What Books Did You Read in 2021?

What Books Did You Read in 2021?

I finally decided to do something about the paralyzing ennui of lockdown, so I went back to school last September. I didn’t know it then, but that spelled the end of reading for fun. Reading for grad school requires a bit of a chopped and skrewed approach, as opposed to reading something cover to cover. It took a lot of  getting used to, and I got snowed under by the amount of reading required! By the end of Fall Term, I was pretty much tapped out, and spent the winter break in a heap on the couch, comfort-watching Mad Men in a bid to self-soothe. 

Needless to say, I didn’t quite hit my self-assigned annual reading quota (oh, to read 100 books a year like some people!). Oh well. Maybe in 2022? Ha! If only. Anyway, as usual there’s no rhyme or reason to my reading choices, and this time around I chose to simply divide the books by Fiction/Non-Fiction and my ever-present re-reads.  About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, through the generous auspices of the Toronto Public Library, and hopefully they  give you ideas for what to read next. Scroll past the titles to my top picks of 2021, if you’re so inclined!

Fiction
The Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
Shadow and Bone / Siege and Storm / Ruin and Rising – Leigh Bardugo
Red Queen / Glass Sword – Victoria Aveyard
Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins
The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman
The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith
The Woman Before Wallis – Bryn Turnbull
Fire From Heaven / The Persian Boy / Funeral Games – Mary Renault
Never Mind / Bad News / Some Hope / Mother’s Milk / At Last – Edward St Aubyn
The Knife of Never Letting Go / The Ask and the Answer / Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness

Non-Fiction
God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World – Cullen Murphy
The Billionaire Murders – Kevin Donovan
I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends – Kelsey Miller
No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs – Lezlie Lowe
There Was a Little Girl – Brooke Shields

Re-reads Still Count
Champagne Supernovas – Maureen Callahan
The Silmarillion / The Children of Hurin – J.R.R. Tolkien

The 2021 Standouts

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Every so often I stumble across a book that sings, and wonder where I was when it hit shelves. At the apex of Belgium’s secession from the Congo, five young women struggle to understand their place in the world – a place their father, an American Baptist missionary, believes it is his calling to save. Stymied by cultural differences, the political climate, a misguided saviour complex and the untameable land itself, each woman responds to her situation in different ways – with grace, with belligerence, with defeat, with defiance, with unbridled curiousity. The Poisonwood Bible is an eloquent depiction of life in post-colonial Africa and what becomes of visitors who presume to take it for granted. Published in 1998, this is a beautifully complex novel: part love letter, part indictment, a chorus of five female voices rising from the heart of darkest Africa. This is great historical fiction.

The Centaur’s Wife – Amanda Leduc
Sometimes, good books require the reader to let the journey take precedence over the destination. The Centaur’s Wife is a labyrinth of a story, like stepping into a dark fairytale with a dash of post-apocalyptic nightmare. It never quite seems to make sense, but that’s part of its allure. “In the beginning,” it begins, “a horse fell in love with a woman.” It’s hypnotic, and enchanting, and very much worth your while.

Monstress – Lysley Tenorio
Nick Joaquin once opined that the Filipino has mastered the art of the short story, and Lysley Tenorio’s Monstress proves him right. Blending stories of the Beatles and Imelda Marcos, with scenes from bygone days when Filipino B-movies cast their long shadow, Tenorio has a special connection to his heritage, and it shows. The scenarios are familiar, the stories written in a familiar cadence, some rhythmic drumming you’ve heard once, a long time ago, but never quite forgot. Monstress is a collection of short stories that pack a punch, especially for a homesick Filipino expat like me. Read it, if only for the incandescent “The Brothers” alone.

The Witch’s Heart – Genevieve Gornichec
“They’re odd. We’re odd,” shrugs Angrboda, who has nothing but love for her three children. Her first is a girl born half rotted with decay, her second a wolf, and her last a serpent; still, she dismisses their strangeness with as much nonchalance as she dismisses having been burned thrice and speared through the heart. With the Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec accomplishes the impossible – she makes us root for the children of Loki, the three hellspawn of chaos who are destined to bring Ragnarok, and the woman who bore them. It’s like Circe, except with Vikings.

