I feel like I might be a little late at this point even for a “happy belated New Year,” but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway because it’s been a while since I’ve talked to you guys and at least it’s still January, dammit. And I have a confession to make: 2021 marked the worst reading year I’ve ever had, in that it was the first year I didn’t make my goodreads reading goal. I have set myself a challenge every year since 2017, which was when I first joined goodreads, and, though most of those were padded out with mangas, I exceeded every one of them until last year. It feels strange to refer to 2021 as “last year,” and stranger still to realize that I padded my reading stats with mangas (in this case Death Note) and still fell ten books short. In 2020 I read 107 books, but did almost no writing. In 2021 I started seriously editing my first finished novel, but only made it to 62 books before getting hit by the mother of all reading slumps, which incidentally is still ongoing. It seems I can seriously read or I can seriously write, but I cannot do both.
And, in my defense, 2021 was fucking insane. I moved to my first single apartment in April and had to get used to living in Baltimore all over again, chiefly by finding the nearest Asian markets. After years of saying I was going to update my portfolio, I finally got off my lazy ass in September and put together a sparkling new project in preparation for the job applications I have also been putting off for years (on the grounds that my portfolio needed to be updated first). And in December – four years after I first joined my current company as a contract production designer, six years after I got my MA, ten years after I abruptly changed my career path from absolutely buttfuck nothing to graphic design, and sixteen years after I first entered the workforce – I became a senior graphic designer.
I’m coming up on two months, but it still feels unreal. I have never been a full-time employee anywhere. I’ve had a lot of jobs, but I’ve never really had a career. In the sixteen years I’ve been working, I have never had PTO, or a dependable salary, or medical insurance that wasn’t free or didn’t come from my parents. Sixteen years of some variation on the general tune of temp, contractor, or intern in this thrice-damned gig economy. Sixteen years of applying to jobs, rerouting my career path, and waiting for the all but inevitable thanks-but-no-thanks-fuck-off email. Sixteen years of wondering if every prospective employer could somehow tell I was defective without even looking at me. Sixteen years of taking it for granted that there was something inherently wrong with me, and wondering what I would do in the long term if I had to be a temp for the rest of my life.
Adversity is supposed to be a breeding ground for learning, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to have learned from sixteen years of impostor syndrome and general mental unwellness, other than maybe pick a major that puts you on a more solid career path than mine did. I will fully admit that this was my bad. But I’m here, I’ve made it, and, though it wasn’t easy, I feel like I’m out of the woods for now. It took sixteen years and the combined efforts of a Daruma and a spell jar, but I’ll take the help wherever I can get it. I am so grateful that my managers took a chance on me four years ago, even though everything I knew about designing long-form documents would’ve fit in a saltshaker. It was absolutely a case of faking it till I made it, and everything seems to have worked out. Though now that I think about it, I really hope those same managers aren’t reading this.
In any case, all of this meant that reading fell by the wayside, and, aside from my usual book-buying habits, I kinda forgot about it. The most notable happenings were my failed reading challenge, my utter inability to finish even the couple of rereads I started as a desperate last resort, and my decision to quit the goodreads group through which I first met Lori. I’m sorry, but that thing is mega dead and I’m tired of setting up reading trackers that nobody else uses, and since it’s already introduced me to Lori and cannot introduce us a second time it’s kind of outlived its usefulness. Harsh, but there you have it. I’m toying with the idea of leaving the group completely, but I like being a mod even if that title currently means absolutely nothing. I was also toying with the idea of not even bothering with my final two 2021 reading summaries after completely bombing my TBR, but duty comes before all, and I am a slave of duty.
November Reading Summary
- The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson
Total Pages Read: 323
November actually managed to be worse than September, and that’s sad.
