My 2022 in Books: Fiction Favorites (Not already Reviewed)

I wrote and published 52 reviews of what I read in 2022 (links here), but with reading 85 books, there was a lot of fiction that didn’t make it to a Reading While Fat review. So here is some notable, worthwhile fiction that deserves mention.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Reading List (2021) by Sara Nisha Adams–it centered on how reading books on a particular list affected a group of characters. Mukesh, an elderly widower who never had the habit of reading, has fallen into a rut since his beloved wife, the reader, has passed. Aliesha is a 17-year old girl who works at a library, and finds a list titled “In Case You Need It” in the back of a book that is returned. After Aliesha is rude to Mukesh on his first visit to the library, she starts reading the books on the list and decides to recommend them to Mukesh and start discussing them with him. Reading makes Mukesh feel closer to his wife, even though she’s gone, and Aliesha can connect to her depressed mother by reading to her. It’s not a completely happy ending, but I was caught up in the story and how the books affected each person.

A Far Wilder Magic (2022) by Allison Saft, is YA fantasy, set in a world similar to our own, historically probably in the mid-20th century, but with alchemy and magic performed by alchemists. Maggie Welty lives alone in her family home, after her mother, an accomplished alchemist, has gone away. Weston Winters appears on her doorstep hoping that her mother can take him as an apprentice, as he has no other options to study alchemy. And then the hala, a deer-like magical creature, has appeared, and the town is consumed by the hunt, which is open to an alchemist and a hunter. Maggie and Weston form a team and enter the hunt competition, but Maggie’s mother still doesn’t reappear. There is some romance, which felt true, and I was caught up in the story.

How Beautiful We Were (2021) by Imbolo Mbue had a unique, first-person plural perspective through most of it, as much of the story is told by the age-mates of Thula, a village girl who became a revolutionary. The African village where Thula lives is plagued with pollution and sick and dying children because of the nearby oil refinery, and neither the government nor the company will do anything about the toxic water. Until one day, the villagers take the matter into their own hands, and nothing is ever the same again. Its theme and feel is similar to that of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, so don’t expect a feel-good story, but a true one that has been repeated around the world all too often.

I have intended to read The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern for a long time, so I finally listened to it, and loved it. Celia is the daughter of a great magician, having come to live with him when she was 5 years old. He teaches her how to perform illusions, which she becomes very proficient at, and early on, binds her to a contest with a man in a gray suit, that her schooling is intended to help her succeed in. Marco is an orphan adopted by a man in a gray suit, who is taught charms and other ways to ensure people don’t see what is really there. He is Celia’s opponent, but she doesn’t know that for many years after the competition has begun. The venue for the competition is the Cirque de Reve, or Circus of Dreams, which appears somewhere outside a town one day and only opens at sundown. It’s beautifully written and a love story, and I’d love to be able to visit something like the circus sometime in my life.

I loved the representation in The Kiss Quotient (2018) by Helen Hoang, because nearly all of the characters are Asian-American, one of whom is a woman on the autism spectrum. The love scenes were steamy, and I thought that the characteristics ascribed to Stella’s autism were well-described and realistic. Highly recommend for a hot happily-ever-after that gives some insight into how autism affected this particular character.

The audiobook for A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (2020) by Hank Green was read by a cast of characters, and picks up right after the events of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (2018). April May has died, and her friends are trying to make sense of the new world without her and without the Carls. Green switches perspective from one survivor to another, and although the Carls are gone, strange things keep happening, and Maya, specifically, doesn’t believe that April is really gone. This is definitely not a stand-alone; in fact, I wish I had re-read Remarkable Thing right before I read Foolish Endeavor because I think I would have made sense of what was happening sooner. I was caught up in the events, and couldn’t wait to find out how it ended up–wrapped up in this plot are Green’s thoughts about the nature of celebrity and this world where we don’t really know how the amount of time we spend on social media really affects us.

