Thursday, December 31, 2020

The 2020 Read List

Here's a list of what I read in 2020.

2020 was a challenge on a lot of levels.  I had it nowhere near as tough as many, and I don't want to pretend that I did.  I will say, though, that from March 12 through about the first of May, it was six- or seven-day weeks, and occasionally 12 and 13 hour days.  There were a few other stretches like this.  There were periods where reading was difficult, if only because my attention span was squirrely.  

I read more on the Kindle and the Kindle app more this year than in years past.  Lunches usually had me staring at a book instead of doomscrolling through the Facespace or Twitter.  Better for the mental health, at any rate.


It   Stephen King

Just a huge, huge romp.  Easily one of King's four or five best.  Part of my read-thru of King's work.  Its scope is amazing.  Plus, I wonder if King was struggling with quitting smoking (along with drugs and alcohol) because Damn!  Everybody smokes!

Realityland:  True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World    David Koenig

A very interesting read.  Picked it up for the Kindle not long after Shyam and I returned from Orlando in 2019.  My lunchtime read.  The politics and logistics of the venture are just fascinating to me.

The Water Dancer    Ta-Nehisi Coates

Excellently written, with a lot of good turns of phrase.  Harriet Tubman is amazing, and I'd like to see this as a movie or series.  This one grew on me after I read, but my initial take on it was that it wasn't far enough from Coates' work on Marvel's books to suit me, but I made my peace with it, as well.  One of the books that my brain keeps wandering back to.

Another Man's Moccasins     Craig Johnson

A commute listen, and a nice rebound for the series, after the previous volume nearly aggravated me away from the books altogether.  I liked the setting, and it made me feel like Walt Longmire might be buddies, after a fashion, with Joe Lansdale's Hap & Leonard....

Cold Storage     David Koepp

Not bad, but not great, either.  Parts are definitely well done.  But it suffers from following the wrong character.....


Bucky Fucking Dent    David Duchovny

A Christmas gift from my friend Micah.  You know, Duchovny's a funny dude.  And this is a pretty decent book.

I Stooged to Conquer    Moe Howard

Moe's autobiography.  An immensely clever guy, whose intense love for his brothers shines through.  Perhaps the funniest thing I've read in years was the story of a young Shemp and young Moe courting women at the Boardwalk, and Shemp taking a stomach cramp, and mistaking a couple making out under the boardwalk for driftwood.  In attempting to use the "driftwood" for a makeshift toilet, he ends up getting his butt kicked and having to clean himself off in the ocean.....

Quincy Harker: Year One    John G. Hartness

A commute listen.  I think I prefer Hartness's Bubba the Monster Hunter, as a read, but this was still a lot of fun.

Dog of the South     Charles Portis

The more I read of Portis, the more I enjoy.  I wish I'd found him earlier in life, but I'm glad I've found him now.  I'd love it if the Coens had adapted this one....


Carved from Stone and Dream    T. Frohock

If you haven't checked out her work, you should definitely give Ms. Frohock's work surrounding the Spanish Civil War a look.  I dig this series a little more with each book.

Heart of Darkness    Joseph Conrad

A re-read.  I'd read it in college, but only in the semi-resentful way where you're reading for plot or style points because you're assigned it for a class.  Reading it when I did, the week that things started to go insane, it was a nice juxtaposition picking apart Conrad's prose while getting asked every 3 minutes if we had any Lysol or Hand Sanitizer in the back.....

Eyes of the Dragon    Stephen King

Another part of the read-through.  Such a fun, fast read.  I first read this one late in high school, after I was already 3 books deep into the Dark Tower series, and had already read The Stand two or three times.  I kept comparing it to those works, which at the time made it seem inferior.  Maybe I'm a little more mature now, or can just see it better apart from those other works.  It's a lot of fun.  And as an aside, Bronson Pinchot has always been an excellent actor, but he's a superior narrator as well, and I'd love to see him involved with a film adaptation.....

Kaiju Rising     edited by Tim Marquitz & NK Sharps

A part of a Kickstarter way back when.  Hit or miss, but there are a couple really good ones in there.  "Day of the Demigods" was funny, and threw a couple of curves in there.  "Occupies" was a hell of a good concept.  And I keep thinking about "The Conversion," too.  Just a nice, bleak monster story

Ready Player One    Ernest Cline

I'd tried a couple of other reads, but grabbed this as a bit of mental comfort food.  I finished it on March 23, when our business had gone crazy after schools had started shutting down.  (Without putting numbers out there, we'd had our busiest week in 14 years the second week in March...and then topped it by 40% the next week, for what was probably the busiest week that my current store had likely ever had, or at least since the blizzard in 1993).  As for the book, I still dig it as a grail quest.  Cline's not great shakes as a writer, but there are parts of this that let you know his heart and soul are in this one....


The Splendid and the Vile    Erik Larson

One of the best books I read this year.  Larson's strong, but he hits the Churchill bio out of the park.  I gave a couple copies as gifts this year.

