MY FAVOURITE BOOKS OF 2021: NONFICTION


Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

I feel like Patrick Radden Keefe needs no introduction at this point. Say Nothing was incredible, and surprise surprise, so is Empire of Pain. I cannot tell you how VORACIOUSLY I read this book. Keefe’s writing is ridiculously propulsive as always, and the way that he weaves the strands of this narrative together is so impressive.


The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

The Anthropocene Reviewed

This was such a lovely, big-hearted book. John Green writes with real sympathy and compassion about a lot of things: grocery store chains and birds and sunsets and grass. It all seems random and I started many of the essays thinking I couldn’t possibly be interested in some of these topics, and then by the end I was like ok, this is actually very moving and I am very possibly on the verge of tears. A gorgeous book, and an even more gorgeous one on audiobook, which John Green narrates himself.


Ace by Angela Chen

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex

Ace is the most eye-opening book I’ve read this year. It’s one of the few nonfiction books that’s genuinely changed the way I think about so many things, in this case about sex and romance. Chen covers a lot of aspects of asexuality, here, but she also interrogates so much of what undergirds our society when it comes to relationships and companionship. A very, very compelling read.


The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan

The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century

(my review)

I’ve found myself thinking about this book all the time ever since I finished it. I think I cited it in like 3 different assignments this last semester, so clearly it’s been on my mind lol. Amia Srinivasan’s writing is sharp as a blade: she writes so incisively about feminist topics, and brings real insight and clarity to each of the topics she covers.


Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger

Negative Space

I was pretty much on the verge of crying for the entirety of this book. I read it on Hannah’s recommendation, and she was absolutely right: this is such a powerful, well-written book. Dancyger writes poignantly about her father: his art, his struggle with addiction, his relationships. And through it all you can just so keenly feel how much he loved her, and how she loved him. Oof, this was a very emotional read. (Also very underrated!!!!)


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THINGS I LOVE READING ABOUT


A little while ago I wrote a post about some things I hate reading about, which then got me thinking about some things that I love reading about: some of the tropes and themes that draw me to certain books, and that I have a special affinity for. So here we are! I’ve compiled a list of 8 things I love reading about, as well as included some examples of books that incorporate those things.


#1: Love stories/romance

examples: Normal People by Sally Rooney (my review), The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, The King of Infinite Space by Lydsay Faye (my review), People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

I cannot overstate how easily you can get me to read a book if you just tell me it has a good romance in it. Like I am such a sucker for anything with a romance. I find that oftentimes I’ll come across a book and be like mmm i dont know about this it doesnt seem like my kinda book and then I’ll hear there’s a good romance in it and immediately add it to my TBR. What I especially love is when romances are woven into a more plot-oriented story with high stakes, usually a fantasy one. It just makes the romance feel that much more earned and angsty (in a good way). Plus aside from it being nice to watch people fall in love, I think romances are such a great way to get to know characters better. I am always a character-focused reader, and I find it fascinating to see how characters’ histories, vulnerabilities, personalities, etc. feed into their dynamics with their partners (“the mortifying ordeal of being known” and all…).


#2: Secluded settings/small communities

examples: Elmet by Fiona Mozley (my review), The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, Euphoria by Lily King, Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin (tr. by Aneesa Higgins), Emma by Jane Austen

There is something so compelling about putting a bunch of characters in a secluded or small setting and then seeing what happens. It’s just a perfect context for understanding characters and their dynamics: what makes them tick, what brings them together, what makes them butt heads. I also think it allows for more complex and deep character development, because the story’s focus narrows down to a smaller group of characters. In addition to learning more about the characters, I think these kinds of stories also allow for a more developed exploration of the settings those characters are in: the kinds of cultures those settings come with (e.g. the more medical setting of a pregnancy ward in The Pull of the Stars), the people that frequent those settings (the tourist-based location of Winter in Sokcho), the kind of lifestyles those settings seem suited to (the slow, more measured rural environment of Elmet).


#3: Fathers’ relationships with their children

examples: Abigail by Magda Szabo (my review), The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes (my review), Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger

I feel like every year I see approximately 5 million new releases about motherhood, but like zero about fathers and fatherhood more broadly. I personally don’t enjoy reading books about motherhood–I feel like I’ve just read one too many of them at this point–but I find books that examine relationships with fathers fascinating, specifically the relationships that fathers have with their children, whether young or old. And here I’m not talking about the cliched shitty deadbeat dad here, but the dads that actually make an effort, even if that effort doesn’t always succeed or translate into action. I don’t know what it is exactly about this theme that I find so fascinating, aside from the fact that books about relationships with fathers are so rare. It’s something I don’t usually read about, and it’s something I’d like to read about more.


#4: British historical fiction (especially Victorian)

examples: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd, Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

I’m super interested in British history, Georgian, Regency, and Victorian history in particular, but I will read pretty much every British historical fiction book I come across that sounds good. I think a big part of this comes from my love of Jane Austen, but I also think British history, specifically Victorian era history, is just REALLY COOL. I especially love looking at the social aspects of history: families, work/class, marriage, and how all those things are influenced by the particular moral and cultural expectations of that time period.


