“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”
To begin this 2020 Reading Review, it’s worth acknowledging that I read more books in a 12-month span than ever before.
Obviously, blogging was a key factor, as was being on furlough, which – trust me – was not the jolly holiday many like to make out.
I am, for the most part, really proud of this – especially because most were pretty good! I do have a fair bit of work to do in order to increase the diversity on my bookshelf, however.
From starting Tales from Absurdia to writing my 2020 Reading Review, it has been quite the trip! I’ve met some great people online and, in many ways, both reading and blogging has kept me sane during what has been a challenging year.
And for those who are reading this, please accept my most sincere thanks for taking time to visit my blog. It’s humbly appreciated.
John @ TfA
2020 Reading in Review – Key Takeaways
Indie Publishers Rock!
It’s fair to say that 2020 has seen my horizons expand in terms of reading (though looking at my stats above, that I could certainly broaden my horizons – more on that later).
I’ve discovered some excellent indie publishers, including Bluemoose Books, Comma Press, Galley Beggar Press, Fitzcarraldo Editions , and Bearded Badger Publishing. I’ve admittedly not yet had time to read from every single publisher listed, but I shall definitely be looking to them for my 2021 reading!
Indie publishers are the presses flying the proverbial flag of creativity and representation. And thanks to them, publishing is more accessible. As one publisher told me, they aren’t constrained in the same way that the ‘Big Five’ publishers are. They don’t have to jump on the latest trends in order to meet unrealistic profit goals mandated from upon high.
They need to make profit to survive of course, but the indie publisher has a very different business model to a bestseller you might pick up from a high street store.
For example, #BluemooseWomen2020 – an initiative started by Kev and Hetha Duffy at Bluemoose Books – saw the indie publisher only publish fiction written by women.
Next year, I am really excited to get stuck into Comma Press’s Reading the City series. Running since 2006, it’s an annual anthology of the best ten short stories from specific cities around the world.
His Dark Materials
As a child, I completely bounced off of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy numerous times. And yet, it’s always fascinated me from afar.
Perhaps, as a younger reader, the more mature elements of the plot (dark matter, theology, academia etc.) just washed over me. Like all good children’s books, it’s perfect for both adults and children, but apparently it simply didn’t appeal to the younger me.
I watched the much-maligned movie, The Golden Compass, when it was released around Christmas time in 2005(?). I liked it. It had a big polar bear, and snow, a decent plot… but it was Christmas, so I had turkey, opened my presents, and never thought about it again.
Like many, however, I’ve been enthralled by the BBC’s His Dark Materials adaptation, so I decided to revisit Northern Lights and give it one last shot.
And I’m pleased to say that I’m very glad that I did. This trilogy is phenomenal (well, the first two books are). The scope of Pullman’s fiction is commendable – he manages to introduce multiple worlds (including our own) without overwhelming the internal logic of the universe in which his novels take place. It’s really well done.
All three books are drastically different. Northern Lights is a fantastical, almost steampunk-like tale. The Amber Spyglass however, sets this fantastical world against our own contemporary Oxford. The two places are – literally – worlds apart, and yet it works.
Pullman also has the courage to introduce a raft of new characters in each book. At first I was disappointed – I missed reading about the Gyptians and Tartars from Northern Lights. But characters such as Mary Malone and Will Parry are inspired additions.
And then, of course, there’s the overarching plot. At first I feared it would be a straightforward, evil Magisterium-cum-Catholic Church vs Lord Asriel’s Good ole’ Republican Army tale – especially with Pullman’s Humanist background.
However, I was genuinely pleased that it didn’t boil down to ‘Religion Bad’ / ‘Secularism Good’. It is far more complex than that which, even as someone with beliefs aligned with Pullman, was refreshing to see.
Thank you Philip Pullman for this truly great trilogy.
Diversity In Practice
Finally, a key takeaway from my 2020 Reading Review, is the lack of diversity on my bookshelf.
As noted above, a staggering 81% of the 52 books I read this year were written by men. Furthermore, only 12% of the books I read were written by people of colour.
I’m very much an impulse reader, outside of the review copies I’m sent, and this is the first time I’ve actually analysed my reading trends, so it’s actually quite eye-opening.
Next year, I’d like to slightly alter my reading habits and read not just more books by women, but certainly more from PoC.
If there are books I want to read that are written by white male authors, I don’t plan on skipping them – life’s too short and if I want to read a book, I’ll read it.
However, the things I pride myself on – not just as a reviewer, but as a person – are perspective, rationality, and objectivity. And with a seemingly limited pool of reading, my point-of-view is thus equally limited.
It’s not ideal and if Tales of Absurdia is for everybody, which it is, then I could certainly do with showing that in practice.
So, hopefully at the end of 2021, I’ll have read from a far more diverse set of authors. Any recommendations? Please leave them in the comments below – they are gratefully received!
How many books did you read this year? Any favourites you want to shout about? Shout them out in the comments below!