Under the Black Hat       Jim Ross

More superlative:  One of the best wrestling books ever written.  Right up there with Mick Foley's Have a Nice Day and Countdown to Lockdown, and Bret Hart's autobiography.  Creativity as a corporate enterprise fascinates me, and the efforts of the WWE are no different in that regard.  A touching book, ultimately.  Jim lost his wife Jan within a few days of my losing Dad.  It was amazing how much his grieving process resembled my own in that spring of 2017.

The Deep   Alma Katsu

Katsu has written some really great stuff, but this was a little clunky, for some reason.  It had all the elements that usually work for me (I love a nice period piece ghost story).  I didn't dislike it, but it just didn't hit exactly right.


Buzz Saw: The Improbably Story of How the Washington Nationals won the World Series     Jesse Dougherty

I read this one because I was missing baseball.....I root for the Cubs, but Shyam roots for the Nationals.  By association, I've become a well wisher, so when the Nationals won it all in 2019, I was very happy, and quite familiar with the cast of characters.  Dougherty focuses on the key players, and I especially enjoyed the looks at Howie Kendrick and Dave Martinez.  Especially disagreed with the look and conclusions on Anthony Rendon, who I've always regarded (and still do) as a prima donna.  Still, a pretty good read....

Ronan Boyle and the Swamp of Certain Death     Thomas Lennon

These are fun, and I hope Lennon gets to publish a wagon full of these.

Misery     Stephen King

 A commute listen.  King ruminates on fame and fandom.  Effectively.  This is a strong one.  One of the few King books I'd actually not read before going through it this time.


The Game:  Inside the secret World of Major League Baseball's Power Brokers    Jon Pessah

Again, I was missing baseball.  A look at the labor and drug issues in baseball for a couple of decades.  My take is much the same as it was beginning the book...Look:  Owners are by and large ruthless pieces of shit.  You don't get to the point of having a billion dollars at your disposal without being something of a piece of shit.  At the same time, though, I still have trouble mustering much sympathy for people making six, seven or eight figures a year playing a game, and doing very very little in this same time span for the folks in the minors.  It just comes down to How Much Money Do You Need?

Salt and Stilettos     Janet Walden-West

My friend Janet published her first novel this year, and I gave it a read.  Maybe not my normal stuff, but Janet has an excellent ear for dialog, which I'm a sucker for.  This is a good read, and I recommend it.

Time's Demon     DB Jackson

This series is fun.  I really dig the ramifications of time travel for those who are able to walk.  And this one's a page-turner.  Droe was probably my favorite character of the first book in the series, so it pleased me that she got so much focus in this book.....

The Stench of Honolulu     Jack Handey

I keep going back to this one.  I liked this one a lot, after the fact.  I do wish I'd read this one, instead of listening.....

The Dark Tower: the Drawing of the Three    Stephen King

Man it may not the best of his stuff, but the initial section with King and Eddie meeting, and ending their leg of the journey fighting Balazar just bristles with energy.  I'd always considered Eddie very much the analog for King in the series.  Until, well, King himself shows up.  There's a lot of heart in Eddie.  He was my Dad's favorite character.

Jaws      Peter Benchley

I very much went on a Jaws kick this year.  The movie is one I'd watched every couple of years, and remembered each time:  Holy Shit, this is good.  The first movie I saw in a theater of any kind after a five-month hiatus was Jaws at the Swingin' Midway Drive-In.  I picked up the book the next day.  It's not a bad read, but that subplot between Hooper and Brody's wife threw me for a loop.  The Mob connection, did as well.  Glad to see those forgotten in the movie.....


Shakespeare for Squirrels   Christopher Moore.

One of my favorite writers.  And probably the one with the highest batting average, in terms of books I gave a thumbs up to.  The Pocket stories are tremendously fun, and this one is no different.

The Drowned World    JG Ballard

A Kindle read.  It popped up in a $1.99 or $2.99 sale.  Bleak enough to make me dream of it.

Impervious     AJ Hartley

My buddy Dino had gifted me a copy of this one.  Definitely not your average fantasy/SF romp.  Quite a bit jarring, actually.

Survivor Song     Paul Tremblay

I didn't think I'd end up liking a book taking place in a pandemic while in a pandemic myself as much as I did.  Tremblay wanders away a bit from his Weird and Ambiguous Horror Umbrella.  I ended up liking this one quite a bit.

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943    Rick Atkinson

I've come to like Atkinson very much.  A strong read.    Ended up giving a couple copies as gifts this Christmas.


More Better Deals     Joe R. Lansdale

Finds traction about a third of the way end, and when it does, it tears it up.  Nice kinda East Texas noir.  I dug it.

The Fifty Year Mission: the First 25 Years   Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman

A commute listen.  A look at the beginnings of Trek, through its Motion Pictures from 1979-1991.  Not a bad read, though a thought hit me later.  I've never had as much use for Gene Roddenberry as some.  Except, that's not quite right.  I'm just not always comfortable with the deification of creators (this from a guy trying to read everything King's written in order).  That said, our editors occasionally come at Gene pretty hard.  I'm not saying it's undeserved, and I applaud veering away from that glorification.  But the flip side can be just as vexing.....

