Hello there, how have you been? It’s been such a long time since we’ve chatted about books, so let’s fix that. I enjoy doing a recap of what I’ve been reading every year, rejoicing over my favorites and occasionally warning you of lemons so you can avoid them if you wish. I didn’t get around to doing this for 2020, for several reasons.
First- I’ve had a year long case of the worst writer’s block. I heard recently that perhaps writer’s block doesn’t actually exist- only stressors do- and while I’m open to being convinced of this theory, until then, it’s a nifty name to apply to the situation. Second- last year my writer’s block seemed to extend to reading block. You would think that a year with nothing to do would be the perfect time to read and create all the things, but unfortunately, it has not worked like that for me. See aforementioned stressors. Professionally and spiritually and relationally and emotionally it was a stressful year, as I imagine it has been for many of you too.
However. I’m happy to relate that the reading block at least has passed, and I’ve been voraciously consuming books this year- primarily audio books while working, which is one of my favorite things about my job. Hopefully this means the dratted writer’s block is also on its way out the door, since any person knows that reading and writing are intricately connected. Most lately I’m reveling in a wonderful audio production of The Chronicles of Narnia; at the moment I’m about to meet the Dufflepuds, finally made visible, thanks to Lucy. It doesn’t matter how often I read these books, they’re always deeply exciting and refreshing and wonderful.
But let me put the Dawn Treader aside for a minute and take a look at a few of the few books I did read in 2020. And hey, looking back, it turns out I did read 34, even though it felt like I wasn’t reading at all. Many of those were comfortable rereads though, because I have to hang out with Anne of Green Gables every now and then. You know how it is.
Malcolm Gladwell and I had a nice run last year. It took me a while to get going with the first of his books, but at this point, I’m completely hooked. I haven’t found another author who is quite so interesting to me in matters of human behavior. I read Outliers: The Story of Success, which talks about vastly successful people such as the Beatles and Bill Gates, and what makes them so. He delves into the theory of 10,000 hours practice needed to excel at anything, and also talks about the random “lucky” events that combine to tip them over the edge, such as how most Canadian ice hockey players are born in the early months of the year, making them just a little bigger and stronger than their schoolmates.
I also read The Tipping Point, which similarly talks about what it takes for something to “go viral”, as it were. Gladwell breaks down “The law of the few”- 80 percent of the work being done by 20 percent of the people, and explains the different types of people, whom he calls connectors, mavens, and salesmen. He also discusses “The stickiness factor”, which is all about why some information sticks in people’s heads and how some companies have found out how to employ that, and “The power of context”, which is exactly what it sounds like. My favorite part of the book was his theory on why crime dropped drastically in NYC when police cracked down on things like subway jumping and vandalism. Truly fascinating.
Lest you think I’m the kind of person who only reads intelligent books now, here’s some of the fluff I really enjoyed. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple was such fun. I read the book then promptly watched the movie, which made me realize I definitely need to go to Antarctica someday. Do you have any idea how hauntingly beautiful it is? The story is a fun little mystery as we try to figure out what happened to the vanished Bernadette, through the lens of her daughter’s perspective. The book does have a deal of strong language- just so you know.
I also listened to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, twice in fact. Gail Honeymon is a masterful storyteller, and the ending shocked me, as in, really really shocked me. It’s really a rather redemptive story, and I liked that it didn’t have the trite romance you might think it does at first. I thought it was brilliantly written, because although the story is told from Eleanor’s perspective, who thinks she’s completely normal and fine, as the reader, you can see how awful her life is and how her perspective is skewed.
You have probably seen Educated, a Memoir, by Tara Westover, making its rounds by now. And yes, you should jump on the bandwagon and read it. Truth really is stranger than fiction, and this book is good proof. It’s horrible and captivating and somehow weirdly familiar, even though my life wasn’t horrible or abusive or really anything like hers. Perhaps it’s the cultish distrust of anyone outside of the tiny little circle, which sounds like conversations I may have heard growing up. At any rate, it’s worth a read.
Speaking of Mormons, I also thoroughly enjoyed Papa Married a Mormon, by John D Fitzgerald. The author tells the story of his father and uncle, who settled in a silver mining town by Mormon territory, and their relating to the community. It’s such an interesting story, partly Wild West, partly religious, and I’m fairly sure you’d enjoy it. Just don’t be put off by how awful the uncle is at first- it’s worth keeping on.
There you have it- a few of my favorites from the year. I also got to read the first draft of a novel my friend is publishing, which was a fun experience. If any of you want me to read your books and give you my opinion on them before publishing, “‘Fire away,’ she said with an airy wave of her hand.” (Max Shullman) Also, please give me some suggestions of more available audiobooks to listen to at work- nothing too absorbing or I can’t concentrate. Thank you! Now, I’m off for a solitary Sunday meander through the Met, this rainy day.
As Vanauken said, “Go under the mercy.”