What a year that was, huh? I did not think I’d be hunkered down under stay-at-home orders for pretty much all of 2020. I’ve struggled with accepting this fucked up “new normal” and I’ve grappled a lot of disappointments this year. Lockdown does provide the ideal conditions for doing a shit ton of reading though, so there’s that. But it also means seeing no friends and family in person ever, all socializing relegated to Zoom, and full blown germ paranoia insanity when I do tentatively venture out of my dwelling for “essentials” like Doritos and root beer.
I didn’t mind the first few months. It felt like the gently mandated reset we all needed. I was expanding by the day, my belly swelling with hormones and the aforementioned root beer, and it gave me lots of free quiet time to myself. I savoured that time, I truly did. We did as much baby preparation as we could and I spent lots of time on the couch absorbed in books. Any time feelings of anxiety and impending doom started to surface I just crammed them back down, deep inside my psyche where they couldn’t be noticed, and it was pretty nice. It was alright. It was fine. Fine fine fine.
This year’s reading list would easily be twice as long had I not produced a new human life in May. The first few months of Spring and Summer were a major adjustment. That really cut into my reading. But by the end of Summer I was back in the groove, and by Fall I was unstoppable. We figured out how to get the baby napping regularly and I found little pockets of spare time throughout the day for reading again. And when he started sleeping in his own room, I got reading before bed in my own room back!
In total I managed to read 38 books this year. I’m proud of that output, I think it’s a solid number. Not nearly as high as the number of diapers we’ve gone through, but respectable nonetheless. And it’s a solid list.
Here’s the official visual for anyone who would like to see the actual list of books I read in 2020:
And here’s the official list for those of you whose Operating Systems no longer support cursive writing:
- Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chobosky (January 5th)
- Full Throttle by Joe Hill (January 12th)
- The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (January 18th)
- Elevation by Stephen King (January 19th)
- Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom (January 21st)
- I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (January 26th)
- Gwendy’s Magic Feather by Richard Chizmar (January 29th)
- The Dirty Book Club by Lisi Harrison (February 7th)
- My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (February 23rd)
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (March 6th)
- Swan Song by Robert McCammon (April 11th)
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (June 27th)
- Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (July 8th)
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (July 13th)
- Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (July 19th)
- The One by John Marrs (July 27th)
- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King (July 30th)
- Duel by Richard Matheson (August 18th)
- Acid for the Children by Flea (August 20th)
- The Nice Guys by Charles Ardai (August 27th)
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (September 7th)
- Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth (September 10th)
- The Institute by Stephen King (September 27th)
- The Cider House Rules by John Irving (October 7th)
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (October 15th)
- The Dark Half by Stephen King (October 22nd)
- Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (October 27th)
- Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman (October 27th)
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (October 30th)
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (November 7th)
- Lisey’s Story by Stephen King (November 17th)
- The Green Mile by Stephen King (November 22nd)
- Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick (November 27th)
- The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (November 29th)
- You by Caroline Kepnes (December 2nd)
- Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes (December 6th)
- The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl (December 14th)
- The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish (December 15th)
Quite a varied list, but you can see some patterns too. I generally stick to fiction, but there were two autobiographies, by Flea and Tiffany Haddish. I’d say Flea’s was the better of the two, by far. Haddish was entertaining and I really felt for her at times, but Flea’s writing was much more literary and compelling. Although not as explicitly autobiographical as the Flea and Tiffany Haddish books, Molly’s Game and Black Klansman were highly enjoyable real-life retellings of an interesting period of their lives from Molly Bloom and Ron Stallworth. It’s not all supernatural, murderous dystopias for me, I do read real things too. Sometimes.
You know I tackled a bunch of S.K.’s stuff this year too, I always do! Lisey’s Story was absolutely abysmal. I don’t know how that even got published. It could have been a great novel, if not for all the nonsensical supernatural elements that just weren’t necessary. I bought into the story of a famous writer’s widow being terrorized by a psychotic fan, I wanted more of that and less of the ridiculous imaginary world and so so so annoying made up “inner marital language” the couple shared. I get it, all couples do develop their own shorthand over time, but the reader didn’t need to be beat over the head with it on every single page. It got to the point where I was literally rolling my eyes every single time I had to read the word “smucking”. Just use the word FUCKING loud and proud like normal people do! I guess maybe he wanted to be certain it wasn’t just Misery again but dressed up in different clothes? The Institute, The Green Mile, The Dark Half, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon were wonderful though. I loved every minute of those stories. If you’re not on a quest to read all of King’s works, then save yourself the headache and skip Lisey’s Story.
You’ll also notice I took on some heftier books this year. Imaginary Friend, Swan Song, The Goldfinch, and The Institute all fight in the heavyweight division. I started reading Swan Song at the beginning of lockdown. It’s a 1000+ page epic about a handful of plucky characters (and some despicable villains too!) figuring out how to restart life after a nuclear attack decimates America. You know, very fitting lockdown reading content.
