#READAROUNDTHEWORLD: Final 2021 Update

Pretty, ain’t it?

While I am going to continue adding new countries to the list for a while, at least until I feel like there’s no good way to get books from the countries that are left without rather inconveniently learning new languages, we are basically done with this for 2021, as anything else I finish reading this year isn’t going to change the tallies any. I ended up reading books this year from all 50 states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico, along with 48 different countries, with Antarctica counted as a country for the purposes of the list. There are a few countries represented on my TBR shelf that I haven’t gotten to yet: Zimbabwe, Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia, and I have a book from a Cambodian author that I haven’t reread in forever that I’ll read this month as well. And come to think of it I have a compendium of Iraqi science fiction that I never finished, too, that I could go back to. So that’ll be 54 countries before I buy anything new. I’ve read books from just barely under 75% of the world’s surface, which doesn’t seem too bad for a year’s work.

Other countries I definitely want to read books from but haven’t found any yet: Pakistan, Mongolia, Israel, Finland, somewhere in Central America, and I feel like I could probably hit a couple more countries in Europe without working too hard. There’s a book on my Amazon wishlist from a Yemeni author that I’ll probably grab at some point too. After that, who knows. But I won’t be feeling like I’m done with this for a little while yet.

In the meantime: Leaving aside the US, the top countries I read from this year probably won’t be too surprising: the UK (6, mostly from England), Malaysia (3,) Canada (3), Australia (2), China (2, with one more to come since I have a Ken Liu book on the shelf), and South Korea (2, but both by the same guy). States represented more than once include Texas (7), California (5), New York (5), Maryland (3), Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin (all 2). Texas is the highest because Rachel Caine is from there, but that’s still four different authors. The largest places I read books from are pretty obvious from the map, but the smallest is Washington DC (68 square miles), Rhode Island (1214 square miles) and Trinidad and Tobago at 1981 square miles.

All in all, I’m … mostly glad I did this? Like, filling in the map was really neat, and going looking for new books to read from a specific place was fun, but one knock-on effect that I didn’t really reckon on was that I started deliberately avoiding reading multiple books from people or places that didn’t “count” so that I could drive the numbers up. I’ll post my unread shelf like usual on the 31st, but one thing you’ll notice if you look at it and you know my tastes in reading (and if you’ve made it this far in this post, you probably do) is that I have several books from authors I really like patiently waiting for me to get to them, because I’ve been prioritizing books I could color in a spot on the map with. I only read one book in December– and only one of the last fifteen books I’ve read– that didn’t “count,” and in the meantime there’s a damn Dandelion Dynasty book on my shelf waiting for me to get to it, along with a couple of other hotly anticipated sequels and another TJ Klune book that isn’t part of a series. So I’m not doing this again once I’m done with it, and I’ll update the site one more time once I feel like I’m done, but we’re not going to be organizing our reading by geography again anytime soon.

#REVIEW: Barkskins, by Annie Proulx

I’m going to be honest here— I’m mostly writing this review because I finished this book last night and otherwise I don’t have much of anything to talk about today. We spent $600 on a new snowblower, so northern Indiana has me to thank in a few months when we make it through the winter without a single flake of snow falling. I had Taco Bell for dinner. That’s about all I’ve got.

But yeah. This book. I bought it because Annie Proulx is from Wyoming, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wyoming at all, but it turns out there are not a lot of authors from there, so I was not exactly presented with an array of riches to choose from here. I could have picked The Shipping News or Brokeback Mountain, but this one sounded a bit more interesting so I went with it.