To my recollection, none of the books above included any significant anti-fat bias, although it is sometimes harder for me to remember it when it is subtle and I’m listening to a book rather than reading an electronic or paper copy.


My 2022 in Books: Nonfiction Favorites

I didn’t read (or review) very much nonfiction in 2022, but I thought these were excellent:

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, by John Green. This was the second book of 2022 that I read, and I was thrilled that the year was off to such a good start. Green has written multiple, short, Google-review type essays about various things in modern life, from Canada Geese (2 stars) to the Indianapolis 500, to Mario Kart, to the World’s Largest Ball of Paint, filtered through his unique worldview. It’s smart, incisive, funny, and emotional.

One of the strange things about adulthood is that you are your current self, but you are also all the selves you used to be, the ones you grew out of but can’t ever quite get rid of.

John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed

Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation, by Maud Newton and Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation, by Aisha Tyler were two very different memoirs that I listened to and was fascinated. In Ancestor Trouble, Newton investigates the stories that her colorful family has told, by searching for and finding the primary sources that prove or disprove those stories. Along the way, she interrogates how those stories have affected her relationship with her parents and what the reality of the stories means in the context of being a white southerner.

Tyler is an actor and comedian who I knew from Whose Line Is It Anyway and Unapologetic with Aisha Tyler (a short-lived AMC talk show that aired right after the TV series Dietland). She reads the audiobook herself and she is truly hilarious, poking fun at herself through the various times in her life she has caused herself embarrassment. I really appreciated how weight-neutral her comedy is. Though she often mentioned how much she eats, and refers to herself as having been a large child, it’s done in a very neutral way, without demonizing fatness or fat people. I was hopeful about her avoiding anti-fatness after her Unapologetic talk show, as she had Lindy West, among other fat positive, feminist activists, on the show, and it was shown after Dietland, but I was glad for the confirmation.

Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran, was a short, excellent book that had concrete examples of what they prefer to call “subtle acts of exclusion” instead of “microaggressions” for several reasons. They are not necessarily small, but subtle in that they are not always explicit, and the effect of the acts is to exclude. Changing the language that these acts are called can make calling them out easier and more productive so that the persons perpetrating them can eliminate them in their interactions with others. I thought it was really useful and had great strategies for those of us trying to be more inclusive in our words and actions.

Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage by Rachel Gross was a deep dive on the science of what we know and what we don’t about all of the different parts of women’s anatomy, including trans women’s created vaginas. It was mind-blowing that there is still so much that we don’t know and so much that was only very recently discovered. This is why representation matters–more women in science and in leadership means more knowledge about things that matter to women.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister was so well-done, everyone should read it. I have eleven pages of notes! Traister traces the history of women’s anger in creating societal change in the United States, and analyzes how it erupted with the Me, too movement and the anger women showed after the 2016 election. The last paragraph of the book:

Being mad is correct; being mad is American; being mad can be joyful and productive and connective. Don’t ever let them talk you out of being mad again.

My 2022 in Books: Analysis and Goals

Of the 85 books I read in 2022, fully 75% of them, or 64 books, were authored by women. 19 were written by men, and 3 had at least one trans or nonbinary author.

85%, or 73, were fiction. It may be because I started as a manager at my main job, and started a second job teaching water fitness, so I turned to reading as my leisure escape this year, which to me means fiction.

33 books, or 38%, were audiobooks, a smaller percentage than in 2022, possibly because I worked remotely 2 days a week most of the year, so fewer days to commute, and my exercise has been mostly in the pool leading a group, so I wasn’t listening to books while I walk.

Genre breakdown:

  • 19 Young Adult
  • 16 Science Fiction/ Fantasy
  • 13 Romance
  • 10 Contemporary/ Literary Fiction
  • 9 Historical Fiction
  • 8 LGBTQ characters
  • 7 Mystery/ Thriller
  • 6 Memoir

I am happy with the genre mix; I may have read more romance because I also got married this year and romance was on my mind!

