In all, I picked up 69 books (nice) over the course of the year. Four of them remained unfinished. Seven were audiobooks.
I still don't have any audiobook stats included below. While I consider audiobook listening a perfectly valid form of "reading," I do know that I personally experience books very differently in print than through my ears, and I need to differentiate that clearly somehow.
Here are more charts than anyone asked for:
My pages read per day chart shows the average pages I read in a book per day, over the number of days that I read it, and plots the total pages per day, because I almost always have at least two books on the go. While I had more pages read during the summertime in 2019, in 2020 there's a distinct increase beginning in September, the reasons for which may become clear once you read the Top 100 section below.
Top 100At the beginning of 2020, all I had left of The List was the Top Ten. I feel like I'm spilling the beans a bit here, but I finished reading Top 100 books in 2020!! This has at various times seemed like it would never happen, but over the last several years I really buckled down and all my hard work has at last come to a sort of end point.The List didn't finish quite as strongly as I would've hoped, but that's ok. The books below are listed from #10 to #1:
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 464 pages
- Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence, 464 pages
- Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, 272 pages
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, 453 pages
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, 326 pages
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 311 pages
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, 317 pages
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, 285 pages
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 140 pages
- Ulysses by James Joyce, 600 pages
Random/RomanceObviously I also finished my Random/Romance reading last year. This was mostly a matter of just choosing books to review, but I also did take some time out to end the project with five romnovs and explore certain things that I really wanted to try out, like Nicholas Sparks and Christian romance. These books are listed in their review order:
- The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, 205 pages
- All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, 231 pages
- Wild Rose by Sharon Butala, 401 pages
- The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis, 349 pages
- The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks, 292 pages
- Witchmark by C. L. Polk, 320 pages
- Possession by A. S. Byatt, 555 pages
- Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, 468 pages
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 335 pages
Other NovelsHaving at long last finished my "assigned" reading, I'm not relearning how to pick books to read on the fly. It's been fun but unexpectedly challenging. These so-called "other" novels were a full 44% of my reading over the year (the next highest category was the Top 100 books, which were 18% of my reading).
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams, 341 pagesThis romance novel featuring a book club of alpha men who read romance novels to help their own love lives was a selected read for my book club. I thought it was mostly silly fun featuring two protagonists who need therapy more than love, and that there are some major issues with the depiction of sexual pleasure/fulfillment. Instead of reading this book, I'd recommend this Men's Health article about a real bromance book club.
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, 207 pages
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander, 182 pagesThe first two books of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series of books for kids. These are quite fun and I'm planning to continue the series. Our hero is Taran, assistant pigkeeper, and he's joined by Eilonwy, a princess and enchantress, Fflewddur Fflam, also royal and a bard, Doli, a dwarf, and strangest of all, Gurgi, who is a sort of wild human animal. In the first book, Taran goes on a quest to rescue the oracular pig, Hen Wen, and ends up meeting his companions along the way. In the second book, they get caught up in a larger quest to find and destroy the evil Black Cauldron. I really enjoy the characters and mythic tone of these books, which have the faintest tinge of the Mabinogion about them. The characters are a bit broad but really great, especially Eilonwy, though the way the books treat her can occasionally be a bit frustrating. I currently have the third book out from the library, ready to be read!
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, 391 pagesWhen I'm left cold by a YA novel like this one, I kind of consider it my own fault. This features a too cool for school (except not quite) ghost hunter character named Cas, who goes to Thunder Bay, ON to kill a ghost called "Anna Dressed In Blood." I'll leave it up to you to predict whether Cas and Anna end up falling in love, but the setting for this book was the major point of contention for me. I suspect I may be the only person on this planet to have both read this silly YA horror novel and also be aware of what I'll call the "ongoing controversy" of indigenous teen deaths in Thunder Bay. Also, to be fair to the author, the deaths weren't really being reported on to any major extent when the book was published. However, it didn't sit right with me to read a book, in 2020, about a ghost that has killed multiple teens in Thunder Bay, written by an American (Korean-American to be precise), that largely ignores the demographic complexities of the teen population in that city. And yes I know I'm taking this way too seriously but it was a strange reading experience. For more information about Thunder Bay, check out Canadaland's Thunder Bay podcast and Tanya Talaga's book Seven Fallen Feathers.
