Thursday, January 13, 2022

2021 Year in Review: Books and Podcasts

2021 was far and away not the best reading year for me. For the first part of the year, I thought I had a better attention span and ability to focus on reading than I did in 2020, but then starting in September I suddenly became completely unable to read for fun, even if the books I was working through were fairly well-written and engaging. 

As reported in my monthly reading reflections posts for the months until I stopped reading for fun, I read 26 books in 2021. In today's post, I'll highlight some of my favorites for the year, though I don't think any of them will be a surprise!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in my earning a small commission - at no extra cost to you - if you click and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

As for 2022, I'm doing a little bit better with reading for fun. I blazed my way rather quickly through Leviathan Wakes, the first book of The Expanse series. (By the way, the television series based on these books is really, really good; K and I binged it during the earliest months of the pandemic and we highly recommend it.) I'm roughly a third of the way through the second book now and I think I may be able to power right through the entire series in fairly short order, probably to the exclusion of reading anything else. The only downside with reading The Expanse books is that they contain very fast-paced stories, so they're not always the best pre-bedtime reading. Sometimes, they're too exciting, so I stay up a bit late to continue reading! 

I may hold off on doing more "monthly" reading reflections posts until I've finished the series, or maybe I'll only do those posts in the meantime if I have any other reading to report. Based on what I've heard from fans of the series, The Expanse should be consistently well-written throughout, so it's not the sort of thing where it makes sense to give my thoughts on each individual book as I finish reading it. It'd make more sense to evaluate the series as a whole. 

Anyway, without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2021. They're somewhat listed in order of how much I liked them, with the ones I liked most towards the top of my list. 

  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke - There's probably no surprise that this was my single favorite book of 2021, as I sang its praises effusively back when I first read it. It's just such a beautiful, lyrically written novel, with such a unique fantasy concept behind it. I was also really glad I didn't accidentally come across any spoilers before I finished reading this book, since it allowed me to slowly discover what was going on right alongside the narrator. 
  • Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner - I read a lot of great nonfiction books in 2021, but this powerful memoir about Zauner's late mother was my favorite of the bunch. I generally like the deeply personal stories found in all good memoirs, so any strong writing from that genre will typically have an advantage with me over other types of nonfiction. People often review almost all bestselling memoirs as being honest and raw in their way, but I think Zauner's memoir really stands out as being particularly unflinching and self-aware. 
  • Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker - This was a really well-written and well-reported nonfiction book, with a lot of empathy to the family at the center of the story as they did their best for each other through tough circumstances. 

I also thought it'd be nice to highlight some of my favorite podcasts from 2021. 

  • Maintenance Phase - This podcast focuses on analyzing various aspects of American diet culture and, to a lesser extent, wellness culture. It's a really fascinating look back at some of the things that were definitely part of my awareness when I was growing up through the 1990s and earlier 2000s. (Think things like the short-lived presence of olestra snack foods, the ubiquity of Snackwell's cookies, and the fact that the Biggest Loser television show exists...)  
  • I Will Teach You to be Rich - Ramit Sethi's the author of my favorite introductory personal finance book, also titled I Will Teach You to be Rich. His new podcast should appeal to anyone who enjoys the kind of personal finance discussion - emphasis on the personal - I sometimes mention here. His podcast focuses on interviews of couples who have some kind of fundamental disagreement about how to manage their money, which implicates larger questions of their values and lifestyle choices. He tries to help them work through their disagreements. The first few episodes have titles that sound like huge, intractable disagreements, but most of those couples actually were not in as contentious a spot as it sounded like. For instance, the $450,000 student debt in episode four was on track to eventually be forgiven through one of the non-PSLF income-based repayment programs - like with the orthodontist mentioned in the long-ago viral news story discussed here - so it was actually being managed reasonably, there was a plan in place. The more recent episodes have included couples that sounded like they might not be able to resolve things, however. It does make me a bit nervous that these interviews sound like they're trying to be financial therapy, which is maybe best left to licensed professionals? But it is a very interesting series to listen to. 
  • Blind Landing - This is a fairly brief but well-reported podcast series about a serious problem that occurred during the women's gymnastics all-around finals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The vault was set to incorrect specifications, which ruined the competition for some of the athletes and could easily have caused serious injuries. The series also touches on broader issues of athlete safety in gymnastics, including the lack of one-touch warmups in event finals. 

What were your favorite books or podcasts of 2021? I'm always interested in hearing recommendations for books and podcasts basically anytime, particularly if there are any other good personal finance podcasts out there that focus more on the "personal" side of things. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

(Mostly Non-Sale) Shopping Lately

Self Portrait "Prairie" Midi Dress (affiliate link) - Definitely not on sale, even though the design has been around a long time.

Before we get started, one quick note: work is going to be extremely busy for me later in January - I'll be taking my first ever deposition! - so my posting here may become more sporadic next week and the week after.  

