2020 was the year of audiobooks for me. With a toddler who needed constant attention, I’m now very good at playing with Duplos/Magnetiles while listening to a book. Chores/running errands are now a secret pleasure because I can finish half a book while getting things done! I had planned to write reviews for every book I read, which of course did not happen. So here are a few most memorable ones:
I spent some time reading the latest installments of some of my favorite series, Pierce Brown’s Dark Age, Naomi Novik’s Black Powder War, Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Unfortunately they were all quite disappointing, the only one I really enjoyed was Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which brings a bit more closure to the story (especially after watching the TV series that has gone off the rails).
A few other fiction that I really enjoyed include Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, both tales of how two lives diverge as a result of choices and circumstances, with race very much at the center of both narratives. Then there were David Sedaris’ Calypso and Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, both imaginative stories featuring minor characters we’ve only associated with their more famous husbands, Odysseus and Shakespeare.
I spent about a month obsessively going through Ben Macintyre’s spy biographies. I think my favorite was still the first one I read, The Spy and the Traitor, which details life of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian equivalent of Kim Philby (I also read the one about Philby, A Spy Among Friends, which was just a little less suspenseful). There’s also a great book on Elizebeth Smith called The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone, which is a fascinating history of the origin of cryptography in America.
Now onto non-fiction. I spent much of the year wondering about the same thing as many others — why is the country so divided? A few books that I thought offered interesting perspectives were: Jonathan Haidt’s A Righteous Mind, which I have read a couple of times already but continue to find new learnings, Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent, and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. I also read a few history (sort of) books that helped me understand how we got to where we are: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Steven Levy’s Facebook: The Inside Story, and Rachel Maddow’s Blowout, and last but not least, a re-read of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. I have jumbled reflections from all of these, and would love to discuss with others who are interested.
I also enjoyed reading some auto-biographies that explored different life experiences, such as Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine. I am keenly aware of the bubble I live in, and even then it is not so often that we share our past experiences. As we grow older, it’s even harder to expand our friendship circles and build strong relationships with people who are not like us. If anything, I find myself drifting away from friends who are not in the same life stage as me. I hope to remedy that in the coming year!