Last year, I sought to venture outside of my comfort zone by creating a set of ten reading goals, and to be honest I had mixed results. However, 2022 is a new year and with it I have created a fresh set of reading goals tailored to fit my budding literary interests and aspirations. Whether it’s exploring a new genre or finally digging into books I’ve been meaning to read for years, I am excited to see how these nine reading goals guide my literary selections this year.
Discover a backlist gem
As someone who makes books and what they’re currently reading approximately 85 to 90% of their daily conversation, I unfortunately have developed the tendency to gravitate more toward newer releases. This year, I want to dive into the well of possibilities that is the backlist, and discover a more obscure, little-known gem.
STRANGERS AT THE FEAST by Jennifer Vanderbes caught my eye when I read about it in Off the Shelf’s post 10 Enchanting Books Crackling with Autumnal Energy. While the autumnal cover and Thanksgiving Day setting drew me in, the premise instantly gripped me upon first read. Family secrets and class tensions abound in STRANGERS AT THE FEAST as three generations of the Olson family gather for Thanksgiving while two teenagers set out from the projects on a mysterious job. As the two worlds are set to collide, a crime occurs that will change the course of everyone's lives.
On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.
In her gripping new book, Jennifer Vanderbes masterfully lays bare the fraught lives of this complex cast of characters and the lengths to which they will go to protect their families. Strangers at the Feast is at once a heartbreaking portrait of a family struggling to find happiness and an exploration of the hidden costs of the American dream.
Published to international acclaim, Jennifer Vanderbes’s first book, Easter Island, was hailed as “one of those rare novels that appeals equally to heart, mind, and soul,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. In her second novel, this powerful writer reaches new heights of storytelling. This page-turner wrestles with the most important issues of our time—race, class, and above all else, family. Strangers at the Feast will leave readers haunted and deeply affected.
Read a world-expanding memoir
Anyone who knows me knows I love memoirs. I currently have fifty-six memoirs tagged as “priority memoirs” to read on my StoryGraph account, and I am always looking for new, perspective-shifting life stories to read. SEARCHING FOR HASSAN by Terence Ward immediately grabbed my attention, as it weaves together the personal with the national as Ward discusses a family history thoroughly enmeshed in the history of Iran. Growing up in Tehran during the 1960s, Terence Ward and his family were watched over by their cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide, Hassan. Thirty years later, in the aftermath of Iran’s political turmoil, Ward travels back to Iran with little more than a black-and-white photo of Hassan in hopes of reuniting with him.
This “astonishing and deeply poignant” (The Washington Post) memoir of one man’s search for a beloved family friend explores the depth of Iranian culture and the sweep of its history, and transcends today’s news headlines to remind us of the humanity that connects us all.
Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the family’s cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of thirty years and much turmoil in Iran, Ward embarks on a quixotic pilgrimage with his family in search of their lost friend. However, as they set out on this improbable quest with no address or phone number, their only hope lies in their mother’s small black and white photograph taken decades before.
Crossing the vast landscape of ancient Persia, Ward interweaves its incredibly rich past, while exploring modern Iran’s deep conflicts with its Arab neighbors and our current administration. Searching for Hassan puts a human face on the long-suffering people of the Middle East with this inspirational story of an American family who came to love and admire Iran and its culture through their deep affection for its people. The journey answers the question, “How far would you go for a friend?”
Including a revised preface and epilogue, this new and updated edition continues to demonstrate that Searching for Hassan is as relevant and timely as ever in shaping conversations and ways of thinking about different cultures both in the US and around the world.
Read a book that’s been sitting on my shelves for 2+ years
ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS has been on my to-be-read list since I first began my list back in 2019, and at this point it’s borderline unacceptable that I haven’t read the book yet. This year, I’m going to make it a point to finally pick up this book, especially since I’ve heard nothing but praise surrounding it.
Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS is a letter from the narrator, Little Dog, to his mother, who cannot read. Knowing his mother will never be able to read it, Little Dog uncovers and processes traumas from his family’s past, as well as reconciles with painful truths about himself and his identity. After having ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS on my TBR for nearly three years, I am ready to be immersed in this novel’s poignant language and imagery!
Explore more of the mystery genre
I’ve had this reading aspiration for several months now where one night when I have no plans, I would curl up with a blanket and a steaming mug of tea or hot chocolate (depending on my mood) with a mystery novel. Coming into 2022, I would love to make this aspiration into a reality, and what better author to begin my mystery-reading journey with than the Queen of Suspense herself?
LOVES MUSIC, LOVES TO DANCE is a mystery novel right up my alley. Set in New York City, friends Darcy and Erin move to the city upon graduation to pursue their respective careers. One night, Darcy convinces Erin to respond to a personal ad for research purposes, which turns out to be a fatal error. When Erin is found dead on an abandoned Manhattan pier wearing a ballet slipper on one foot, Darcy must find out who is behind the killer personal ads before she is next.
New York's trendy magazines are a source of peril when a killer enacts a bizarre dance of death, using the personal ads to lure his victims in bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark's Loves Music, Loves to Dance.