I only read 8 books as e-books on my phone; but 39, or 46% of the total were from my public library. I love the library. I only reviewed one for Netgalley, so I’d like to do more of those next year. I’m afraid to commit to too many, so instead in 2022 I didn’t do enough.

12 books were for one of my book groups; 10 for my longtime library book group, and 2 for my newer, college friends-based book group. We will need to step that one up a bit, because we’ve been slacking a bit.

2023 Goals:

  • At least 80 books again, at least half written by people who are not white;
  • 52 books reviewed on Reading While Fat;
  • 6 books read from and reviewed on NetGalley;
  • Renew and rejuvenate my college friends book group.

My 2022 in Books: The List

Here is my 2022 list–85 total! Those marked with “D” qualify as non-white authors; “A” I listened to on audiobook; “BG” I read for one of my two book groups. Links are if I posted a review on Reading While Fat (52 reviews done in 2022) and several that I read at the end of the year will be added as reviews in early 2023. Also look in the next few days for the Analysis and 2023 Goals post, my favorite 2023 Nonfiction, and Favorite Fiction not already reviewed.

I should have noted it last year, but this is the 11th annual book list post I’ve done! In those 11 years, I’ve read 882 books, which is an average of 80 per year.

  1. Pleasantville, by Attica Locke (D, A)
  2. The Anthropocene Reviewed, by John Green
  3. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven (BG)
  4. The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan (D, A)
  5. A Change of Heart, by Sonali Dev (D)
  6. Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli (A)
  7. Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany D. Jackson (D, A)
  8. The Cherry Robbers, by Sarai Walker
  9. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi (D, 1/2 A, BG)
  10. IQ by Joe Ide (D, A)
  11. The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, by Balli Kaur Jaswal (D, A)
  12. Good & Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister
  13. Before the Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshirazu Kawaguchi (D, BG)
  14. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (BG)
  15. Pumpkin by Julie Murphy
  16. Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh (D, A)
  17. Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran (D)
  18. The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (A)
  19. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
  20. Tales from the Cafe by Toshirazu Kawaguchi (D)
  21. West of Kabul, East of New York, by Tamim Ansary (D, A)
  22. News of the World, by Paulette Giles (BG)
  23. On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas (D, A)
  24. Big Boned, by Jo Watson
  25. A Dark & Starless Forest, by Sarah Hollowell
  26. Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk by Sasha taqshablu Lepoint (D)
  27. The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel (D, A)
  28. Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters (D)
  29. Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse (D, A)
  30. Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters
  31. Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, by Ashley Herring Blake
  32. Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton (A)
  33. The Chill by Scott Carson (BG)
  34. True Biz, by Sara Novic
  35. Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang (D, A)
  36. Going Public by Hudson Lin (D)
  37. That Woman Next Door by Harper Bliss (A)
  38. The Tenant by Katrine Engberg (BG)
  39. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotosu (D, A)
  40. A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft
  41. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (D)
  42. Forever This Summer by Leslie C. Youngblood (D)
  43. The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner
  44. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzales (D, A)
  45. Red, White, and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston
  46. The Elephants in My Backyard by Rajiv Surendra (D, A)
  47. Finna by Nino Cipri (A)
  48. Alone Out Here by Riley Redgate
  49. How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue (D)
  50. What if It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (D, A)
  51. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (D)
  52. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin (BG)
  53. American Gods by Neal Gaiman (A)
  54. Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage by Rachel Gross
  55. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, ed. by Roxane Gay (D, A)
  56. The Other Man by Farhad J. Dadyburjor (D, A)
  57. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki (D, BG)
  58. If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy
  59. Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (D, A)
  60. Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French
  61. Finley Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano (BG)
  62. The Book of Etta by Meg Elison
  63. The Deep Places by Ross Douthat (BG)
  64. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian (D, A)
  65. The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman
  66. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (D, A)
  67. The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman
  68. The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman
  69. The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (D, A)
  70. Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler (D, A)
  71. Amy Among the Serial Killers by Jincy Willett
  72. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  73. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (BG)
  74. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
  75. American Dervish by Ayad Ahktar (D, A)
  76. Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (D)
  77. Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade
  78. The Old Woman With the Knife by Gu Byeong-Mo trans. by Chi-Young Kim (D, A)
  79. The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian
  80. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (D, A)
  81. You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson (D)
  82. A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone
  83. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  84. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (D)
  85. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green (A)

