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#72 — Best Books I Read in 2021
This week, I reflected on the best books I read in 2021. I didn’t finish as many books as I have in prior years, and I’m fine with that. With everything going on, it’s been tough to maintain many of my habits, reading included. It’s important to keep that in mind, and be kind to myself. I’ve also gotten more liberal with letting go of books that don’t captivate me. Life is too short to force yourself to finish books (or, more generally, to do things you don’t want to).
My approach now is to try out lots of books via theirs samples or first few chapters, and only commit to the book if I felt really gripped by them. By the end of the year, I’ll have read at least a handful of books that really made me think, or touched my heart. In this note, I share five books that did just that:
The note includes what I loved most about each book, but if you’re just looking for the list, here it is:
Making of Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Candace Pert
Things That Are by Amy Leach
Swimming in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
2021 was the year in which I dove into short stories, fables and fairy tales. This was partly driven by my own creative endeavors in writing a book of fables, as well as writing flash fiction. (In case you missed them, check out two flash stories I’ve published: Point Price and The Boat of Stillness.) If you’re looking for more short stories, be sure to check out the 2021 books post, where I share a bonus set of short story collections at the end of the post.
In an earlier newsletter, I wrote about how routine fuels creativity, and included my plan for a personal annual review. I made some progress on my own review before the new year, but I still have more to go. I plan to resume it over the next week or two.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to do your own Annual Review, I’ve published my plan as a standalone template:
The goal for this template is to be simple, approachable, and gentle, while still being useful. Here’s what Shuaib had to say about the Twitter thread version of it:
I don’t do annual reviews systematically. Reflecting back they were mostly goal setting exercises. This thread has promoted at least one way I’d approach it differently this time.
The Fox and the Flower
I’m trying to keep my drawing muscles active, given that I will be doing a lot of illustrations for my book soon. Here’s a fun sketch I did last week:
I love how the sketch turned out! I’ve been having a lot of fun using a fine-liner pen on paper. I love the feel of the pen’s friction against paper. It’s meditative. I quickly get lost in the drawing process. Plus, I don’t feel as tired as I do when drawing on my iPad—the lack of screen time is invaluable, especially these days, when I feel like all I do is look at screens all day.
I’m using the COPIC multi-liner pen with the 0.03 tip—it’s almost comically small when you first look at it, but it allows for much greater control. I know that probably sounds like “it’s for experts,” but believe me, it’s not! I’m a complete newbie when it comes to marker pens, but I was able to get value from it almost immediately. I find it the fine tips more approachable than thicker tips. The reason is that you can make really light touches to navigate the overall structure of the thing, and then double down with more lines and shading as you go. With a thick, strong tip, it’s hard to hide a misplaced stroke.
The biggest challenge with a fine tip is that shading large chunks of black can take forever. Also, it will quickly wipe out your nib! If you check out the screenshot below, you might be able to see that after just a few sketches I already killed the 0.03 nib. (The “nib” is the black pointed end of the tip—it’s the thing that actually distributes the ink on contact. You can see in this tip that the silver part is there, but the black nib is gone!) I’m disappointed that the nib on these pens can disappear so quickly, but I also really love this pen! I’m going to get some replacements (apparently, you can swap out the nibs). Also, I now know to use thicker tips for the really dark parts, and save the fine-liner for, well, the fine lines 😅
I grabbed a Micron brush pen (shown above) for inking the deep black sections of my sketches. The nice thing about a brush pen is that it lets you be a little more flexible with the strokes—you can do thin lines, thick lines, or even varying weights (like calligraphy) by modifying the angle of contact with the paper. I went back to the sketch and used the brush pen to accentuate the dark parts:
Subtle difference, but I think it really makes those darker bits pop!
I really love the look of fine-liner pen illustrations. I’m nearing the end of the editing process for my book, and will be diving into the illustrations for it pretty soon (I’ve done some already, but lots more to go.) I’m tempted to redo some of the ones I’ve done in this ink style. The only issue is that it takes a lot longer to do them in such detail. I’ve already been really deliberate about every other part of the book writing process, so I have to balance my craft with ensuring the workload isn’t too unwieldy.
All that said, I’m looking forward to getting past the hump of editing, and doing lots more drawing soon!
I’ll leave you with this video of adorable giant pandas sliding in the snow. I think we could all use a little more panda in our lives.