My 34 Favorite Reads of 2021

book cover collage


I was just reading the intro to my 2020 post and, my god, it reads like a twisted version of one of those holiday newsletters sociopaths send out every December. Like, here’s this terrible thing my child had to deal with because of the pandemic. Here’s a story about how I left my job and lost my main source of income. Here’s this thing I launched that has not been monetized, but which brings me joy. Hopefully it will be sustainable? LOLOLOLOLSOB.

Anyway. Not much has changed since last year beyond getting vaccinated and boosted and sending my child back to in-person schooling. I’m still making significantly less money than I have in previous years. I still haven’t monetized this thing that nevertheless brings me joy. I’m still leaning heavily on genre fiction because super-serious nonfiction makes my head hurt. (Seriously. I have a low-level headache right now.)

At least I’ve taken up embroidery?

Anyway.

Here are the 34 books (out of the 172 I managed to read to completion) that made my heart sing this past year. Hope you find some gold nuggets in there with which to fill your own days.

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My 31 Favorite Reads of 2020

Favorite Books 2020


This year has been a weird horrific one. A global pandemic that’s killed over a million people. Rampant bigotry that’s risen to a boil. A near-miss with what was starting to look like an autocracy. How could one possibly have the wherewithal to read? And for pleasure?

And in fact, many readers reported that they couldn’t focus on books this year, what with all the anxiety and grief and fear swirling about.

As for me, I found that I could no longer read serious cultural commentaries about how terrible life was for women / minorities / everyone ever. I mean, if I wanted that, I could just look at my various social media and news feeds.

Instead, I leaned hard into genre fiction.

Other than that, it’s been quite the year. My 6-year-old daughter has been fully remote from school since March. I left a long-term part-time editing job — my primary source of regular income — in July. I launched a sex ed site in September. I ramped up my freelance writing again, despite having felt like I was in a writing slump for the past two years. And in the midst of all this, I still managed to read 150 books.

My favorites are below. As per usual, this list includes both new publications and backlist bumps. I hope you discover something new here that knocks you out of your own reading slump!

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My 32 Favorite Reads of 2019


While 2018 was all about surviving my book launch, this past year was all about figuring out what the hell I wanted to do next.

Feeling adrift, I started and abandoned numerous essays. I stopped pitching new articles. I cut back on my editing hours. I went to Martha’s Vineyard for a week-long residency, where I wrote about five different versions of the same book proposal, finally putting it to the side.

Eventually, I became more comfortable with not pushing so hard. I considered non-writing projects. And I slowed down my work and allowed myself to goof off for the first time in forever.

For me, this meant getting back to a regular yoga practice. Joining a women’s choir. Learning to play the ukulele.

And, of course, reading more books.

As always, this isn’t a list of the best books that came out this year. Rather, it’s a list of the books I most enjoyed reading, whether backlist titles, new buzzy books, or advanced reading copies (ARCs) of titles that have yet to come out.

Read on for my 32 favorite reads of 2018.

(CW: Because I write about sexuality for a living, a lot of the books I read grapple with themes of sexual violence.)

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My 35 Favorite Reads of 2018


Though I didn’t read as many books in 2018 (135 to last year’s 157), this was still quite the bookish year. At BookExpo America back in June, I stood on line so I could bask in the glory of longtime personal heroes Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Orlean, scoring signed copies of their latest books, Unsheltered and The Library Book. Later that day, I also got myself a signed copy of Bingo Love and chatted with the author, Tee Franklin, about the awesomeness of my favorite local comic shop, East Side Mags. I hit up New York Comic Con in October, too, where I tried not to squee too hard when I met Pornsak Pichetshote, the author of Infidel, one of the best horror comics out there.

I also became a more regular user of my local library, and even joined the Friends of the Library, where they immediately tried to crown me as their queen (the President). I was having none of it, but I’m still eager to do what I can for one of my favorite bookish places.

But the biggest excitement for me was the publication of my own book, A Dirty Word. Not only did I fulfill a lifelong dream by finally becoming a published author, but the launch of my book gave me an opportunity to connect with a number of awesome people (Linda Kay Klein, Christine Wild, JoEllen Notte, Lynn Comella, etc.) and visit several awesome places (Bluestockings and Cafe con Libros). The high point, however, was doing a joint event at Watchung Booksellers with Emily Nagoski, the author of Come As You Are. Chatting about female sexuality and rape culture with another personal hero of mine in a room filled with some of my favorite people was a dream.

Since my book launch, I’ve felt a bit depleted, unsure of what to write next. But that’s why I’m turning to books again. If anything can inspire me to create something amazing, it’s the brilliant works of others.

So what inspired me this year? Read on for my 35 favorite reads of 2018.