Our Flag Means Death is Anti-Fat

I have to preface this by saying that I loved Our Flag Means Death. I’m in my third watching of the series, rejoiced when it was renewed for a second season this week, have obsessively followed fan art and fan fiction about it, and my partner and I have determined who is cosplaying Ed and who is cosplaying Stede. But, in all of the articles and commentary I’ve read, not one person mentions the numerous fat “jokes” throughout, and some even claim that OFMD is body-positive.

While OFMD clearly celebrates being queer, and includes a couple of fat characters (Wee John, Oluwande, Spanish Jackie), one of whom gets a romantic storyline (Oluwande), there are too many references to fatness in a negative way to consider that it celebrates all bodies.

It’s primarily that all of the fat jokes about Stede are unnecessary. I’m not going to go through all of them because I don’t want to compound the anti-fat bias. There are many throughout the first couple of episodes, mostly from the terrible Nigel Badminton, but they are completely gratuitous. We could have gotten the idea that Stede was a tender-hearted, sensitive, daydreaming child who was relentlessly bullied because of his softness, without the idea that he was fat. Especially when the casting didn’t match the description. Neither the child actor (who happens to be Rhys Darby’s son) nor Rhys Darby himself are actually fat. So the writers are saying that being called “fat” is one of the worst things they can think of, nevermind what they think of those of us who are actually fat.

In the first episode, a random crewmember on the British Navy ship refers to Stede as a “heavyset woman in a dressing gown.” Later, in episode 8, Calico Jack asks Ed, upon meeting Stede, “Who’s the big gal?” and Ed seems a little embarrassed to be found with Stede by Jack. It clearly wasn’t because Stede is a man, as Ed and Jack have had their dalliances, so it must be that Ed is embarrassed by Stede’s appearance. I hate these moments in the show and I’m so disappointed that, for all of its celebration of queerness, the writers resorted to anti-fatness.

And it’s curious, then, when Jim allows Lucius to get out of the box where he’s confined him, Lucius is sweaty, and is found by Stede, that Lucius comes up with the excuse that he is exercising “to make his body smaller” since exercise for weight loss was not a thing in the 1700s. Why was that the excuse? If Stede had been a fat kid or even a fat adult, wouldn’t he have known that? I know that OFMD is not trying to be historically accurate–it’s campy and fun and brings a present sensibility to telling a historical story–so why did the writers need to bring today’s anti-fatness to the 1700’s, when such anti-fatness did not exist then? I want to love OFMD wholeheartedly, but as a fat person who doesn’t want to subject myself to more anti-fatness than necessary, I can’t.

I do appreciate that Spanish Jackie, played by Leslie Jones, is not referred to as fat and is a ruthless pirate in her own right. And that Oluwande is so well-loved by the crew and by Jim that no one thinks to call or consider him fat or unlovable. Wee John, a big crewmember obsessed with fire, just gets to exist as a fat man without any criticism of his size. Those are all good things.

I have complicated feelings about OFMD. I loved so much of it. And I was disappointed by many things as well. I hope for the second season that the writers can abandon the anti-fat bias.

My 2021 in Books: Favorites

Several books in 2021 have to be put on my “favorites” list, for different reasons.

