know this is one of the lengthier book tags out there, and I genuinely appreciate you choosing to spend your time reading my post.
Secondly, I’ll be back in a few days with a post going over my 2021 reading stats, so stay tuned for that!
As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon. 💙
Please note that the Bookshop.org links in this post are affiliate links. Bookshop.org allows you to buy books online while supporting an independent bookstore of your choosing. You are not obligated to purchase through these links, but doing so helps support this blog at no additional cost to you. Sharing and following are great free ways to show your support and are equally appreciated!