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier, 252 pagesA novel with a very interesting premise: after death, people go to a huge city where they live with the other dead people until the last person on Earth who personally knew them has also died. At this point, they disappear and no one knows where they go. The city fluctuates in size with a pretty steady rhythm until there is a very deadly, serious pandemic on Earth and people begin dying very rapidly. Meanwhile, a young woman is stuck in Antarctica on a poorly supplied research mission. You may be able to guess where this is going. For the majority of this book, I was really enjoying it, but I did wonder how the author would pull it all together. He didn't quite do it. One thing I know about myself by now is that I find it irritating to read books that profess to know what happens after death, although I don't have a problem with fantasy scenarios about the underworld or whatever. This is complicated and it's an "I know it when I see it" sort of thing that I can't define in words. I actually find the idea of an in-between afterlife populated by the "remembered dead" to be really appealing but I should've known that the ending would leave me a bit cold.
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, 290 pagesThe cover of this book, along with noting that it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, proclaims it to be "a historical thriller." This is a mistake. Although the book is about a (fictional) historical murder in a Scottish crofting community, I found that the thrills were few and far between. The format is where the main interest is, as we get the story of the murder via notes from interviews with crofters, coroner's reports, etc. The biggest portion of the book is the account by Roderick Macrae, the accused (and confessed) murderer, then the trial reporting. I found this approach interesting, but thought it could've been better executed. Awkward word choice there in this case.
Little, Big by John Crowley, 538 pagesBasically everything about this novel indicated that it would be one that I would love: it's a family saga, plus there's a big weird old house, plus fairies that are kind of dangerous and amoral, and on and on. But each of those excellent elements came together to form a book that was less than the sum of its parts. The book is about love at its core but I wasn't interested enough in the couple that the author spends the most time with, so the book felt way way way too long. I will say, the ending is quite good, but I didn't think it was worth the journey.
The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon, 67 pagesI never would've picked up this novella if not for my book club, but it all worked out because it proved to be the kick in the pants that I needed to finally (try to) read Outlander. Being that this was just a Lord John Grey side quest to Canada, things are a bit at loose ends in this story, but it was a reasonably good introduction to Diana Gabaldon's writing. I'd definitely recommend starting at a proper entry point to the series if you don't have book club members available to explain what's going on.
Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle, 476 pagesIt took me approximately five hundred years to read this novel, or I should say about a month and a half, which was way too long and I should've quit. But I was really enjoying Gentle's worldbuilding about the post-technological alien culture on a planet near the centre of the galaxy, and the envoy from Earth sent to the planet to make contact and determine whether there would be any potential trade. The aliens in this book are not that alien but the author finds ways to still make sure that you don't forget that they're different. However, she doesn't do such a great job with bringing her characters to life or telling a compelling story. I am curious to read some more of Gentle's work, though.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, 256 pagesFlora Poste (Robert Poste's child) finds herself with no employment after finishing her schooling, and decides that instead of staying with friends in London, she will appeal to some relatives she has scattered all over Great Britain. The ones at Cold Comfort Farm tell her that she can come to stay with them. Once there, she sets to work reforming the whole place, which upon her arrival is just a dark, filthy, miserable wasteland. The book is making fun of a kind of English novel that I haven't read very often or at all, but basically it's about rural misery and a do-gooder who manages to effect a complete and lasting change with a bit of modern savvy. In case it's not obvious, the book is satirical and wry in tone. I quite liked it, but I think if I were more familiar with what it's making fun of I would've liked it even more.
Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield, 352 pagesI very heartily enjoyed this medieval alternate history type fantasy novel about Margriet de Vos (inspired by Mad Meg), a woman living in Bruges when it's put under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell in 1328. Margriet has a worthless husband and when she finds out that he's been hiding his wealth from her and is going to basically disinherit their only daughter, she goes to claim what's hers. This book takes its setting seriously, and features characters who feel as if they belong in their time, even though they're not necessarily typical: Margriet is prickly and gruff, and she's joined by her own daughter, a trans man struggling for self-determination, and another woman who has "Moorish" blood. I wish Heartfield had gone a bit deeper into the monsters and the weirdness of her premise, and I found the Chatelaine and the description of hell kind of confusing but overall I just admire what she attempted and mostly pulled off in this book.
Little Comfort by Edwin Hill, 343 pagesBased solely on the fact that the main mystery solver in the book is a Harvard librarian who is a sort of PI on the side, I decided to give this a shot. Sadly, there wasn't much librarianship going on. Hester Thursby helps people to find things using her librarian skills, but she's on a leave from work because she's taking care of the little girl her best friend abandoned. She gets hired to find the brother of a woman who wants to sell a piece of lakefront property. Things don't go well. The book goes to some pretty dark places and there's a lot of action, but honestly I was disappointed by the lack of library action and also I was kind of baffled by Hester as a character. Why did Hill describe her as such a short person, for example? (She's under 5' tall.)
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, 239 pagesThe story of the "dog star" Sirius, who is punished for a crime by being sent to earth to live in the body of a dog until he can find a weapon that he supposedly lost. Of course, the dog version of Sirius, as an abandoned puppy, is found by a young girl named Kathleen. Kathleen is Irish, and the Troubles are in full swing, so she's living with English relatives, in England, while her father is in an Irish jail. These relatives don't treat her very well, but she develops a strong bond with her brilliant and faithful dog. I had a feeling this book would bring tears to my eyes and I was right. There's some pretty wild vocabulary (as in challenging, not offensive) at the beginning of the book, but I think this is a really excellent book for kids.
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay, 635 pagesDecided to dip back into Kay's work with one of his most popular novels, which is about a fantasy version of Islamic Spain. I read this in May and I don't think I was in the right headspace for epic emo fantasy because I just really never got into it in the way I would've liked. The book felt like it was trying too hard. I have this horrible feeling that maybe Kay just isn't for me anymore, but I'm going to keep trying some of his newer work.
Salem's Lot by Stephen King, 653 pagesIt's actually been a pretty long time since I enjoyed a Stephen King novel as much as this one. His second published novel is about vampires. It's very straightforwardly about vampires, and they're very traditional ones, who respond to Catholic symbols and garlic. This actually reads as refreshing in an era where creators have been feeling the need to reinvent the traditional monsters (and also felt the need to ridicule reinventions they don't like, hence all the tired jokes about sparkly vampires over the past decade and a half). It's nice to read vampires without some extra gimmick. There is so much downright creepy stuff in Salem's Lot, which is the title of the book and the name of the town, obviously in Maine, where all of the action takes place. Given the fact that this book is so early in King's oeuvre, it's amazing how many of his signature moves are already in play: the author as hero, a beautiful young woman who's honestly too young for him in my opinion as the heroine, bright young kids, Maine, ancient nameless evil, etc.
QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, 352 pagesTranslated by Jamie Lee Searle This is a satirical novel originally published in German, written by a standup comedian author to explore the absurd end point of late stage capitalism plus social media. QualityLand seems to be a not-too-distant future Germany and there are some implications in this book that really need to be considered in light of where it was published. The book is big on ideas but light on story and characterization. If you liked The Social Dilemma you might enjoy this but honestly I haven't actually watched The Social Dilemma so I'm not sure.
Black Powder War by Naomi Novik, 367 pagesThe third book of the Temeraire series, in which the Napoleonic War features dragons who can talk. This series is like candy. Novik has done her research and I love the way she evokes the early nineteenth century in the way her characters behave. Looking forward to picking up the next one.
HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian, 370 pagesO'Brian does it again and I wish I could tell you why I'm not getting through his Aubrey-Maturin books faster because each time I read one I just love it. They're packed with so much adventure and excitement! In less than 400 pages, this book sees Aubrey rescue Maturin, sail to Brazil, around the Cape of Good Hope, finally to India, rescue a fleet of East India Company ships, and then go all the way back, and somehow it doesn't feel rushed?! Somehow O'Brian has a knack for only telling the important parts and I love these books so much.
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett, 283 pagesI first read this one about nine years ago when I travelled to Montreal. It was pretty exciting to read it again as the entry point of the Witches to the Discworld series, right here at entry #3. I needed some of Granny Weatherwax's practicality in my life last year, and I definitely enjoyed the book more than I did the first time. Pratchett would revisit the apprentice witch idea many years later with Tiffany Aching and he did it better then, but this is good nevertheless.
Mort by Terry Pratchett, 316 pagesHonestly I don't know why people say that readers should start with this fourth book of the Discworld series, because I find it confusing and scattered, and this is the second time I've read it! Death (the character) is great and this really begins to flesh out the Discworld in a way that it hasn't been to this point, but I just don't love this book, in which a young man becomes Death's apprentice, all that much. I'm going to have to keep reading to see where I think the entry point should be placed instead, assuming a reader who doesn't care for The Colour of Magic, of course.
The Prestige by Christopher Priest, 360 pagesYes, the movie is based on a book! Two magicians duel in the late 19th century. One of them is a natural magician, the other has better resources. This is an epistolary novel, with the two magicians each providing us with their stories in their own words via journals. There is also a framing story that isn't in the film, about the descendants of the magicians who also have become involved in their feud. The movie is actually better in my opinion, but not all of the members of my book club agreed with that assessment.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, 311 pagesThis is one of those books in the newly popular "dark academia" genre and I'm not immune to hype. Catherine House is a mysterious private university where students are completely and totally isolated for four years. Some of them study "plasm," the others just... work on projects. All of them are lost and alone. Our first-person narrator is smart but struggling and she gradually fits in with the house and the other students. The novel really evokes the feeling of being intensely involved in post-secondary studies and the social life around those studies, but I never really cared much what the sense of dread was all building up to.
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente, 432 pagesThe premise of this book is wildly inventive: what if the solar system were more like the early sf writers thought: small and easily colonized? And what if people had been able to go up and colonize those worlds, and then make movies as well? Valente takes this premise and doesn't do anything very fun with it, though, she makes it a lot sadder than I would have liked. I honestly don't know how I feel about this book.
Fire Sea by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, 401 pagesI didn't think I'd continue with this third book of the Death Gate Cycle, but was too intrigued by the prospect of a dead world where everyone lives underground. It was fun, probably the most fun I've had with this series so far! This is a high fantasy series that needs to be started at the beginning, featuring multiple different worlds, godlike beings, etc.
Hot Nashville Nights by Sheri Whitefeather, 218 pagesWhen I revisited the books I read in 2010, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the book I read that year by Sheri Whitefeather, and I decided to give her another go. This book is about a stylist and country songwriter who were former lovers and who reconnect when she gets hired to style his outfits for a photoshoot. This is a dumb book full of people that behave and speak in ways that no human ever has, but it was just what I needed to help me survive the very unusual holiday season. Maybe in another decade I'll read another one of this author's books.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 229 pagesYet another instance of me thinking I knew a story due to its influence on genre and culture over many years, but then reading the actual book and being very startled. A painter paints a picture of his very young, innocent, good, beautiful friend, Dorian Gray. The painter's other friend, Lord Henry Wotton, hears about Dorian via this painting, and basically sets out to corrupt him. The painting reveals Dorian's corruption, while his appearance remains beautiful. The image of the beautiful young man and decrepit old painting is so powerful that the very major role of Lord Henry is lost in most of the adaptations of this story that I've encountered previously. This is Wilde's only novel, and it's way more fun and way more gay than I expected. I tried to get my hands on an unexpurgated version of the text, but had to settle for what was available on Project Gutenberg.
