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The last several years, I've written up my reading list. Last year, with the pandemic on, you'd think I'd have read more than in other years but I didn't. I read less than I have in the last 4. Like everyone, in 2020 I read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies and tv, played a lot of board games and video games, and spend a lot of time in zoom.

And when I say a lot, we all mean a lot.

As far as watching goes, I re-watched a lot of my old favorites early in 2020. As time went on, I found myself continually pushing into new spaces, looking for more and more to fill the pandemic hours and I found, as the year passed, I was increasingly drawn to shows and movies that were not aimed at me (a white woman in technology over 50). And that was a tremendous win.

I also found a new outlet, due to a conversation with Samantha Blackmon in Room 42. Video games. Inspired by Sam and by our experiences trying to create something new in Room 42, I bought a Nintendo Switch in early October and have spent at least an hour every day since relaxing with my Animal Crossing island villagers. Even my spouse, who was never a big video game player, got a Switch and started playing AC in December. It's become a treasured respite at the end of the day that helps us both wind down, have some quiet time together, and sleep better, too.

I'm sure there's a paper somewhere in all of that, but today, it's all about the books of 2020. So here we go...

2020 Stats

I set my Reading Challenge Goal at 156 books. I ended up reading 172. That's 62 fewer than I read in 2019, and the lowest total books read since 2015.

I ended up reading 172.

That's 62 fewer than I read in 2019, and the lowest total books read since 2015.

And most were read prior to October, when I started playing Animal Crossing.

* If you want the rationale behind how I rate books, read the 2016 post.

2020 Memorable Reads

My #1 favorite from last year happens to be written by someone I've had the privilege to get to know through professional circles. I've written before about how many technical writers write other things (screenplays, books both fiction and non-fiction, etc) in addition to their professional technical writing jobs. Several, like Kory Shrum and Andrea Wenger have become full time writers after working in academia and industry, respectively. Shawneda started as a novelist then added a second career as a technical writer but who continues to write amazing books that I can't put down.

This was also the year that female fantasy writers decided that female protagonists didn't have to be young adults coming of age. It's not surprising when you realize that a lot of the popular authors are now in the over 40 group themselves. 10 years ago, these books didn't exist outside the Mystery genre (and even those are fairly rare). In 2020, these books surged. Some were good; some were bad, but that's true of everything. However, we all like to see characters who look like us and that includes middle aged women.

Notable reads from the last year include: 

  1. I Am Not My Hair (Natural Sistahs Series #2), Shawneda, Fiction.
    This book is perhaps better than the first one in the series. The time and space to return to yourself and be who you are and be loved for it. This is what every woman dreams of being and having in her life.
  2. Itzá, Rios de la Luz. Fantasy/Horror.
    This book is pure poetry. I haven't read anything like it in a very, very long time. While it includes some tough subjects (some I can connect to and some that I can't). This book allows me an experience that would otherwise be unavailable. I am both jealous and grateful.
  3. My Crowning Glory (Natural Sistahs Series #1), Shawneda. Fiction.
    This is the first book in the series (and there's now a third which came out in early 2021). It highlighted for me a lot of things I take for granted, which I expected, but it also gave me a chance to read someone else's experience which I treasure deeply.
  4. Devil's Luck: A Lou Thorne Thriller (Shadows in the Water #5), Kory M. Shrum, Fiction.
    After a while if you read enough, you can see things coming. It's rare for a book to be both expected and unexpected but this one does an incredible job balancing on that edge. 
  5. Trials of a Teenage Werevulture (Trilogy of a Teenage Werevulture #1), Emily Martha Sorenson, Fantasy.
    I got this book as part of a StoryBundle but delayed reading this book because I'm not a teenager and, in the midst of reading books with mid-aged protagonists, I wasn't sure I was ready to go back and read a young adult book. But after I got through the first one I ran to the second and third and was completely let down when there wasn't a fourth or fifth.
  6. What Lane?, Torrey Maldonado. Fiction.
    I was lucky enough to attend a virtual NCTE meeting where I got to hear about this book from the author. While I'm far past the target-age for this audience, I'm glad this book exists and is in hundreds of elementary school libraries.
  7. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo. Non-Fiction.
    This was hard but worth it and is something I'll have to read again and again. Some things take work and either you're willing to do the work or you're not. It's my job to learn, my responsibility, no one else's. I'm grateful that the young adults of today are finding it easier to have these conversations. I'm learning from them. (And I'll come back to this in a minute...)
  8. A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, Bruce Cannon Gibney, Non-Fiction.
  9. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry. Non-Fiction.
    History of medicine as a science, history of the flu itself, the placement of both in the overall timeline. Technical, but not so much so that it's not approachable and understandable. This book is research, so has a lot of primary resources (and quotes from them) that may detract a bit and that you can skip and still get the benefit of the research and history contained within it.
  10. Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston. Non-Fiction.
    I've been a Hurston fan for a very long time. I was afraid of this book but read it in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. It's as good as it gets for me to be able to experience someone else's experience -- both Hurston's and Cudjo's. She's an amazing writer. It's haunting and has stayed with me. I hope it always does.

What I've learned from all these reading challenges

Janice tells me over and over that I'm not the target audience--for most everything. I've found that the most rewarding things I read, watch, and listen are things that are not aimed at me. We only ever have our own experience. We only live as our selves and see things from the point of view we have. Reading, watching, and listening things that are not aimed at us provide avenues to expand our perspectives and experience someone else's point of view. Putting myself in someone else's shoes has always been hard so I turn to these mechanisms to help me learn and grow. 

Since I started the reading challenges in 2016, I've read a total of 1152 books. When I closed out 2020, I hit a reading slump. I had a bunch of books on my list, including Shawneda's Me, My Hair, and I (Natural Sistahs Book #3) which I'd been waiting for, when it happened. I haven't read anything this year (2021) and it took me until September to even write this post up. That's how bad it is.

Instead of reading -- so there'll be no list next year -- I've been watching. One of the best shows I've seen this year is Grown-ish. I tried to watch this show a few years ago and found it too mired in the Young Adult/Coming of Age genre. This year, I decided to give it another chance. I'm so glad I did. Most sitcoms are fairly predictable. You know what's coming next, when the lesson will appear, and, generally, what the lesson is going to be. With Grown-ish, I'm finding that what I expect to come -- doesn't. I'm getting a new perspective on old issues. Truly a perspective that could not come from me. It's kind of the first time I'm seeing a true generational difference and now I look forward to it. I love that the perspective I have can improve, for me, for the people around me. I like to collide worlds and shine lights on other people and Grown-ish is serving me in a very unique way that helps me understand where my perspectives came from, where they are internalized in me, and I how I can put aside some of the things that maybe aren't so great and replace them or think about them under new lights. It's become a show I don't miss and I'll be sad when the characters graduate and move on.

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