Revisiting my 26 favourite fiction novels

According to Goodreads I’ve read over 200 books in the past 5 years. Without a doubt, that’s more books than I read in my previous 30 years even including books for school. Hell, it’s probably more than double.

As I’ve read more, I’ve been better at figuring out what I take pleasure in reading versus the books I’ve simply enjoyed (or not enjoyed at all). When I started reading, I’d pick up anything that Goodreads predicted I’d like based on my love of Douglas Adams. But that first year I couldn’t help notice how almost every novel suggested to me was written by a straight cis white dude. So I made an effort to find writers with different identities.

I’ve definitely found my tastes have strayed away from most straight cis white authors, but I wonder if my favourites–the books I loved so much in 2015 or 2016–would still hold up now that I’ve read so much more? So I thought this year instead of reading all new-to-me books, I’d put half my reading goal into revisiting the top 26 books I loved most.

To make it possible to have a single list, I’ve limited the list to stand-alone fiction novels. So no books from a series; I could do another list of 25+ if I included those (Wayward Children? Ring? THE BROKEN EARTH?!?). They’re listed roughly in order, starting with what I think was my most favourite.

My favourite stand-alone fiction novels:

  1. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955, science fiction)
  2. Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells (1896, science fiction)
  3. The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost (2016, horror/mystery)
  4. Bow Grip by Ivan Coyote (2006, fiction)
  5. Version Control by Dexter Palmer (2016, science fiction)
  6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011, fantasy/romance)
  7. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (2018, thriller/dystopian fiction)
  8. The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai (2018, science fiction/thriller/dystopian fiction)
  9. Edge by Kōji Suzuki (2011, science fiction/horror)
  10. Spanish Fly by William Ferguson (2007, historical fiction)
  11. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín Kiernan (2012, science fiction/horror)
  12. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (2018, fiction)
  13. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (2019, science fiction)
  14. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson (2018, mystery/thriller)
  15. Viscera by Gabrielle Squailia (2016, fantasy)
  16. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (2005, fantasy)
  17. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014, science fiction/dystopian fiction)
  18. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017, science fiction)
  19. Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang (2016, fiction)
  20. After Dark by Haruki Murakami (2007, fiction)
  21. Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau (2016, science fiction/romance)
  22. Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai (2002, science fiction)
  23. The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie (2012, fiction)
  24. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001, fantasy/horror)
  25. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970, fiction)
  26. Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson (2018, fiction)

Books I read in 2019, ranked from best to worst

As I’ve done in for the last 4 years, here’s a recap of books I read this year, ranked.

This year I kept up my quest to read fewer books by white cis hetero people. I cant see myself moving away from this anytime soon. Contemporary stories written by cis white dudes pale in comparison to stories written by Black, Indigenous, queer writers. Give me more trans writers! More Black writers! More Indigenous writers! More queer writers! Fewer mediocre white cis writers!

Number of books read:

Number of pages read:

A few discoveries about my tastes:

  1. This year was my first introduction to John Wyndham and I’m sad I didn’t discover his novels sooner. Not just because they are great, but also because they’ve clearly influenced a lot of other media I enjoy (see, for example, Seanan McGuire’s MIDDLEGAME, which is on my list below). THE CHRYSALIDS was certainly a great introduction to his work, and I am now working through his other works.
  2. The top 3 books of this year share (at least) a common theme that certainly reflects my emotional and psychological state this year: the main characters all have to hide what’s special about them out of fear of persecution if others found out. They struggle to hide their true selves for their own safety. I’ll just leave it at that.
  3. I like stories (books, film, tv) that are social allegories. Which is probably why I like science fiction and horror genres the most.

Life changing:

  1. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
  2. The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3) by NK Jemisin
  3. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
  4. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Olou (non-fiction)
  5. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A van der Kolk (non-fiction)

Adored:

  1. In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire
  2. The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by NK Jemisin
  3. The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai
  4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  5. Edge by Kōji Suzuki
  6. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  7. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  8. Legendary Children by Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez (non-fiction)
  9. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
  10. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott (non-fiction)
  11. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
  12. Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1) by Mira Grant

Enjoyed:

  1. Vengeful (Villains, #2) by V.E. Schwab – maybe would have been better if I had read #1 first?
  2. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
  3. The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Cixin Liu
  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick – have you ever wept over a spider? I can now say I have
  5. Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels (graphic novel)
  6. Parasite (Parasitology, #1) by Mira Grant
  7. The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson – overall I enjoyed the story, but I kept thinking about how much better it could have been without the subtle racism and misogyny
  8. Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) by Tomi Adeyemi
  9. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
  10. Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
  11. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  12. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  13. D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire
  14. Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time edited by Hope Nicholson
  15. Moose Meat & Wild Rice by Basil Johnston
  16. Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth
  17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  18. Martha Quest by Doris Lessing
  19. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – unfinished; I liked what I read, but the writing style was difficult to get into for me. I will pick this one up again when I’m better able to focus