Original Stories from Real Life by Mary Wollstonecraft, 88 pagesI've been coming to a very slow realization that very old children's literature is one of my absolute favourite genres. It's so fascinating how what is "appropriate for children" has changed over the decades and centuries. I believe this is the only book for children that Mary Wollstonecraft published in her lifetime, though she worked on another one. This one was written before she had any children of her own, and features a character called Mrs. Mason, who is absolutely perfect, lecturing two girls who are not. I wouldn't really call it a good book. It's preachy and the preaching is very dated for the most part, but it was a super fascinating read. In addition, the Project Gutenberg version of the book that I read featured an introduction from a man named E. V. Lucas, who made it evident that he really didn't like the book that much, which I found amusing. And lastly, you should know that the one and only William Blake illustrated this book.
Graphic ThingiesI've cut way back on graphic novels and comics but Gene Luen Yang released a new book so of course I had to read that, and I threw in some others on top for fun. Going forward, it's not as if I'm going to quit reading things from this medium, but I'm happy with keeping it to a minimum/not forcing the issue.
Locke and Key: Small World by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, 72 pagesA one-off comic about the Locke family in Keyhouse prior to the generations that are depicted in the main series. This is a great little comic with amazing art by Rodriguez as usual, and the 72 pages includes further material from Hill about how he writes the comic, which was pretty interesting. This definitely made me want to revisit the main series again!
Wytches, Volume 1 by Scott Snyder and Jock, 192 pagesThis is a horror comic about Wytches, which are sort of like witches except that they're monsters instead of women. I believe volume 1 ended up being the only volume, which is unfortunate because I think this series could've gone to some very interesting places. There were a few things that I really liked about this, but overall I found the muddled art really off-putting. The best part of the book were the notes from Scott Snyder in prose (surprise surprise) that would've been included with each individual issue, about how he came up with the idea and his own fears and struggles.
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, 446 pagesI specifically called out Yang above because he's become an auto-read author for me (if not an auto-buy—comics are so expensive). This book is a really interesting combination of sports reporting and memoir. It's huge, so you really go on a journey with Yang and the basketball team from the high school where he teaches. Yang doesn't shy away from racial and sexism issues in sport, but he's a cautious and respectful storyteller. I really really appreciate his clear and cartoonish art style in comparison with my struggles reading the above-noted Wytches. I actually teared up at multiple moments reading this book.
Non-FictionI read a ton of just really excellent non-fiction this past year. Several of the books were listened to thanks to the audiobook offerings from my library, but the others were good old-fashioned paper. As much as I still love reading fiction, I've really enjoyed my time with non-fiction books over the years. Truth is often stranger than fiction, after all, plus I just feel like learning new things about the world helps me to understand all the madness a little bit better.
On Strike edited by Irving Abella, 196 pagesSubtitle: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada 1919-1949
I try to read more recent non-fiction because older works can tend to have, shall we say, "problematic" biases. This is absolutely not to say that all old books are trash, just that modern writers are a lot more cognizant of certain biases they or the historical record itself may have. All this to say that this is actually a collection of six essays, each written by a different author, and each about a particular strike, and it was published in the 1970s, and it was awesome. Many people will or should be familiar with the Winnipeg General Strike (1919), but this also includes strikes that took place in Estevan, SK (1931), Stratford, ON (1933), Oshawa, ON (1937), Windsor, ON (1945) and Asbestos, QC (1949). Asbestos in particular had an extremely violent strike. Anyway, I read this because I'm dismayed and concerned about the ongoing erosion of the labour movement, and I wanted to read more about labour in Canada. What I got from this book is an impression of what each of these strikes had in common, that is the relative vulnerability of the workers, even when working together, and the frequent alignment of government, business, and law enforcement against workers.
