Archive for January, 2022

thirteen books that wowed me in 2021

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

Vita Nostra

Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945

California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History

A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary 1939–1940

Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World

The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

Some obvious common themes from 2020: Californian and indigenous history and strong landscape writing, digging deeper into both the land itself (Entangled Life, Finding the Mother Tree, Believers) and the past (Fifth Sun, The White Possessive, California Through Native Eyes.) Entangled Life and Finding the Mother Tree are both wonderful books that richly deserved to be referenced by Coach Beard in Ted Lasso (I squealed) but Believers introduced me to the indelible Finisia Medrano and thereby snuck in the win. I wish I’d met her.

Meanwhile my jonesing for history got loose and I dug into being on the wrong side of World War Two, being a woman in ancient Rome, and domesticating horses. A Chill in the Air and Hiroshima Diary were perversely comforting, in this year of democracy slipping away. They are proof that a person can live on the wrong side of history and still be a thinking, feeling, ethical being. I needed that reassurance. I described A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as I, Claudius if it had been written by Tamsyn Muir, and now I would like for all of history to be rewritten by profane queer feminists, please and thank.

This was the year I finally, viscerally understood what Becky Chambers is trying to do; something about stepping outside the imperialism of the monomyth and finding a more networked, interconnected, forest-like approach to narrative. I loved A Psalm for the Wild-Built so much that I went back and reread everything of hers, only actually, you know, getting it this time. Slow learner. Oh well.

I also reread The Dark Is Rising, The Doomsday Book (huge pandemic kick in the pants. Huge) and my beloved The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which last was an INCREDIBLE gateway drug to Vita Nostra, speaking of stepping outside the imperialist narrative, a masterpiece and a surprise standout of the year. So good I made Jeremy read it. You should too.