Meh:

  1. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
  2. There Has to Be a Knife by Adnan Khan
  3. Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaludd
  4. Release by Patrick Ness
  5. Symbiont (Parasitology, #2) by Mira Grant
  6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – great story, but really difficult to read because of the writing style
  7. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

Would not read again:

  1. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy (graphic novel)
  2. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown (Ghost Roads, #2) by Seanan McGuire
  3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
  4. Supper Club by Lara Williams – despite what the blurb would have you believe, this is not a progressive story in the least. More akin to GIRL ON THE TRAIN than anything feminist
  5. Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters–And How to Get It by Laurie Mintz (non-fiction)
  6. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – read D’Aulaires’ instead, the stories are the same but it has cute illustrations
  7. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Could not finish:

  1. Less by Andrew Sean Greer – dull
  2. A Conspiracy of Stars (Faloiv, #1) by Olivia A Cole – just plain awful

Books I read in 2018, ranked from best to worst

The last two years I put together a list of books I read, ranked from the ones I enjoyed the most to those I enjoyed the least. In keeping up with the tradition, here’s my list for this year.

This year, my goal was to read a book a week. I’d read for 30 – 60 minutes each night before going to sleep, and for part of the year, I used my lunch break to read (mostly because I was so far behind on my reading goal). I made my reading goal with one day to spare!

Number of books read:

Graph showing number of books I read in the last 5 years: 2018, 52 books; 2017, 42 books; 2016, 45 books; 2015, 22 books; 2014, 9 books

Number of pages read:

Graph showing number of pages I read in the last 5 years: 2018, 16278 pages; 2017, 13902 pages; 2016, 15930 pages; 2015, 6622 pages; 2014, 2579 pages

As I’ve done before, I’ve broken down the list into different categories based on how I enjoyed the stories:

  • Numbers 1 – 11 are joining my list of favourites
  • Numbers 12 – 19 were very good, and I would happily read them again
  • Numbers 20 – 32 were good. I probably won’t re-read them, but I may recommend them to someone else
  • Numbers 33 – 43 were not for me, though I might recommend them to others in very specific circumstances
  • Numbers 44 – 52 were definitely not for me, and I’d probably not recommend them to anyone

Best Reads of 2018

  1. The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
  2. The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin
  3. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently, #2) by Douglas Adams (re-read)
  4. Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
  5. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  6. Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2) by Seanan McGuire
  7. When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
  8. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
  9. Ring (Ring, #1) by Kōji Suzuki
  10. Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
  11. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  12. Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
  13. Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, #3) by Seanan McGuire
  14. Loop (Ring, #3) by Kōji Suzuki
  15. Viscera by Gabrielle Squailia
  16. If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
  17. Little Fish by Casey Plett
  18. The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
  19. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
  20. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  21. Spiral (Ring, #2) by Kōji Suzuki
  22. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
  23. The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill
  24. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  25. Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  26. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  27. A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
  28. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  29. J by Howard Jacobson
  30. Hot Lead, Cold Iron (Mick Oberon, #1) by Ari Marmell
  31. The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson
  32. Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1) by Garth Nix
  33. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  34. Sabbathday River by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  35. 100 Cupboards (100 Cupboards, #1) by N.D. Wilson
  36. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  37. The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
  38. Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson
  39. Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman
  40. Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho
  41. Night Watch (Night Watch, #1) by Sergei Lukyanenko
  42. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
  43. The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale from the Five Kingdoms by Vivian French
  44. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  45. Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp
  46. The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin
  47. The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson: Separating Fact from Fiction by Gregory Klages
  48. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You find and Keep love by Amir Levine
  49. Daughter of Hounds by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  50. Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota, #1) by Ada Palmer
  51. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  52. Kraken by China Miéville

For 2019, my reading goal is to again read 52 books. But this time around, I’ll be more picky about what I read/finish. There were so many books I read this year that I struggled to get through, which is part of what made my progress slow. No more of that this year. If I’m not enjoying a book within the first 100 or so pages, I will put it down.

So, what DOES all this tweeting really mean? Results from ethnographic work on Twitter use and advanced cancer

If you missed the news, yesterday I successfully defended my thesis.

I owe thanks to a million different people, but I specifically want to acknowledge four people who made this project what it has become. First and foremost, Alicia Merchant who’s Twitter use inspired my whole thesis. I hope this research honours your legacy. Colleen Young,  Michelle Hamilton-Page, and Fiona Webster: I am so grateful for your mentorship and advice. I feel so proud of this work and it is in no small part because of what I’ve learned from you.

