My 2020 in Books

Happy New Year! As usual, I kept a log of books I read this year; despite being home for much of the year and having more down time, I don’t think I read more books than in previous years, and I know I read less non-fiction. Finally finishing Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (the main seven volumes, excluding the connected works) was my major reading achievement. Other than those mostly long books, the other novels I read this year were fairly short, particularly in February, where I knocked out several short novels in rapid succession. I also read several graphic novels or comics collections, which also don’t take as much time to read. I finished the year still in the middle of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, another long novel. Considering its length and florid language, it reads quickly, but not quickly enough for me to finish it by the end of the year.

January

Wizard and Glass, Stephen King

The Best of Henry Kuttner, for Vintage Sci Fi Month

Interstellar Pig, William Sleator

I Need a New Butt!, Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird

When I was in fifth grade, I was placed in an accelerated English class where we were expected to work at our own pace. One of the requirements was to complete a book report each week, choosing books from a cart in the classroom. Once we discovered that the cart held books of all grade levels, it didn’t take us long to game the system by writing reviews of picture books for kindergarten and preschool students. That worked for a lot longer than it should have, and when the teacher realized what we were doing she blew up and announced she was tightening the reins, an outburst that led to me skimming most of Little Women in about a week to make up for it. In retrospect, that’s not really ideal from a pedagogical perspective either, but I definitely learned a lesson about padding my reading lists. That being said, I Need a New Butt! is about a little boy who wants to replace his butt, because you see, his old one has a crack in it. (This was actually a gift for my pastor’s son, but obviously I had to read it first, to find out how it all came out in the end, geddit?)

Criswell Predicts From Now to the Year 2000!, Criswell

Hoping that this will finally explain where things got off-track.

February

The Physiognomy, Jeffrey Ford

Norstrilia, Cordwainer Smith

Modesty Blaise, Peter O’Donnell

Golgotha Falls, Frank De Felitta

True Grit, Charles Portis

Old Yeller, Fred Gipson

March

GYO: The Death-Stench Creeps, Junji Ito

The Complete Curvy, Sylvan Migdal

Northanger Abbey and Other Works, Jane Austen (includes Lady Susan and the unfinished The Watsons and Sanditon)

Ultra Kaiju Humanization Project Vols. 1 and 2, Shun Kazakami

April

Hungry for You: Endo Yasuko Stalks the Night Vols. 1 and 2, Flowerchild

Of the several manga volumes I read this year, this was the one I enjoyed the most, a teen supernatural soap that combines elements of the vampire classic Carmilla with Japanese high school tropes. Also amusing is the American vampire hunter Ashley, who arrives in an attack helicopter with a Texas-sized arsenal but ends up staying in Japan, enrolling in Yasuko’s school, and learning Japanese by watching TV.

Wolves of the Calla, Stephen King

May

Dial H: The Deluxe Edition, China Miéville, Mateus Santolouco, Alberto Ponticelli, et al

Megaton Man Vol. 1, Don Simpson et al

For a superhero spoof, there sure is a lot about Doonesbury in this.

Song of Susannah, Stephen King

June

The Case of the Missing Men: A Hobtown Mystery Story #1, Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes

The Stench of Honolulu, Jack Handey

Bible Adventures, Gabe Durham

The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction, Michael Hoskin

July

The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran, Masih Alinejad (with Kambiz Foroohar)

I also read most of Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out, ed. Ibn Warraq; these were background research for a short story I was working on and which I’m now shopping around.

Chew Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice, John Layman and Rob Guillory

Rob Guillory is the writer and artist of Farmhand, an ongoing comic book series combining body horror, environmentalism, and reckoning with America’s deep-rooted (heh) racism in the vein (heh heh) of Jordan Peele’s work or Lovecraft Country. After reading Farmhand I decided to explore Chew, the earlier series for which Guillory provided the art; I enjoyed the first collected volume, and I can see the continuity (Chew also has its share of gut-churning imagery, executed with a sense of wry humor), but haven’t gotten around to following up with the rest of it. (Come to think of it, Hungry For You and Chew could switch titles with each other.)

August

Bring the Jubilee, Ward Moore (reread)

One of the original alternate history novels (what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War and reduced the North to an economically devastated backwater?), this is the only book on this year’s list that I had read before (about twenty years ago, I guess). I had hoped to write something about it, but this was one of those experiences where the book as I reread it was quite different than what I remembered, and even some of the specific details I thought I remembered weren’t the same. Is it the Mandela Effect? Nah, in all likelihood it’s just the faulty memories of middle age going on senility, combined with the stresses of pandemic isolation. My main takeaway this time was a vivid portrait of a nation in decline, defeated and backward. (I wonder what made me think of that?) It was depressing, and I didn’t end up writing about it.

September

Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General Vols. 1 and 2, Jin

Okay, this manga was pretty fun too, in the vein of superhero parodies and reinventions like The Tick or My Hero Academia (but with fewer Doonesbury references than Megaton Man).

The Dark Tower, Stephen King

After concluding this epic series (minus the auxiliary works, as I mentioned) and looking back, overall I enjoyed it. It’s fascinating to see King’s plotting by the seat of his pants play out over a long narrative (although the last three volumes, written after a hiatus and following the incident in which King was struck and nearly killed by a van, show a much clearer planned endgame; Wolves of the Calla in particular feels the most like a standalone novel with a beginning, middle, and end). Years ago, when I read The Stand, I had the sense that it was King’s Great American Novel; I’m hardly the first to observe that The Dark Tower is his The Lord of the Rings.

October

Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Robert A. Heinlein

I always had a little trouble getting into Heinlein—aside from his ideas, his prose just didn’t grab me and didn’t make me want to keep reading—but I hadn’t read any of his juvenile adventures, of which this is one. I get the appeal now: the quasi-libertarian ideas are still there (and what is it with young-adult protagonists always having eccentric parents?), but the story zips along and the science is hard where it needs to ground the story and pliable when we need to zoom to the other side of the galaxy.

The House on the Borderland and Other Mysterious Places, William Hope Hodgson (Volume 2 of The Collected Fiction of W. H. H.)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume IV: The Tempest, Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, et al

The end of another epic project (barring possible of one-off stories, but the ending indicates pretty clearly that Moore is closing the book on this).

November

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

The Odds Against Me: An Autobiography, John Scarne

The Princess Bride, “S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the ‘Good Parts’ Version Abridged by William Goldman” (wink, wink)

December

Wonder Woman Archives Volumes 4 and 5, William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, and Joye Murchison

Finally, although it doesn’t exactly count as a reading project, toward the end of the year I began learning Esperanto, the first serious study of a foreign language I’ve undertaken since high school. So who knows, perhaps next year this list will include one or more books in Esperanto. Feliĉan Novjaron!

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