December 2020 in Books

According to Goodreads, this year I read 84 books (28,000 pages). Of them, 41 were written by authors of color, and 20 of them were published this year. There were 9 that I didn’t finish, which I think is more than past years, though I haven’t checked.

This is actually fewer books than I read last year (92) and I think it points to my reading habits prior to the pandemic. On a day to day basis, I was only only reading in bed, before going to sleep. I did a lot of reading while traveling: at the airport, on the plane, over a solo meal on a work trip, by the pool, on the beach, at my in-laws’ house, etc. I traveled a lot, so that added up.

In the spring, I realized I was spending a lot of time doomscrolling. At the same time, I was buying more print books to support my local bookstore. (If I counted correctly, I read 15 books in print this year. That’s a lot compared to the last few years.) Since I very much prefer reading on my kindle when I’m in bed, I primarily read print books during the day. If I caught myself doomscrolling, I would trade my phone for a book, or at least switch into the kindle app. I’m certainly not perfect at actually doing this, but I’ve gotten better at it, as this month’s list will attest.

December 2020:

  • The Arrest, Jonathan Lethem: For me, this suffered for not quite being as surreal or strange as it could have been.
  • The Winter of the Witch, Katherine Arden: Third in a trilogy. Needed more to help the reader remember what had already happened.
  • Gods of Jade and Shade, Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Very cinematic, but a little slow going.
  • Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad: I started this in the summer, slowly working my way through it and doing the reflective journaling. I learned a lot about myself and encourage you to read this if you haven’t, and to take your time with it.
  • Version Control, Dexter Palmer: A time travel story that’s not really a time travel story. Very engaging.
  • Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu: Holds you away while also pulling you in. Really great read and absolutely deserving of the National Book Award.
  • The Silence, Don DeLillo: I read some reviews afterward and folks weren’t really talking about whether or not they enjoyed the book. They discussed what DeLillo had accomplished with it. Which to me is a very academic way of saying “I’m supposed to like this, but I didn’t.” Yup.
  • The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson: Really great multiverse story – highly recommend.
  • Alice Payne Arrives, Kate Heartfield: A delightful time-travel novel that spends sometime in the 1780s.
  • The Future of Another Timeline, Annalee Newitz: Women waging a time war against a bunch of misogynist creeps. What’s not to like about that?
  • When No One Is Watching, Alyssa Cole: Fast-paced and very creepy. Excellent thriller in which gentrification and white supremacy play a big, unsettling, part.
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir: Over-the-top complex, and for me the complexity didn’t add anything. A. month after finishing it I can’t even give you a five-word summary of the plot beyond “Space necromancers . . . did things? Maybe?”

2020 Reads: November

  • The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin: A bit rushed at the end, and needed something more to hold it all together.
  • Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank: Nuclear armageddon in the late 50s. Great once I got past the language and social attitudes.
  • Good Talk, Mira Jacob: Loved the scrapbook style she used to share these memories.
  • Kopp Sisters on the March, Amy Stewart: This remains a delightful series.
  • Luster, Raven Leilani: This was one of those books where I couldn’t believe what the protagonist was doing, but I was cheering for her all the same.

If you only read one, pick up Luster.

2020 Reads: October

  • Exhalation, Ted Chiang: Great collection of stories, in particular I liked “The Lifecycle of Software Objects.”
  • The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai: A story set in two different times, which was intersting. But I really wanted the whole thing to be about the timeframe I was enjoying more.
  • The Searcher, Tana French: Really absorbing and great writing, as usual.
  • The Broken Earth Series (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky), N.K. Jemisin: This trilogy is absolutely worth a read – and a re-read, which is what this was. This time, I re-read them all back to back, which was a great experience. I was more able to keep track of characters and more easily able to keep a grip on the plot, which was really great.
  • Sourdough, Robin Sloan: Sentient starter in the Bay Area tech-meets-artisanal food scene. What else do you need to know?

