The best of 2020 — in books

2020 was….a heck of a year. Hurricanes, pandemic, fires,  the existential dread of an election featuring a wide variety of creepy corrupt politicians, all with their own plans for spending other people’s money badly and killing people overseas on behalf of other people overseas. At least we had books! This year’s major project was Mount Doom, my TBR pile. Halfway through the year I created a challenge for myself, scheduling two TBR books per month and only allowing myself to buy 1 new book for every 4 TBRs I finished.  I read nearly 40 TBR titles, well beyond my initial goal  (12) and then my challenge goal (24). 

I purchased 88 books this year, the other hundred being loans — largely from the library, but with a handful of friends’ books thrown in. Astonishingly, physical books had a 12 book lead over ebooks; I suspect the TBR helped with that. To no one’s surprise, nonfiction lead the way with just over two thirds of my reading. Speaking of numbers and such,   who’s ready for pie?

There were a lot of surprises this year. Science, for instance, absolutely dominated history until late September, when during a corona quarantine I devoted myself to my history-laden TBR pile and it retook the throne. Science still had a year to be proud of, though, with THIRTY BOOKS — well past my optimistic, 20 book goal. Religion and philosophy, usually subdued by all the big boys, was right out there with them this year. A sign of the times, perhaps; science and philosophy both helped me survive all the rotten news and rotten feelings of the pandemic, riots, etc. Let’s have a look at some of the biggies for this year! Bolded titles were on my top ten list.

History was the queen of the stack, as usual, but..boy, were the topics on the sad side:
[*]Smuggler Nation, a celebration of free spitis who made history by frustrating the avarice and arrogance of the state
[*]Ring of Steel, a history of the Great War from the Germano-Austrian side
[*]Black Wave, a thoroughly depressing history of how Saudi Arabia and the Iranians mullahs’ propaganda war drove ruin upon the middle east
[*]This Republic of Suffering, a review of how the death toll of the Civil War changed American culture.

Science had a banner year, with thirty (!!!) books read, well past my high goal of 20.
[*]The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship between Violence and Virtue, Richard Wrangham
[*]An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System
[*]Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories, Rob Brotherton
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen

Religion and Philosophy
[*] 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson
[*]The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
[*]How Dante Can Save Your Life, Rod Dreher

Politics and Civic Interest
[*]A Bright Future, Joshua Goldstein & Steffan Qvist
[*]Losing an Enemy, Trita Parsa
[*]Is Reality Optional?, Thomas Sowell

 Next year, foreign-policy books and geopolitics will be treated as part of a separate World Affairs category which will also include books about things in countries outside the USA.

Society and Culture:
The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff
The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse
Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg

Technology and Society
[*] Harvard and the Unabomber, Alston Chase

General fiction was small but mighty:
[*] Where the Crawdads Sing absolutely floored me.
[*] American Dirt  can’t rival it, but it was far and away the second-best.  

Historical fiction had its usual fair showing, and I was especially glad that I drew from a variety of series, settings, and authors.
[*] Max Hennessey’s The Bright Blue Sky and The Lion at Sea
[*]Richard Howard’s Napoleonic cavalry series, beginning with Bonaparte’s Sons

Science Fiction virtually fell off the radar in 2020, save for Star Trek and Firefly titles: [*]Station 11 employed a distinct narrative style
[*] The End of October hit all too close to home with its own coverage of a pandemic erupting from Indonesia. 

Star Trek (and Star Wars)
[*]Uncertain Logic, Christopher L. Bennett
[*]Storming Heaven, David Mack. The end of the Vanguard series, one of the highlights of the Primverse.
[*]Enigma Tales, Una McCormack
[*]Seven of Nine, Christie Golden
[*]Star Wars: Darth Plageius, James Luceno

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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4 Responses to The best of 2020 — in books

  1. Marian says:

    I’ve been catching up on everyone’s blogs – so interesting to see what readers gravitated towards in 2020!
    An Iranian acquaintance recommended Black Wave… I need a little break from depressing history, but hope to read it at some point.

    • It’s worth reading to understand the Middle East & Central Asia, but it’s absolutely bleak and something to postpone if you’re wanting to avoid depressing history. I wish I’d read it outside quarantine, though, because I wasn’t able to give it a proper review away from my computer. I had my hands full with eight dogs and cats at the time!

      By the way, I’ve alllmost caught up with your Christmas Carol audiobook. Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and already anxious to start realizing his redemption. I was listening to it while fishing and treasure-hunting in the world of RDR2. XD

  2. Sigh! I used to read lots of non-fiction but haven’t so much lately and some of the books I’ve picked up lately (usually science recommendations) are disturbingly simply written. I never made it through Peterson’s 12 Rules …. it just didn’t resonate with me although I like listening to him speak. The Four Loves was awesome! It looks like you had a great year in reading!!

    • It’s odd — I read so many good books but I always find myself a little disappointed at the end of the year that I didn’t read more. XD

      I’m looking forward to Peterson’s “Beyond Order” to see what else he has to share. I came to him via his public lecture.

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