The TBR Stack: January 2021
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
A new year means a new list of books to enjoy! I know many people feel a bit of a let-down after the holidays and all of its merriment. I understand this sentiment, but I've also come to appreciate the crystalline stillness of January following the hectic excesses of December. I’ve learned to respect winter as not just a barren, cold time of nothingness, but as a season which holds space and clears the way for the eventual new growth of spring!
So I'll be settling into this January space with a cup of something warm and a collection of books new and old for the first month of 2021.
I was interested in The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett when I first heard about it last summer, but didn't seek out a copy right away. After several months of seeing other readers singing its praises, I'm finally giving in to the onslaught of accolades and diving into the novel for myself. This coming-of-age, historical fiction work examines the links and limits of family as twin sisters take very different paths in life-- one living in the small Black community in which they grew up and the other living miles away and passing for white. I'm intrigued by the family storyline and how the sisters come to terms with their shared past and future.
I've frequently professed my adoration for the work of Jaqueline Woodson here on this blog (I recommend both Brown Girl Dreaming and Red at the Bone). So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that I'll be reading her latest book, Before the Ever After. The book chronicles a family struggling to move forward when it seems the best days have already passed. This short novel-in-verse is considered a middle grade book but explores themes, such as the true cost of professional sports on its players, which are suitable for adults.
For a non-fiction title, I'm reading For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World by Sasha Sagan, daughter of astronomer Carl Sagan. This 2019 book is part memoir, part study, as Sagan examines how the natural world informs and shapes humanity's rituals surrounding everything from communal holidays to family milestones to birth and death.
I think we all have backlist books we feel like everyone has read but us. I know that's the case for me! I'm finally moving The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern from the depths of my TBR to the top. This widely read, widely loved 2011 fantasy novel is about a mysterious circus and two magicians pitted against each other, but also falling in love. I'm eager to discover why so many people love this award-winning book.
Finally, I'm rounding out my list for the month with not a single story, but a collection. I pulled an older edition of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories from my personal book shelves, where it has sat for years. I don't naturally gravitate to the short story format, but this anthology will let me enjoy the works of such celebrated writers as Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Amy Tan, and more with smaller investments of my time.
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And now a few thoughts on my December reads. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat by Katherine May is a memoir about surviving and realigning during the dark times of our lives. I really enjoyed this thought-provoking book which weaves literature, mythology, and nature into its teachings. My only complaint is that the book didn't explore the Greek myth of Persephone, the goddess who spends half the year on earth and half the year (winter) as Queen of the Underworld. To me this would have been a logical and compelling inclusion. Still, I recommend Wintering.
I quickly made my way through The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides and quickly discovered why it's been so popular. This thriller left me with the odd impression of moving fast while connecting the dots very slowly. I guessed some aspects of the major plot twist (because there were only so many characters involved in this dark mystery), but the final reveal hit me hard-- just as it was meant to. Recommend for anyone who enjoys this genre.
I also recommend Toni Morrison's 1992 historical fiction novel Jazz. The premise is dark: a man shoots and kills his teenaged lover, then his wife attacks the girl's corpse at the funeral in 1920s Harlem. However, the book is really about much more. Jazz is not a light read, and you have to pay attention to follow and appreciate the subtle changes in character perspective and time. Some sections have little to do with the main plot at all; they're more meditations on Black urban life at this point in our nation's history. It's worth the effort to explore Morrison's superb craftsmanship and storytelling.
Finally, I finished a holiday favorite that I read every year: Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas by Jonathan Green, which is a brief but thorough look at the origins and history of many of our holiday traditions. I also completed the 12-week creativity course outlined in The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.
All in all, I'm pleased with how I rounded out the year, and I'm finalizing my reading goals for 2021. More on that next week! Until then, best wishes for further reading!