Well look at that, it’s June so it must mean it’s time for my annual roundup of what I read during the previous year. I know most people post these lists in early January, but I am a certified procrastinator and this is as timely as it gets. I decided to present my summary a little differently this year after a friend tipped me to using Canva (http://www.canva.com) to create the infographic below. (Thanks Nicole!)
2020 was a slow year reading wise for me. January I was recovering still from my cancer treatment and in February I was just starting to get back to “normal” returning to work etc. when the pandemic hit. Adjusting to the growing dread of COVID-19 related lockdown and watching daily news reports on case counts took its toll on my brain power and I had very little energy/focus for reading for most of the year. I did listen to a total of 11 audio books worth about 120 hrs and read 2 print books for a total of 13 books. We won’t talk about how many NEW books I bought in 2020 that I added to Mt. TBR pile. (This is something I might try to do a better job of tracking in 2021).
As usual I tried to vary my reading between genres, authors (old and new), and authors experiences. I didn’t do so well this year compared to others in terms of reading works by BIPOC authors. A number of LBGQT+ authors were represented in what I read in 2020. Six of the thirteen books I read were by female authors. 77% of the books I read were by authors that were new to me.
The 2020 Reading List (in order of appearance)
- Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier #2) by Lara Elena Donnelly – published 2018
- Amnesty (The Amberlough Dossier #3) by Lara Elena Donnelly – published 2019
- Dead Astronauts – (Borne #2) by Jeff VanderMeer – published 2019
- MoBituaries – Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca published 2019
- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow published 2019
- The Last Emperox (The Interdependency #3) by John Scalzi published 2020
- Gamechanger (The Bounceback #1) by L.X. Beckett published 2019
- A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker published 2019
- The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz published 2019
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks published in 2006
- Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt published in 2000
- Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics in the Age of Crisis by George Monbiot published in 2017
- A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston published in 2016
I could probably write separate full length blog posts about each of these, but we’d be here forever and no one wants to read all that. I probably left a review on Goodreads for a good majority of these if you are curious of what I thought. I will highlight a handful of books from last year’s bounty.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January
This was the first of Alix E Harrow‘s books I read and immediately fell in love with both her characters and her style. It’s one of those books that pulls you in by turns through its unique story, sense of wonder and use of narrative. On the surface its a coming of age story about young orphan that is being held as a ward of wealthy businessman, but its so much more than that. January is the girl in question and soon discovers that she has powers to open doorways into other universes. This fuels her quest to find her father and discover her origin, while her guardian has other plans for her and her powers. I loved the element of storytelling and level of craft that went into this novel. The quote I put on the infographic above is from this novel. There is so much going on in this novel from different narrators/POVs to parallel story threads that all get neatly woven together. I initially listened to this on audiobook, but eventually bought a print copy so I could marvel at the story in print and try to see how the author managed something so unique on the printed page. (Plus the cover is gorgeous too).
A Song for a New Day
I am quickly becoming a huge fan of Sarah Pinsker‘s writing. I was more familiar with her short stories, but was late to the party checking out her Nebula Award winning debut novel A Song for A New Day which was released in 2019 prior to the pandemic, but is eerily prescient in some of its themes. Set in the near future the story revolves around two characters that come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, but each have a strong connection to music. Set in an America that has gone into lock down over terrorist threats and deadly viruses – large public gatherings have been banned essentially killing all live concerts. Luce Cannon and her band were on the verge of making a name for themselves when the world came to a stand still. One of the last acts to play live to a large crowd in The Before, the become a bit of a historical footnote, but in the intervening years Luce has risked it all to perform live in underground clubs and reinvent herself. Rosemary Laws was just a kid in the before times and has grown up largely online and in virtual spaces, both attending school and socializing. After quitting her day job as an online support person, she ventures into the world of virtual concerts as a talent scout looking to recruit musicians for a music conglomerate – think Amazon meets Live Nation. It through her role as talent scout that she comes in contact with Luce and their fates become intertwined.
This novel is what I love best about speculative fiction, in that it takes a unique premise and places characters and tells a story that while revolving around speculative elements (e.g. what if there was no more live music) the story itself focuses on characters and relationships and what it means to be alive. Both characters love and connection to music comes out in the prose. A Song for a New Day is one of those stories that is accessible to all and crosses over genres.
The Future of Another Timeline
If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for anything time travel and alternate history related. In Future of Another Timeline, we get a complex story about two teenage friends whose fates are intertwined. The story bounces around from 1992 to 2022 Southern California with stops in 1893 Chicago World Fair and an alternate future Manitoba. Set against a background of two competing underground time travel movements each trying to influence the timeline to favour their politics. The Daughters of Harriet (as in Harriet Tubman) are in competition with the Comstockers, a patriarchal organization determined to strangle the woman’s rights movement in its infancy. I shared my initial thoughts in a GoodReads post – Really enjoyed this novel full of ideas about the inter-sectionality of feminism, punk music, race, and the patriarchy’s attempts to control women viewed through the lens of time travel and alternate history. There’s a lot to unpack here and it will probably take me a bit before I can articulate my thoughts in a larger review, but I would definitely recommend this novel for those that care about such relevant issues as abortion and what it means for people to work to make small changes that can have big affects for a lot of people. A word of caution, the novel is fairly intense at points with scenes of fairly graphic rape and murder.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
I had been meaning to read this one for years and recently had obtained a ex-library copy of this in hard cover and decided it was time to dive in. Originally published in 2006 and loosely used as the basis for the movie by the same name, the novel is a far different beast. Told as a series of short interviews with a commissioner that had been investigating the origins of the Zombie War and how different governments responded to the outbreak. Oral history is a great framing device for this book and allows for some very emotional tales that are essentially vignettes. Many of which I am still thinking about nearly a year after reading them. This would make a great TV series if they had each episode cover one of the stories.
So those were the highlights of my short reading list from last year. I’m tempted to say something about how weird Dead Astronauts was, or how eye-opening the political non-fiction book by George Monboit was, but I’ll save it for now. 2021 has been off to slow start for me as well on the reading front, but I am hopefully I can break the 13 book curse that I’ve been under for the last two years. I plan to read more physical and e-books this year (I definitely have no shortage of those!) and I hope to get back to reading more BIPOC authors. Also hope to include more graphic novels in my reading stats. I seem to have stalled on those lately too. Good luck and let me know if you have a similar list to share.