December Reading Summary
- Paladin of Souls – Lois McMaster Bujold
Total Pages Read: 617
Yearly Challenge Stats
Books Pledged: 48
Books Finished: 51
Total Pages Read: 18,022
Books Pledged: 60
Books Finished: 107
Total Pages Read: 33,056
Books Pledged: 72
Books Finished: 62
Total Pages Read: 20,730
2021 Book List
** highly recommended
*** my love for this book knows no bounds and YOU WILL READ IT
Assume that all the mangas are recommended, because I haven’t bothered asterisking them. Hyperlinked titles lead to reviews.
- The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True*** – Sean Gibson
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents** – Isabel Wilkerson
- Strange Candy* – Laurell K. Hamilton
- The Travelling Cat Chronicles** – Hiro Arikawa
- Life After Life*** – Kate Atkinson
- The House of Salt and Sorrows* – Erin A. Craig
- A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
- A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
- Aphasia** – Mauro Javier Cárdenas
- The Curse of Chalion*** – Lois McMaster Bujold
- Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why*** – Alexandra Petri
- The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran
- The Office of Historical Corrections*** – Danielle Evans
- Remote Control – Nnedi Okorafor
- A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration*** – Isabel Wilkerson
- Brighty of the Grand Canyon** – Marguerite Henry
- The Silence of Bones* – June Hur
- Spy x Family 4 – Tatsuya Endo
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue* – V.E. Schwab
- World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments*** – Aimee Nezhukumatathil
- The Song of Achilles*** – Madeline Miller
- The Hill We Climb*** – Amanda Gorman
- Circe*** – Madeline Miller
- The Handmaid’s Tale*** – Margaret Atwood
- The Ghost Bride** – Yangsze Choo
- Spy x Family 5 – Tatsuya Endo
- The Testaments* – Margaret Atwood
- A Storm of Swords – George R.R. Martin
- The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
- The Water Dancer* – Ta-Nehisi Coates
- All Who Go Do Not Return*** – Shulem Deen
- The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
- Death Note 1 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 2 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
- Death Note 3 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 4 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 5 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Daughters of the Wild – Natalka Burian
- Death Note 6 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 7 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 8 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 9 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 10 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 11 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Death Note 12 – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges** – Amber Sparks
- These Ghosts Are Family – Maisy Card
- Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine*** – Gail Honeyman
- The Blind Assassin*** – Margaret Atwood
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal* – Christopher Moore
- Speak*** – Laurie Halse Anderson
- Spy x Family 6 – Tatsuya Endo
- Black Butler 30 – Yana Toboso
- The African Trilogy** – Chinua Achebe
- The Girl with the Louding Voice*** – Abi Daré
- Gideon the Ninth*** – Tamsyn Muir
- Harrow the Ninth** – Tamsyn Muir
- The Year of the Witching* – Alexis Henderson
- Paladin of Souls* – Lois McMaster Bujold
2021 Favorites and Least Favorites
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Best and Worst Books of 20XX” is an unnecessarily unkind title. Note that this list only covers books I read for the first time this year, and does not include rereads.
- The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
- Aphasia – Mauro Javier Cárdenas
- Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why – Alexandra Petri
- The Office of Historical Corrections – Danielle Evans
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson
- World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments – Aimee Nezhukumatathil
- The Hill We Climb – Amanda Gorman
- All Who Go Do Not Return – Shulem Deen
- And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges – Amber Sparks
- Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
- A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
- The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
- The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
- Daughters of the Wild – Natalka Burian
The reading list is dead. I obviously am incapable of following even instructions set down by myself, so I’m just planning to read 72 completely random books this year. If I make it I’ll get to increase the goal next year.
Final Thoughts, a.k.a. Carolyn Taking Sitcoms Too Seriously
I have a fractious relationship with The Big Bang Theory, not unlike – now that I think about it – the one that I have with The Handmaid’s Tale. When I first started watching it, I loved it. (I was twenty-two. I knew nothing.) I stopped at the end of season 4, when the show was becoming increasingly mean-spirited. I don’t know why American comedy has to be so mean, because this is not unique to Big Bang. One character will make a joke about another, and the rest will hop on and ride the joke to death. It might have been funny in the beginning, but by the end the humor is generally unrecognizable. (For a great example of this, see the opening scene of S4E24, “The Roommate Transmogrification.”)