#5: Diaspora/immigration & culture/identity

examples: The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel, Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee (my review)

Anything to do with immigration, bicultural/diasporic identity, I’M IN. I have a real soft spot for this theme. There’s the obvious “torn between two worlds” sort of thing when it comes to bicultural identity, but I also think it’s so interesting to look at how people who identify with more than one culture navigate that identification, especially when it comes to dynamics with their families. Also, FOOD!! Food is such a big part of culture and I love seeing how it plays into bicultural/diasporic identity too.


#6: Estranged characters reuniting/reconciling

examples: Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney, Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, Persuasion by Jane Austen (my review)

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I LOVE reunions/reconciliations in stories, especially if the characters were previously estranged or separated for some reason. IT GETS TO ME. It’s all about the angst: the fact that something caused a rift between characters, the fact that they think they’re never going to be able to bridge that rift, and then the fact that they DO. It’s why I love second-chance romances so much. Persuasion is such a good example of this!! Coming back to England and seeing the woman you loved who broke things off with you 7 years ago!!! Refusing to engage with her because you’re still hurt by the fact that she broke things off with you!! Realizing that you still care for her!! Realizing that you’re still in love with her and never got over her!!! Like I said, it’s all about the angst.

I think I love this trope so much, if you can call it that, because it’s all about relationships and forgiveness, how difficult it can be to work through conflict in those relationships, but also how rewarding it can be to reconnect with people who mattered to you and who you realize still matter to you.


#7: Money/class/privilege

examples: literally anything by Sally Rooney, White Ivy by Susie Yang (my review), One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun (tr. by Jung Yewon) (my review)

This one is pretty self-evident: I love reading about money as it relates to class and/or privilege. I think it’s especially interesting to me when a story focuses on a relationship between characters who are of different classes: White Ivy, for example, where the main character begins a romantic relationship with a guy who comes from a very wealthy background. This is also very evident in Rooney’s Conversations With Friends and Normal People, where one partner in a relationship is significantly wealthier than the other. It’s also why I love shows like Succcession: more than just depicting a bunch of rich people doing rich-people things, it’s about how wealth fundamentally changes who you are and the way you approach your world.


#8: Stories within stories/metanarratives/framed stories

examples: The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck, the Cruel Prince series by Holly Black, Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (tr. by Anton Hur) (my review)

This one is less defined than the other things I’ve listed, but I absolutely love stories that have other stories inside them, or stories that are framed in some way (e.g. how in Cursed Bunny some stories begin with something like “I heard a story once”). I love this trope because I feel like it gives a story a real sense of heft; it makes it feel grand somehow, like it’s part of a much larger collective narrative that comes from fairytales or mythology. Holly Black does this really well in her novellas, which incorporate fae mythology, but Karin Tidbeck also does a great job of this in The Memory Theater, which is all about storytelling and fairies and found family.


I hope you enjoyed reading this! I had a lot of fun trying to think of themes/tropes for this post and browsing my “read” shelf to see what books incorporated them. That being said, I would love to know what are some things you love reading about!! Do you love reading about any of the things that I’ve listed? Is there anything I didn’t mention that you especially enjoy reading about? Let me know!! 😊


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THINGS I HATE READING ABOUT (PART 2)


A little while ago I wrote a post about a bunch of things that I hate reading about, and because I am a fount of positivity, I thought I’d do a part two to that post since I still had some things to talk about lol. SO HERE WE GO.


#1: Globetrotting/touristy stories

I really do not get along with stories that focus on globetrotting protagonists, especially in a tourist context. I feel like every time I read a book where this happens the author just throws a bunch of names of things at me that I never recognize because I haven’t traveled anywhere lol. It’s just so hard to get a clear sense of the protagonist’s surroundings when the narrative is preoccupied with naming every single tourist location and building and painting and food, etc. etc. Beyond not recognizing any of those things and so not being able to properly imagine them, I also just prefer to have the protagonist and their experiences grounded in a more limited set of locations, or in one location even. And I feel like globetrotting stories end up taking the focus away from the character in favour of waxing poetic about Touristy Things.


#2: Motherhood

Ohhhhh my godddddddd. I am so tired of reading about motherhood. These days if I have even the slightest inkling that a book might be about motherhood I drop it like a hot potato. Like truly, nothing gets me to not want to read a book faster than finding out that it’s about motherhood in any way. There are just SO MANY stories about motherhood, and I’ve read SO MANY of them already, and they all cover such similar themes and I’m just so done with it all. I have nothing against motherhood, but I just can’t stand to read about it anymore. My sanity depends on it.


#3: Americana

I can’t stand books that are about American culture. I just find it so boring and uninteresting. By “American culture” I mean books that are explicitly about Americana of some kind; most of the ones I come across tend to be about the culture and history of a particular state. The US dominates like pretty much everything so I’d rather read about the culture and history of literally any other country at this point.


#4: Politics

I don’t mind reading about things that are political or politicized (race, gender, etc.), but I absolutely hate reading about politics, especially American politics. Politics is already a big dumpster fire in real life, and I’d just rather not read about it in my books as well. That’s not to say that I only read for escapism, but politics is simply one thing that I have no patience for in my fiction. (This is a big reason why I didn’t like Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue.)



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