18 votes

What were the best books you read this year?

The question is NOT limited to 2020 releases (though they are certainly included).

What were the best books you read this year, and why were they standouts?

10 comments

  1. mat
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    I rather enjoyed Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children which is about a post-flesh human society. I liked being referred to as 'pink goo' and the ultra-realistic space-travel was fun too. Stross is...

    I rather enjoyed Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children which is about a post-flesh human society. I liked being referred to as 'pink goo' and the ultra-realistic space-travel was fun too. Stross is very hit and miss for me but when he's good I do like him a lot. The followup book, Neptune's Brood was also good but didn't really feel like it added much or progressed a sequence or anything.

    Yoon Ha Lee is someone I've been enjoying this year, I think I read two of his books. Dragon Pearl is a pretty simple, but great fun, bit of YA sci-fi. Hard to put down but you'll finish it in a handful of hours so it's not a problem. But Phoenix Extravagant was great and I don't normally like fantasy at all. It's smart, well paced and Lee does, as always, have an interesting take on magic which I can't go in to too much detail about because spoilers. But it's well worth a read.

    I think the best thing I've read this year is the book I'm currently reading, Peter F Hamilton's The Saints of Salvation, the final book in his current trilogy. Hamilton does epic-scale space opera like nobody else, on page count alone! I wasn't all that into the first Salvation book but it's been slowly building over the last howevermany thousands of pages to the point where I'm currently losing sleep due to reading late rather than sleeping. This is non ideal when the kid wakes me up at 6am every morning, but it's a sign of a good book. Hamilton's usual ludicrous scale over which the plot arcs applies, but as ever he backs it up with strong characters who you care about. It's not a deeply philosophical book, but it is a very exciting one.

    I would also like to mention Can't You Sleep, Little Bear by Martin Waddell because it's just adorable. I find it hard to read the line "I've brought you the moon, Little Bear" without getting a bit emotional.

    Related, big shout out to all the many, many picture books I've read this year. Too many to list, but there's some really wonderful stories out there which happen to be being told with big pictures and simple language. One of my favourites is Death, Duck and the Tulip (I suggest muting the video and just reading). I don't just read them with my kid, a good picture book is worth reading just because it's a good book.

    5 votes
  2. Nivlak
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    Henry Rider Haggard - People of the Mist Very few books have captured me like this one. Such a great tale of adventure and fantasy. I genuinely love this book. Also it’s so old you can get it for...

    Henry Rider Haggard - People of the Mist

    Very few books have captured me like this one. Such a great tale of adventure and fantasy. I genuinely love this book.

    Also it’s so old you can get it for free.

    4 votes
  3. georgebcrawford
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    According to my book-tracking spreadsheet, I've rated three books 5/5. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. Wonderfully written, engaging characters, a picturesque setting, and a great...

    According to my book-tracking spreadsheet, I've rated three books 5/5.

    The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. Wonderfully written, engaging characters, a picturesque setting, and a great weaving of traditional folk tales with historical figures.

    The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie. Excellent world building. Joe does a great fight scene, and his characters are well-rounded out. This is the second book in his second trilogy in the same world, and it's much better than first of this trilogy. Highly recommended to any low-fantasy fans.

    Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett. My intro to Discworld, of which I have only read about four more so far. I laughed the whole way through. Carrot is definitely my favourite character so far.

    In hindsight, that seems about right. I'm about to finish my last book of the year, which I will probably rate a 4/5. That will take me to 26 books read, with three 5s, fourteen 4s, and nine 3s.

    3 votes
  4. nukeman
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    I’m somewhat embarrassed, I’m pretty sure I’ve only read one book so far this year, and it’s Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. I’m almost done with it, and I’ve generally enjoyed it, although the...

    I’m somewhat embarrassed, I’m pretty sure I’ve only read one book so far this year, and it’s Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. I’m almost done with it, and I’ve generally enjoyed it, although the romantic subplot is pretty cringe.

    2 votes
  5. kfwyre
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    Nonfiction Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds - Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You Jason Reynolds is a household name in the young adult book and middle grade book scene. Meanwhile, Ibram X....

    Nonfiction

    Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds - Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

    Jason Reynolds is a household name in the young adult book and middle grade book scene. Meanwhile, Ibram X. Kendi is a household name in the antiracist movement. This book is a pairing of the two's talents -- a "remix" of Kendi's very dense, very scholarly book Stamped from the Beginning for younger audiences. Reynolds takes the ideas from that book and conveys them in a way that's relevant and accessible to modern youth today. I'd even say that many adults could benefit from reading this as well, as it's less intimidating than Kendi's original ~600 page book, and written in a way that's makes the content accessible but not dumbed down.

    David France - How to Survive a Plague

    I have @tindall to thank for this one. I'd seen the documentary of the same name years ago, but the book is far more detailed and more thorough. It conveys the full history of the AIDS crisis, and, while not directly relevant to COVID, was hard to read in today's context without drawing parallels.

    Ronan Farrow - Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

    Farrow's chronicle of investigating Harvey Weinstein, detailing the difficulties he faced every step of the way in getting allegations to stick to a powerful, wealthy, and well-connected person. Pairs well with Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor's She Said, which covers their part of the same investigation and for which all three earned Pulitzer Prizes for their news organizations.

    Chanel Miller - Know My Name

    Miller was the "Emily Doe" from the infamous Brock Turner sexual assault case. Her victim impact statement is a must-read, and Know My Name is a full-length book on her experiences where she writes with the same powerful, insightful voice. Given the subject matter, it's a hard book to recommend enthusiastically, but I genuinely believe everyone, no matter who they are, will leave this book different than when they started it should they choose to read it.

    Rachel Maddow - Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth

    I'm not someone who loves jabs and barbs in my discourse, but if I have to indulge them then I'll pick the ones given by Maddow. Told in her usual style, the book is a sprawling picture of the modern oil industry that's both illuminating and troubling.

    Andrew Marantz - Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation

    A New Yorker journalist embeds with alt-right personalities and shares his observations. It's hard to recommend this without standing on a particular political side and all the baggage that comes with that, but the book goes beyond left-right warring and instead examines the circumstances which create and exacerbate that divide in the first place as well. I think this one is particularly relevant to people who are here on Tildes, as our site is a response to some of the issues identified in the book.

    Xinran - The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

    Xinran hosted a radio show in China in the 80s and 90s in which she discussed and featured the stories of women. She was, certainly, subject to censorship, but also worked within those bounds to feature the stories of individual women that wouldn't otherwise be told. After she left China, she compiled many of the stories from her interviews into this book. They are thoroughly heartwrenching. This is not an easy read.

    Fiction

    Ted Chiang - Exhalation

    A collection of science fiction short stories that are diverse and fascinating. It reminded me of Black Mirror in some ways, though not necessarily always as bleak.

    Comics

    Alex Robinson - Box Office Poison

    Sprawling and interesting, with a large cast of characters and an often directionless, slice-of-life feel. Its stories feel lived and its artwork is wonderfully done. There are a few problematic elements in it that are a bit hard to stomach, especially by modern standards, but there is far more good here than bad.

    Allie Brosh - Solutions and Other Problems

    Brosh has a gift for conveying relatable content in unfamiliar ways, making her work feel simultaneously recognizable and novel at the same time.

    2 votes
  6. thundergolfer
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    Right now Evicted by Matthew Desmond comes to mind. Absolutely gripping throughout, and provides a very useful lens into American society.

    Right now Evicted by Matthew Desmond comes to mind. Absolutely gripping throughout, and provides a very useful lens into American society.

    2 votes
  7. Atvelonis
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    I've written previously about Moby Dick (Herman Melville, 1851) and The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931) on here, among others, which I'm quite enjoying. Earlier in the year I read The God of Small...

    I've written previously about Moby Dick (Herman Melville, 1851) and The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931) on here, among others, which I'm quite enjoying.

    Earlier in the year I read The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy, 1997), also a fiction piece, which tackles some of the extant classism and associated racism in post-colonial India; specifically, how its internalization in the psyche of a child absolutely destroys their identity. There's a lot in the way of trauma theory to analyze here (childhood trauma, intergenerational trauma, cultural trauma), and it has some heavy moments, but it has a thoughtful, introspective, perhaps beautiful side too. What stood out to me the most about this novel was its language. Many of the chapters are written from the perspective of one of two children, and the way that they see the world is represented far more accurately than most adult writers are capable of. At a certain age, I think most people forget what it is children really care about and how they formulate thoughts. Their short attention spans, strange imaginations, interest in the mundane, and mischaracterization of objects are described with grace throughout the book. It reminds me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (2005) in this regard, which I also felt did a good job capturing moments of childhood.

    I also recently finished There, There (Tommy Orange, 2018). It is quite simply an expression of Native American life in a country that has all but forgotten that Native communities or people still exist. Orange presents the lived experiences of several characters through a series of converging narratives centered around the reconciliation of modern society and the inherited trauma and general difficulties associated with being a Native person. It's wonderfully complex, although similarly heavy as the previous book I mentioned, for reasons that should be self-evident. I'd recommend it. Here's a quote from the prologue that struck me:

    Urban Indians were the generation born in the city. We've been moving for a long time, but the land moves with you like memory. An Urban Indian belongs to the city, and cities belong to the earth. Everything here is formed in relation to every other living and nonliving thing from the earth. All our relations. [...] Urban Indians feel at home walking in the shadow of a downtown building. [...] Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.

    Lastly, I didn't read anywhere near the whole thing, but the pieces of Christina Sharpe's In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016) that I did go through were also extremely worthwhile. I'm very interested in her use of the "wake" as a multi-layered metaphor for the relationship between Black identity and personal/historical trauma; the wake as a funeral, as the path of a ship (or a bullet), as a state of being (to be "awake"; to be conscious), etc.

    Keeping each of the definitions of wake in mind, I want to think and argue for one aspect of Black being in the wake as consciousness and to propose that to be in the wake is to occupy and to be occupied by the continuous and changing present of slavery’s as yet unresolved unfolding. To be "in" the wake, to occupy that grammar, the infinitive, might provide another way of theorizing, in/for/from what Frank Wilderson refers to as "stay[ing] in the hold of the ship." With each of those definitions of wake present throughout my text, I argue that rather than seeking a resolution to blackness’s ongoing and irresolvable abjection, one might approach Black being in the wake as a form of consciousness.

    [...]

    My project looks instead to current quotidian disasters in order to ask what, if anything, survives this insistent Black exclusion, this ontological negation, and how do literature, performance, and visual culture observe and mediate this un/survival. To do this work of staying in the wake and to perform wake work I look also to forms of Black expressive culture (like the works of poets and poet-novelists M. NourbeSe Philip, Dionne Brand, and Kamau Brathwaite) that do not seek to explain or resolve the question of this exclusion in terms of assimilation, inclusion, or civil or human rights, but rather depict aesthetically the impossibility of such resolutions by representing the paradoxes of blackness within and after the legacies of slavery’s denial of Black humanity. I name this paradox the wake, and I use the wake in all of its meanings as a means of understanding how slavery’s violences emerge within the contemporary conditions of spatial, legal, psychic, material, and other dimensions of Black non/being as well as in Black modes of resistance.

    What stands out to me in particular about her metaphor in the introduction is primarily the interrelation of the physical and emotional sides of the coin (or of the wake, I should say), and the way in which our discussion of the traumatic all too often hinges upon a framework that fails to properly take each of these variables into account (as well as the environment they are situated in). I do intend to go back and finish the entire text when I have the time, and I would recommend it for anyone looking to delve into some non-fiction about the "quotidian" aspects of Blackness in contemporary American society.

    1 vote
  8. JoylessAubergine
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    Favourite SFF standalone-ish. The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven Favourite series. Chung Kuo Redux series by David Wingrove and Night Lords Omnibus by ABD Favourite Literature. The Road to Wigan...
    1 vote
  9. culturedleftfoot
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    Easily the best was a re-read - The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It's the personal development book that will make all the other personal development books work.

    Easily the best was a re-read - The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It's the personal development book that will make all the other personal development books work.

    1 vote