2020 got off to a good start, then everything went downhill so fast that we still haven’t found the brakes yet! My year in books has allowed me to escape from the realities of 2020 into the imaginary lives of multiple characters and times, that’s the beauty of books. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not a fast reader, I see some people on my on line book clubs that read 50- 100 – 200 books a year, how is this even possible? I asked this question and I had over 100 comments from a Book Club Girls group. They ranged from audiobooks, to skimming by paragraphs, to telling me to stop comparing my reading to someone else’s (which I found interesting and rude at the same time, ha! ). For me, I’m very content with achieving my 2020 reading goal of 25 books this year AND exceeding that number by three.
I’ll give you a brief synopsis of my literary travels this year since we didn’t physically get out and explore as initially planned.
January started out with The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix Harrow, it seemed appropriate given the title and the month we were in. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, it wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but I did finish it and I would say that it was good, but not great. It was about time traveling and portals to other worlds, it was interesting, but not my cup of tea.
I went from time travel and other worlds to An Anonymous girl by Greer Hendricks which I actually enjoyed. It was a modern day thriller that was easy to read yet engaging, full of suspense and intrigue. It wasn’t a book that I would have chosen, but it was part of my book club reads. This is one of those books that can easily be adapted to screen. I’d watch it!
I’ve had on my list to read Steinbeck for years, but didn’t know which one I should start with so after I finished An Anonymous Girl I picked up East of Eden. To say that this isn’t anything other than a masterpiece would be an outright lie! This is my favorite book of all time! In the first chapter Steinbeck goes into great detail to the physical landscape of the Salinas Valley.
He writes “Every petal of blue lupin in edged with white, so that a field of lupins is more blue than you can imagine. And mixed with these were splashes of California poppies. These too are of a burning color – not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of poppies.” It reminded me of my birthday quarantine trip to the Central Coast near Jalama Beach, I had my husband pull over so I could take photos of these beautiful flowers.
“But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
This book was about choices, you can choose to be good, Timshel
Lee was my favorite character in this novel and when I finished with the book I had hoped that the movie would bring to life my love for story, landscape and people, but alas, it did not. I love watching adaptations however, this one just made me mad, so don’t bother, however James Dean is always good to look at. The movie took the last quarter of the book and adapted it onto screen. What a disappointment. I will be reading East of Eden again.
East of Eden is a tough book to follow, but I read on. The Dutch House was a great story, I read and listen to it on Audible. Tom Hanks was the narrator and did an amazing job of bringing to life the story of two siblings and their love for one another.
I’ll give a short shout out to Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing, I recall liking it, but truly, I remember nothing about the book.
I’ve always wanted to read the classics and as I’m immersing myself into books, I thought The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald would be a good one as there’s also a movie with Leo DeCaprio, and I love most movies with him in it. This was a quick read that delved into one of my favorite times for architecture, culture, style and it brought forth the realities of deception, love and obsession. I loved this book and will read it again.
Probably one of my least favorite books of the year, Making Faces by: Amy Harmon. It’s a book about friendship, loss, love – typical Hallmark channel movie. It wasn’t bad, it’s a little romantic, I did shed a tear or two however it’s not my normal genre. I’d say, if you’re looking to cry, laugh and feel all warm inside, pick up the book.
Moving into my next book, I went from the feel good endings to the actual ending of human existence here on earth. I loved The Girl with All The Gifts by M.R. Carey Man eating children are the best!
Looking at my rating on Goodreads apparently this book hit the lowest rating at two stars. Unsheltered by: Barbara Kingsolver Not much to say about this one. if you go onto Amazon you’ll find some reviews and you can decide yourself if this is of interest.
Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain was good, it opened up a whole new world of Post Office Murals to me. We have one here in my local town of Fullerton. During the Great Depression in the 30’s the Public Works Art Project commissioned artists across the county to paint murals in the post offices depicting life special to that city. This book is in two times, present day and past in a small town in North Carolina. The story is about race inequalities and dark secrets that that need to be brought to the surface once and for all. It’s full of intrigue and suspense, I gave it 4 stars and would recommend to anyone looking for something different and refreshing.
From past and present North Carolina, I switched gears and went to the Pacific Northwest Canada and read The Scent Keeper by: Erica Bauermeister, again, another unique story, it was an easier, lighthearted read and I enjoyed it.
