Books Read in 2020


Book, beer, and bibs? #reading #yum #beer #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #lckingmfg #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife

 Well, one area for me in which this year did not drink deep from the Keg of Suck was in reading: I read a lot of great stuff. My goal each year is 52 books, averaging one a week. This year I got through 52, so, yay! You can find all my various short write-ups on these over on Goodreads; here’s my 2020 Goodreads shelf. This is just a list, because…lists! I am listing these in order that I read them, but the Goodreads shelf can be sorted in a lot of ways. We’re separating these into fiction and nonfiction, and I’ll leave a few notes as I go.

(Goodreads gets a lot of shit for being kind of a mess to use, which is certainly true. I don’t use it at all for its social media mechanisms; for me it’s just a decent way to track what I’ve read.)

UPDATE 1/1/2021: Titles in bold are books I rated with five stars on Goodreads. I reserve five stars for books that truly rock my world, books that I know will shift and inform my worldview moving forward. Four stars is for really really really good books that I love. Three stars mean “Good book, I’m glad I read it!” I almost never award two stars and never single stars, because as a general policy I only rate books that I finish, and if I’m not liking it, I don’t finish it. And in all honesty, I usually don’t conclude that a book I don’t finish is bad, because I’ve had a lot of my favorite books of all time come from the ranks of books I couldn’t finish the first time. It’s rare for me to conclude that I genuinely dislike something I read.

Fiction

Heir of Thunder, Karissa Laurel (an indie fantasy)

Red Christmas, Tayna Laubacher (an indie noir-fantasy, by a personal friend of mine)

Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey (I remember when Gailey first went viral on Twitter for live-tweeting their first-ever viewing of Star Wars: A New Hope while slightly buzzed. Little did I know what a talented writer they are.)

The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

A Witch in Time, Constance Sayers

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, K.S. Villoso (Filipino-inspired fantasy. Very memorable.)

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (Brilliant and disturbing. Necessary, and I hate the fact that we’ve build a world where this book is necessary.)

Last Song Before Night, Ilana C. Myer (Lyric fantasy)

The Parsifal Mosaic, Robert Ludlum (I read a ton of Ludlum as a teen. Loved him. This was a favorite. I wanted to see if it held up. It mostly does, though even with my appreciation of slower-paced stories, this one really takes its time.)

Noir, Christopher Moore (One of my favorite authors, of whose work I always seem to be one book behind. I liked this one, but not quite as much as others of his.)

The Ranger of Marzanna, Jon Skovron (Decent opening volume of a fantasy series. Not sure I’ll make it back for the rest, tbh)

The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi (Book 2 of a space opera trilogy. Breezy fun, but it does feel like the second book in a trilogy.)

This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Much has been said about how good this is, and rightly so)

We Ride the Storm, Devin Madson (Violent and grim fantasy set in a China analogue.)

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (I was truly unprepared for how much this book made me laugh.)

Strange Planet and Stranger Planet, Nathan W. Pyle (collections of Pyle’s comics about a family of non-humans on a non-Earth world and yet whose everyday concerns seem oddly familiar)

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (A space opera that I liked, but not wildly so. But other readers gushed over it, and one podcast I listen to made pretty clear that I somehow missed a lot of this book’s forest, so intent was I on focusing on its trees. I will likely give this one a re-read in a year or two because I’m pretty sure I missed some stuff.)

Ashes of the Sun, Django Wexler (Fantasy with a Star Wars aesthetic. Hard to describe.)

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, Mariko Tamaki (teen romance graphic novel. Loved it.)

Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo (Read partly because I like Russo, and partly for inspiration for a bunch of supernaturally-tinged Finger Lakes-set stories that popped into my head this year. This book was…well, it was too damned long. It just kept on keeping on, if you take my meaning.)

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, Jamie Pacton (This was the first e-book I ever checked out of the library! I had no idea about it until someone I like tweeted about it, so I gave it a whirl and I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.)

Annihilation Aria, Michael R. Underwood (Space opera that I liked, but it felt like a sequel to an original that hasn’t been written, if that makes sense.)

Seven Devils, Laura Lam and Elizabeth May (Space opera again, one of whose authors–Ms. May–is a favorite Twitter follow of mine. Good stuff, violent, queer, and the first book in a duology, which I didn’t realize until I suddenly saw that there was no way Lam and May were wrapping up their story in the few pages they had left.)

Last of Her Name, Jessica Khoury. (Another space opera! I need to branch out in 2021, huh…but this was really good. A YA space opera retelling of the Anastasia legend. Loved it!)

A Spark of White Fire, Sangu Mandanna (Yet another space opera. And another really good one, this one inspired by Indian mythology.)

Livingston Girls, Briana Morgan (Another indie by a personal friend. I loved this queer blend of Harry Potter and Dead Poets Society.)

The Spy with the Red Balloon, Katherine Locke (YA supernatural espionage thriller set in World War II. Outstanding! I actually tweeted Locke directly when I was emotionally assaulted by one of their plot developments. They said “Sorry,” but I don’t think they were all that sorry!)

Non-fiction

Letters from an Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson (I’ve been told for years about this book and while I liked it, I was also mildly disappointed for some reason)

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates (I’m trying to look more unflinchingly into the bleakest nature of the American character.)

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Goldblatt (I’ve owned this book for years; finally read it this year. Fascinating stuff that I never knew about the Bard.)

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, Alex Stone (great read about the subculture of magic, card sharks, and so on)

The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions, Jay Wexler (I am increasingly vexed by the US Constitution.)

Glorious Adventure, Richard Halliburton (I love Halliburton, but wow, have aspects of his adventures aged poorly.)

The Body: A Guide for Occupants, Bill Bryson (I always enjoy Bryson, but I probably shouldn’t have read this book while a pandemic was unfolding)

Beethoven: The Music and the Life, Lewis Lockwood (Fantastic bio of this year’s immortal birthday composer.)

How to Love a Country, Richard Blanco (poetry)

Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War, Jonathan Rosenberg

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King. (A re-read, because I hadn’t read it all the way through in some years. It is still my favorite writing book of all time. I noticed in various writerly communities this year a pushback against King’s hatred of adverbs, but I’m with King here. I avoid adverbs at all costs.)

The Secret History of STAR WARS, Michael Kaminski (Fascinating for its deep dive into George Lucas’s life, influences, and storytelling practices. Annoying for a very clear axe to grind, blaming Lucas for everything ever seen as wrong with Star Wars. Very long and desperately needed an editor.)

A Shooting Star Meets the Well of Death, William R. Taylor. (Biography of Richard Halliburton, mentioned above. If you like Halliburton, this will fascinate.)

A Haunted Atlas of Western New York, Amanda R. Woomer. (Of local fascination, but I may find some story inspiration in listings of haunted places I never knew about.)

The Finger Lakes: Nature’s Beauty, Den Linnehan

Waterfalls and Gorges of the Finger Lakes, Derek Doeffinger (used for inspiration for a future story I want to write)

Summer in a Glass: The COming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes, Evan Dawson (really good book about the rise of the FLX region as a wine center)

Choose Your Own Disaster, Dana Schwartz (Schwartz is the host of Noble Blood, one of my favorite podcasts. Her book is memoir structured as a choose-your-own-adventure book. Fun and engaging and very open about mental illness struggles.)

Taking Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, Jane Yolen (another favorite writing book that I hadn’t visited in a long time. I don’t read many writing books, because I figure I’ll learn more by writing than by reading about writing, but a few craft books here or there are nice.)

So You Want To Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo. (Again, important. And it shouldn’t be.)

Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town, and the Search for What Matters Most, Gwendolyn Bounds (A re-read of a book that hit me between the eyes quite a few years ago, and it hit me between the eyes again. I dearly love this love letter to a small town on the Hudson and its dying tavern.)

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith (Good, but I didn’t come to it when I needed such a book. I might have found it more necessary 15 years ago, when my world was a crumbling mess.)

The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn (When Kahn died in early 2020, a lot of people held up this book as a baseball classic, so I read it. And all those people were right. What an amazing book.)

I Want To Be Where the Normal People Are, Rachel Bloom. (Bloom may well be my biggest celebrity crush these days. I’ve been aware of her ever since her comedy song video “F*ck Me Ray Bradbury” went viral, and I was a huge fan of her teevee show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I consider her a national treasure and will follow her wherever she goes. From afar, though, because I don’t want to be creepy. Anyway, this amazing memoir of her own struggles as a theater kid with mental health issues is blunt, funny, moving, sexy, and at times just the right amount of gross.)

Thoughts:

Not a bad batch of reading! I’m struck that I didn’t read any Shakespeare this year, so I need to rectify that in 2021. I also need to track the poetry I read; I don’t list poetry books because I am always a “dipper” when it comes to poetry, jumping into and out of various collections as I go. Maybe I should read a collection or two all the way through….

Also, in terms of genre, I didn’t realize how much space opera I read last year, and while I’ve no intention of not reading more space opera, I do need to look in on some of the other genres I love! And I need to branch out, so romance awaits.

I note with surprise how few graphic novels I read in 2020. I remember starting several but bouncing off them, which is strange. I love comics and graphic novels and I hope to get back to them next year.

I close with a photo: I made a literal stack for my Major TBR reads in 2021. Obviously I’m going to read way more than this, but these books are the ones I want to ensure that I hit in 2021. There’s quite a lot of reading here! I’d best get started, hmmmm?

This is my "Must Read in 2021" stack. My other reading will be as-I-go, but I most definitely want these titles read in one year's time. #books #bookstagram #fantasy #sciencefiction #science #spaceopera #JamesBond #nature

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1 Response to Books Read in 2020

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    I'd like to hear more about your vexation with the US Constitution.

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