The 2021 Reading List: February

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, and I’ve carried it through for 2021, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

Back in 2020 I decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. I started putting an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand and limited the stack to five books, which seemed doable for the month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I typically tried to get through the pile in the order I stacked them. I also used this strategy to try and diversify my reading. The goal was for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally.

Here’s what was on the to-read stack in January!

The January 2021 to-read pile: Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy, The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon, and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

Savage Legion by Matt Wallace: I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first saw it in a catalogue. I was worried when I noticed points of view in present tense, typically I bounce off of books written in present rather than past tense. It worked for me with Savage Legion though. I loved every POV character, but especially Evie and Taru. Savage Legion felt so fresh and timely, and I think it’s destined to become a classic. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Wallace’s work!

The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler: This is a book I never thought I’d read, as I’m typically not one for self-help style books. The Dalai Lama’s big takeaway of compassion being important for happiness was interesting. I often didn’t care for Cutler’s framing of the Dalai Lama’s stories. I feel like my dual nature as someone who’s worked in customer service for years and been ground down by being mistreated by strangers and as an author who seeks to empathize with, and understand, people and why they do what they do led to a bit of whiplash reading the book. I’m certinly not going to become a Buddhist, and probably won’t read more of the Dalai Lama’s books, but I’m glad I read this, if only because it was a type of book I’ve never read before. Maybe The Art of Happiness is not what I should’ve been reading during the pandemic, or maybe exactly what I should be reading. Time will tell.

After finishing the January stack, here’s the pile I assembled for February:

The February 2021 to-read pile: Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite, City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler, and The Wave by Susan Casey.

Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner: A graphic novel reread, and I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the series for the first time since Wagner completed it recently. I love the rawness of Wagner’s early art here. It largely held up for me other than a couple cringey moments due to the age of the material, and those were fewer than usual. I’m still upset about the death of Edsel and Sean after all these years. The collected edition I read is packed with extras, including an “interlude” story that bridges the time between The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined. I love the old wraparound Comico covers, and somehow the more modern reissue covers Wagner did for the series don’t work as well for me, but I’m glad they were all included. It’s weird reading this years after I became a writer and seeing how influential Wagner’s work has been on mine. I typically cite Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run when I’m talking about comic influences on my prose, but I think I’ll have to start including Wagner’s Mage in my direct influences.

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite: I first read Brite ages ago (don’t ask how long) in my first year of university when I picked up Lost Souls, which hit pretty hard back then in my early years of listening to industrial music and starting to explore some of goth culture. I’ve only spent a little bit of time working in restaurants (delivering pizza for my least favourite pizza place in my old home town, and bussing tables at a supposedly fine dining place) but there’s something about Brite’s culinary fiction that hits so true. I also love watching food shows. Love cooking. Love eating out (or did, pre-pandemic). I absolutely devoured this one, pun intended. I’m sure I’ll be adding the other volumes to my to-read stack soon.

Mage: The Hero Defined by Matt Wagner: I think this is my favourite era of Wagner’s art. And my favourite volume of the series from a story perspective. I love how he expanded his concepts from The Hero Discovered. I think this has the basis for being an excellent RPG. I’d probably use City of Mist to run the game if I ever got around to it. I do wish we saw more women among the avatars of power characters, but the witch sisters are pretty cool. The wait for The Hero Denied seemed interminable, but the final volume finally arrived, and I can’t wait to reread it with the series fresh in my brain.

One in the Hand by Rhonda Parrish: Not initially on my to-read pile, but I was lucky enough to receive an advanced digital copy of this one. I’m mostly used to Rhonda reading my work, as she’s edited several of my short stories over the years. This was a Norse myth influenced book set in Edmonton, so of course I loved it. Rhonda played with one of my favourite, usually unsung relationships in the myths. I really hope this will be a series.

City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff: First book in the Ghost Writers series. I met Moncrieff and got to know her at a variety of conventions. This is my first run at one of her novel-length stories. I really enjoyed the relationship between Jackson and Kate, as well as Moncrieff’s take on how ghosts and mediums work. I see that book two features Kate as the protagonist, which I’m looking forward to.