Part of my classics list included To Kill A Mockingbird by: Harper Lee I had been putting this novel off for many years, sometimes it’s easier to just not subject yourself to the painful realities of our history. They say ignorance is bliss right? But what’s real is that, if you don’t subject yourself to harsh truths you live in a bubble, I’d say that a good portion of this country lives in that bubble right now. I had chosen this book for my book club long before the pandemic and it was for the month of May during the George Floyd/ BLM protests. This was such a challenging time with the Pandemic in full swing at the same time watching the news unfold in real time. Reading this book brought an additional importance to the topic of race and the inequalities that existed hundreds of years ago and sadly continue to still exist today. I don’t think many in my book club read this book, when we had our meeting there were three of us. I’m thankful for those three who got out of their comfort zone, it was the right book for the time. The movie was a very good adaptation of the story, Gregory Peck won the 1963 Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Atticus Finch.
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes I enjoyed the book, though it wasn’t my favorite (they all can’t be) it was set in Depression-era America, with of five women and their journey through the mountains of Kentucky delivering library books to people out in the country. Strong women, race, love, adventure and intrigue filled the pages of this novel. There seems to be a theme this year for 1930’s era books, this wasn’t intentional
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder brought me back to modern day times. What drew me to this book was a NPR segment ‘Nomadland’ Tracks Rising Number Of Americans Living On The Road . We own a travel trailer and have always dreamed of living out of it during our retirement years. The mobile lifestyle seemed very glamourous and full of “wonderlust” however the realities of most people living in RV’s and Trailers is poverty, depression and desperation. Some people choose to live this lifestyle, however most are forced into it with the economy and circumstances that were out of their control. As this years packages arrived for the Christmas season via Amazon, I thought of all of those seniors and nomads that packed them, who were walking up to 15 miles during a single shift on the floors of Amazon’s distribution warehouses and my heart ached for them.
I took up surfing in June/July and immersed myself into surf books and took many lessons. I joined a surf club and they had a recommended selection of surf books and lesson books to read. Chasing Waves by Amy Waeschle was a refreshing story of a woman surfer in a very male dominated sport. I loved her strength, persistence and energy.
Following this book, I found a full tutorial named A Girl’s Guide to Surfing This was very informative and I read it cover to cover. I keep it handy when I need to reference terminology, etiquette, or try to understand the wave patterns. This book is a must if you’re learning how to surf.
Diving into the surfing world made me want to take vacations, travel to exotic places and enjoy waves around the world. We were supposed to travel to Bali this year but Covid got in the way. I thought back in August, we’ll stay in the warm waters of Hawaii, so we booked a trip to Hawaii in November which inevitably got cancelled again, due to Covid. But that didn’t stop me from reading the longest book I’ve ever read, the 1200 page book of Hawaii by James Michener. I’ve often thought about this book since I read it this summer. The story timeline spans from the inception of the islands as a result of erupting volcanos, to the immigrants from Bora Bora and ultimately to the Americans that came ashore to bring Christianity to the heathens and leading to the destruction of the Hawaiian culture and wiping out hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians from disease. What a sad story and it stands true to rest of the United States, when the American Indians were essentially swept into little corners, their land stolen and their lives destroyed all for the sake of progress. It’s sad and disturbing.
Keeping with my goal to read more classics I read my first Hemmingway, Old Man and The Sea Here’s the Amazon review of the book
“The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.“
I plan on reading more Hemmingway next year as I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
After reading East of Eden by Steinbeck I didn’t want to dive right into more of his books, I wanted to savor the story and keep the characters alive in my mind for as long as I could. I wasn’t ready for more Steinbeck, I fell in love with his writing, his descriptiveness, his attention to detail, I didn’t want to get let down by reading another one of his books and not having that same feeling of awe that I acquired in East of Eden. But it was time. Continuing on with the Great Depression era, Grapes of Wrath was next on my list. This controversial book ultimately helped Steinbeck win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. I watched a documentary on Youtube the other day about how Steinbeck really understood the American Soul, how he connected with the less fortunate and brought about stories of hardship, suffering and made his characters come to life. He did this with the Joad family and the story of their migration across the U.S. during the dustbowl era, they traveled along Route 66 and when they arrived in California they were unwelcome, lied to and taken advantage of in the worst possible ways. The story explores the unfair treatments and prejudices of the less fortunate and how America turned their back on their own. What a disturbing time in American history. If you have time, watch the video below. I loved The Grapes of Wrath, I loved the raw intensity of the story and I know that had I been in that era, I would have been a poor migrant trying to feed my family and would have done anything I could to do so. I believe that I had family that came over in the great migration back in the 30’s, I’m learning more about that and details will follow.