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in my earning a small commission - at no extra cost to you - if you click and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

Today's post is about some of my shopping ideas recently, mostly not from the post-Christmas and post-New Years' sales. Have you been shopping any of the winter sales? I've browsed some - including the Tibi sale, where many sale items are 50% off - but I haven't really seen anything I was interested in that was also on sale. 

In terms of cool Tibi items currently on sale at various retailers: that plaid wool skirt I bought at full price in October is now discounted at both Tibi's website and Net-a-Porter, though only in extremely limited sizes. Both Shopbop and Net-a-Porter also have a good number of Tibi items on sale, though often only in one or two lucky sizes. This cutout cashmere turtleneck in sky blue is kind of cool, as is the plaid top that matches the skirt I bought (the plaid top is a bit more deeply discounted at Tibi's website). 

As for the non-sale items I've had on my mind, I've been thinking recently about whether it's time to shop for another "wedding guest dress", since I've felt a bit dowdy when wearing my existing ones to the most recent weddings K and I attended. With all my fussy and nitpicky criteria for party dresses - particularly if other people's weddings are the main type of occasion I'm shopping for; which means white, cream, and many white or cream background prints are off limits, as is red for weddings that might have a Chinese or Indian cultural component - searching for a new dress is likely to take a significant amount of time. It's rare to see many options in stores that meet all my nonnegotiable criteria for this type of dress and might, therefore, even be worth ordering to try on. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

A Year and a Half-ish of Fountain Pens

Back in July 2020 - with no real end in sight to COVID work from home and K and I's plans to continue adhering to fairly strict social distancing - I decided to try out fountain pens for the first time, after seeing Adina's Instagram stories about some of her favorite Pilot Iroshizuku inks. Almost immediately, I became completely obsessed. 

It didn't take long before I went from one pen to five and then far more than that, with an ink collection to match. And my pen and ink collection continued to grow somewhat in 2021 albeit at a much slower rate than before. (Which is good, because I was really a bit out of control with how quickly I jumped into the hobby and the acquisition of new pens, inks, and related accoutrements in 2020!)

Fountain pens and journaling were a perfect pandemic-era hobby for me while I was stuck at home at my desk in our one-bedroom NYC apartment all day long for months on end. It gave me all the time in the world to sit and write with the different ink, fountain pen nib, and paper combinations available to me, to marvel at and admire the various colors and properties of all my inks and ink samples, including some with shimmer, sheening, and shading. 

When I was home all the time, it was also easy to refill any fountain pen as soon as it ran out of ink. Some pens, or rather, their converters, have very limited ink capacity and are emptied after writing barely a few A5-sized pages worth of text; other pens might not be completely airtight so they dry out quickly. It was also easy to find 15 to 20 minutes to clean out a few of my pens each week, when I was in the mood to switch those pens to new ink colors. 

These days - now that I'm fully back in the office every weekday, save for a few recent weeks due to the Omicron surge in NYC, and not that I'm also close to billing normal amounts of hours by pre-pandemic standards - I find I'm not able to make as much use of my fountain pens as before. Back while social distancing, once I'd built that rather prodigious collection of pens so quickly, I generally kept around fifteen fountain pens inked at a time, and it was a simple matter to stay on top of refilling any that ran out of ink. I'd also switch up some of my chosen colors once a week or so. Nowadays, having eight pens inked at a time is more than enough. With just that many actively in use, I still have trouble keeping up with refilling the ones that run empty and almost never have the energy to clean any of them up to switch between inks. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Reselling More with The RealReal

In late 2021, I had a bunch of like-new items - including my Equipment silk blouses, that Babaa sweater and a Babaa lounge set, and a bunch of Smythson notebooks (similar, affiliate link) I bought on sale (that turned out not to suit my subsequently developed interest in fountain pens and colorful inks because the pale blue Smythson paper obscured some ink colors) - which I decided to resell through The RealReal ("TRR"). It'd been two years since I last had anything suitable for sending to TRR, and this time, most of my items for consignment were a lot newer than the ones from last time. 

As in 2019, my main reason for deciding to resell with TRR was that I prioritized ease and convenience over total returns. Last time around, none of my items were particularly new or in-demand, and I thought it was pretty certain that if I tried to list them myself on eBay, Poshmark, etc., it'd take weeks or months and a few rounds of re-listing to successfully sell them. This time around, I did think a number of my items - particularly the Babaa clothing - should have been reasonably easy to resell directly to other individuals fairly quickly, and for a much better price than the TRR commission. But alas, between work stress and pandemic stress, I wasn't really up for handling the listing and shipment of my items myself. 

Once again, I was fairly satisfied with my TRR consignment experience. Like in 2019, my only real goal was to successfully resell these items after having spent as little of my time or effort as possible to accomplish that. Obviously, by using TRR, I knew I couldn't be too picky about the price they chose to sell my items for because I had absolutely no choice in the matter. I also knew I'd only get 40-50% of the TRR sale price as a commission. 

All my items sold incredibly quickly this time, often within a week of each listing going live. That does suggest I could have had far better returns fairly quickly if I resold the items myself, without using TRR as a middleman, but alas, I wasn't really in a position to do that.