In the next few weeks I’ll be working on a manuscript (or two or three) to formally publish my work. In the meantime, below is a plain language overview of my thesis and some of what I found. You can also read a 2-page summary of my research. [PDF, opens in new window], or delve into all 168 pages of my full thesis manuscript [PDF, opens in new window].

“I’m still here”: an Ethnographic Exploration of Public Twitter Use among People Living with Advanced Cancer

A brief summary

Research question: Why do people living with advanced cancer use Twitter publicly?

To answer this question, I looked at public tweets shared by people living with advanced cancer to understand how they used Twitter, and I interviewed people living with advanced cancer to find out what they thought about their public Twitter use.

Why this is important: Most of the research I’ve read on health-related Twitter use has focused on how Twitter helps patients find peer support and health information. But when you can find both these things through more private and more reliable means (such as through peer support groups, from your medical team, from health librarians, etc.), I didn’t think these goals alone were enough to explain Twitter use. So what else brings patients to use Twitter?

Findings: After interviewing 10 participants and studying more than 9,000 tweets from 8 Twitter users, I came up with 6 themes that helped me to better understand how and why people with advanced cancer use Twitter.

  1. Constructing Identity through ‘Textual Selfie’: Tweeting was sometimes used to make sense of thoughts or feelings by creating  ‘textual selfies’ (informal snapshots of a moment in time) which helped them understand themselves better. Twitter felt like a place where it was OK to share as many or few tweets as one wanted, whenever the mood struck, and even if thoughts were only partially formed.
  2. Resisting Social Death: In sociology, ‘social death’ is a term used to describe when  someone is not able to participate fully in ‘normal’ life (for example, because someone is sick and unable to do regular daily activities). Twitter helped people with advanced cancer stay connected to regular life because they could decide when to focus on their cancer or when to share other parts of their lives, like their hobbies, interests, and skills. Twitter also was an easy way to connect to ‘regular’ life, especially when cancer treatments or side effects prevented them from living a regular life.
  3. Accounting for Time: Twitter use made people with advanced cancer very aware of time and prompted them to be more mindful of how they spent it. Their feelings about time seemed to correspond to how they felt about their Twitter use, for example, people who were anxious about having limited time felt Twitter could be a waste of time, while others who were grateful for each day used Twitter to celebrate the time they had left. But no matter how they felt about the passing of time, Twitter was a way for them to look back at the past.
  4. Finding Freedom in Obscurity: Because tweets felt less visible than other social media posts (like Facebook), people with advanced cancer felt they could be more authentic on Twitter than in other social spaces. When they felt that other people weren’t paying very close attention to their tweets, they felt like they could be more free with their ideas. But when they felt others were paying more attention (for example, because they became more famous or because people close to them started following them), they were more careful about what they posted and sometimes censored themselves.
  5. Creating a Living Legacy: Public use of Twitter was often seen as a way to show the world what it is really like to live with advanced cancer with the intention of helping out other people, including strangers. This could mean openly sharing their knowledge about cancer, providing comfort to other patients, or being a positivity role model for other patients and their loved ones.
  6. Fighting for What’s Right: Anti-social tactics were sometimes used on Twitter as a way to correct ‘bad’ information about cancer and its experience. Spamming was used in an effort to increase the visibility of advocacy messages. Calling out was used to draw unwanted attention to users with problematic behaviours as a means of publicly shaming them until they change their ways. Trolling was used to disrupt conversations (such as tweet chats or popular hashtag memes) to make sure readers are getting the ‘right’ information about cancer.

What do these Findings mean: Most of the research on Twitter use among patients has focused on what people tweet about without looking at why they tweet. When focusing on people with advanced cancer, tweeting can be a way to say: “I’m still here”. I came to this thought after seeing a Twitter users tweet a version of this statement several times within a few months.

The phrase “I’m still here” can be interpreted to mean a few different things:

  • “I’m still here”, as in letting other people know you are still present when they can’t see you otherwise. As a general example, this can be done when using text-based technology to talk with other people.
  • It can be a way of re-stating that you are still a person with the same hobbies, interests, and values as you had before your cancer diagnosis.
  • It can also be a way of bringing hope to other cancer patients, as in “I am still living despite the diagnosis I was given. Don’t let the statistics or prognosis dictate your life”
  • It can also inspire those without cancer, as in “I am still living my best life, even when facing this awful diagnosis. If I can face cancer, you can get through whatever you’re facing too”

It’s official! I finished grad school!

Today I am officially done grad school. After my defense my thesis was accepted as is – a rare honour for my program – and all i have left to do is submit the paperwork and then graduate in November! It’s been a looooong process, but I am so proud of the work I did. I’ll tell you all more about it in the upcoming days, but today I am basking in the glory of reaching the finish line.