Barkskins is historical fiction, beginning in what would eventually be Maine in the 1600s and continuing until the modern day, although the majority of the book takes place before the 20th century, much less the 21st. It follows two branches of descendants from the same man, one of which is treated as legitimate and inherits the logging company he creates, and one … well, isn’t and doesn’t. That said, the two groups of people don’t really know about each other for the majority of the book, so it’s not as if the less fortunate family members are grousing about their lack of inheritance or anything like that. This ends up making the book almost more of a history of this fictional company more than it is the actual people, following the people who run the company in some chapters and people affected by the company (and, well, all of the rest of the logging companies) systematically clearcutting and decimating America’s forests on the other. See that quote on the cover about this book being the “greatest environmental novel ever written”? I’m not a hundred percent convinced of the superlative (although I admit I have read precious few “environmental novels”) but the description is certainly accurate.

It’s an interesting read, although at 700+ pages you should be prepared for what you’re getting into. I would think this is probably more valuable to people interested in historical fiction than anything else; you shouldn’t get too attached to any particular character as the book is going to be moving on in 50-60 pages no matter what, and Proulx is not at all shy about abruptly murdering her characters with no particular attention paid to, say, resolving any narrative conflicts associated with them, because, well, sometimes in the 1800s you just stepped on a fucking nail and died and that was all there was to it. Proulx’s writing has enough verisimilitude to it to make one suspect that she has access to a time machine; her command of the little details of living two or three centuries ago is incredibly impressive, especially considering how much of the book is embedded in either French-speaking or Native American Mi’kmaq peoples. It’s really something else. If it were a couple hundred pages shorter I’d be shouting from the rooftops about it, but, well, books this big aren’t for everyone and if you didn’t want to make the time investment necessary for a 700-page novel I would not look askance upon you.

Well, maybe a little, but I wouldn’t say anything about it.

Mischief Managed, Mostly: A #Readaroundtheworld update

I am forty pages into Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, which is the duly designated novelistic representative of the great state of Wyoming, meaning that I have completed my goal of reading one book from each of the 50 US States, with Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. thrown in for shits and giggles. I’m currently at 39 different countries, a metric I intend to continue to pay attention to for a bit, as I’m still enjoying it, but I have to admit I’m glad to have this particular reading goal in the rear-view mirror. Barkskins is a bit of a doorstopper at 700+ pages, but based on the beginning of the book I think it’ll be a pretty quick and enjoyable read for all that, and once I finish it I have a beta read that I’ve been sitting on (for much too long) for a friend and an ARC to read and review, and then I can move into 2022’s project, which is to read whatever the fuck I want for a year and not worry about the details at all. I’ve had fun with my reading projects for the last several years and I’m sure I’ll revisit the idea again in the future but I want this year to be less about hitting a metric of some sort.

If you’re curious, here’s the list. Hopefully it doesn’t look too heinous outside the editor:

