Friday, January 01, 2021

2020 In the Rear-View

For most of the Years of this Blog, I had several standard posts on the first of the year -- a listing of my favorite books of the prior year, a meme-ish thing where I linked to the first and last sentences of each month, and occasionally other things (launching or ending a Book-A-Day run, the weekly Reviewing the Mail post when it was a Monday). That hit a peak for the Book-A-Day run of 2018, but last year's beginning saw just one white-flag-waving post to say that I wouldn't post a list of favorites, since I read too few books to feel comfortable doing that.

This year was slightly better, but (as I type this on December 28th) it still looks like I'll end the year having read about 75 books, which is about half of what I thought of as my latter-day nadir. In the '90s and Aughts, I usually read 300+ books a year, topping out at 419 in '93. That dipped into the 140-180 range mostly for the last decade, with bumps for the Book-A-Day years of 2014 (383) and 2018 (433).

So I'm still not comfortable saying, "I read six dozen books, and here are the one dozen best ones!" And I will not be doing that here.

But I also neglected to do my monthly lists of books read this year, for all of the same ennui and way-too-much-work and did-you-notice-it-was-2020? reasons. So instead I will list everything I read last year, linking to their posts, and maybe include a sentence or two about the ones that would be Favorite Candidates in a better year.

So my favorite books of the year are contained in the list below, and it may even be clear to the reader which they were. But you're probably better off checking out someone who read more books (particularly new books) during 2020 if you're looking for serious recommendations.

(You may also note that I began the year rather, um, slowly. And it may be quite obvious what days I was on vacation this year. Reading during working days was a thing that basically didn't happen in 2020.)

Adam Hart-Davis, Eurekaargh! (2/6)

Gideon Haigh, The Uncyclopedia (4/20)

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (5/3)

Charles Burns, Free Shit (5/4)

Doug Gray, The Eye of Mongambo, Book One (5/5)

John Allison, Christine Larsen, & Sarah Stern, By Night, Vol. 1 (5/6)

Jason, O Josephine! (5/7)

Rick Geary, The Wallace Mystery (5/8)

Jaime Hernandez, Is This How You See Me? (5/11)

I'm glad I don't have to calculate the Top 5 Jaime Hernandez L&R storylines, because that's a thankless task. These days, I think "Love Bunglers" is #1, but does "Death of Speedy" come next? Or "Flies on the Ceiling?" Or something else? The main story in this book tries its best to muscle into that company, and arguably does so. Jaime's one of the few whose "Top 5" needs about ten entries.

Box Brown, Tetris (5/12)

Landis Blair, The Envious Siblings and Other Morbid Nursery Rhymes (5/16)

Kevin Huizenga, Glen Ganges in: The River at Night (5/25)

A masterwork of comics and of literature in general, from a creator who keeps finding new ways to get better.

Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow, Manfried Saves the Day (5/29)

Ian Frazier, Hogs Wild (6/28)

Kim Deitch, Reincarnation Stories (6/29)

Martha Wells, Network Effect (7/3)

An actually new SF novel that I read quickly and can highly recommend. Pity you've all already heard of it....

Ulli Lust, How I Tried to Be a Good Person (7/5)

Ken Jennings, Because I Said So! (7/10)

Jasper Fforde, Early Riser (7/26)

Another excellent, and still reasonably new, book from a quirky author. He might not need my recommendation, either, but he does have it.

Calvin Trillin, Killings (8/6)

Steve Erickson, American Nomad (8/23)

More people should read Erickson's two non-fiction books about American presidential campaigns, Leap Year and this book. They won't, but they should. Erickson's visionary style gets at essential truths in a way nothing more straightforward can.

Jonathan Bernstein, Knickers in a Twist (9/1)

Kage Baker, The Anvil of the World (9/2)

Jason Lutes, Berlin, Book Three: City of Light (9/3)

Rick Geary, Carrizozo: An Illustrated History (9/4)

Lawrence Block, The Night and the Music (9/5)

John Allison, Bad Machinery, Vol. 8: The Case of the Modern Men (9/7)

Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado (9/13)

P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime (9/26)

Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked (10/2)

John Kessel, Corrupting Dr. Nice (10/11)

Daniel Pinkwater, Adventures of a Dwergish Girl (10/18)

Lawrence Block, A Time to Scatter Stones (10/24)

Vera Brosgol, Be Prepared (10/29)

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, This Is How You Lose the Time War (10/31)

Another book I got to slightly late (post-several award wins). Just about as good as everyone says, but I may be souring on the entire idea of "these people are really good at violence, which is wicked kewl, and so now they will kiss."

