The year of our lord 2020, with Covid-19, work-from-home, and widespread lockdowns, was for many a chance to spend extra time reading and writing. As one meme helpfully pointed out, Shakespeare used the opportunity of a plague to write King Lear. I did not write a foundational text of world civilization but, and I do not say this boastfully, I perfected the technique of staring blankly into space.
Like so many, I responded to chronic massive trauma with nightmares, memory loss, trouble focusing, and brain fog. That I was able to read books at all is a victory.
Two new features to my book reading this year. On Saturdays, I started discussing the books I’d read on social media, as part of a daily check-in in these difficult times. I hope to keep this feature in some form post-pandemic. And in response to the murder by police of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, I resolved that half my reading be on themes of race, racism, or anti-racism for one year. I ultimately read 12, but since I didn’t start this challenge till June, that’s a respectable number.
Total books read:
- 33, down from 54 last year ¯_(ツ)_/¯
- Adult: 30
- YA: 1
- Children’s: 2
Books that were published in 2020:
- The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones
- The Hidden Girl, by Ken Liu
- Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
- Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
Genres (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 33):
- Autobiography – 1
- Essays, various topics – 1
- Ethics – 1
- Investigative Journalism – 1
- Library science – 1
- Memoir – 2
- Science – 2
- Social science – 5
- Crime/Thriller – 3
- Erotica – 1
- Fantasy – 5
- Horror – 6
- Literary fiction – 2
- Mainstream/contemporary – 1
- Science fiction – 5
- Annual fat Russian novel: The Amphibian, by Alexander Belyaev
- Re-reads: 1, when I was purging from my library, I found a graphic novel, emphasis on graphic: Celluloid, by Dave McKean, which has zero words, because words are extremely not the point. According to my notes, I had read this in 2010, though I had no memory of it. I like Dave McKean but this is not really my sort of book, so it’s been donated in the hopes someone with more prurient tastes can enjoy it
- Audiobooks: 22
- Unique authors: 33
- Most read author: Tamsyn Muir, and only because I read two of her books. Some years I binge read an author. Not this year.
- Collections of short-form fiction or nonfiction: 3
Apart from my intention to read books on race, racism, and antiracism, no strong themes, except that I read more horror than anything else. This is fitting for 2020.
Best book of the year:
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I do not love McCarthy’s whole oeuvre the way some of you do. I didn’t really get into Blood Meridian, and some of his books I gave up on after a few pages. But when he writes a book I like, it is phenomenal. There is one passage that will stick with me for a long time, not the haunted house horror scene (you know which one I mean) but the one immediately after.
K.J. Parker tho. Isn’t he the best?:
- The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Sheer fun. Painfully regressive social values, unresolved plot holes, two-dimensional women, which just goes to show that you can love a flawed thing.
- Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. So difficult to describe this, but it’s lovely. It’s a blend of ethics, science, poetry, spirituality, and plants.
- No Time to Spare, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Best known for her science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin here writes essays on a variety of topics, including literary criticism, social observations, and her cat.
- Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. Astonishingly good books. I’ve been recommending Muir to everyone. Brilliant plotting! Hysterically funny writing! Lesbian necromancers in spaaaaaaacccce!
- The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson. Far and away one of my favorite nonfiction writers, Ronson takes a deep dive into bizarre territory: in this case, psychopathy.
- Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad. If I were going to pick any one book to help white people understand racism, this would be it. If you’re looking for a book for your book group or shared workplace book, consider this one.
- The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Young adult novel about a Black teenager who sees her friend fatally shot by the police.
- Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente. Familiar figures from Russian folklore set in the early twentieth century.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. The first part of the book, covering Malcolm’s life before he finds religion, is all booze and women and drugs and doing crimes. Thereafter we follow Malcolm’s time with the Nation of Islam and his epiphany at Mecca. This is essential reading for any American.
All the books I read:
|Baldwin, James||The Fire Next Time||Social Science||1963|
|Belyaev, Alexander||The Amphibian||SF||1928|
|Chandler, Raymond||The Big Sleep||Crime||1939|
|Coates, Ta-Nehisi||Between the World and Me||Social Science||2015|
|Cowell, Cressida||How to Train Your Dragon||Fantasy||2003|
|Daniels, Ezra Claytan||BTTM FDRS||Horror||2019|
|Dinesen, Isak||Out of Africa||Memoir||1937|
|Doty, James R.||Into the Magic Shop||Memoir||2016|
|Jones, Stephen Graham||The Only Good Indians||Horror||2020|
|Junger, Sebastian||War||Social Science||2010|
|Kimmerer, Robin Wall||Braiding Sweetgrass||Science||2013|
|Krueger, Stephen G.||Supporting Trans People in Libraries||Library Science||2019|
|Langan, John||The Wide Carnivorous Sky||Horror||2013|
|Le Guin, Ursula K.||No Time to Spare||Essays||2017|
|Liu, Ken||The Hidden Girl||SF||2020|
|Martinson, T. J.||The Reign of the Kingfisher||Crime||2019|
|McCarthy, Cormac||The Road||Literary||2006|
|Muir, Tamsyn||Gideon the Ninth||Fantasy||2019|
|Muir, Tamsyn||Harrow the Ninth||Fantasy||2020|
|Parker, K. J.||Prosper’s Demon||Fantasy||2019|
|Perry, Thomas||The Old Man||Thriller||2017|
|Rice, Anne||The Witching Hour||Horror||1990|
|Ronson, Jon||The Psychopath Test||Investigative Journalism||2011|
|Saad, Layla||Me and White Supremacy||Social Science||2020|
|Stine, R. L.||Camp Red Moon||Horror||2019|
|Thomas, Angie||The Hate U Give||Mainstream||2017|
|Tóibín, Colm||The Testament of Mary||Literary||2012|
|Valente, Catherynne M.||Deathless||Fantasy||2011|
|Vitale, Alex||The End of Policing||Social Science||2017|
|X, Malcolm and Alex Haley||The Autobiography of Malcolm X||Autobiography||1965|