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I’m Experiencing Post-Book Baby Depression and I Haven’t Even Had My Book Launch Yet


It was 2012 when I read Kim Wright’s “Living the Dream,” an essay in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers on how to beat the postpublication blues. “[G]etting what you always wanted, finally reaching that single enormous goal. It can all be a little… depressing,” writes Wright. She was referring to how the realities of becoming a published author can never quite live up to your dreams and expectations.

As the type of person who purposefully approaches life with low expectations so as to perhaps experience delightful surprise later on, I assumed I’d dodge this particular bullet. But six years later, I’ve been blindsided by my own post-book slump — and my book isn’t even out yet. [Read more…]

When Surrounding Yourself with Strong Female Energy Is Necessary to Your Existence

uterus art


There were five of us walking down the hallway that Tuesday morning after our writing support group meeting. The weekly meetings — the core meeting of a local writers’ group whose calendar is made up of critique groups, free writing sessions, open mics, and more — gave me a chance to connect with local writers, and to hang out with someone other than my husband, my toddler, and my cats. I had recently returned to the group after a one-year hiatus that had been necessitated by a shift in my work schedule. It was interesting to see how the group had shifted and grown in my absence.

“I’ve been telling my critique group about you ladies,” I said to three of the people with whom I was walking. “It’s so nice to see the group being infused with such strong feminine energy.”

Carl, one of the founding members of the group, rolled his eyes, because he knew I was halfway screwing with him.

The other half of me, however, was honestly thrilled that I’d somehow managed to surround myself with so many kick-ass women in the past couple of years. Before then, I’d felt so alone.

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Going Through Your Copyedited Manuscript Can Send You Tumbling Down an Existential Vortex


Lisa Romeo recently wrote that every activity she engages in lately seems to have multiple purposes. I immediately got what she was saying. Gone are the days when I read merely for pleasure. These days, when I read, I am looking for inspiration. I am looking for books I might cover in my role as a Book Riot contributor. I am looking for news hooks I can use as jumping off points for larger stories. When I read, I can’t help but see books from the point of view of a writer.

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When Something Ends And You’re Like ‘Okay, WTH Do I Do Now?’


As scattered as my life might seem to others (“What do you do?” “Oh, well, right now, I edit content for a general interest website; blog for a book website, a sex ed website, and a sex site; pitch freelance articles; work on book stuff; and sometimes teach yoga and meditation), I am actually very methodical when it comes to my career. I generally set a big goal ⇒ break that goal up into smaller steps ⇒ make my slow way toward completing all the steps ⇒ achieve my goal because I’m awesome ⇒ and then flail about because, suddenly, I don’t know what to do with myself.

The flailing sometimes involves binge eating and sometimes involves shopping and sometimes involves both but whatever. This is my process.

via GIPHY

After the end of one big project, and after the flailing, there is eventually a new beginning. And so I start all over again.

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My 35 Favorite Reads of 2017


Since becoming a contributor to Book Riot last year, my reading horizons have really broadened. There was a time when I could place most of my books into three main categories: horror, freelance writing how-tos, and sex. But when I put together my first favorite reads roundup last year, it was clear that things had shifted. I had become more open to celebrity memoirs, magical realism, YA, comics… all things I’d assumed weren’t for me. And because of Book Riot’s diversity requirements, I’d also moved away from reading 95 percent white chicks.

This year, I read even more (if you can believe it), and I also tracked some of the trends in my reading. Out of 157 reads this year (not including single-issue comics), I read a whopping 69 trade paperbacks (multiple comic issues collected into a single volume), with some additional graphic memoirs, novels, and anthologies sprinkled in (clearly, my new favorite medium). Next runner-up? Literary fiction (21), followed pretty closely by memoir (19). And then there was a general smattering of essays, horror, how-tos, narrative journalism, sci-fi, self-help, short stories, thrillers, and YA.

The authors I read were more diverse, too. I read 65 percent women, 24 percent authors of color, and 18 percent queer authors. Slowly, I’m trying to boost the number of books I read that allow me to learn more about the experiences and perspectives of others.

So which books did I lose my shit over?*

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That Time of Year When I Get to Bask in the Splendor of a Whole Bunch of Sex Educators


Almost two years ago, when I was trying to find a job that would challenge and fulfill me as much as the one I’d had with AASECT, I briefly considered getting a degree in public health and becoming a sex educator. At that point, I’d interviewed many educators for Contemporary Sexuality, and had also written articles about sexuality education for publications such as the Atlantic and Jezebel. I was fangirling hard over these men and women and the work they did.

But then I was like: Dude. You have an infant. You’re juggling a billion projects. You’re writing a book and teaching yoga. You can’t even commit to the local choir! How are you supposed to get a degree?

So instead, I contacted the fine folks at the Center for Sex Education and begged them to let me do volunteer work for them so I could soak up their wisdom and be cool by association.

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