Brian Fies, A Fire Story (11/7)

Bill Griffith, Nobody's Fool (11/8)

John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, & Whitney Cogar, Giant Days, Vol. 7 (11/9)

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls, Vol. 6 (11/12)

Roger Rapoport and Marguerita Castanera, editors, I Should Have Stayed Home (11/16)

Jacques Tardi, I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 2: My Return Home (11/21)

Michael Kupperman, Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Vol. 2 (11/22)

Aaron Renier, The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Nights of the Waxing Moon (11/23)

Raina Telgemeier, Guts (11/25)

Paul Kirchner, the bus 2 (11/26)

Lavie Tidhar, Central Station (11/27)

Gina Siciliano, I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi (11/28)

Tom Gauld, Department of Mind-Blowing Theories (11/29)

This probably would have made it onto my list -- Gauld's writing is smart and funny and his art is stylish and precise, all things I love.

Rich Sparks, Love and Other Weird Things (11/30)

If I wasn't doing the only-one-book-per-month thing I usually do -- which would have been unusually punishing in 2020, where I had three separate months where I didn't finish a single book -- this might have also made it onto the list. Sparks is both unique and consistently funny, in his ideas and his drawings, which is a really big deal.

Guy Delisle, The Handbook to Lazy Parenting (12/2)

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (in Tales of the Dying Earth, 12/2)

Ben Sears, House of the Black Spot (12/3)

Craig Hurd-McKenney and Rick Geary, The Brontes: Infernal Angria (12/4)

Tillie Walden, Are You Listening? (12/5)

A book both quieter and more impactful than it seems at first, and another big graphic novel from one of the strongest (and most prolific) new talents in the field.

Gou Tanabe, H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness: The First Volume (12/6)

John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, & Whitney Cogar, Giant Days, Vol. 8 (12/7)

John Allison, Christine Larsen, & Sarah Stern, By Night, Vol. 2 (11/9)

Riad Sattouf, The Arab of the Future 3 (12/11)

Jon Rivera, Gerard Way, Michael Avon Oeming, & Nick Filardi, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, Vol. 1 (12/12)

Gou Tanabe, H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness: The Second Volume (12/13)

Riad Sattouf, The Arab of the Future 4 (12/19)

John Baxter, A Pound of Paper (12/19)

John Allison, Christine Larsen, & Sarah Stern, By Night, Vol. 3 (11/20)

John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Jenna Ayoub, & Whitney Cogar, Giant Days, Vol. 9 (12/21)

Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Marguerite Sauvage, & Kelly Fitzpatrick, Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2 (12/22)

Herge, The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 4 (12/23)

Ryan North, Erica Henderson, & Rico Renzi, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 7: I've Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You (12/24)

Susanna Clarke, Piranesi (12/25)

Proof that 2020 was not entirely horrible (as, in its own way, was November 3rd). I hope writing this gave Clarke whatever she needed to keep writing more stories -- Jonathan Strange was a great book, but I'm greedy enough to think she could be a great writer, with many more books in her. Piranesi is a fine signpost, giving me reason to think that's true.

Seth, Clyde Fans (12/26)

Jeff Lemire, Royal City, Vol. 3: We All Float On (12/27)

Jeff Lemire, Frogcatchers (12/28)

Lawrence Block as Jill Emerson, Threesome (12/29)

Barry Blitt, Blitt (12/29)

Edward O. Wilson, Jim Ottaviani, & C.M. Butzer, Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation (12/30)

Michel Rabagliati, Paul at Home (12/31)

If I did have a Favorites list, this would certainly be on it -- a great new book from a master of cartooning, grappling with life in later middle age when the troubles and changes start to stack up hard and fast. And the fact that I read it on the last day of the year is something I'd call out to validate my eternal "the year's not over until it's over" instance.

As I type this, I have seven books that I've read and haven't written about, though a few are in series that I will clump together. And I have posts scheduled through mid-January, on my new, weekdays-only standard. So I expect I will come back and fill in the missing links (ha ha) once those go live.

I also note that I read more books in November and December than the previous ten months. That seems to be a good sign, but I have no idea if it means anything.

But this is what I read last year, and, if there's any lesson, it's this: unexpected crap happens. Life is weird and twisty. You can figure out how to deal with it and head in the direction you want. You may not get as far as you want. You may not go as quickly as you want. You may suddenly be hit by a nasty unexpected disease, as nearly 20m Americans have been. You may even die from it, as almost 350k Americans have. (I don't want to be a Pollyanna here: we will all die, some sooner than others, and everything we want to do past that point will be gone.) But you can at least adapt and keep your goals in mind in the time you have.

This lesson is more widely applicable than to your reading life.

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