And of course Neil Gaiman makes two appearances as well. I just admire his mind and his creativity so much! I know that if I pick up a book with his name on the cover I will not be disappointed. It’s impossible for him to let me down. I read Fortunately, The Milk and The Graveyard Book because I bought them for Woody. I know it’ll be a long time before he’s able to read chapter books, but I look forward to the days when I can introduce him to one of my all-time favourite authors and maybe read these ones to him, if he’s into it.
There was lots of great short fiction too. You know I love Joe Hill and Richard Matheson, they’re always a good time. But the book that really wowed me this year was The Best of Roald Dahl. I don’t think there’s anyone else on this whole entire planet, past or present, who can craft a short story as masterfully as him. Every single story in that book impressed me. So many delightful surprises, dark unexpected twists, and uncanny happenstances converge in these stories.
Looking back over this list, I’ll say it again, it’s solid. But out of all the great reads I had this year, these ones were the absolute best of the best (in no specific ranked order):
- The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
I hope I don’t oversell this book, but if you love good, well-crafted stories and sharp, witty writing you have to read it. If you aspire to be a writer, or if you’re already a writer and you want to up your game, read this book. You cannot go wrong. We all know and love Dahl for his whimsical children’s fictions like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, etc. Even if you don’t think it’s possible to love him more than you already do, you will. Your appreciation for his talent will deepen significantly when you read his short stories.
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I love stories that take me back to the ’90’s. I love stories that have characters facing coming-of-age dilemmas. I love stories that are rife with interpersonal drama and tension. I enjoyed getting lost in 1997 again with Pearl and Moody and Mia and Izzy. And I had just gotten Amazon Prime and wanted to do my due diligence, reading the book before watching the miniseries. I like knowing the source material first.
- Swan Song by Robert McCammon
This book is a lot like The Stand by Stephen King, so if you liked that book, then you’ll probably like this one too. Disaster annihilates pretty much all of the population and the handful of remaining survivors try to navigate their new post-nuclear strike worlds. Heroes and villains emerge, good clashes with evil, all that great stuff. Now is the time to pick up a giant book and immerse yourself in an epic tale. You’ve got nowhere else to go and no one to see, take a chance on a good long story.
- The Institute by Stephen King
Just a really great Stephen King story where he does what he does best. I’ve read a lot of King, a lot. Not all of it yet, but I’m getting there. I find that modern era King books have been some of his best work. 11/22/63, Under The Dome, The Outsider, Sleeping Beauties, and the Bill Hodges Trilogy are all excellent, in my humble opinion. These stories are more action/adventure and exciting thrillers than they are outright horror stories. And I like that a lot about his writing lately, King gives good action. If you’re in agreement, then you’ll like The Institute too.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I started reading this book before my son was born, but I didn’t get that far into it, maybe 100 pages or so. I didn’t have any time or energy for reading in the very early weeks of Woody’s infancy, but I eventually circled back to it. And oh look at this, it’s a story about a boy whose mom dies when he’s thirteen and his entire life is thrown into complete chaos. Jesus Christ! I felt like an exposed nerve the whole time I was reading it. I’d just had a baby boy and the dynamic duo themselves, postpartum depression and pandemic anxiety, came out in full force, wreaking total havoc on my soul. This book was a gut punch to me, but in such an incredible way. It was serendipity that this would be the first book I finished as a new mother. Having a baby is paradigm shifting in its own right, I know that. But reading this book at this exact time in my life in these exact circumstances made me realize how incredibly important it is for me to raise a good and decent man. I had some profound moments with it. I’m so glad I read this frigging book when I did.
- Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Mixing and melding the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres with the openly racist 1950’s America? How’s that going to work? Can it be done? Oh it can be done, alright. The cunning way all of the individual character’s stories are woven together at the end, marvellous! It’s brilliant. I devoured it, couldn’t get enough. I can’t wait to watch the show based on this book when I finally decide to spring for a streaming service with HBO content.
- Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman
Did you grow up with a dad who always had a ridiculous response for everything you asked? Who liked to embellish and make up ludicrous stories about the most mundane things? Who wouldn’t ever admit that Santa Claus is make believe? Even after you and your sisters caught him red-handed hauling in gifts from the garage one night? And even now, when you’re in your 30’s and he still insists that he was just picking those gifts up from his annual Parent-Santa conference? Seriously, he still will not give up that ghost! Then this book will remind you of him, and of all the fantastical far-fetched things he told you when you were growing up. Keep that magic alive, read it to your kids, you’ll have so much fun together.
I’m so grateful that even though I’ve gone nowhere and seen nobody, this year wasn’t a complete and total waste. I have all this reading to show for my lockdown life. (And my beautiful son too, of course!) I went on a lot of incredible journeys, and I saw the world in so many wonderful iterations. I escaped lockdown every time I opened a book. I fucking love reading, man. And I’m so glad that it’s one thing this pandemic hasn’t been able to take from me.