Due to a combination of things (lockdown, no social life, a really good to-read list), I completely obliterated my yearly goal of 52 books. I hit my goal by the end of May, and by the end of 2021 I had read (or listened to on audiobook, it was around a 70/30 split) 100 books. And folks, most of them were very good.
I’m pretty much a pro at only choosing books I’ll enjoy these days. This is good, because I hate to DNF (did not finish) a book. Luckily, I know whose reviews I trust, both among friends and pros, which tropes I love and hate, which authors I’ll follow to the end of the earth, and so on. That doesn’t mean I never pick up a dud, or that I never take a risk with something that may (or may not) surprise me, but when you look at my Goodreads and see heaps of 4- and 5-star reviews, it’s more because I know how to pick ’em than because I’m not discerning.
Speaking of Goodreads, I’m trying to transition to Storygraph this year, or at least use it in addition to GR, although I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. So if anyone’s on it, add me!
Anyway, my best books of the year. I couldn’t narrow it down further than 15 fiction and 10 nonfiction favourites, so here they are:
Corporations, despite continuing to not be people, have a lot of opinions. Usually that opinion is “buy our stuff,” but sometimes they try to sell us something deeper, something better. Gilette’s Super Bowl ad is the latest example of this, with a #MeToo era-themed comment on toxic masculinity and the harmful nature of the “boys will be boys” mindset.
The ad begins with men catcalling women, laughing at sexist jokes, and being forced to “toughen up” in response to bullying, while the actions, both those that harm others and those that cause them harm, are brushed off as “typical” male behaviour, locker room talk. Then the focus shifts, to strong fathers guiding their sons (and daughters) to resolve conflict, promote self-esteem, and learn how to “be a man,” in the best sense.
What do you do when two of your favourite people fly to the other side of the world to see you? Go to some of the north island’s most amazing sites of course! My bestie Erin and her husband Jason came to visit Steve and me last week, breaking up their Australian holiday with a few whirlwind days in New Zealand. Because they only had two weeks total, their time in NZ was brief—only four full days—but I think we managed to squeeze a whole lot into that quick trip.
They arrived in Wellington late Sunday night and we immediately got down to business with a long-overdue catch-up (and some of our favourite local wine and beer). I hadn’t seen Erin and Jason since the end of last summer, and the four of us hadn’t been in the same place since their gorgeous wedding last May.
Despite staying up until nearly 3am (an especially impressive feat for me since I’d run a half-marathon earlier on), we got up early the next morning—so much to do, so little time! Because Wellington weather is unpredictable, we took advantage of the decent if a bit overcast day and as soon as we picked up the rental car we drove up to the Mount Vic lookout for a view over the harbour.
I mostly try to avoid calling a celebrity a hero of mine. Being someone whose work I enjoy does not a hero make, and especially in recent years I am wary of heaping too much praise on (particularly a male) celebrity when I don’t know what they could have been doing behind the scenes on set or in the recording studio. But I have no hesitation in saying that Anthony Bourdain, who was found dead today of apparent suicide, is one of my heroes.
My three favourite things are travel, food, and writing, and Bourdain was an inspiration to me in all three. I’ve read several of his books, seen all of his shows (most episodes of No Reservations more than once), and any time I am going somewhere new one of the first things I do is check if Bourdain had done a segment there and what he had to say about it. He travelled the way I want to travel, and he ate the way I want to eat—not because of the variety and amount that he got to experience, but because of the way he honoured each place he went and each meal he ate.
There are a lot of sexist memes on the internet, which makes sense, it being the internet and all. Sexist memes combine two of the internet’s favourite things: memes and sexism. Most are some variety of the same theme, usually meant to explain that girls who pretend to like cool things are just lying liars who are only pretending to like cool things, most likely to attract boys. See: Fake Geek/Gamer Girl, the Bernie v. Hilary campaign positions sign, and about a hundred others.
When the denizens of this too-large corner of the internet are not talking about how horrible it is when girls like “boy” stuff, they’re talking about how horrible “girl” stuff is. For example, makeup and the “take her swimming on a first date”/”this is why men have trust issues” meme, which I find to be one of the most infuriating. You can see an example below, but basically it’s two pictures of a girl, one with and one without makeup. In the “with makeup” photo, her skin is flawless, eyebrows groomed, face all-around made up in a conventionally attractive way. In the “without makeup” photo she has sparse eyebrows, undereye circles, blemishes, maybe some hyperpigmentation, If she was the kind of girl to wear makeup every day, this picture would be the one of the day where everyone asks her “Are you sick?”
Apparently, it’s some sort of huge betrayal to a certain section of men on the internet for women to wear makeup because it’s a “lie”—as many women have so correctly pointed out, if these men think that winged black eyeliner is a natural feature, they deserve to feel hoodwinked—but there’s something about these memes that I find even more discomforting.
I recently read a list of tips for travel bloggers and some of them really stood out to me. I don’t mean tips like “take a lot of photos” (duh); I mean concepts like “don’t romanticize or idealize the culture you are visiting” and “remember that the city is not there for you.” I think it’s something a lot of us forget, that our vacation spots aren’t putting on a show for our benefit. We’re on vacation, but for most of the people we’re visiting, this is their daily life. At the same time, just because we’re viewing someone’s daily life doesn’t mean we are going to come back experts on whatever country we’ve visited. It’s definitely something I thought a lot about when I was writing my post on history in Germany and Prague, and it’s something I thought about more this past weekend, which I spent on a trip to Morocco.