Books of 2020

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In 2019, I read 12 books. My 2020 goal was 24 books. I’m ending the year with 72 books read, according to my Goodreads. That’s accidentally three times my goal and six times what I read last year. Oops?

One of my favorite parts of using Goodreads to track my reading is the stats that come with it. This year according to my Goodreads, I’ve read 18,443 pages over 72 books. (I’d be willing to argue that the page count is probably higher because Goodreads isn’t the best at measuring pages in audiobooks or e-books which made up a decent portion of the books I read this year. But because some of what I read is debatably not really a “book”, I’m not gonna fight it. Plus I don’t wanna do the math myself.) The books span publishing dates from the 1930s to the 1960s to 2020. Of the books that I read, 12 were audiobooks, 11 were physical books, and 27 were e-books read through my library. (The rest were read through another source like Kindle or as Advanced Reader Copies [ARCs]). My average rating in 2020 was a 3.2 out of 5 stars. I gave 4 books a 5 star rating , 21 were rated 4 stars, 32 were rated 3 stars, and the rest were given 1 or 2 stars. I also allowed myself to stop reading a book if it wasn’t my cup of tea with no pressure; in fact, some of the books that I eventually ended up giving 4 or 5 stars to were books that I had put aside at some point and picked back up at a better time. Because there’s more than last year, I won’t list them out, but I wanted to reflect beyond just my statistics.

At the end of last year, I wanted to read from a more diverse set of authors. I think (mostly as a ramification of reading more and reading fewer series than last year) I managed to fulfill that goal. It’s always at the back of my mind that I want to read a variety of stories from a variety of storytellers. I read authors from the US, the UK, Brazil, Canada, France, Algeria, Nigeria, and Sweden; I read from Black authors (both academic and fiction writers), I read from Asian-American authors, from queer authors, and plenty of female authors. There’s always room for more diversity.

In 2020, I reread some old favorites including And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (both of whom are on my list of authors I want to read more from in the new year). I’ll also count The Martian by Andy Weir and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as bests of the year (one made me laugh and one made me sob).

I enjoyed a good number of audiobooks this year. My favorites were The Test by Sylvain Neuvel, Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Bailey, and An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten. I read a few books on recommendations from family and/or friends this year which included Normal People by Sally Rooney, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Many more of the books were picked up because a YouTuber mentioned them or because Goodreads suggested them. I tried really hard (and mostly failed) to read a lot of the unread books that I’ve bought over the years. That goal will be continuing into the new year.

Speaking of goals for 2021: I’ve set my Goodreads challenge for 24 books again. I figure I have no idea what this year might bring and I’d rather have an achievable goal to beat than feel defeated in December. I’d like to continue reading diversely, both in terms of author and subjects and in terms of how I read. And lastly, I want to knock some of the books off my physical shelf – books accumulated over Christmases and shopping trips to bookstores and birthdays and stealing from my parents’ bookshelves. But who knows what 2021 will bring?

Five Favorites: Amplified Voices

Five Favorites

I started this blog to talk about traveling and my experiences abroad, but being an American abroad means never escaping American politics or celebrities. The number of questions I get about my feelings on Trump or the Kardashians negate the ocean between me and the place I was born and raised.

Yes, I have feelings on the current American political system and its visible (but not new) flaws. Yes, I have feelings about the idiots folks donating so that Kylie Jenner can go from having 900 million dollars to a billion dollars as a “self-made” millionaire. I’ve got a lot of feelings, but my words just don’t seem to cover them.

So I’ve stuck to safe topics, like how I pack for trips and my happy walks around London. My tweets have transitioned from funny daily occurrences to retweets of people whose voices I believe need to be amplified. I don’t want to be silent and I don’t want to be just another voice screaming into the void, hoping for recognition for my insight.