The Grapes of Wrath was deep, heartfelt reading for me, I needed something lighter, maybe some travels, some surfing and more travels. This lead me to Barbarian Days – by William Finnegan I both listened to this on Audible and read this on my sleepless nights. I truly enjoyed William Finnegan’s hypnotic voice and words learning of his adventures, I was and still am genuinely green with envy of the life this man has lead. It’s a life I’ll never know.
Normal People by Sally Rooney was an unexpected surprise. While I was generally annoyed throughout the book by the decisions these people made, I saw a sadness in their lives, a sadness in their circumstances of how life is perceived by one person, and the same situation is perceived by another so differently and how those perceptions or misunderstandings alter relationships and change lives. It made me want to communicate more articulately to my loved ones and leave no room for assumptions. After I finished the book, I watched the series on Hulu, I’ve never seen a story so well adapted to TV. While I was generally annoyed throughout the book by the decisions these people made, I saw a sadness in their lives, a sadness in their circumstances of how life is perceived by one person, and the same situation is perceived by another so differently and how those perceptions or misunderstandings alter relationships and change lives. It made me want to communicate more articulately to my loved ones and leave no room for assumptions. After I finished the book, I watched the series on Hulu, I’ve never seen a story so well adapted to TV.
Devolution: A firsthand account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks was my husband’s recommendation. I read World War Z by Max Brooks years ago, I’m a big Zombie apocalypse fan, so when I read that Devolution had Natural disasters, survival AND Big Foot, I was in! I hope if they make a movie out it it that they don’t butcher it like they did with World War Z.
Back to more serious subjects, Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead was on Obama’s reading list and I heard great things about it. It was thought provoking, eye opening and a sober account of what happened to so many people of color in our American history. Everyone should read this book, and if you can’t read it, Amazon will be releasing a series adapted from book, so watch that.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni was a delightful book, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a coming of age story, a feel good story with a little sadness, love, adventure and thrill.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was a different kind of book than I normally read. I don’t read about the super-natural or horror at all, it’s not my thing, however I broke the mold (pun intended if you’ve read it) and got right into this book. I was looking for a Latin author based in Mexico and my Book Club Girls group on Facebook had mentioned this book many times. It was set in the mountains of Mexico, in a little town that had been plagued by disease and superstition. The time period was the 50’s and it’s centered around a young woman who’s concerned about her cousin who married into a strange, creepy family, I’ll leave it at that and let you dive right in. I liked it and was happy to see that a Hulu Original will be adapted from the book.
With only a week to go before the end of the year I thought I’d add in another Steinbeck, Cannery Row it was one of my favorites of the year, I know, surprise surprise!! This book did not really have a plot, but it described life on Cannery Row in the 50’s. It wasn’t a long book, though I wish it was, I was sad when it ended. I loved the simplicity of the characters and found out that Steinbeck roughly based them off of people he knew in Monterey. It was a different style of writing for him, he used his marine biology research experience and his connection with the normal, poor people to create this vibrant life of scarce existence. One of my favorite lines in the book “It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”
I just looked on line to see if there was a movie adaptation – and yes, yes there is!! Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. We’ll have to watch this tonight!
So there you have it. 28 books for 2020 – I am finishing up Of Mice and Men, I may complete it by the end of the year (tomorrow) and add that in making it 29.. My takeaway for 2020, I love Steinbeck and I plan on reading the balance of his books in the future. I just don’t know when. Next year I’m embarking on going back to college and that may take up most of my time, but I plan on reading as much as I can. Not sure what my 2021 goal will be, but it will include some more classics, real reading and for sure a biography on Steinbeck called Mad At The World by William Souder
Good riddance to 2020 and may 2021 be full of life, love, happiness, health and an end to this horrible pandemic!
Happy New Year!
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