Considering we’re more than a third of the way through the year, I’ve not read nearly as many books as I would have liked.
But I thought I’d do a roundup of all the books I have read so far this year and share some quick thoughts.
Twelve Angels Weeping
I loved this short story collection. There’s one tale for each of the twelve days of Christmas, and that’s exactly how I read it — one day at a time. My favourite of the lot was “The Rhino of Twenty-Three Strand Street”, which saw an inquisitive young girl take care of an infant Judoon. The ending had me welling up with tears. Some other notable tales include “The Ghost in the Machine” — told from the perspective of a Cyberman — and “A Soldier’s Education” — a humorous story about the rapid education of a Sontaran between its birth and near-immediate deployment onto the battlefield.
Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor
What is a bad drawing? I’m not so sure anymore.
This is a fantastic book to read if you’ve not drawn in a long time but want to get back into it. It’s also a must-read for anyone who likes drawing but thinks they’re not very good. I dare say even seasoned artists would enjoy this book. Full of exercises and inspiration, it’s the one book I’ve read this year I can’t stop talking about and recommending to people.
(Related: Drawing badly and loving it)
Dept. of Speculation
The structure of this short novel plays with time in fun ways and makes you realise the novel is capable of great versatility if you’re willing to reconsider the boundaries of fiction writing. Offill constructs this novel out of vignettes, which include quotes, jokes, lists, personality quizzes and more.
I also like this quote I pulled out:
She has wanted to sleep with other people, of course. One or two in particular. But the truth is she has good impulse control. That is why she isn’t dead. Also why she became a writer instead of a heroin addict. She thinks before she acts. Or more properly, she thinks instead of acts. A character flaw, not a virtue.
This poetry collection illustrates the experience of living as a Black citizen in the United States, although I suspect the microaggressions and more explicit forms of racism depicted in these poems are not exclusive to the States. Using different forms of text and media, Rankine shows how racism can creep — or sometimes jump — into even the most mundane of human interactions and how these interactions can take a sharp turn and put Black people in danger.
No One is Talking About This
Split into two halves, Lockwood’s writing uses stream of consciousness amongst other writing techniques to create a book similar to Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation in structure. What’s different about this novel, however, is that this is very much a social media novel and revolves around the unnamed protagonist’s interactions with “the portal.” The first half has no real plot and feels like a social media feed of thoughts that do not appear inherently connected, whilst the second half is a work of autofiction centred around a family tragedy. It’s a beautiful short read I happily recommend.
All the Birds in the Sky
Charlie Jane Anders
A blend of science-fiction and fantasy that I loved from start to finish. Anders’ prose style always kept me engaged in the story and I loved the characters dearly. The climate anxieties explored in the book also feel ever more relevant and powerful.
Beautiful World, Where Are You?
Rooney’s third novel was a bit divisive from what I recall reading about it, but I mostly enjoyed it — if not as much as Normal People. It’s a thought-provoking narrative with a character focus rather than plot, I’d describe it as a “slice of life” novel. My favourite parts of the book, though, were the email exchanges between the protagonists Alice and Eileen. That’s where the bulk of the novel’s philosophising and ideas are most clearly communicated.
The Pyjama Myth
I’ve thought about freelancing for a long time, but it was this book that has pushed me to commit to the idea. That’s the best endorsement I could give. Meades-Williams has been in the business for over a decade and has a great deal of wisdom and encouragement to share. This is the bible for freelance writers starting out.
Utopia for Realists
This was my favourite book of 2020, and I wanted to rekindle the hope it inspired back then. What with everything going on, not just in the UK but across the globe, it’s good to be reminded that better things are possible and plenty of evidence exists to support its viability. This book got me to stop being so cynical about utopian ideas.
Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke
Aspiring poet Franz Kappus sent Rainer Maria Rilke a letter and one of his poems, and what ensued was a series of 10 letters sent over the course of several years. I like Austin Kleon’s perspective on these letters, whereby he suggests that Rilke saw a younger version of himself in Kappus and so was really writing to his younger self. And there are nuggets of insight from Rilke that I found valuable, such as his suggestion to mine one’s own childhood for poetry.
However, there’s much I take issue with — his insistence on isolating yourself, for one. Also, as noted by Michael Dirda in 1996 in his review of a Rilke biography, the poet was somewhat of a rotten human being who had no real business dishing out advice.