Instead of penning my political thoughts in extensive rambling form or spending the rest of my life apologizing for the stupid things I’ve thought and said as I learned about the world around me (No, but really. I’m so sorry if anything I’ve ever said was ignorant or misguided. I’m still learning. I think about my mistakes every single day and am working towards being a better, more informed human being.), I thought I would share some favorites of mine from right now. These are just five of my favorite voices that I am choosing in this moment to amplify.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

Recommended by a friend, Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special is an hour-long, but worth every second. Hannah speaks her truth, shares her frustrations, and thoroughly entertains, while weaving her personal stories with art history in such a clever way. She brings a new perspective to what it means to be a comedian, especially now. If you have an hour free and access to Netflix, Hannah Gadsby’s special is worth the watch. It’s heartbreaking and honest. I’m not a huge fan of stand up comedy, but I’ll be watching this again so soon.

Simone Giertz’s TedTalk

One of the great disappointments of my life has been my utter inability to do anything sciencey at all. I’ll never understand space, despite my love of stars, nor will I fully understand how the human body works or why some things go boom when others sizzle. But science can still bring joy to even those of us without a science bone in our bodies. Simone Giertz is an example of bringing joy to the experience. Simone creates “shitty robots”. I’m sure you’ve seen a video of the alarm clock that smacks her awake or the robot that spills soup on her instead of feeding her. They’re amusing and wonderfully flawed.

Simone has a YouTube channel worth subscribing to, but she also recently did a TedTalk. Now just like I hate comedy specials, I also hate TedTalks. This one is an exception. TedTalk is marvelous, insightful, clever, and a love story to the best parts of science. While I won’t be learning to program robots anytime soon, I can’t help but be infected by the joy she brings to these shitty inventions (even while dealing with a brain tumor named Brian). Maybe her shitty robots won’t change the planet, but if they inspire someone to try something new — you never know what might happen.

Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls at the Old Vic

I have read two Patrick Ness novels, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and more recently Release. He intertwines the Young Adult genre with a sweet SciFi in easy to read and clever stories. The rest of his novels are on my to-read list, but when I saw that he had a play in London, I gave it a quick look and quickly forgot about it. (I hadn’t read the book that inspired the play, nor had I watched the film that recently was produced.)

It wasn’t until I was doing a search on TodayTix for cheap entertainment that I saw the tickets for A Monster Calls were for sale and within my price range. A Monster Calls tells the story of a teenage boy visited by the yew tree outside his house. As the boy deals with his mother’s breast cancer and her worsening condition, the yew tree monster tells him stories. The yew tree is brought to life beautifully by ropes strung from the ceiling in one of the most stunning productions I have ever seen. The stage is so minimal and yet so expressive; the story is magical, yet honest; the acting is lovely and raw. The music and words from the stage were joined by the sniffles of the entire audience brought to tears by such a wonderful play. (If you’re in London, it is playing at the Old Vic Theatre and even the highest seats are worth the show.)

dodie’s rainbow

I discovered Dodie Clark on YouTube a few months ago. She makes quirky, sweet music that I find very calming, so I’ve added her songs to my Spotify. (Give In the Middle a listen, as well as Would You Be So Kind and Sick of Losing Soulmates.) She has a unique voice and her videos provided me with a lot of joy upon discovery and introduced me to other lovely musicians as well.

Recently, for Pride month, she posted a song titled “rainbow“. In the middle of figuring out who I am and volunteering for Pride in London, dodie’s song was a gem. The words spoke to me in a time of confusion and loneliness. Give it a listen.

Shaun King’s Twitter

I’m exceeding aware of just how white my five voices are so far. Yes, they represent minority voices and new perspectives, but I’m still questioning how much of my media intake is white. This is where Shaun King comes in.

I actually had to unfollow Shaun King on Twitter because it wasn’t a healthy mindset for me to be in. To pretty constantly see everything wrong with American politics flashing by was both frustrating and upsetting. I didn’t want to ignore what was happening but seeing it every time I logged on wasn’t good for me. I’ve since refollowed in my disuse of the platform, so that when I randomly pop back in, I am getting some reliable news. Shaun King is a great source for the constant inequalities that exist in the United States and around the world. He shares his educated opinion, as well as sharing the opinions of others and facts, and he isn’t afraid to tell the truth.

Other Twitter accounts worth a mention: Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint), The Associated Press, Terry Crews, Gene Weingarten, and WeRateDogs (because we can always use a little joy in our lives, no matter how horrible they may get).

Just because I am choosing to amplify other voices today does not mean I will be silent, but sometimes it is best to just listen. What voices do you want to amplify today?