All the Stones We’ve Yet to Pee

I spent the first day of the year of our Lord 2022 listening to so-bad-it’s-good boyband B-sides, and internally swoon-screaming. Hey, I grew up in a household that had Barry Manilow albums on vinyl. I glory in schmaltz. Besides, why even pretend to be ashamed? Late 90’s Jeff Timmons could get it. I freed the hormonal teenage girl that lives in me, and she ran like she was running across the border.

Dear lord, the late 90s. Those halcyon days, when hopes were as high as the jeans were wide. There’s just something about listening to handsome, corn-fed, mid-Western boys wooing impressionable young girls with songs about love and heartache that takes me back.

This pandemic’s been cited as the reason nostalgia is bigger than it ever was. All the talk about comfort-watching/comfort-listening opening the brain’s mood-enhancing pearly gates is definitely true, but for me, nostalgia is fuelled by the double whammy of homesickness and aging.

By medieval life expectancy standards, I’m practically a hag. The older I get and the more adulting I do, and the longer I spend without getting to be with family, the connection to that fearless younger self grows ever more tenuous. Aging, and the attendant responsibilities that come with it, comes with so much uncertainty – ironic, considering we all know where we’re headed anyway – that sometimes, just living feels like constantly trying to keep it together. Losing the battle with gravity sucks. So does being slapped in the face out of nowhere by random words you’d never think would apply to you. Like perimenopause. Are we here already? Should I start crushing up estrogen pills and sprinkling them over my Metamucil? Jesus. I can’t be there yet. Or can’t I? Can I just make like an ostrich, and stick my head in the sand? Maybe it’s a good thing I never really thought this far ahead. If I had known going in, that this was the price to pay for eventual independence, Id’ve been a wreck. Fine, more of a wreck.

With another year gone by, I think it’s important not to lose the sense of what one used to be, if only so we don’t wake up and realize we don’t know who we are anymore. (Which might be easier than you’d think, given how something as simple as breathing has been considered lethal in the past two years, and what a mind trip it’s been.) It’s not wise to live in the past, but it’s foolhardy to forget about it entirely. So reach for the familiar. Make every day Throwback Thursday – at least until this thing passes. Because, to quote one of my favourite sayings, this will pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass. At least, I hope it passes. I hope it passes, before [word I refuse to type more than once in a blog post] arrives. 🤞

Leading With This

Hahaha. Oh 2022. Please have mercy. I am so tired of staying in and subsisting on toilet paper.

Random YouTube K-hole: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Love Again – Dua Lipa

It’s been a silly week for music videos whose musical vibe don’t quite mesh with the chosen visuals (looking at you, Billie Eilish), and leading the pack is Miss Lipa, going all wild wild west. In a hotel lobby. With an egg. And clowns, for some reason. I’m not sure what it is with all the dead-eyed singers these days, but I miss the naughty sparkle in the eyes the best pop divas used to have –  Whitney, Mariah, Celine, down to the Britney contingent. Was it the coke? Was that just Whitney? Anyway. Dua always gives good pouty face, and Future Nostalgia is such a banging party album all throughout, it’s hard to hate. Love the song, but she’s had way better music videos. 

You Should Be Sad – Halsey

I’m going to give Halsey props for the shout-out to the original queen of the country-pop crossover – Shania Twain – but that’s about as close to authentic country as You Should Be Sad can visually get, banjos bedamned. It’s probably not on purpose – clearly she’s just borrowing (appropriation? gasp!) a theme here, and the song is cute, but it’s pretty much girl gets mad at loser ex-BF and decides to go writhe on the floor of a barn because, I don’t know, boobs. Or something.

