Books of 2020

Books of 2020

Last year I read 33 books. This is well shy of my goal of 50, though I am pleased with the quality of what I read. I’ll share my list and some of my impressions. I’d love to hear what your favorite reads of 2020 were.

First some demographics. I read books by 16 women, 5 trans or gender nonconforming writers (that I know of), 9 men, 7 LGBQ folks (that I know of), 10 non white writers (based on what I know). Genres are 8 Sci Fi, whatever we classify Sandman as, 16 fiction, 13 autobiographical or non-fiction. I read 23 of these books in print, the remaining 10 were either audio books or read on my Kindle. Books by people I have met: 6. (When I say ‘based on what I know’, I mean, the writer has self-identified in some way and I saw that self-declaration somewhere. I didn’t research everyone to ferret out identities I didn’t know otherwise.)

Some mini-reviews and impressions. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong’s work is amazing; he writes with a poetic narrative voice that has a dream-like quality even when the scene’s he’s writing about are nightmarish. He is a poet by trade and I love the imagery, textures and flow of this story. Though this is not strictly an autobiography, it draws heavily from Vuong’s own experiences. Themes: Vietnamese immigrant experience, queer boy, weird family drama, lives to tell the tale. Highly recommend.

Agorafabulous is a vulnerable, hilarious telling of Benincasa’s travels and travails through mental illness. Though I read this in print, having listened to her podcast, I was able to hear her voice with its comedic timing and sass. Some of what she lived through was really heavy, but I don’t feel that this book is a heavy read.

A Long Walk to Water tells the story of one of the Sudanese Lost Boys, a boy who loses his Dinka family and village during the Second Sudanese civil war. Though I had heard of the Lost Boys, I’d never dug deeper than the surface of news stories. I’m glad I came across this book.

Braiding Sweetgrass. I listened to this book, read by the author, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, with delight. Dr. Kimmerer tells the story of her family and cultural heritage as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and of her growth as a botanist and person. Using many plants that are sacred to her people, including sweetgrass, she leads us on the path she took from a child who was fascinated by the plant members of her life and received wisdom from her father and others about them to her formal training in the science of botany culminating in an appreciation of both, as valid in their own ways. We learn about the ways Westernized modes of learning have discounted the indigenous ways of knowing and what we as non-natives to this land can learn from the first citizens. This book is an invitation and a warning about how capitalistic ways of treating resources as commodities to exploit have brought us to the brink of extinction.

The Body is Not An Apology, audiobook read by author Sonya Renee Taylor. I listened to this one while taking my daily morning walks. I recommend it to every one with a body. And if you read it while walking, don’t be surprised if her passionate delivery doesn’t get your feet moving faster.

So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Uluo is a national treasure. Her generosity in writing this book is a gift to all of us who are dedicated to fighting racism. I highly recommend this to all my white friends.

I had Their Troublesome Crush on my Kindle for ages. When I finally sat down to read it, I loved it. It felt like a visit with people I knew, though I’d only just met them. I was eager to write Xan an email to gush to them about it. In the time between finishing this story, mentally writing the email and looking forward to more stories about these characters, I learned that Xan West, aka Corey Alexander had died. I was crushed. I’m still crushed. There were so many more stories in that brilliant human’s head. I remember them for their generosity and encouragement in the exchanges we had. Corey was a writer and person I respected and valued. I’ve learned a lot from their writing and I know that learning will continue as I read more (and reread). If you are interested in reading about real, complex, awkward queer and gender nonconforming characters, brilliant kink and smut and other such delights, I encourage you to find Corey’s work under the nom de plume of Xan West.

Everything I read this year got its hooks in me one way or another. I definitely benefited from reading through more points of view by women, BIPOC, queer and trans people in 2020. My choices of who to read are becoming more colorful, more outside the mainstream, more female, more queer – and I think that is a very good thing. This is the continuation of a goal I set for myself a few years ago to diversify my reading away from the omnipresent straight, white male perspective on all topics. And that goal was a direct response to my frustration about the straight, white male dominance of all things in life. I want more alternative writers and viewpoints the way I want more leaders who are women, BIPOC, queer, trans, neuro-atypical, immigrant, disabled and/or chronically ill – because those are the perspectives we need to build a just society and to dismantle toxic capitalism and systemic racism. I am open to suggestions of what to put on my reading list.

If you are a person who consumes books through reading or listening, I am interested to hear if you’ve been doing anything different in the way you choose your books. How do books end up on your ‘to read’ list?

For more info on the books I read in 2020 or in past years, see my Goodreads page C.K. Combs at Goodreads.

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