I loved listening to both Rachel Maddow read her book Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth and Huma Abedin (Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide and wife to Anthony Weiner) read her memoir Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds. Both had horrifying moments but the behind-the-scenes information was enthralling.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon was life-changing, and I’ve been trying to be fat-positive since 1989 (when we called it “size-accepting”). Gordon has written as Your Fat Friend and is one-half of the amazing podcast Maintenance Phase. This book deserves much more time than I’m giving it, but trust me, if you have any interest in fat politics or fighting diet culture, don’t miss it.

I discovered several queer romances that I loved, including Landing by Emma Donoghue; and a bunch of historical regency romances written by Cat Sebastian. I’ve read several (Unmasked by the Marquess; It Takes Two to Tumble; A Little Light Mischief), but have many more to read to get through her catalog. Each is a delightful escape, and in many she includes an author’s note about the characters and her choices about them.

I picked up We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan from the new shelf on my first trip to a new library system, and was not disappointed. The author tells the story of an Indian/Ugandan/British Muslim family, through the stories of a young lawyer, Sameer, and his grandfather, and how British colonialism affected the family and those close to them in Uganda, when those of Indian descent (originally brought there by the British) were forced to leave Uganda during the time of Idi Amin. The author illuminated a period of history I had not been previously aware of, through characters I wanted to know more about.

I read many brilliantly-written memoirs by African-American authors, including How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones; Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey; and Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford. I learned much that I did not know in both Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo and How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning of the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith, that these two books should be on every anti-racist reading list. A necessary anti-racist memoir and kind of workbook, specifically written for white people, is Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, although it does have some cringy moments. And I read Seven Days in June by Tia Williams, in one sitting on a Saturday night because I couldn’t put it down. It’s a romance featuring two authors, one with debilitating migraines, a robust fan base, and an 11-year old daughter named Audre and another who is famously reclusive. The world doesn’t know that they once knew each other when they were in high school, before they were each famous. It’s steamy, hilarious, and a fascinating look at New York’s African-American literary scene.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Lesa Cline-Ransome’s young adult historical fiction trilogy: Finding Langston, Leaving Lymon, and Being Clem. She illuminates the Great Migration through the stories of three young boys who attend the same middle school in Chicago at the same time in the late 1940s. I read them backwards, but loved each of the boys in their own ways, and understood them so much more since they each had their own story. Highly recommend for middle-grade readers or anyone who loves historical fiction.

Finally, I was delighted by several books set in Great Britain: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (What happens when a downsized librarian buys a van, makes it a traveling bookstore, and moves to Scotland?); Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo (How does a 75-year old married father of two adult daughters tell his wife of 50 years that he is gay and been involved with his best friend since before they were married?); and One Day in December by Josie Silver (Will the girl and the guy who locked eyes on a bus ever be single at the same time?).

I discovered I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman at just the right time–as my only daughter was off at college for the first time, the single-mom lawyer in this book was taking hers on a college tour up and down the East coast with the hopes they could learn to talk to each other again. It was hilarious and heartwarming, as to be expected from Waxman.

Others I loved with reviews already on Reading While Fat:

My 2021 in Books: Analysis and 2022 Goals

Of the 85 books I read in 2021, here is the breakdown of what exactly I read:

  • 47 (55%) were written by non-white authors
  • 70 (82%) were written by women
  • 63 (74%) were fiction
  • 38 (44%) were audiobooks
  • 4 (5%) were obtained courtesy of NetGalley
  • 41 (48%) were obtained courtesy of my public library
  • 16 (19%) were read for one of my 2 book groups
  • Genre breakdown (some categories overlap):
    • 8 Young Adult
    • 6 Science/Speculative fiction/ Fantasy
    • 7 Mystery/ Thriller
    • 11 Romance
    • 17 Historical fiction
    • 14 Memoir
    • 17 Queer storylines or author
  • 30 (35%) were the subject of reviews on Reading While Fat.

