2021 in Books

Somehow, without really meaning to, I read 102 new books in 2021. (As always, I only count books in English that are new to me, so re-reads don’t count, my stumbling through children’s books in other languages doesn’t count, and I only count books I’ve finished. I have a very generous “if you truly hate the book you don’t have to finish it” rule for myself.)

Quick aside: ever since I started logging my reading, I’ve been dying to run a bunch of nerdy data analysis; I think it would be interesting to track my ratio of, say, fiction to non-fiction, and to analyze what percentage of my reading is by writers of color, women and nonbinary folks, etc. I also casually noticed that this year, I was sometimes blowing through 10+ books a month, but nearly came to a stop as soon as the Animal Crossing: New Horizons update dropped. (I just think that would be a super funny graph.)

However, I am so tired (we are still in a pandemic) and it was hard enough for me to grit my teeth and make this post, so alas, no graphs and charts for me.

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2020 in Books

Although I am, at this point, really dragging, unable to get back to any emails in a reasonable amount of time, and needing to lie down multiple times a day, I am gritting my teeth and making myself write this post, because it is February 2021 and if I don’t get around to this now, I never will.

2020 was a real [obscene hand gesture] of a year—I won’t bore you with details because, well, it communally sucked for everyone, didn’t it? If you’re interested, I wrote a whole piece over on Substack that is my best attempt at describing the suspended state of despair I think we were all in, and specifically describes the futility of making music in that state.

If you missed it, I also put together a blog post in August summarizing the things I had managed to accomplish; for the highlights of what else I was able to do after that, kindly see the press page on my website.


My reading goal in 2020 was to read more new books than I had the year before; since I finished 64 new books in 2019, my goal for 2020 was 65. I ended up blowing past that number in August, and by the end of December had finished a nice round 100. I have no idea what my reading goal is for this year, if any, since a goal of 100+ gets you into the realm of reading for the sake of reading, which goes against everything I stand for, so for now I’m just 🤷🏻‍♀️ about my reading goal for this year.

Before I get into my list, several observations I took away from a year of reading:

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Adventures in Fear and Discovery: Learning Music Outside the Canon, Part 2

Before we get into it, I’m going to be totally honest with you guys: I was floored by the reaction to my last post. The subject was so niche and I thought the issues were so dense and complex that I figured maybe three people would skim it, and I would have been thrilled—thrilled!—if one person eventually said something nice to me about it.

I did not expect the link to get liked and tweeted hundreds of times, both by professionals in the field who I deeply admire, and by total strangers who sent me messages saying they had experienced the exact same things. (I got enough of these messages and comments that I realized my assumption that there’s no demand for published non-standard historical works was totally wrong. There is a demand, and it’s high time publishers did something about it.) I did not expect people in music to write to me telling me that I’d changed their perspective on their work, or people outside of music to tell me that they’d learned a lot about classical music from my post. I did not expect to get messages of advice and support from librarians, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because, man, I love librarians so much.

It all made me painfully cognizant of one thing: I was a dolt who had referred to an esteemed composer as “my homegirl” and said things like “my dudes, it was real bad” in an Intellectual Piece of Writing that actual smart people read, you guys.

However, because it would be poor form to suddenly change writing styles on you, you’re going to get more Glib Millennial Writing in List Form Complete With GIFs©, because I must preserve the integrity of the Art.

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So, let’s pick back up where we left off. We’ve been over some of the weird, specific hurdles that stand in the way of playing music by non-canonic composers (which in my experience is women composers, but this also applies to POC and LGBTQ+ composers.)

It would be disingenuous to claim that it’s all downside. I’ve only just embarked on this journey—and I’m in awe of all of you out there who have been doing this work longer than I have—but I’ve already discovered so many beautiful, wonderful benefits to wandering off the beaten path.

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