After college, best friends Erin Kelley and Darcy Scott move to the city to pursue exciting careers—Erin is a promising jewelry designer and Darcy finds success as a decorator. On a lark, Darcy persuades Erin to help their TV producer friend research the kinds of people who place personal ads. It seems like innocent fun...until Erin disappears.
Erin's body is found on an abandoned Manhattan pier—on one foot is her own shoe, on the other, a high-heeled dancing slipper. Soon after, startling communiques from the killer reveal that Erin is not the first victim of this "dancing shoe murderer." And, if the killer has his way, she won't be his last. Next on his death list is Darcy.
Try my hand at reading magical realism
I normally gravitate toward reading books grounded in reality: memoirs, nonfiction, and literary fiction featuring sad female main characters. However, it’s a new year and I want to make this one a little more magical. In my mind, there is no better magical realism text to start with than an all-time classic, Isabel Allende’s THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS.
A multigenerational saga, THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS follows three generations of the Trueba family: the proud Esteban and the delicate Clara, their rebellious daughter Blanca, and their revolutionary granddaughter Alba. Weaving together politics, family ties, and the world of the spirits, Allende’s first novel is one I cannot wait to dive into this year.
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“It was an enormous pleasure for me to reread this book three decades after it first made its mark on me. I found myself still enraptured by the words of these women, still dazzled by the magic potion that is Isabel Allende’s gift for storytelling. And as I reached the final page, I smiled in wonderment at the forces that led me to where I am today, and was thankful for the reminder that our future is written in the stars.”
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Try my hand at reading YA fantasy
Similarly to my desire to venture into magical realism, I would love to find more immersive works of fantasy filled with extensive world-building and lore to sink my teeth into. I believe I have found a perfect selection in Sarah Raughley’s THE BONES OF RUIN; as a historical fantasy set in 1880s Victorian London, the book is an ideal entry point into the genre.
The book stars Iris, an African tightrope dancer with no memories of her past and a burdensome secret: she cannot die. Iris is determined to find out about her past, but her plans become complicated when she encounters a mysterious man named Adam Temple. He promises to tell Iris about her past if she represents him in a gladiatorial tournament that determines who will be the leader in the upcoming apocalypse. Filled with secret societies, supernatural performers, and incisive commentary on the colonial gaze, THE BONES OF RUIN is high on my TBR list.
An African tightrope walker who can’t die gets embroiled in a secret society’s deadly gladiatorial tournament in this thrilling historical fantasy set in an alternate 1880s London, perfect for fans of The Last Magician and The Gilded Wolves.
As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…
She cannot die.
Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.
To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.
If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.
Read a well-known author before their next big release
Jennifer Egan’s newest release, THE CANDY HOUSE, is set to hit shelves in April 2022, and already I have heard so much buzz surrounding the book. While I would love to dive into THE CANDY HOUSE as soon as I can, I would like to familiarize myself with her writing, so as to properly prepare myself for this literary event. Egan’s last book, MANHATTAN BEACH, seems like an ideal starting point into her writing, having won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. An immersive work of World War II historical fiction, MANHATTAN BEACH begins with eleven-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanying her father to visit a man named Dexter Styles. Anna becomes riveted by two things—the unknown but powerful relationship between her father and Dexter, as well as the ocean beyond the house. Years later as an adult, Anna is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as a diver and her father has disappeared. When she serendipitously encounters Dexter at a nightclub, Anna starts to fully understand her father’s relationship with him as well as why he may have disappeared.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author.
Named One of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, Esquire, Vogue, The Washington Post, The Guardian, USA TODAY, and Time
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
“A magnificent achievement, at once a suspenseful noir intrigue and a transporting work of lyrical beauty and emotional heft” (The Boston Globe), “Egan’s first foray into historical fiction makes you forget you’re reading historical fiction at all” (Elle). Manhattan Beach takes us into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men in a dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.
Read a translated work
This year was the first year I can remember where I sought out and read translated literature. However, both of the books I read were translated from Norwegian into English. In the coming year, I am going to continue prioritizing works in translation (especially works from non-European nations), starting with TENDER IS THE FLESH by Agustina Bazterrica, another book that has sat on my TBR for a criminally long time.
I am truly shocked I have not devoured this book yet. Set in a dystopian future where all animal meat is poisonous to humans, Marcos works in a processing plant that slaughters humans, also known as “special meat.” Marcos tries to stick to the numbers and not think about the morality surrounding his career. However, his world is upended when he starts to illegally form a connection with one of the humans marked for slaughter.
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans—though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.
Read a novella
I love short, tightly written stories that manage to pack a punch in so few pages. One novella that stuck out to me in 2021 was Sarah Moss’s SUMMERWATER, which was set over the course of a day and followed the perspectives of twelve different characters on a rainy day at a Scottish national park.
Eager to check out more of her work, I am excited to pick up GHOST WALL from her this year. Set over the course of two weeks in northern England, protagonist Silvie and her family join an anthropology course set on reenacting the lives of ancient Britons, utilizing the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. As the anthropology students and Silvie’s father become immersed in this lifestyle, their reenactment becomes all the more unrealistic and starts to border on deadly. Through this reenactment trip, GHOST WALL begs the question “how much have we really evolved from our ancestors?”
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