Don’t Tell Me – Madonna

 

Yes, rounding this off with another one from the vault, because the 90s was the golden age of the music video, and yes, I am willing to die on this hill.  Don’t Tell Me is a stripped down, earthy, modern take on  cowboys, bucking broncs and the rugged terrain of the American West – a stylized encapsulation of exactly what it is that makes this bit of Americana so instantly recognizable. With nothing but plaid, dirty jeans and a giant belt buckle, Madonna did it first, and did it better. Maybe I’m just biased. Maybe I’m just an old. It’s probably both, but hey, I  choose my choice!

On Mother’s Day (of All Days)

My dearest budding Liberace,


If my father, a man with profound hearing loss, can play both the guitar and the piano, I have no doubt you and your perfectly normal, not quite forty-year-old hearing will emerge from your piano lessons triumphant. Unless you are secretly prepping for a recital at the Luce, why  stress yourself out so much? It’s nothing to be scared of.


Is this the time in our lives where we claw ourselves out of whatever adult rut we’ve found ourselves stuck in, and force ourselves to learn something new? Should we get a red convertible with a retractable roof? We are nearly forty. If we don’t start now, then when?


I had a small epiphany of sorts last night. I was reading an essay by this woman whose husband came out as a trans woman; while she still loved him, because she identifies as straight, their marriage couldn’t last, so they separated but shared visitation rights with their child, whom she bore after numerous failed IVF attempts. She wrote about how her doctor kept referring to her pregnancy as “geriatric”, since she was already forty. I thought about my choice of not having children, and how I would feel once the not having of children is no longer something borne out of free will, but something enforced by age. I don’t like it. It makes me itchy. This is not to say I am going to go out and get pregnant just to stick two middle fingers up at the world by proving I can; it’s just to say that I don’t like the idea of no longer having a choice. But it’s too late, anyway. It was too late when I turned thirty-two and my mother said not to bother, because “it could be ‘special’.” My mother, ladies and gentlemen.

You are right about things being different now. Now we can tell whether the baby will have developmental issues, and the woman gets a choice whether or not to proceed. Planned Parenthood at its finest! But even with that option in  play, there are still some things one should no longer do at this age, unless one is Jennifer Lopez. Or Madonna. Whether or not I like having a choice is moot, because nature always wins. It wins in the air above the Schiphol airport. It wins when you turn 40 (and what is 39 but a hop, skip and a jump away?). The last of my ova are just hanging out, knitting sweaters, waiting for the resurrection. Why fight it? Is motherhood,  which I’m not even sure I want, and am definitely sure I’m not fit for, really the hill I want to die on?


A woman’s ability to bear children has an expiration date. Unlike piano lessons, which can be entered into at any time.

They say it’s never too late to learn something new. They also say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Ano ba talaga, Tito Bhoy?

I believe you when you say you are fine.

You’re fine. 


I believe you.


I do.


I believe… in life after love, after love, after love,

Nikka

Some Good News

Some Good News

Remember that trip to France that never was? I apparently get to have my money back. Air Transat is now offering refunds to everyone who is eligible for one. Yay!

When airlines started cancelling most of their flights last year, everyone who bought a non-refundable ticket was offered a flight credit in lieu of their cash back. Le Hubs wasn’t happy with the flight credit situation at all. He was right to feel that way. If one pays for a service, and the service isn’t rendered, then one should get one’s money back. But as a former travel agent, I already knew what became of unused economy tickets – the chances of getting your money back are slim. That is the price you pay for affordability; you either use it, or you lose it. I was happy enough to get flight credits with Air Transat that would last for all eternity – or until they got bought out by God knows who. In my view, it was the best possible outcome, everything considered. (Don’t you love lowered expectations?)

Could I have gone to my credit card company to get a chargeback? Maybe. Many people chose to. I didn’t see the need, because we like using Air Transat, and at the time, I thought we’d get to use my flight credits once COVID died down. I also don’t particularly enjoy being on the phone because of my hearing impairment, and with the volume of calls the airlines were getting last year, I would’ve been on hold forever. I figured I’d be able to use my flight credit around this time this year, but I was wrong on that count. No one could’ve predicted how long this pandemic would drag on. We were overconfident about living in a more enlightened, more advanced time, weren’t we? I don’t think we feel that way anymore. Nothing like a little virus to cut one down to size.