The Break by Katherena Vermette: I know Katherena first as a poet, and I loved her debut, North End Love Songs. Her graphic novel collaboration with Scott Henderson, A Girl Called Echo, was also a fun read. I’ve hesitated reading this one, because I knew it would be heavy, but I never doubted it would be good. The Break was both heavier, and better than expected; an intergeneration family story of trauma and healing, every character was so well realized. I also appreciated that a family tree was included to be able to see the connections at a glance. The book has its trigger warnings displayed on the title page, if you’re concerned, but I highly recommend giving it a chance.

Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler: Steampunk is typically not my jam but I really enjoyed this late 1880s tale. A nice slow burn romance between Folley and Mallory, lots of mystery in what agents of Mistral do, and what is going on with the supernatural forces in the world. I’d definitely read more of these characters, and in this world.

Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner: My first reread of the final volume in the Mage trilogy. I originally read this in single issues as they released. Wagner collaborated with his son Brennan, who did the colours for this volume. Endings are hard. I know this well as someone who has had to find the right ending for a few books of his own (and had to end a trilogy). I think it was a fine ending for hero Kevin Matchstick, maybe one that didn’t particularly resonate with me, but worked for the character. Unfortunately, this was my least favourite iteration of Wagner’s art in the series, and I missed some of the larger worldbuilding that was introduced in The Hero Defined, but it made sense that Wagner tightened the focus back to Matchstick and his new family. I do hope Wagner returns to the world now that Kevin Matchstick has had his happy ending, even though I doubt that’ll happen.

My 2020 in Books

One of my goals for 2020, and really the only one I wholly succeeded in, was to read more than I had in 2019. I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku (and it did!).

Being a little more systematic about my reading plans certainly helped. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books (usually), which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in the order I stack them. For my first reading stack, I grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but since then I’ve added criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Since I had success with my 2020 reading plan, I made a spreadsheet to track my reading more in depth, and see if there’s anything I can do to tweak it and make even more out of my 2021 reading year. I might add a new-to-me category to my tracking this year as well.

Here’s how 2020 went:

I cracked open 90 books, and finished 89 of them. I honestly thought I would’ve abandoned more books than that, but I’m still pretty stubborn about finishing what I start, book-wise. 30 of my books were rereads, and 36 were graphic novels, which inflates the number a bit, but I’m still totally counting them (especially during the trashfire that was 2020).

I read 10 books by BIPOC authors and 7 by authors I know to be LGBTQ2S+. I’d like to improve both of those numbers in 2021, but am still pretty happy that everything I read came off of my shelves and I spent most of a year hitting my to-read stack goals without having to order a new book or visit the library to make my stacks. I will likely have to prop up the home shelves with some new additions by the end of 2021 to keep this category going.

Only 29 of my books were by women, which doesn’t surprise me given the amount of old graphic novel rereads that were on the list. The ratio is a bit better when compared to my new reads for the year, but I’d hoped for closer to 50-50 parity, and will be aiming for an equal mix again in 2021.

I caught up on 8 books written by friends. Sorry it took me so long!

Only 5 non-fiction books were finished in 2020. I tend to read non-fiction much more slowly than fiction, as I often make notes to myself of things I’d like to remember, or things that give me story ideas, but I’d still hoped for more. At least this should be an easy goal to beat this year.

I read 12 roleplaying game handbooks in 2020, which means I probably read more RPGs than I played in game sessions. It was not a good year for gaming for me. What games I played were fun, but pandemic brain definitely caused me to step back from actual game sessions (and as good as Roll20 is at what it does, I vastly prefer to have my gaming take place in person).

Of the 90 books I cracked open in 2020, I liked 70 of them enough to recommend to others, and there were no real stinkers. Even the book I set down had some pretty admirable qualities, it just wasn’t for me.

Top Fiction Reads

  • Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
  • Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  • The Bone Mother by David Demchuk
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
  • Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield

Top Non-Fiction Reads:

  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron
  • The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber

Top Graphic Novel Reads:

  • Heathen Vol. 1 by Natasha Alterici
  • Criminal: Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • Criminal: Cruel Summer by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Top RPG Reads:

  • Spectaculars by Scratchpad Publishing
  • Vaesen by Free League

Everything I read in 2020:

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.

Here’s what I read in November.

Here’s what I read in December.

And my first to-read stack of 2021:

The January 2021 to-read pile: Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy, The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon, and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

I’ve already broken my five books rule! After choosing my first five for 2021, I remembered that I’d planned to kick off the year reading Hungover, and didn’t want to bounce anything off the list.

Here’s to a great year of reading in 2021! What’s on your nightstand, friends?