The Book Beat - December 31, 2020
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Happy almost 2021, book friends! I'm sure you, like me, are really looking forward to a healthier, safer, more social, less Covid-y new year. Right? Before it's officially over, I wanted to share some end-of-year book news/reviews and what I accomplished over the year. And while I did empty and refill the dishwasher at least 300 times and say, "Pick up your crap," about a gazillion, I'm going to focus on book- and reading-related things here.
As far as my reading goals for 2020, I'll be honest: I didn't hit my official GoodReads goal of 52. I got to 44 (23 are pictured to the left). That said, I freelance as a critic of self-published books for a book review organization and I read and critiqued 40 books for that, so I'm going to take that as an overall win. For my short-story-a-day goal, I made it to September and a total of 251 short stories. And I am hooked! The drama! The profundity! The shock endings! All so masterfully conveyed by writers through a tighter, shorter narrative. Further down I share my faves.
And, finally, the most important aspect of 2020 for me, book/reading-wise, was thinking about all the things that I learned. I discovered some truly amazing short stories and writers (I'm now officially a Ray Bradbury fangirl). I learned details about the history of racism in America that my high-school education glossed over (The Blood of Emmett Till and Zinn Education Project ). I was thoroughly entertained by the time-bending, fantasy, sci-fi, romance mix that was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (my favorite book of the year). I finally looked up and memorized what "bildungsroman" means after having read it for years (definition: a novel dealing with someone's formative years or spiritual education). I saw and thoroughly enjoyed one of my favorite historical romance series translated to the small screen (my Bridgerton review is also below). I read Because of Winn-Dixie with my son and remembered when, as a young reader, I told my family I had finished Charlotte's Web when I really hadn't. My mom was appalled that I thought the ending was "Great!" I got my reading-reluctant daughter to finish a whole book! I became way more knowledgeable about American politics and my views/thoughts re: them thanks to informative and eloquent articles in The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, The New York Times, O Magazine (the articles are amazing), and more. I watched several Zoom book tours (Shout out to all the authors who had to "sell" their books virtually this year. All did a wonderful job). I also learned about the behind-the-scenes processes of independent bookstores and how amazing they did switching up their usual business model to succeed by selling books online/through Bookshop.org.
Reading and books are always a yearly highlight for me, and I'm always thankful for the learning they bring. But this year they were especially helpful in giving me, even for a few minutes, a respite from all the other responsibilities of my homeschooling/freelancing/staying safe from Covid/cooking/cleaning/emptying the dishwasher (I really hate it, can you tell?) life. So, in the spirit of reflection of what's past and hope about what's to come, let's get to it!
Book Business In Times of Covid: It Was Good!
Good news! Book sales were UP this year. Now while most would assume they would be because people were homebound due to the pandemic, it's still interesting to read about what type of books sold well (gardening, YA, political tomes, antiracism reads), what didn't (religious books and travel guides) and what stores saw the most sales (Amazon, Target). It makes me happy considering the collective freakout that happened when eBooks hit the market years ago and everyone thought hardcovers and paperbacks would go extinct. They didn't and sales of books--print, electronic, audio--continue to thrive. Below I list some independent bookstores I've patronized in an effort to help out the little guys during this tough time. I'll admit, I get books from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but I also shop the small stores. You all know I buy a lot of books, so I'm able to spread my business around. But if you have the means, spend the extra cash to buy your book from a little guy. They really do give you a warm, personable sales experience you won't get from the big guys. Also, hit up your local library. Mine is doing curbside pickup for titles and they also offer a ton of ebooks and audiobooks you can borrow through Overdrive and Libby.
Independent Bookstores to check out:
The Ripped Bodice, Culver City, CA
A romance bookstore (the only exclusively romance bookstore on the West Coast) that features other titles too, this store is on my bucket list to visit someday. The themed storefronts alone are stunning! I ordered a book from here and it arrived at my house in a metallic, hot pink package. You don't get that from Amazon!
Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kansas
At the beginning of the pandemic, they had a $2 shipping sale, so I purchased two books. Quick turnaround and an overall pleasant experience. And a place named after Poe is always a highlight.
