The Books of 2020

For the first time, I decided to sign up for the Goodreads Challenge.

This is a big thing for me. I don’t like committing to a ‘challenge’ because then it begins to feel like a chore, and honestly, I didn’t need the online book-guilt if I didn’t complete the challenge and have to live with the ‘I thought you were an author, don’t authors like to read?’ bit from my peers. But, fortune favors the bold, so I took on ten books and then was promptly thrust into a pandemic where I became a full-time freelancer.

It was a bit of fate that I got involved in a couple of book clubs. I’d always wanted to be in one, but it always felt like a far-off activity that sounds fun but really isn’t. The ones I have been involved in were full of people who didn’t read the book and generally wanted to drink wine and gossip (which, nothing against that, but hey I spend time reading a book-club book I wasn’t fond of to begin with and which wasn’t in the genre I enjoy, so I want to talk about the book, damnit). Also and frankly, I wasn’t really interested in most book club books. Instead of reading, say, Dune, we were picking up the latest Oprah sensation. Blerg. But this time, I decided to give it a chance. I was going insane being inside my house and talking to myself about books.

And, to my surprise, it has been enjoyable. So while I haven’t read much SFF so far in 2020 for pleasure, I have read a lot. I’m not going to review many of them in detail…because…well…no one wants to hear my take on a bunch of books that I didn’t really care for, but I have read a bunch of stellar poetry. Here’s a list that graced my eyes this past year:

tenderminded, non-compliant by Catheryn Tarazi

A self-published collection of poems that spoke to my aging millennial soul. There’s a lot that resonated with me inside these poems, mainly dealing with purpose, disappointment, and foraging for hope when there feels like there might not be any. There’s a lot of fighting for personality, about being crushed under how life just didn’t work out the way you’d hoped, and forgiveness towards your childhood dreams for not coming true. It’s a beautiful collection.

A four year old once told me, with all the sincerity she could muster, that

her heart hurts

and i almost said out loud: holy shit is this where it starts?

is this how it all happens? Feelings are feelings, no matter how small

the person who feels

them, so it must be true that she could look at me describe the side effects

of my solitude, the

pitch perfect tone of my exhales hitting empty walls, bouncing back towards

me

and whispering in the night, “You need to get your shit together.”

Boy with Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis

I stumbled on this one after discovering a snippet of one of their poems, Southern Gothic, which simply gave me the chills:

About the dead having available to them

all breeds of knowledge,

some pure, others wicked, especially what is

future, and the history that remains

And I usually follow those chills to their inevitable conclusion. I’m not a big poetry fan, rarely do I get the same overwhelming surge of emotionality that I receive from fiction, but to quote Emily Dickinson:

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

This book took a couple of reads from me. I had to read a poem, let it simmer, and then come back and read it again. But it was completely worth it.

Ghost Stories by Taylor Lear

Oh god…if I could write a love story to this author I would. I absolutely adore every single piece in this book. It’s about billed as “a collection of love stories, told in poems, from one would-be lover to another.” I could wax and wane about the beauty of The Lighthouse Keeper for eons (and did so to my husband, who didn’t get the same response from it). It’s full of that breathless waiting—begging to express what lingers in the heart, the agony of if or when it is expressed that it’s not enough, the terror of rejection. Mythology oozes from the tales, pulling on ancient stories to explain little everyday emotions clogged in the throat.

I am building a lighthouse here, upon this rock

this spiny sea, this spine-flung end of the world, this edge

of space where there is only white vinyl paint and tallow-fat

to burn for shipcalling. Please don’t come, do not come asking

for me to love you in a picket-fenced way, do not hope for

well-tended roses in my mouth when you will only find

alewives and eelgrass instead

So good. Go find it.

Here’s the rest of my Goodreads list:

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    • Meh.
  • Deadmen Walking by Sherrilyn Kenyon
    • More pirates please! And more plot. But what a cool cast of characters.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
    • I get the Kell/Holland vibes people have told me about. Pretty good, I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t find it as groundbreaking as people had told me it was. But I’m a picky bitch, so.
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
    • Found it to be white bread at first, and then suddenly I was crying at the end, so that means it was pretty darn good, right?
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
    • Blerg. Some interview with the author said that when she writes, its like building a house and she’s wallpapering the inside of a room while the rest of the house is still a wooden structure…which accurately describes this novel for me.
  • Bitterrroot by Susan Devan Harness
    • I thought I’d hate this book. It blew my mind. This memoir was so touching and beautiful and while I’m not Native or an adopted child, some of her experiences resonated so strongly to me and aligned with a couple of interactions that I have had personally. It’s a Montana book, which might be why I connected with it so much, but damn, that sensation of detachment and loss in a state so big and flat just got me.
  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
    • Good. Solid. Dreamlike. I couldn’t get my footing in the narrative sometimes and the whole thing felt like a smear and wash of color and images, but I think that’s the point of the story that is so wrapped up in immigration and fleeing your home and PTSD and losing everything.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
    • I thought there would be more lesbians. Can we get more lesbians, please?
  • The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan
    • Psychiatry is a trap. Medicine is a trap. But you should still be hopeful while you’re drugged out of oblivion and misdiagnosed and everything that has made a splash is because of ego.

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