I exceeded both my overall total and percentage of diverse authors goals–I had hoped to read 80 and I read 85; and I had hoped to read 40% from diverse authors, but I read 55%. I was willing to cut myself some slack, but my habit of reading diverse authors now seems to be ingrained.

I had planned to publish a review every week but life, specifically moving into a new house with my fiance and sending my daughter off to college, got in the way, and so I didn’t even publish 60% of what I had hoped. I started off strong, but slacked off in the spring and never got back into the groove of weekly posting. I have several books I still want to post reviews for but will consider how that affects 2022’s goals.

Interesting tidbits:

  • I only read 14 different male authors, and I only would have read 10 if it hadn’t been for my book groups. I don’t gravitate towards male authors anymore if I can choose freely.
  • I read a lot more romance than I have in recent years, perhaps because I found a great author of queer historical romances–Cat Sebastian–and another great author of fat positive romances–Olivia Dade.
  • The vast majority of my audiobooks were read through Audible, but I have also started using my library’s Hoopla service for audiobooks.
  • For the first time I went on a book spree specifically because I loved the audiobook narrator–Dion Graham did such an amazing job in Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Being Clem that I had to go back and read the beginning of the trilogy that he narrates (Finding Langston and Leaving Lymon), and then Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising, which had been on my list for a bit and I was thrilled to see he was the narrator. He inhabited the three boys in the trilogy so well–I could listen to him read anything.
  • I read 9 books in each of September, October, and November, but only 4 books each in May (moving prep) and December. The average was just over 7 books a month.

2022 Goals:

  • At least 80 books, half of them diverse.
  • Publish the equivalent of one review a week on Reading While Fat–52 reviews during 2022.

My 2021 in Books: The List

I’ve reviewed about 1/3 of these (review links on titles) on my other blog, Reading While Fat, but here is the full list of everything I’ve read during 2021. Each book marked below with (D) was written by an author who is not white. Books marked (A) were read to me as audiobooks, and (BG) were read for one of my book groups. You may see reviews of some of these show up in early 2022 over on Reading While Fat, but I also plan to do a round-up of some books I want to highlight but don’t want to do a full review.

  1. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
  2. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (D, A)
  3. Joyland by Stephen King (BG)
  4. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (D)
  5. The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (D, A)
  6. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (D, A)
  7. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (D, A)
  8. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (A)
  9. The Awkward Black Man by Walter Mosley (D)
  10. Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (D, A)
  11. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (BG)
  12. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel (BG)
  13. The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis (A)
  14. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (D)
  15. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin
  16. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (D, A)
  17. Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson (D, A)
  18. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (D, A)
  19. Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen (BG)
  20. Bellwether by Connie Willis (A)
  21. Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok (D, A)
  22. Selection Day by Aravind Adiga (D)
  23. Blowout by Rachel Maddow (A)
  24. Fat Girl Finishing School by Rachel Wiley (D)
  25. Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (D, A)
  26. Bears in the Streets by Lisa Dickey (BG)
  27. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (BG)
  28. Big Girl plus The Pill by Meg Elison
  29. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (D)
  30. Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (D, A)
  31. Landing by Emma Donoghue (A)
  32. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (BG)
  33. The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Kyung-sook Shin (D, A)
  34. What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
  35. The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson (BG)
  36. Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig (BG)
  37. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
  38. Blue Highways by William least Heat-Moon (D, A)
  39. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (D, A)
  40. O Beautiful by Jung Yun (D)
  41. Starfish by Lisa Fipps
  42. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (D, A)
  43. The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day (BG)
  44. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (D, BG)
  45. Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid (D, A)
  46. We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan (D)
  47. Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin (A)
  48. Afterlife by Julia Alvarez (D, A)
  49. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones (D)
  50. That Summer by Jennifer Weiner (A)
  51. The (other) F Word edited by Angie Manfredi (D, A)
  52. The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill
  53. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (D, A)
  54. The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey (D)
  55. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (D, A)
  56. 77 Letters: Operation Morale Booster: Vietnam by Susan P. Hunter (BG)
  57. Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
  58. A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian
  59. Bad Fat Black Girl by Sesali Bowen (D)
  60. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith (D)
  61. Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (D, A)
  62. Waking Up White by Debby Irving (A)
  63. I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman (A)
  64. Being Clem by Lesa Cline-Ransome (D, A)
  65. The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev (D)
  66. Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo (D)
  67. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (D, BG)
  68. It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian
  69. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (D, A)
  70. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
  71. Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome (D, A)
  72. Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo (D, A)
  73. When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal (BG)
  74. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (BG)
  75. Old in Art School by Nell Painter (D, A)
  76. The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey (D)
  77. Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome (D, A)
  78. Find Layla by Meg Elison
  79. The Maid by Nita Prose
  80. All The Feels by Olivia Dade
  81. Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford (D)
  82. Both/And by Huma Abedin (D, A)
  83. Red At the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (D, A)
  84. One Day in December by Josie Silver (BG)
  85. Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (D)