If you only read one, make it The Searcher. If you only read one, but need it to be lighthearted, pick up Sourdough.

2020 Reads: September

If you only read one, make it Mexican Gothic.

July/August 2020 Reads

  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir: Wizards in space, but make it spooky.
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota, Ryan J. Stradal: Women brewing beer, what’s not to like?
  • Big Machine, Victor LaValle: The concept was really interesting, but the main action of the novel wasn’t clear enough until way to far into things.
  • Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem: Teenage rejects working for a small-time mob boss.
  • Big Friendship, Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman: A memoir about a deep friendship, but also so much more.
  • Beneath the Rising, Premee Mohamed: This was a weird book for me. Apparently I enjoyed it, but I kept forgetting what it was about every night when I picked it up, and I have no idea now.
  • The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett: Really compelling story about twins who take two very different paths in life, and their daughters.
  • Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor: Teenagers discovering their magic powers in Nigeria.

If you only read two, pick up The Vanishing Half and Big Friendship.

2020 Reads: June

  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins: Well-paced, and the elements of the plot slowly builds up to the ending.
  • Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev: This is being billed as a rom-com but for me, it wasn’t as funny as I expected. Still good, but set your expectations appropriately.
  • Small Days and Nights, Tishani Doshi: Quiet and introspective. The writing definitely puts you in the mood for the story.
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Deepa Anappra: A sad story lightened only by being told through the eyes of a child.
  • Waste Tide, Chen Qiufan (translated by Ken Liu): The concept and main plot points were really interesting, but overpowered by the level of technical detail the writing went into at points. This was a struggle to get through and I almost didn’t finish it.
  • The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel: I will absolutely be re-reading this at some point. Her writing is so absorbing and the story weaves around itself in a satisfying way. If you never picked up her last novel, Station Eleven, definitely give this one a try. (Now is maybe not a great time to read Station Eleven for the first time.)

If you only read one: Hands down, The Glass Hotel. Worth buying if your library’s holds list is too long.

2020 Books: April & May

  • Circe, Madeline Miller: I absolutely loved this. I didn’t know much about Circe but by the time this was wrapping up, I didn’t want it to end.
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells: Murderbot makes a friend! And rescues other friends!
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin: So good. Is the hold list intolerable? Just buy a copy, you will not regret it. Plus you’ll want to reread it at some point, it’s the first in a series.
  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson: I didn’t like this as much as some of her other stuff, but still a good read.
  • The Unfinished World and Other Stories, Amber Sparks: Collections are always hard to blurb here, but I did enjoy this.
  • MEM, Bethany C. Morrow: Very cool concept.
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu: I didn’t like this as much as I would have thought.
  • City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert: Do you like broadway, and also historical fiction? Read this. So fun.
  • Little Weirds, Jenny Slate: I’m still not sure what I thought of this.
  • An American Marriage, Tayari Jones: So, so many “what ifs” in this one. Would be a good book club pick I think.
  • With the Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo: Fun YA cooking-themed coming of age story.
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck: Took a bit to settle in, but once I was used to the voice it pulled me right along.

If you only read one (uh, for each month) make it City of Girls and The City We Became. Plus Circe. And if you’ve slept on Murderbot, go back and start with the first one, this is a series and it’s great.

2020 Reads: March

2020 Reads: January & February

January

  • An Ocean of Minutes, Thea Lim: Time travel + post catastrophe novel, A+ combination.
  • Here and Now and Then, Mike Chen: More time travel. Slightly predictable plus but really interesting concept driving it.
  • Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo: This is what might happen if you though frats were toxic, and set The Secret History at an Ivy League where all the students had gone to Hogwarts.
  • Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng (audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell): What happens when your parents can’t see who you really are.
  • Wanderers, Chuck Wending: This and Severance are what you should be reading right now if you’re into horror.

February

December 2019 in Books

I don’t feel like doing a big breakdown of 2019 books – but according to Goodreads I read 92 books and 31,000 pages.

December had a lot of time for reading: