2019 in Review
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2019, it’s the value of tracking your accomplishments. I’ve had a busy year getting stuck into a job that’s still pretty new to me, I’ve had a lot going on in my personal life, and otherwise I’ve tried to use my limited leisure time to do things that are vaguely edifying, like reading or working on writing projects. I feel bad if I spend too much time playing videogames but I can’t always help myself. I’ve been carrying on with a Football Manager 2017 save and World of Warcraft Classic came out so I had to put my money where my mouth is.
As per usual, I spent most of the year beating myself up about my lack of reading. I am acutely aware that the list of things I want to read is already going to outrun my natural life, and add to that that I am constantly discovering new stuff. It hurts and I feel guilty and sad all the time.
Or at least I did until I looked at my reading challenge in early December and realised that I’d read about 90 books this year.
90! How the hell did I read 90 books this year?
Here’s how I think it happened.
For the first half of the year, I suspect someone was stealing in to my room at night and slowly replacing my brain with bits of warm scrambled egg. Around April I realised that my local library system had all the volumes of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. I spent the next month or two reading those and realised that I was having a lot more fun reading comics than I was trying to force myself to read Dickens. A lesson I always try to impart to others but constantly forget myself is that if you’re enjoying your reading, it doesn’t matter what you’re reading. My scrambled egg brain was not getting on with walls of text, but it was dealing with comics just fine, and so my reading continued, because it turns out Peterborough’s library system has a ton of graphic novels.
(Please don’t think I am disparaging graphic novels. I am just saying I was having a better time with something that had more pictures than words).
I had wanted to read The Sandman for years and I was not disappointed.
I just counted. I read 46 graphic novels this year. A lot of it was Batman stuff. I read a lot of Batman when I was in my late teens but had no idea what had gone on in the intervening decade, and there were still some classics I hadn’t read (like Hush).
I did also mark down some stuff that I read last year but didn’t record. I read a bunch of Lovecraft as part of a collection of his stories. What do you do when you read omnibuses? Do you mark the whole omnibus down as read and not, say, the four novels that make it up? Or do you count it as having read four novels. I decided to pump up my rookie numbers. I’d read The Shadow Over Innsmouth. That’s a novella, right? So why hadn’t I marked it down as read?
My favourite book I read this year has to be Convenience Store Woman. It perfectly vibed with some of the emotions and situations I was dealing with at the time and was a delight in its own right. It’s probably a perfect read for you if you’re having a tough time juggling reality with your family’s expectations this holiday season.
I didn’t read too many books published this year but I did thoroughly enjoy The Testaments. The second season of the show lost me *very* quickly and I went into the novel expecting further disappointment, but it ended up being a fantastic, rip-roaring spy novel. With some very obvious twists, but hey.
Speaking of spy novels, I had no idea le Carré had published a novel this year until I received a copy of it, Agent Running in the Field, for my birthday. I’ve read pretty much everything he wrote up until the end of the Cold War but have heard his post Cold War novels were a bit lacking. When George Smiley came back for A Legacy of Spies I realised le Carré very much still had it, but I then moved on to another reading project (see: comics). Agent Running was billed as a novel about Trump and Brexit on the jacket, and I felt a bit of trepidation through the first few chapters as I expected it to be very shrill and preachy, but le Carré deftly manages the Dickensian trick of writing a novel of angry social commentary where said commentary is always subservient to the story. I no longer feel any fear and will be reading the rest of his post Cold War work as and when I can get my hands on it.
The last two books in Tade Thompson’s Rosewater trilogy were publish this year and they were both excellent. The first one also won the Arthur C. Clarke award this year, so you know they’re worth reading. The trilogy is a true original in the field of alien invasion stories and Thompson’s vision of a world where a new independent nation state has to balance being the beachhead of an alien invasion with being a new global power is fascinating. Implications abound and Thompson keeps coming up with interesting new angles. Features a fantastic cast of characters that is surely going to get this adapted into a hit HBO show, and also has the most plausible time travel I have ever come across in an SF novel. Also abounds with delicious echoes of cyberpunk and just…
…look, if you like SF at all you owe it to yourself to read the Rosewater Trilogy. Just go read it. Give him your money. He’s earned it
The worst book I made myself finish this year is a tie. I made myself finish Northanger Abbey and it was a bloody slog the whole way through, but I’d gotten about 60% into it before realising how thoroughly I hated it, and I am remiss to get that far into a book and not eventually finish it. It’s like Pride and Prejudice. People sit in drawing rooms and chat shit. But, Pride and Prejudice at least has characters, real living characters, with real foibles, who grow and change, and it is these characters that have made the story live on. Northanger Abbey has no such thing going for it.
The book tied with it for worst of the year is Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves. I went to the library and got out a few SF/Fantasy novels by authors who didn’t normally write it (the other was L.P. Hartley’s Facial Justice). Facial Justice I couldn’t finish, but I can respect someone basically doing 1984 with a twist. Everyone’s tried it. Some very good novels have been written along the same framework. Can’t blame him for trying. New Crete on the other hand. Main character goes back in time. Nothing happens. Nothing happens. The main character gets horny but can do nothing about it. Horniness continues. Main character goes back to the future, and the woman he was horny for is now his daughter in the alternate reality he’s woken up in. The less unpacked about this the better, I think.
I tried to do Nanowrimo but another emergency in my personal life put paid to any hope of completing it. At least I added about five thousand words to a novel I’ve been working on for some time. That isn’t failure, and I don’t feel bad about it. I did, however, fail to write a post about my failure (or lack thereof). Oof.
The Content God demands more Content.
Speaking of which, I’ve pretty much switched entirely towards vegetarianism as this year draws to a close. I ate fish throughout a lot of the year, but not as much as I used to. And now I’ve stopped eating fish altogether. I haven’t eaten meat in about a year. So I guess that makes me a vegetarian. I will probably be writing some food related posts in 2020. I enjoy writing them and people seem to enjoy reading them. I will do my best not to fully pivot this into a food blog.
What else happened this year?
Oh, I watched Game of Thrones from start to finish. I came to season 8 about a week after everyone else did. Season 8 is really good.
Have a good one and see you next decade. Ayyy.