Next post . . . the analysis!

2020 Queer Books

In 2020, I read many books written by queer authors or featuring queer characters.

I blogged about I Have Something To Tell You by Chasten Buttigieg and The Deviant’s War by Eric Cervini in the 2020 nonfiction post. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado was a completely original memoir, and the story of the author’s relationship with her first girlfriend, who was abusive. It’s not in a traditional narrative structure–each chapter is titled and told using a different narrative trope, such as “Dream House as Fantasy,” “Dream House as Second Chances,” “Dream House as Unreliable Narrator.” It was really well-done, and the author narrated the audiobook herself.

You can find my other thoughts on The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar on the 2020 Diverse Books post and in my Goodreads review. It’s so queer!! There are at least three separate queer romances embedded within the book; the main contemporary character is transgender, and there are numerous LGBTQ characters throughout. Including in the historical storyline!

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern surprised me when the main character turned out to be gay. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was thrilled because it was unexpected. It’s nice to read a Fantasy novel that’s not billed as “queer fiction” but just so happens to have queer characters. As I mentioned in the 2020 Book Group Favorites post, while I loved it because the writing was gorgeous and the idea so intriguing, it’s not for everyone, especially if you need a clear narrative structure.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus was a mystical, heartbreaking young adult f/f romance novel, told from alternating perspectives. Mentioned in the 2020 Best Body Positive Books post, it certainly belongs here as well. I noted Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy in the same post, and here, because the main character is figuring out her sexuality, which is likely bisexual or pansexual.

Books that get Honorable Mentions for queer supporting characters: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman; 96 Words for Love by Rachel Roy and Ava Dash; and, Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy.

Catch and Kill should also be listed here because the author, Ronan Farrow, writes about maintaining his bicoastal relationship as he’s reporting the Weinstein assaults, and proposes to his partner in a draft of the book.

Please visit my new blog at Reading While Fat, where I’ll be reviewing a new book every Sunday, with a focus on whether it is fat-positive, fat-neutral, or fatphobic.

2020 Fatphobic Books

First, how do I define fatphobia? It’s basically the fear and/or hatred of fat bodies and it perpetuates negative stereotypes that extend discrimination against fat people. More here.

Three of the 2020 books that I found to be fatphobic were read for one of my book groups, and most had positive aspects as well. You can find the positive aspects of Case Histories and Eleanor Oliphant in the 2020 Book Group Favorites post.

Despite being well-written and with a unique construction, I found Case Histories (2004) by Kate Atkinson to be fatphobic in a couple of ways. First, the main character in one of the storylines is a solicitor named Theo, who is very fat and described as unhealthy, as he huffs and puffs walking down the street and his daughters chastise him to eat better. Theo is one of the few purely good characters in the book, but he suffers through unspeakable grief. Although I appreciate seeing a fat character in a British book, Atkinson makes the assumption that Theo’s fatness means he is also unhealthy, which is not a given, and she also subjects him to some of the worst grief a person can experience, so he becomes a tragic character. Another character who is presumed to be fat is Amelia Land, one of the sisters in another storyline who teaches English and is a virgin in her mid-thirties. She has a crush on Jackson, the P.I., but it is unreciprocated. She is portrayed as frumpish and awkward, and Atkinson uses another stereotype–that fat women are really lesbians who can’t get men — to finish Amelia’s story.

