What a year this was! Am I right? Between the global pandemic, raging fires on the west coast, a cancelled Olympics, and an election that just wouldn’t stop, I found it difficult to read. Well, I shouldn’t say that because I did read plenty, but the nature of what I read and how I read certainly changed this year. I listened to a lot more audiobooks this year, and I followed obsessions.
I took part in a couple of book challenges. I blew away my Goodreads goal of 100 books by reading over 150. And, once again, I took part in the Read Harder Challenge. I have to be honest — I didn’t finish this challenge this year. My mantra throughout the entire year was “but we’re ALREADY reading harder just because it’s 2020!” I’m still proud of myself for reading all but two of the tasks, and the challenge introduced me to some of my favorites for the year. I absolutely loved “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” written by Grace Lin, which I read as a “retelling of a classic fairy tale or myth by an author of color.” This book has hints of “The Wizard of Oz” while also telling a very unique story centered in Chinese fairy tales and folklore. I’m always stunned by how much I can love books intended for middle-graders even though I’m in a vastly different “middle” age group myself.
Music and music history (especially jazz) was an ongoing theme in my reading this year. One book that I loved was “Little Melba and her Big Trombone” which is a stunning picture book by Katheryn Russell-Brown celebrating the life of Melba Liston, who was the first jazz trombonist to play with the big bands in the 1940s. I have always loved jazz, and reading this one for the Read Harder task of “a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community” led me to yet another picture book that was one of my favorites for the year: “Birth of Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound” by Kathleen Cornell Berman. Miles Davis was one of the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz. You’re never too old for picture books! Another music-focused favorite was “Nobody Ever Asked Me About the Girls” by famed music journalist Lisa Robinson. She delves into the lives of female musicians covering such a wide range of topics such as the affects of fame, addictions, family and motherhood, and sexual and emotional abuse. Based on interviews with so many of our beloved artists, she paints an intimate portrait of what it’s like to be female in the industry.
Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic was a large presence this year, and I may have been a bit obsessed with it in my reading. “Notes on a Nervous Planet” by Matt Haig, while not specifically pandemic-related, addressed some of the anxiety that was brought about by the pandemic. I also read “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World” by Fareed Zakaria which found its way to the top of my favorites list. Zakaria takes a hard look at what the world might look like after the pandemic; what faults have been exposed; and what opportunities glimpsed.
And, yes, politics. What a year for politics. I have been reading like a fiend to try to understand what is going on because, as James Baldwin once said, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” It has certainly felt like a bit of a trap. Top of my list was a book by historian and professor, Heather Cox Richardson, titled “To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.” She gives a thorough accounting of how the Republican Party went from the party of Lincoln to the party of Trump in just over 150 years. That book paired with “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson gave me a lot of insight into where we’ve been, where we are, and the possibilities for the future.
And, yes, I did read a little bit of fiction this year, but perhaps not as much as in the past. Nonfiction is my default and I have to work to get fiction into my diet. But one of the books that made it to the top of my list was “A Thousand Ships” by Natalie Haynes which is a retelling of the Trojan war but from the perspective of the women. The story changes drastically as the perspective changes from the women sending their husbands and sons to war; to the mothers desperately trying to hide and protect children; to the women who became the spoils of war; and to the women who joined the battlefield. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book, “But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain — the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men — and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”
There were many more titles that made it to the top of my list. If you would like to see the full list, you can see it here. And here’s to another great year of reading, no matter (or in spite of) what else the future holds — Happy New Year!