The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen, 292 pagesSubtitle: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
First of all, I should say that I was pretty depressed at the end of this book. It's about the mass extinctions in Earth's past, not just the dinosaurs, but also the so-called "Great Dying" of the End-Permian, and much less well-understood extinctions that happened long before that. It also talks about the potential future mass extinctions. Brannen's tone in the book is slightly sarcastic but also respects the expertise of the scientists in the field, and I thought it was a fresh style for non-fiction. He also does a good job of explaining the physics and chemistry basis for statements about climate conditions, volcanic activity, etc. that existed many millions of years ago.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte, 10 hr 7 minSubtitle: A New History of a Lost World
The biggest problem I had with this book, I think, is that I listened to it beginning in mid-March and ending in early April, when the coronavirus pandemic felt most cataclysmic. While I didn't think at the time (and still don't) that the ongoing pandemic is anywhere near the level of event comparable to the dinosaur extinction, I was extremely distracted by current events, and this book, which is obviously about dinosaurs, just didn't manage to hold my attention or distract me very well. Brusatte is clearly passionate about this topic and I would encourage you to check this out for yourself if you are too.
Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox, 323 pagesLynne Cox is most famous for swimming across the Bering Strait between an island controlled by the US and an island controlled by the USSR in 1987. This is her memoir of her increasingly extreme open water swimming feats, beginning with the Catalina Channel swim as a young teen, and ending with a swim in Antarctic ocean waters in the early '00s. While I thoroughly enjoyed Cox's tales of open water swimming, she really doesn't reveal a lot of herself in this memoir. She talks about being a scientific subject to study her ability to withstand cold water, but she doesn't talk much about how she feels about her body, which is very different from the body type most people associate with athletes at her level. Late in the book we learn she has a beloved dog who is never mentioned before or after that, and she mentions friends, but she never writes much about the social, relationship, and professional sacrifices or difficulties she faces because of her swimming. She mentions attending university but doesn't bother to say what degree she obtains. It's clear that swimming is the number one thing in her life, but I would've liked to learn more about how centering such a strange, solitary activity has impacted her. (The book also gave me a few nightmares about being a lone swimmer in millions of miles of open ocean, so look out for that too!)
Engines of Change by Paul Ingrassia, 12 hr 30 minSubtitle: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars
A very amusing overview of cars and other personal vehicles that have both shaped and been shaped by American culture, beginning with the Ford Model T and ending with the Toyota Prius and hitting a lot of classics in between. I honestly loved this book and there's a good chance you will too if your dad ever took you to a car show. In fact I was talking to my dad about this book and he was pretty much able to guess what the majority of the vehicles would be and why they were included, so if you're already into cars it might actually not be for you.
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, 8 hr 30 minI chose to listen to this book about the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London in January of 2020, before I knew that the year would bring its own public health crisis on a global scale. It's a really excellent description of how important modern sanitation systems are. Prior to reading this book, I'd had a tendency to just think of cholera as one among the mysterious list of diseases that could kill a member of your party on the Oregon Trail, but now I have a much better understanding. This could get a bit heavy at times for listening on the way to and from work, but it was really good and I highly recommend it if you can handle a book about disease in the middle of a pandemic.
A Death in the Rainforest by Don Kulick, 275 pagesSubtitle: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea
The best non-fiction book I read last year, and one of the best books I read last year, period. Kulick is an anthropologist who visited the village of Gapun in remote Papua New Guinea to learn about the unique language, Tayap, spoken by the villagers there. He's published a dictionary and grammar of this language, as well as an academic book on the subject, but this is his personal account of his time with the people of Gapun. This book was extremely readable, personal, and forced me to think really hard about ongoing forces of colonialism in the world, loss of indigenous languages where I live, and my privilege. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into a worldview so different from my own, that exists right now in the world.
Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew, 9 hr 26 minCaptain Janeway is an icon and Kate Mulgrew, the actress who played her, has some interesting things to say. I originally bought this book for my friend who is a fellow Star Trek fan and she lent it to me to read when she was done. I ended up not picking up the book for quite a while, so I was happy when I noticed that the library had it available as an audiobook, read by the author. Mulgrew's performance of the audiobook is great. I did get a bit bored by all the bits that were about her love affairs, but there's also more compelling stuff in it, such as her unplanned pregnancy (that eventually leads to a search for the daughter she gave up for adoption) and the death of one of her sisters at a young age.