I found some fatphobia in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (2017) by Gail Honeyman, another British book, but the main character works through it and seems to get over it. I would have hoped that Eleanor would have had empathy for fat people who are judged by the way they look, as she has a badly scarred face, but her emotional scars are too deep for her to have much empathy at the beginning of the book. She avoids sitting next to fat people on public transportation, having the same attitude as her abusive mother, who is snobbish and cruel. But later, after thinking about it, she realizes that they may be fat through no fault of their own, so she starts sharing her seat. And she has wisdom and insight about conventionally beautiful people, who she feels sorry for (or does she?): “Beauty, from the moment you possess it, is already slipping away, ephemeral. That must be difficult. Always having to prove that there’s more to you, wanting people to see beneath the surface, to be loved for yourself, and not your stunning body, sparking eyes, or thick, lustrous hair.” Is she talking about beautiful people or those who aren’t?

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008) by Muriel Barbery was first published in French and tells the story of a concierge, Renee Michel, at a high-end apartment building on the Left Bank in Paris and a 12-year old girl, Paloma, who lives in one of the apartments. Madame Michel is middle-aged, ugly, and has cultivated an appearance so that the tenants perceive her to be of low-class and not very intelligent, but actually she is brilliant and has refined tastes: she is an autodidact, enjoys gourmet food, and is a connoisseur of capital-A Art. Paloma is precocious and sensitive, and has decided to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. Things change for both Madame Michel and Paloma when a resident dies and a Japanese businessman moves into one of the apartments. It’s a very deep book, full of philosophy, character-driven, and not a fast read. And it is fatphobic because it is presumed that Madame Michel is fat. About herself, she thinks: “I greatly pity the handsome young man who is obliged to contemplate a one-hundred-and-fifty-pound toad named Renee.” She also thinks that “to be poor, ugly, and moreover intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age.” Madame Michel and the Japanese businessman become friends, though, much to her surprise, and as they talk and find out how much in common they have, she begins to wonder if she might have found love against all odds. And of course, a fat and ugly character cannot find love, even if she does have friends and they remember her fondly. Ugh. The writing was beautiful, and I noted many quotes. But I found much of it offensive.

I read Is He My Son?: A trafficked Chinese child, discovered and lost again (2019) by Lin Chang, Bruce Humes (translator) through NetGalley and posted a review on Goodreads here. While I liked it overall, there was some choppiness and fatphobia. The birth mother says “I’d be massively overweight if I lived in the capital. So many delicious dishes,” and was asked “Not on a diet, are you? . . . As soon as I touched down in the capital I forgot the meaning of the word.” I don’t know how Chinese culture has regarded fat people historically, but it is clear that Western diet culture (and the accompanying fear of becoming fat) has spread around the world.

For the most part I really enjoyed Righteous: An IQ novel (2017) by Joe Ide. It’s the second of a series of (currently four) crime mysteries set in South Central Los Angeles. Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) has some Sherlock Holmes-ian characteristics. It also was somewhat reminiscent of the humor in a Carl Hiassen novel, except with less absurd characters. I only found fault in one scene where Isaiah wonders why “you would wear a miniskirt if your thighs were like two Beluga whales swimming side by side.” I was disappointed and wish he had avoided the fatphobic description. But I am willing to fall on my sword, read the others sometime to see if this is a pattern, and report back. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thighs that look like Beluga whales–they are majestic! (And what if our thighs could echolocate like Beluga whales? Wouldn’t that be cool?)