Anyway, It took Air Transat a year to finally give people back their money, and I’m sure people are going to grumble about why it took forever, but I’m happy. Better late than never is my ninja way, so good on them for coming through. And good on the Canadian government for providing the bailout, which, wait a minute, is really just my tax dollars in action, so… oh drat.

Rooting

“That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight – losing my religion, trying to keep up with you… oh no, I’ve said too much.”

R.E.M., Losing My Religion

I’d been needing a break since the past year turned out to be nothing but a blur of work and not much else. I felt burned out, run down, angry, frustrated, trapped, all the negative emotions that come to the fore when change – especially unasked for change – happens too fast and too hard and way too suddenly. I found myself being unable to do anything but whine and whimper and complain, to family, friends and on here, hating myself for every second of it. Rightly or wrongly, I felt complaining would make me sound tone deaf at best, and ungrateful at worst. How could I complain about having to work when so many people had lost their means of livelihood? How could I complain about not being able to go anywhere when so many others were bound to their hospital beds? So I fought it. It’s not cute to  keep bitching on here. You can delete  whatever you want to delete and curate however you want to curate, but the internet is forever. One never knows what’ll come back to bite you in the arse; lord knows I’ve already put my share of bullshit on here. So I fought it as hard as I could. I wasn’t always successful, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Unable to do anything more beyond complain, feeling completely uninspired and being  utterly *pause for dramatic effect* wretched, I decided if I couldn’t write anything nice, I may as well  write nothing at all. Which is fine. It’s not like I have anyone to impress, so who really cares whether I have output on here or not? But while some use therapy, some use booze, and some use weed, I tend to vent. It’s difficult for me to keep things bottled up. Expressing myself is how I self-medicate. Still, there is only so much venting one can do before feeling like a broken record. 

Moving away from Toronto was something we’d been discussing for the past couple of years. Le Hubs was slowly losing patience with living in the city, and I was open to going somewhere new. We’d been putting off making a decision, but all that changed last year. I may love Toronto, and I do miss living there, but it turned into a completely different city when COVID hit. There seemed to be no point in staying. If we were to be housebound, it made sense to have a larger space and more room to breathe. If we could do that and not have to pay more than we already were, then that was what we were going to do. And that is how we ended up in the “other” London.

I thought once the move was behind us I could sit down and bang out a few things. I’d given myself at least a couple of months to focus on not working. A reset of sorts. One would think someone who had a lot of time on her hands would find a few minutes to sit down and write something. One would think. I told myself I’d get to be more productive.   Instead, I found myself doing something I can only describe as… nesting.  I spent February and most of March playing housewife, cleaning every week, puttering around in the kitchen, making our new place feel familiar, like a  home. I now have two small house plants. Two! If you don’t know me, having so much as a plant is something because I can’t be trusted with anything that lives, so this is kind of a leap of faith. I have a sansevieria (the “snake” plant), and a dracaena. I chose them because they’re supposed to be hardy indoor house plants that “thrive on neglect.”   Still, the hubs has had to remind me that “neglect” doesn’t literally mean “neglect,” (so why even use the word?) and they’re still going to need occasional watering. I took a couple of snake plant leaves to propagate, and they’re starting to root very nicely – I’m hoping they’ll produce pups in the weeks to come. I can only hope to do as well as they are so far.  Did I just jinx them? Listen to me, talking about propagation. Knock on wood for me, will you? 

20210410_1907595479984980405798658.jpg

For once the things that could be complained about (Ontario’s horrific mismanagement of the vaccination roll-out, the ridiculous lockdown hokey-pokey, outbreaks at Western U, etc.) don’t feel as heavy. Don’t get me wrong, they’re serious, but it feels a bit more of the same than a heavier load on already overburdened shoulders. Finally, sitting down to write this feels just a little like fun again too. And that’s always a good thing.

I Have Questions

Watch this. And wait for it.

First of all, what?

Also, what?

Finally, huh?

Or maybe I should just go with the classic “ha?!”

What? Huh? Ha?!