Archaeology from SpaceParcak, Sarah2/13/212/14/21US/Alabama
The Raven’s GiftRearden, Don5/13/215/15/21US/Alaska
Son of the StormOkungbowa, Suyi Davies6/26/217/2/21US/Arizona
True GritPortis, Charles11/7/2111/7/21US/Arkansas
BumpWallace, Matt1/29/211/29/21US/California
The Future of Another TImelineNewitz, Annalee5/9/215/13/21US/California
The Hill We ClimbGorman, Amanda5/30/215/30/21US/California
The Hidden PalaceWecker, Helene7/12/217/18/21US/California
Savage BountyWallace, Matt7/20/217/24/21US/California
Fear and Loathing in Las VegasThompson, Hunter6/10/216/10/21US/Colorado
Rebel SistersOnyebuchi, Tochi2/20/212/23/21US/Connecticut
The Book of Unknown AmericansHenriquez, Cristina10/24/2110/26/21US/Delaware
Robbing the BeesBishop, Holley10/22/2110/24/21US/Florida
Treason of HawksBowen, Lila9/4/219/6/21US/Georgia
Sharks in a Time of SaviorsWashburn, Kawai Strong6/24/216/26/21US/Hawai’i
IdahoRuskovich, Emily10/1/2110/2/21US/Idaho
The Queen of Gilded HornsJoy, Amanda4/19/214/23/21US/Illinois
Hood FeminismKendall, Mikki5/23/215/26/21US/Illinois
Rise to the SunJohnson, Leah7/24/217/25/21US/Indiana
NightbitchYoder, Rachel9/6/219/8/21US/Iowa
Nubia: Real OneMcKinney, L.L.2/26/20212/21/21US/Kansas
Narrative of the Life of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by HimselfBibb, Henry10/17/2110/18/21US/Kentucky
Into the DarkGray, Claudia6/17/216/18/21US/Louisiana
Billy SummersKing, Stephen8/10/218/14/21US/Maine
StillbrightFord, Daniel1/1/211/4/21US/Maryland
First, Become AshesSzpara, K.M.7/2/217/3/12US/Maryland
How the Word is PassedSmith III, Clint9/16/219/18/21US/Maryland
The Lightning ThiefRiordan, Rick12/29/2012/31/20US/Massachusetts
A Queer History of the United StatesBronski, Michael1/17/211/22/21US/Massachusetts
Unknown Man #89Leonard, Elmore5/19/215/23/21US/Michigan
John Crow’s DevilJames, Marlon8/18/218/20/21US/Minnesota
Concrete RoseThomas, Angie2/27/20212/27/21US/Mississippi
The Puppet MastersHeinlein, Robert10/12/2110/15/21US/Missouri
An Absolutely Remarkable ThingGreen, Hank2/7/212/8/21US/Montana
The Meaning of NamesShoemaker, Karen Gettert11/7/2111/10/21US/Nebraska
The Necessary BeggarPalwick, Susan11/23/2111/25/21US/Nevada
The Hotel New HampshireIrving, John10/31/2111/7/21US/New Hampshire
The Empire of GoldChakraborty, S.A.7/26/218/4/21US/New Jersey
The Assassination of Fred HamptonHaas, Jeffrey6/3/216/4/21US/New Mexico
The Traitor Baru CormorantDickinson, Seth1/10/211/14/21US/New York
The Monster Baru CormorantDickinson, Seth1/22/211/27/21US/New York
The Tyrant Baru CormorantDickinson, Seth1/30/212/6/21US/New York
Light of the JediSoule, Charles2/6/212/7/21US/New York
The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm XPayne, Les & Tamara3/17/213/21/21US/New York
The Girl in the RoadByrne, Monica2/11/212/13/21US/North Carolina
Queen of the UnwantedGlass, Jenna10/4/2110/10/21US/North Carolina
The Haunted MesaL’Amour, Louis9/2/219/4/21US/North Dakota
African SamuraiLockley, Thomas & Girard, Geoffrey6/5/216/8/21US/Ohio
JuneteenthEllison, Ralph6/18/216/19/21US/Oklahoma
Cemetery BoysThomas, Aiden1/4/211/9/21US/Oregon
Jade LegacyLee, Fonda8/4/218/10/11US/Oregon
A Court of Thorns and RosesMaas, Sarah5/5/215/9/21US/Pennsylvania
The Book of AccidentsWendig, Chuck8/21/218/24/21US/Pennsylvania
When I Was Puerto RicanSantiago, Esmeralda11/25/2111/26/21US/Puerto Rico
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird StoriesLovecraft, H.P.10/31/2110/31/21US/Rhode Island
Bastard out of CarolinaAllison, Dorothy10/2/2110/4/21US/South Carolina
Parasites Like UsJohnson, Adam11/17/2111/18/21US/South Dakota
Crush the KingEstep, Jennifer3/10/20213/13/21US/Tennessee
Ash and QuillCaine, Rachel12/26/2012/29/20US/Texas
Smoke and IronCaine, Rachel2/24/20212/27/21US/Texas
Pen and SwordCaine, Rachel3/31/214/2/21US/Texas
Persephone StationLeicht, Stina5/15/215/18/21US/Texas
Wings of EbonyElle, J.6/22/216/24/21US/Texas
Escaping Exodus: SymbiosisDrayden, Nicki7/8/217/12/21US/Texas
Heartbreak BayCaine, Rachel7/19/217/20/21US/Texas
LegionSanderson, Brandon9/13/219/15/21US/Utah
Open SeasonMayor, Archer10/10/2110/12/21US/Vermont
The House on the Cerulean SeaKlune, TJ6/8/216/10/21US/Virginia
Across the Green Grass FieldsMcGuire, Seanan1/29/211/30/21US/Washington
Calculated RisksMcguire, Seanan4/11/214/16/21US/Washington
A Promised LandObama, Barack5/30/216/3/21US/Washington DC
The Unquiet EarthGiardina, Denise10/15/2110/17/21US/West Virginia
When the Tiger Came Down the MountainVo, Nghi1/27/211/27/21US/Wisconsin
The Speaker for the DeadAddison, Katherine10/18/2110/21/21US/Wisconsin
BarkskinsProulx, Annie11/27/21US/Wyoming