Harriett's Bookshop, Philadelphia, PA
https://www.harriettsbookshop.com (it'll redirect you to buy through bookshop.org)
I've written about Harriett's before, but I just love the whole vibe of this store. Described as a shop that celebrates women authors, women artists, and women activists, it looks like a true original. The collection is tied to an artist or theme, so the books featured in the shop change (yet you can still request they order one they don't have in stock). I will get there someday! Below is an article about the owner, Jeannine A. Cook and her art/educator background.
Wicked Good Bookstore, Salem, MA
I mean, the name! Love it. They just launched a Go Fund Me, so I'm thinking their sales aren't where they need to be, so if you have the means, why not order a book from here? They, too, go through bookshop.org.
My local faves, Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton and Reads and Company in Phoenixville, are open for in-store shopping, curbside pick-up, and mail orders.
Cover Girl: Octavia Butler
I fangirl over Octavia's short stories below, so I loved this article about repackaging her books for today's publishing world and readers. And you all know I totally judge books by their covers, so I'm always interested in the behind-the-scenes scoop about the design process involved with creating book covers. Octavia's works (published in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s) are interesting because not only do they eerily predict many of the issues our modern world is grappling with in regards to race, gender, technology, etc., they're being redesigned without her here to give her opinion (she passed away in 2006). This article is fascinating and gives readers a peek into just how much thought goes into designing book covers.
An Infamous Legacy: The Catcher in the Rye
This creepy yet compelling article discusses how J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is tied to several of the most high-profile assassinations in history. I haven't read the book since high school, so I might do a re-read this year to reacquaint myself with the rebellious life of the unforgettable Holden Caulfield.
My 2020 Book/Reading Year In Review
Best in Books
Although I read 44 books, I would have liked to read 200. The offerings in 2020 were just that good. So I'll qualify the below list as my favorite books of the 44 that I read.
Best Book of My Reading Year: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Honorable Mention: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Best Audio Book: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Fave Memoir: Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Book I Wanted to be Better Than It Was: Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Book That Made Me Cry: Transcendent Kingdom By Yaa Gyasi
Book I Won't Forget: Separated by Jacob Soboroff
Book That Made Me Laugh: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Book That Made Me Swoon: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Books That Were Really Good: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London & The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Fave Cover: Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Best in Short Stories
"Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu
"Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler
"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
"The Great Silence" by Ted Chiang
"The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
“The Knowers” by Helen Philips
“In the Gloaming” by Alice Elliot
“The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machato
“Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
“A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri
"The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov
"The Semplica Girl Diaries" by George Saunders
“Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin
“Girls, At Play” by Celeste Ng
“Go, Team” by Samantha Hunt
“Ghosts and Empties” by Lauren Groff
“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter
“The Ones Who Walked Away from the Omelas” by Ursula K. LeGuin
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
"A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
“Crazy They Call Me” by Zadie Smith
"Rag” by Maryse Meijer
“The Dead” by James Joyce
"The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
"John Redding Goes to Sea" by Zora Neale Hurston
"Possession(s)" by John Smolens
"Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff
"Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
"A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty
"The Wife’s Story” by Ursula K LeGuin
"Welcome to the Monkey House” by Kurt Vonnegut
"Alcatraz" by Danielle Evans
Best in Book-to-Screen
Bridgerton - Netflix
Surprisingly, the same as Little Fires for this one. I couldn't get through the book but loved this series.ce series to be brought to the screen in all its opulent, fantastical, fun, steamy glory and this rendition did not disappoint. When is season 2?! Or season 4 (Book 4 highlights my favorite character, Penelope Featherington).
Little Fires Everywhere - Hulu
I thought this book was OK. I thought this series was phenomenal. And because I can't end the year without saying it, major props to our Patron Saint of Books, Reese Witherspoon.
Normal People - Hulu
Surprisingly, the same as Little Fires for this one. I couldn't get through the book, but loved this series.
Happy Reading in 2021!
I'm planning on being back with a post every week in the new year. If you want to read in-depth analyses of the 251 short stories I read in 2020, follow me on Insta @ashortstoryaday. If you want to see some of the book pics I share, follow me @readingwhilemommying. And, as always, give me a shout at email@example.com if you have a book I just have to read or just want to say "Hi!"
Until next time...