The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O'Meara, 9 hr 19 minSubtitle: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick
Ugh, probably the biggest disappointment of the year. To begin, the audiobook was narrated by the author and I didn't get along with her voice. This is definitely a Me Problem. Much more importantly, I didn't get along with her approach to this book (or perhaps just the marketing of the book). Theoretically, this is a biography about Milicent Patrick, the woman who designed the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In fact, it's at least half a memoir about Mallory O'Meara deciding to write about Milicent, moving to LA, researching Milicent, and also her experience as a young female producer in the film industry in general, and her love of the horror genre. While none of those things are objectionable, they're not what I signed up for. When I'm reading a biography, what I want is a biography, not the author's account of their research process. Early on, O'Meara laments that a male acquaintance doesn't support her book proposal and tells her that he thinks she doesn't have enough material. Unfortunately I have to agree.
I Must Say by Martin Short, 7 hr 41 minSubtitle: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend
Short is yet another Canadian in Hollywood whose work I'm probably a lot less familiar with than I should be. It's partly just that I missed his heyday on SCTV. I'm not even sure why I decided to listen to his memoir, besides the fact that I was coming off of Kate Mulgrew's memoir and just wanted to hear from another celebrity or something. In any case, Short reads the audiobook himself and does all the voices. He acknowledges that he worked hard but also that he's very blessed, and it was really interesting to read about how he's come through his life's various tragedies in one piece. If you're a fan of his, this memoir definitely won't disappoint.
Weird Life by David Toomey, 221 pagesSubtitle: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own
Recommended for anyone who, like me, has always wondered why everyone is so keen on finding liquid water on a planet's surface when we live in an infinite universe of infinite possibilities. This book gets into the science of why (we're pretty sure that) life may be limited to certain building blocks and environments. It also discusses some more eccentric possibilities for extraterrestrial life from everything from science fiction to Carl Sagan. The end of the book gets into cosmology and the multiverse, which always makes my eyes glaze over, but overall I enjoyed it.
Flotsam and JetsamI never should have said I read an "annual Shakespeare play," because as soon as I mentioned it, I stopped doing it. I do still have a play to mention from last year, though, and several short story collections! Maybe the Bard and I will connect again in 2021.
The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, 237 pagesI made a mistake in my book shopping that I would've avoided if I'd been paying attention. I wanted to reread "The Little Mermaid" and "The Snow Queen," two works of Andersen's that I've absolutely adored in the past. Given my known affection for the stories, I decided to buy a collection of Andersen's stories for my bookshelf. Unfortunately, the collection I chose to buy was more of an objet d'art than a book, to the point that I couldn't even determine which translation of the stories was used. I read it, but I didn't enjoy it much—a lot of the beauty and angst I remembered from my initial reading was missing—and was very distraught. Maybe I'll try again in a few years.
Echoes edited by Ellen Datlow, 795 pagesThis is a big giant collection of ghost stories that I picked up to read for Halloween. A good portion of the stories left me fairly indifferent, but there were some good ones that genuinely scared me and have convinced me to move their authors' other work up higher on my list. The standout was Gemma Files' "The Puppet Motel" in which a woman is earning whatever money she can by housekeeping at a friend's AirBNB, a place that she increasingly feels is just wrong.
The 35th Annual Year's Best SF edited by Gardner Dozois, 669 pagesThese Year's Best collections edited by Dozois are legendary (at least to me). I have no idea how the man read as much as he did, but it probably helped that he edited multiple magazines and anthologies. Anyway, after his death in 2018 I decided that I'd pick up the last Year's Best collection he edited as my own in memoriam for a man who contributed a lot to my favourite genre. I finally read the book last year. As it says, it's a collection of the best sf stories from a particular year, in this case, 2017. Like all collections, it was uneven, with a few stories I loved, a few that lasted too long, and some that I would've just preferred to skip entirely. (As a result of this and the Echoes collection, I've been thinking a lot about how to approach short story collections in the future. Maybe in next year's summary, I'll have some sort of rubric to share.)
Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, 75 pagesIn grade twelve I studied Ibsen's A Doll's House, which is a play in which a woman abandons her husband and children to find herself. I then proceeded to not think about Ibsen for approximately a decade and a half, until I heard the In Our Time podcast episode about him a few years ago. In Our Time does an amazing job of making everything sound interesting, so I decided to try more Ibsen, specifically this play about, broadly, unknown parentage. I read R. Farquharson Sharp's translation of the play available on Project Gutenberg (I didn't bother to check what the best translation would be). I honestly didn't get a ton out of it thanks to not knowing anything about drama whatsoever, but there were a few twists I didn't expect. The thing about Ibsen is that his subject matter feels a bit trashy but I think he's actually tapping in to patterns of abuse and behaviour that were prevalent but not spoken of during his time. So that's cool!
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, 368 pagesThis collection of four novellas really is full dark, with all four being full of bad people and bleak endings. The strongest of the four (but also the hardest to read) is Big Driver, in which a woman gets revenge after a brutal sexual assault. I'm not really that interested in King's take on this topic but the fact that he does a reasonably good job with it illustrates his continued adeptness with characters and stories. Honestly I didn't find the collection to be that strong.
UnfinishedNow that I've finished reading through The List, I feel like I've finally exorcised the demon of feeling as if I need to finish every single book I read. It's so rare that I start reading a book, wonder whether it'll get better, and then randomly it does. Instead of finishing books that I'm not sure about, I'd rather read more books that I enjoy all the way through. I still need to develop my "quit reading" muscle but I think I'm getting there gradually. I feel like I gave all of these books a good college try, and I don't regret quitting any of them.
On Monsters by Stephen T. Asma, after 103 pagesThis is a non-fiction book that I thought would be about monsters and their portrayal in art and culture through the centuries. It's sort of that, but it's less about the actual monsters than it is about human psychology related to things that are monstrous. On its face, that's not a bad thing. Unfortunately, either I just wasn't in the mood for psychology or the author didn't do a good job pulling me in, because I kept asking myself whether I should quit reading the book. After the author made a claim that he didn't back up well enough in the text about men universally being protectors from monsters, I decided I'd had enough.
Doll Bones by Holly Black, after 104 pagesA middle grade book about three children who play together, inventing stories featuring their doll collections. That is, until an antique doll that plays the role of Queen in their games comes to life and tells one of the children that she is made of a little girl's bones and they need to be laid to rest. I have really enjoyed the other books I've read by Holly Black in the past, but this one was just off. Her usual adeptness with portraying teen angst is somewhat misplaced for the younger audience, and I didn't care for the love triangle that was developing between the three kids. I read the first half of this book in one day, then realized that the only reason I was reading it so fast was because I wanted to get it over with and read something else. So instead I just stopped reading it entirely and read something else.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, after 90 pagesWell this is awkward, but this enormous blockbuster of a novel about a WWII English combat nurse who goes back in time and meets a Scottish dreamboat just did not pull me in. I'd planned to read and review this as a romance novel, but I was just too bored after the first 90 pages to continue for another 500 or so.
Bible and Sword by Barbara W. Tuchman, after 5 hours and 21 minutesIf I'm being honest this was unintentional, but nevertheless I don't plan to finish reading this book. When I attempted to renew the library audiobook I was listening to, I found out that it was no longer available from the library. This is a non-fiction book about the relationship between England and the Holy Land throughout history (it's subtitled "England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour"). I honestly wasn't paying enough attention to the book but I made it up to the Crusader period.
Number of books read: 65 (plus four unfinished)
Total pages in 2020: 20,195
Total pages per day: 55 (53 excluding graphic thingies)