Last year, though, I renewed my HBO subscription in order to watch Dune, and lately I’ve been running bits and pieces of Big Bang as background noise during work. Then yesterday I got the COVID booster, and after hibernating for a bit started bingeing Big Bang, which I would now categorize as a supremely guilty pleasure. I feel like I have to say upfront that I don’t hate the show, even though it’s going to sound as if I do, and there are lots of episodes I really, really love. S8E5 (“The Focus Attenuation”) might be my new favorite, though I also feel super attacked by it. Case in point: I sat down to draw today, but ended up writing this rant. Though it has its moments, however, I cannot pretend that it is not also intensely problematic in ways that tend to define American sitcoms. I have had more than one person try to tell me that this kind of thing is “supposed to be funny.” If you’re one of them, get bent. I understand how comedy works, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and I don’t need you to explain it to me.
Even if we accept the meanness of some of the jokes as standard sitcom fare, I still have a number of problems with the show. I was going to list them in order from least to worst, but there is no clear order, so instead they’ve been alphabetized. And, no, I have not watched every episode of the show and the fan-written wiki is painfully bad, so I am not fully informed on every aspect of it. But I’ve seen enough.
1. Child abuse and mental health used as punching bags.
Leonard’s childhood is not funny. Stuart’s and Raj’s loneliness, depression, and suicidal ideation are not funny. All of these things are regularly used as punchlines and backed up by a laugh track. (I would cite specific episodes, but there are too many.) I get that this is supposed to be funny, but I’m not really getting the why.
2. Female characters frequently pitted against each other, part 1.
Boy, I would love a show about strong-willed female characters who work together, support each other, and AREN’T FUCKING USED AGAINST EACH OTHER. I AM SO SICK OF THIS BULLSHIT TROPE. (If you know of such a show, please do tell me.) And, yes, people fight. I get it. No relationship is perfect. But I am so tired of the general assumption that every attractive woman has to be a rival. I am so tired of watching cattiness, jealousy, and possessiveness get passed off as humor. I am so tired of being told that women just naturally have to fight with each other. This is not a teenage sitcom. These women are in their late twenties/early thirties, and they need to grow up.
3. Female characters frequently pitted against each other, part 2.
Things I Am So Sick Of #1475902: The pervasive idea that women always have to tear each other down in order to be believably female (S8E7, “The Misinterpretation Agitation”). The thing is, this episode could’ve been great. In the beginning Bernadette announces that she will be featured in a magazine article about sexy female scientists. Penny thinks this is great; Amy thinks it’s terrible. These are both valid points of view. On the one hand, as Penny says, maybe she would’ve been more motivated to study science if she’d seen female scientists in magazines. On the other hand, as Amy says, female scientists already have trouble being taken seriously in their fields, and ranking them by physical attractiveness is not helpful. There is absolutely nothing wrong with female scientists who like to be sexy, but I have to side with Amy on this one because the article will indeed affect every female scientist, whether they want to be sexualized or not. Amy later admits that she emailed the magazine to complain, which resulted in the article getting canceled.
This would’ve been a great moment for Bernadette to realize that the premise of the article was exploitative, and that Amy was genuinely concerned for her as much as for every other female scientist. There could have been a real conversation about gender roles and stereotyping, and the impact these have on little girls who grow up believing that science and math are for boys. That would’ve been amazing, if only because it was so unlikely from a show built on a solid foundation of genial chauvinism. And it remains unlikely, because the writers instead had Bernadette lash out with a bitchy remark about Amy’s physical appearance, which rather undermined the good that they did a scant few seconds before. Instead of agreeing that it might’ve been helpful for Penny to see female scientists while she was growing up, Amy and Bernadette smirk at each other behind her back because they’ve already decided that nothing could’ve made Penny into a scientist, even though they have no data to support that. Instead of building on Amy’s objection and using it as an opportunity for genuine character growth, the writers knocked the entire conversation down to the level of a cat fight – entertaining for people who like that sort of thing, but not worthy of serious discussion. Bernadette’s subsequent apology is not adequate, and the whole thing quickly gets swept under the rug when the shockingly naive boys get locked in a creepy urologist’s man cave.