What, huh and ha are the questions I use most often. But seriously. Ha?!

I was thinking, sustainable energy. I was thinking, Electric batteries. Saving wildlife. Doctors without borders.

Instead, we got… I’m not sure what we got.

Why did I spend two minutes of my life that I’ll never get back for a commercial that doesn’t have a point?

Or is the point that they scored Chris Evans?

I believe that may be the point. They scored Chris Evans, they blew all the money on Chris Evans, who will never actually use the product – because seriously, in what universe is Chris Evans ever going to need this product? – so now that Chris Evans has all their money, they need your money to make up for the loss of all that money.

So that is the point. Chris Evans is the point.

Footnote: Chris Evans is America’s nice, round and very bouncy Ass. And we’re kissing it. Is this… gasp!… colonial mentality in action?

Further footnote: It’s probably not colonial mentality. It’s likely less colonial mentality and more – he is such a dreamboat, and he said yes. In which case, fair.

Smooth Like a Newborn

Eeeee! He’s back! Can you name any currently active male singer who is as unafraid to embrace the cheese of a nostalgic R&B vibe as Bruno Mars? Because I can’t. I thought Versace on the Floor was it and we’d never get anything as good or better, but this was an immediate jam for me. Even though the music certainly alludes to some clothes coming off a little later, no one gets unclothed in this video. It is perfection. After all the boobs and butts and twerking and stripper poles and gangsters and trap, it is so very nice to have a little Bruno Mars in our lives again. Adele once called him the best vocalist she’s ever heard, and the woman did not lie. With an equally mischievous Anderson .Paak – bringing the extra wink wink, nudge nudge in their new joint project, Silk Sonic – this, ladies and gentlemen, is foreplay for your ears. So smooth, so sexy and oh so naughty.

The End is the Beginning is the End

The End is the Beginning is the End

Dear Elly G,

Remember when you asked, and I said it hadn’t hit home yet? Well, it finally did. It happened right before we left. The apartment was wholly empty, everyone else was downstairs and I was sweeping up; I looked around at the empty space we’d lived in for almost a decade, at the bare walls and the empty shelves, and started to cry. I don’t know if it was the stress and the exhaustion that did it. We’d been happy there. We’d been unhappy there, too. It was our first place together, and it held a wealth of memories. It was home, and now we were leaving. Other than where I grew up, I don’t think I’ve ever lived for as long in one place as I did in that apartment.  I loved it so much, I stood there, clutching a broom with tears coursing down my face like I was Judy Ann Santos in Mara Clara. Moments in time! I know. Gross.  

A came up and we stood on the empty balcony, said goodbye to our view of the lakeshore (and a million condos + the tip of the CN Tower), then returned our keys and left. I cried when we drove away; I know it’s corny, but I don’t think I can bear to see our old building again. Not this soon, anyway. I miss that homely, basic little apartment and the comfort of the familiar. It will be a while before this new one will truly feel like home.

You’d think we were free and clear for that day, wouldn’t you? Nope. About an hour away from London, we got caught in a traffic jam; some trailer truck had smashed into a sedan not too far away, and the entire highway was closed off and we sat there for nearly 45 minutes before we could start moving again. I’m not complaining overmuch about this; it is infinitely better to be caught in a traffic jam than to be the cause of one. And we also got to see an absolutely gorgeous sunset on the drive back, where I indulged myself by pretending I was Forrest Gump for a minute.

Thus ends the saga of the flight from Toronto. In conclusion, when moving I have this to share:

– sell all your shit.
– hire professionals.
– choose a truck at least 2x larger than what U-haul says is adequate.
– sell all your shit.
– hire professionals.
– just sell all your shit.

 

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. 

 

Yours in relief,
Nikka

ps. Congratulate me! Not a single thing was broken. Not a single picture frame, or tumbler, wine glass, computer monitor, or CPU. I packed the stuff, and I packed it well, and there was nothing holding them in place in the back of the truck. Yes, I know, the horror. One open box of frames had even fallen onto its side when we opened up U-haul # 2 the next day; but, everything was intact. Gloat.