Every time we sing the national anthem we ask the question, “does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” amid the perilous fight and the bombs bursting in air.
These past two weeks, since violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capital, the answer has been in doubt. Not literally—Congress reconvened that same day and democracy carried on—but the spirit of the nation has been dazed as we suffered this terrible attack and reckoned with the deeper divide.
But today, Inauguration Day, as Lady Gaga belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” on the same Capital steps that two weeks ago held a swarming mob, it did the spirit of this nation well to see those broad stripes and bright stars so gallantly streaming.
Yesterday a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as a joint session of Congress attempted their Constitutionally mandated task of approving the electors for the next president. We spent yesterday watching the news unfold on Twitter and live TV.
I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m grieving for our nation.
There will be so many better opinions and commentaries and I hesitate to add to the noise, but I keep coming back to one thing that I think is important to emphasize.
An erosion of trust and a lack of common truth has imperiled our democracy.
It’s also helpful to compare it to my total reading:
And why do I track these numbers? Because when I didn’t pay any attention to it, I gravitated to a very homogeneous reading list. Which isn’t very good if you want to be exposed to a range of voices and ideas.
Here are some other stats from my reading in 2020:
Sci-fi is still #1: This year sci-fi hit 54% of my reading, up from 37% last year. Carried me through the pandemic.
New is still better: About 75% of my reading came from the last three years. The oldest book was from 1997 (and my favorite fiction read of the year), and it was the only more than 20 years old.
Print dominates: Reading on my phone was a terrible idea this year. And audiobooks barely happened. My print reading hit 94%, quite a boost from last year’s 77%.
YA is dead to me: Once upon a time I used to read a lot of YA. This year? Nada. That’s not quite true, as some books fall under multiple categories and I classified them as other than YA. But even if we track those down, it’s only two or three. I’m not sure why I’ve grown so tired of this genre, but I have. It’s kind of sad too, because it sometimes it seems like YA is where all the interesting developments are happening in fiction.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – A fascinating book and a difficult read, this one made all the headlines in the aftermath of George Floyd. I’ve also seen a fair amount of criticism about it, but that’s not surprising. It’s a challenge, but I think the underlying premise—if you’re not actively fighting racism then you’re part of the problem—is sound.
Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treuer – A fascinating combination of memoir and history. I started listening to it as an audiobook but got bogged down in some of the detail and had to finish a paper copy. The history of our treatment of Native Americans is always jarring, but this summary of recent problematic encounters is even more jarring. These aren’t just sins our forefathers committed generations before we were born.
Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America by Stacey Abrams – Nothing like reading about voter suppression in the lead up to a presidential election. Especially one where the biggest story is the post-election rejection of said election based on absolutely no proof. It’d be fascinating to hear Abrams take on that, because that seems like a whole other problem from the one she tackles.
Honorable mention:The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson – Stevenson’s Nimona has always been one of my favorite graphic novels, and after watching and loving her Netflix reboot of She-Ra, I had to pick up Stevenson’s memoir. More than anything, it’s about creativity and learning to accept yourself. Also has some great cartoons.
My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due – I’ve had this book on my to-read list for years and finally tracked it down. Worth the wait! It’s a horror/sci-fi story about immortals that’s very reminiscent of Octavia Butler. It has an effortless quality and sucks you in. While it works as a standalone, it’s also part of a four-book series that’s worth checking out (I’m currently on the fourth installment).
The Trials of Koli by M.R. Carey – I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction, and the Koli series is just perfect. It’s got a bizarre voice that takes a little getting used to, but the world and ethos is fascinating and fun. This is actually the second installment, but I liked it better than the first.
Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – I’m also a sucker for AI stories. Based on a short story about an AI who likes cat photos, this novel creates a bigger world around that concept that manages to be intriguing and funny without getting lost in the YA trappings. The sequel comes out this year and I’ve already got it pre-ordered.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – This was our last book club book before the pandemic descended, and it was an incredible story centered on food. I’m usually not much of a foodie and wouldn’t be interested in the topic, but this one was really captivating.
Network Effectby Martha Wells – After four novellas focused on the Murderbot, Wells gives us an entire novel. And it’s fun (I said I’m a sucker for AI stories). There are a couple points where it slows down and drags a little, but overall it’s fast-paced Murderbot fun.
The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey – Seems like cheating to give this series two spots on the list, but they were among my favorites of the year. The first one does an amazing job of setting up the world (oh yeah, and it has AI as well—double whammy of AI and post-apocalyptic). I think the end drags a bit, which is why I liked the sequel better.
A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – It’s really weird to read a book about a global pandemic that kills 70% of the population in a year when a global pandemic kicks off. That eerie bit aside, this was a fascinating story about the aftermath of a pandemic.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson – This is kind of post-apocalyptic, but more than anything it’s a multi-verse story. It has some fun twists and turns and was enjoyable mostly because it was so unexpected.
The Regional Office Is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzalez – This wacky super spy story was riveting from the first page. The ending was kind of a letdown, which is why it slipped so low on this list, but the reading experience was pretty great.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey – A sci-fi/western with a little post-apocalypse thrown in (sense a theme?), this story was a fun, quick read. It’s sticks in my mind mostly as being the type of book that got me back into reading. I read it in July, after a few months of having a really hard time getting into books. The blurb sounded fun (“Are you a coward or a librarian?) and it came quickly when I requested it from the library. Just what I needed when I needed it.
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess took the multiple world setup and really ran with it. I listened to the audio book while also reading The Space Between Worlds, which made for a really bizarre pairing.