4. Intellectual snobbery.
I don’t know what the deal is with the writers, but they seem to make a regular sport out of mocking Penny’s lack of a college degree. This gets particularly grating in S6E19 (“The Closet Reconfiguration”), where she drops some of the stupidest dialogue I’ve ever heard, such as “And I said if it wasn’t epistemic, we might as well not do it.” I’m sorry, but what was the point of this? That scene would’ve played just fine if Sheldon had delivered his speech uninterrupted, and in fact would’ve been far better. It was this close to being deeply moving, but ultimately came across as callous and shallow because – even while Howard was struggling with tremendously painful emotions – Sheldon and Penny kept spouting stupid lines that disrupted the flow of a scene that should’ve been his. This ties into my personal theory that the Big Bang writers think they’ve failed as comedians if the characters aren’t constantly dropping dumb jokes, because this is not the first scene that they’ve ruined. For the record, it’s okay for sitcoms to have some genuinely serious moments. Earlier in the same season, Penny feels like she has to show off in front of Alex (S6E3, “The Higgs Boson Observation”) and claims to have been working on a five-year study with Leonard, which is equally pointless. The only thing I can think of is that the writers enjoy making Penny humiliate herself. Okay, I get it. She didn’t graduate college. Call me crazy, but she seems to be doing just fine. Can we please move on?
5. Misogyny masquerading as humor.
Never tell me this show is supposed to be feminist, because it’s not. If it were, Sheldon’s casual misogyny wouldn’t be underscored by a laugh track. The show leverages strong, intelligent female characters to attract (or placate) a particular female demographic, but throws in gratuitous slut-shaming jokes (S10E4, “The Cohabitation Experimentation”) when it can’t think of anything else. This is not presented as a quality that Sheldon has to outgrow but as an adorable quirk that Penny has to forgive, because “he doesn’t know any better” and “that’s just the way he is.” It’s supposed to be funny. While we’re on the subject, I resent the show’s assumption that any woman who likes comic books is unattractive by default, to the point that attractive women who like comic books are treated like unicorns and relentlessly pursued (S5E7, “The Good Guy Fluctuation”).
6. Toxic masculinity masquerading as feminism.
Yeah, it’s great that Bernadette has a PhD and makes more money than Howard, and if they had left it there it would’ve been awesome. Instead her success is used to emasculate and infantilize Howard (S4E24, “The Roommate Transmogrification” and S9E16, “The Positive Negative Reaction,” respectively). Meanwhile Leonard is so insecure in his relationship with Penny that he feels like he has to go Alpha Male on her male project partner (S6E8, “The 43 Peculiarity”). He actually does get called out on this several times throughout the episode, but ultimately is rewarded when Penny tells him she loves him for the first time. The show also likes to pick on Raj, who is pointedly mocked for his more stereotypically feminine traits in every season I’ve watched (e.g., S5E19, “The Weekend Vortex”) and regularly portrayed as borderline gay. His ambiguous orientation would’ve been fine if the writers didn’t feel like they needed to make it sound like a bad thing. The fact that this most consistently happens to the one major character of color raises some rather obvious questions for which I currently do not have an answer, but I will say that it doesn’t look good. In total fairness, of course, Leonard is sometimes accused of exaggeratedly feminine qualities as well, as in S6E15 (“The Spoiler Alert Segmentation”), where Sheldon quotes the soy boy theory at him. (See also: Misogyny masquerading as humor.)
Like I said, I don’t hate the show, but it could be better. The cast in any case is excellent, even if the writing isn’t always great, and it makes for great binge material when I run out of stuff to watch on YouTube.
That’s enough about me. What’ve you been up to?