It’s official

It’s Friday, and in keeping with my usual Friday state of exhaustion I have little to say tonight, but I wanted to mark this moment: the final books necessary to finish the goal of reading books from all 50 states have been ordered. Now all I have to do is read the rest of them. 🙂

Enjoy your evening, y’all.

#REVIEW: THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS, by Cristina HenrĂ­quez

This is another one of those “made the whole project worth it” books.

You almost certainly know this already if you’ve been a regular reader, but hey, not everybody sees every post, so: my big reading project for 2021 (I am the type of person who has “big reading projects”) was to read one book from every US state plus Puerto Rico and Washington DC, along with as many other countries I could fit in. I’m closing in on finishing the states part of the project, although for a lot of the later states the way I’ve been finding books is by Googling “authors from XXX” and then just … picking something. Some states, as you might guess, have less to choose from than others, and, well, Delaware’s not all that damn big.

I chose well on this one, as The Book of Unknown Americans seems pretty likely to be on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. It’s about a small immigrant community– literally an apartment building– in Delaware at the beginning of the Obama administration. You might remember the massive economic upheaval of those years, and trying to survive while the economy is crumbling around you is absolutely a theme of the book. The book uses the multiple-narrators/POVs style that I will forever associate with Game of Thrones and probably ought not to, following ten or so different people from several different families. The common thread is that they’re all Spanish-speaking immigrants (the two main families are from Mexico and Panama, and others are from other places) or first-generation Americans; some of them are legal, some are not, and they all have different reasons for being here. It’s outstandingly well-done across the board, but there are two highlights I wanted to talk about a little bit.

First, I felt like the book really does a great job of capturing the frustration of being an educated and talented person who has moved somewhere where you don’t speak the language and where your skills are either undervalued or no longer useful. One of the families arrives in Delaware as the book begins, and things as simple as trying to figure out where to buy food are many times as complicated as they need to be because of language and cultural barriers. They end up getting food from a gas station for a while (and feeling like they’re being ripped off because of the high prices) until someone else clues them in on better places to go. Later in the book, there’s a scene where a mother has to confront a local shithead who has been abusing her daughter, and all she’s able to say to him is “leave alone.”

Second, and I’m not going to go into details here because I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book contains what might be the best depiction of a first love that I’ve ever seen. The relationship between Maribel and Mayor is astonishingly sweet, and if I say another word about it I’ll spoil stuff, so just trust me.

My only real complaint is the ending; you grow attached to a lot of these characters and want good things to happen to them, and … well. You’re going to have a moment where you realize what’s about to happen and the dread is going to kick in, and then you’re going to find out you were right, and then the book’s going to manage to end on a powerful and hopeful note somehow anyway, but it’s bittersweet as hell and I didn’t want bittersweet, I wanted happy. But damn, this is a hell of a read, and you should go pick it up. I’m sure I’ll be talking about it again in a couple of months.