It’s the last days of the year: the back fence has blown down in Storm Bella, the supply of Christmassy chocolate biscuits is running low, and there’s a huge pile of washing I should be doing. That’s how I know this is the perfect time to sit around in my pyjamas and revisit my reading in 2020.
Wait – I’ve already done that over here, at Fantasy Book Critic. As well as listing some books to look out for next year, James Smythe, M. John Harrison, Rym Kechacha, Marian Womack, Paul Tremblay and others all make an appearance there. Pop over there and look at that list first, maybe.
But I didn’t read all fantasy, and I read some other things since I wrote that post, so I’ll add those here:
I really enjoyed Doris Lessing’s Collected Short Stories, particularly Through The Tunnel, which I’ve never come across before but it seems that its pretty well known, having just googled it. I’m really interested in these pockets of missed knowledge that exist. The blank spots of reading. Anyway. If you’ve got a blank spot about it too, please do go and have a look.
Speaking of blank spots, I have no idea why it took me so long to find out that Saga (Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) is so good. You’ve all known for ages, probably. I’m glad I found it out during the first lockdown, though, because I read through books one to eight in a fever of escapism. Of course I was going to like it, starting as it does with a love story caused by an underestimated genre novel.
Am I going to mention Richard Brautigan again? Yep, I think he made an appearance in my list last year, and this year I read Sombrero Fallout, A Confederate General From Big Sur, and Revenge of the Lawn and Other Stories. I fell in love with Ernest Hemingway’s Typist, one of those stories, and have read it over and over since. It’s very short, and it makes me feel good.
There something of Brautigan’s timing and humour to Drew Gummerson’s wonderful novel, Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel. It’s tragic and comic and rude and earthbound and airborne. I probably identified with it too much, having worked as a waitress and chambermaid in a hotel for years when I was younger. Our hero washes dishes, moves chairs, does all the terrible jobs, and dreams. His dreams are a little more… exotic than mine (I mainly just wanted to stay home and write all day), and they are the stuff of wonder.
The British Library’s Tales of the Weird series continues to entertain me, and this year I found Mortal Echoes (Ed. Greg Buzwell) in the library, waiting for me. Two stories really stood out for me: Donald Barthelme’s The School, and a magnificently creepy piece of work by May Sinclair called Where Their Fire is Not Quenched. I later found out Sinclair wrote many novels and short stories (as well as leading an incredible life – go look her up) and I’m going to try to check some of those out in 2021.
I didn’t read a lot of non-fiction this year – apart from endlessly looking at the news which is a habit I hope I can break in 2021 – but I did surprise myself by tackling a few really challenging, and superb, books in Emmanuel Carrere’s The Adversary and War’s Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich. I’m glad I did, even though they tackle very difficult subject matters. Perhaps because of that. I also loved Ken Krimstein’s illustrated biography, inhabiting a space between graphic novel and primer: The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt.
At the other end of the spectrum of illustration, there’s Junji Ito’s Uzumaki. Spirals everywhere. Brilliant body horror. There’s something really satisfying about it as a book. Whenever I open it, there the spirals are. I’ve never seen the film version; I will hopefully watch that next year.
Actually, looking back on it, it was a brilliant reading year. How strange, to only come to that conclusion when summing it up. I could go on listing them, and appreciating them, until the new year but I think I’ll leave it there without getting into things I reread or favourite authors I revisited. Instead I’ll end by saying that I’m grateful for them and their voices, and for the new ones waiting for me on my shelves from my Christmas haul, including books by Patrick McGrath, Jenni Fagan, Yoko Ogawa, and the monster that is Ursula Le Guin’s collected novellas.
Here goes. See you in there.