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre      Max Brooks

This one just jumped off the shelf at me.  It was fun, even if spending too much time with the Sasquatch, even on the page, starts stripping away some of their allure.

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home    Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

This one just jumped off the page at me on sale.  It was fun, even if spending too much time with the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home starts stripping away some of the allure.


The Tommyknockers     Stephen King

This was the first speedbump I ever ran across when I first started reading King, way back when.  It was a friggin' mess.  I made a second run at it in college, and got just about as far in.  This is one of the books that was on my mind when I started my King read-through.  This one took me most of August, and became an Insomnia Read, as I had a mild bout of it back in the late summer and early fall.  The book is still a friggin' mess.  King himself said in an interview or two that it's about 350 pages worth of book packed into 700 pages.

The End of Everything (Astrophyiscally Speaking)    Katie Mack

I've been following Katie Mack on Twitter for a long time.  One of the most educational twitter accounts out there.  And she's got a sense of humor that appeals to me, as well.  The book is much the same.  And I have to say that a highly localized singularity leading to our losing cohesion and fading into nothingness at the speed of light didn't sound so bad after herding teenagers for a weekend.....

The Only Good Indians    Stephen Graham Jones

Damn, this was a good book.  Probably the best thing I read this year.  A melancholy sort of horror.  Whip smart.  This is an awesome book.

American Nations: a History of the Eleven Rival Cultures of North America    Colin Woodard

An interesting take on the multiple personalities of culture that inhabit our land.  Especially interesting given the varied responses to the pandemic across the country.....

Children of Blood and Bone     Tomi Adeyemi

I liked how this one was put together, even if it got busy for a while.  It just didn't grab me, at the end of the day.


True Grit      Charles Portis

I didn't intend to re-read this one, but Shyam had lent her copy to her Mom, and brought it home when it was finished.  I started thumbing through it, and ended up re-reading it over the course of a couple nights.   It's become one of my favorite books, in the past few years.

The Answer Is...Reflections on My Life     Alex Trebek

This one turned into an Insomnia Read.  I hate to say it, but this one felt rushed.  Like they were trying to get it out before Trebek passed....which, sadly, he would quite soon after its publication.

Dune     Frank Herbert

This one had been on my list for years and years.  And it took a while to really get moving for me.  I liked it, but I'm not champing at the bit to hit another Dune book.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief      Rick Riordan

I think this is my first book recommendation from my nephew Thomas.  He was reading it, and said he liked it.  I found it for cheap on the Kindle, and ended up liking it pretty well.  When I told April to tell Thomas that I liked it, he started grilling me about my favorite parts.  For the record:  The Battle of St. Louis and playing ball in the Underworld with Cerberus.....

The Natural    Bernard Malamud

It was kinda funny reading this one with its undertones of the gods right after reading Lightning Thief.  Anyway, Roy Hobbs is a douchebag who reaps everything he sows.

The Dark Half      Stephen King

This one was a lot tighter than I'd remembered.  A fine book.


The Good House      Tananarive Due

Due's short stories seem to show up in a lot of short story collections I pick up, but this is the first novel of hers I've read.  It won't be the last.  Good blending of supernatural and real world horrors.   I dug it.

Answers in the Form of Questions    Claire McNear

Quick kindle read.  Published a couple of days after Alex Trebek's passing.  Gets a little more in depth into the game theory and buzzer strategies of players than the couple other Jeopardy books I've thumbed through in the past.  A good overview, though it hesitates to criticize too harshly....


Sophie's World      Jostein Gaarder

This was the text book we used for Dr. Bombardi's Intro to Philosphy class.  Had a couple points where I felt like I should have been eating lunch on the JUB steps while reading.  This time around, I really appreciated the framing device for its story....

The Fifty-Year Mission: the Next 25 Years    Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross

A Continuation of the Trek Oral History, working its way through the Next Generation, DS9 and so forth.  The TNG and DS9 sections held my interest pretty well, with the Enterprise and Voyager sections not doing much for me, likely because those shows also don't do a lot for me....

Ready Player Two     Ernest Cline

Eh.  It's pretty likely that Cline's a one-trick pony.  What might have made this book more interesting would be following a new set of characters, or perhaps Art3mis, as main characters.  Instead, we spend the first quarter of the book attempting to reset characters back to their positions at the beginning of Ready Player One.  Or their mindsets, at any rate.  It's not as horrid as Armada, but it's definitely not as fun as its preceding work....

A Christmas Carol      Charles Dickens

An annual re-read.  You know, that section where Marley first visits Scrooge is really well done as a spooky ghost story.....

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy     Bill Simmons

The Kindle read.  I don't follow the NBA.  Not regularly.  It's just not my type of basketball, by and large.  But, my nephew does.  And when he speaks on it, I feel pretty damned ignorant.  This one got recommended by a couple folks.  I've been reading on it in dribs and drabs.  Not a bad book at all.....