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Time for my annual reading round-up! I set a modest goal this year to read 30 books. This was down from the 45-book goal I made (and met) in 2020. I knew I’d be returning to work this fall after a sabbatical and I wanted to give myself some flexibility. I’d have enough pressure with work; I didn’t want the stress of having to reach an unattainable reading goal!

I ended up reading 38 books. Here’s how they broke down:

In past years I’ve done about one-third of each format. I don’t intend for it to be so even; it just ends up that way. A couple of things skewed the results this year. For one, I was a preliminary round judge for the Minnesota Book Awards, so I received hard copies of the nominated books. And I also listened to some long audio books this year. Midnight in Chernobyl was pretty long, but Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, was exceptionally long at 23 hours. I listen to audiobooks while I exercise or if I’m on a longer drive. I was listening to that book for most of the fall semester, it seemed, getting in about an hour and a half on my commute to and from Faribault on Mondays.

I read 27 nonfiction books and 10 novels. This breakdown resembles previous years. Anyone who knows me knows my first love is nonfiction and it always has been, even when I was in elementary school (my third-grade teacher made me go back to the library and exchange books about UFOs and Bigfoot and other mysteries for fiction…wtf?). This next point is probably going to make fiction lovers mad, but…

I just find it hard to get into novels. Of course I find many of them enjoyable, and the ones I read this year I really did like. But I feel lukewarm toward them. I can’t remember the last novel I read that made me truly excited, something I thought about for days and weeks (probably something by Ken Follett). Whereas I get excited about every nonfiction book I read. This just tells me that I’m in the right business of writing and teaching nonfiction.

Time for the drumroll! My favorite book of 2021…

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey, by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamarr. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“Go get this book right now!

“We’ve seen a lot of attention given to anti-racism education in the past year, with books such as “Caste,” How to be an Anti-Racist” and “The New Jim Crow” topping must-read lists (along with many, many other fine examples). But I would put this book at the very top of that list for people who want a better understanding of what it’s like to be Black in America.

“Amber Ruffin, whom you may recognize from “The Late Show With Seth Meyers,” lives in New York City while her sister, Lacey Lamar, lives in Omaha, where the two grew up. Through the years, Lacey would call or text her sister with a variation of “you’ll never believe,” referring to racist comments and incidents she experienced as a Black woman in the Midwest.

“I live in the Midwest. Unfortunately I know how some white people here think about race. Still, this book was shocking. I couldn’t believe the things people actually said to Lacey’s face — I’m talking about ignorant, cruel, terrible things. Or the terrible things that happened to her parents (they lost their thriving day-care business because of a vengeful and racist public health inspector).

“I listened to the audio version, which was great. It’s mostly narrated by Amber and she tells the stories with humor and grace. But the print version has photos, so I kind of wish I had that version — I feel like I missed out on some good stuff.

“This is a quick and enjoyable read. The personal stories have helped me better understand what it’s like to be Black in America. Any book that contributes to this understanding is a must-read.”

For 2021 I will set a 36-book goal–three books a month. That is a goal I’ve set before when I know I’ll be busy with work and other things. It’s manageable even when I’m busy, and reading a good book is always a great way to relax after work.

Let me know your favorite book of 2021 and your reading goal for 2022!