Sunday Book Reviews: The Year In Reviews 2020

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

This year was difficult. In theory, it shouldn’t have been. I retired from my previous job at the beginning of the year and then the novel coronavirus hit. My expectation of writing more for the site never panned out, and I didn’t even need to keep up my prior two items a day average because Richard stepped in with alternate days of the Owl and my wife continued producing a movie review every Friday. The weekly drives throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex dried up because of virus concerns, and the expected road trips didn’t manifest for the same reason. No library sales happened. No visits to movie theaters, no concerts, no sporting events.

The time was still drained away, in part; my daughter being home during the day meant a lot more time spent with her, and the need to support the family through bookselling exclusively demanded many hours of typing and packaging.

Most importantly, the book options dried up. I had developed a system: in the early part of the week, usually Sunday or Monday, I would check one of the local bookstores for titles which interested me. I’d browse, reading a few paragraphs or a couple of chapters, and if the book seemed like a good candidate I’d buy it. I watched not just for titles which piqued my interest, but which would bring some variety to the reviews. I’ve read enough sf, fantasy, mystery, horror and political books to choke a stable full of horses, but others prefer romance, westerns, thrillers, biographies, art books and more. I relied on the titles I read with my daughter to fill in some of the children’s book recommendations. If a book didn’t pan out, if it was uninteresting or bad beyond having any potential value as a review, I’d swap out with one of the thousands of books at the house. It worked, and allowed me to field books from all genres, all age groups… until suddenly I wasn’t going into bookstores anymore.

For the last year, I’ve been limited in being able to browse either the new releases or the stacks of subjects which are underrepresented at our home. It’s one more way in which 2020 has been frustrating. Thankfully, having many thousands of titles in the house gives me options… but as I don’t want to only cycle through the genres in which I specialize, those options have been a bit restricted. This has also been the reason for a distinct drop in contemporary political titles.

I expect this issue to remain for at least the next few months.

This is where I’d normally go back and pick out a few titles which deserved special attention. I’m going to do that, but I want to address one other item beforehand: Trump is gone. While I expect Trumpism is going to remain a concern for at least the better part of a year, I’ve had enough of the dolt to last me a lifetime. While there have been some good books on him or his Presidency this year – A Very Stable Genius, Disloyal, and others – I don’t want to recommend any of them because he’s effectively gone as anything other than a crime figure and corrupting agent.

So, that’s a summary of the year. Now, the five titles I’d be most likely to recommend out of the reviews from the year:

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair. Informative, interesting, and broken down into easily digested segments, it’s perfect for those who read a few pages before falling asleep or who like to read something during their fifteen minute breaks at work. You’ll learn some trivia, some history, some science.

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. A book of science fiction short fiction from the 1970s which is as positive and life-affirming today as it was almost fifty years ago. It’s a reminder that many of the issues which seem to be new have been with us for decades but that the answer to many of them – however temporary – is to extend a hand and an ear to strangers in the hope they may become friends.

Action Park by Andy Mulvihill and Jake Rossen. An echo from my childhood, but more than that a testament to the value of pursuing dreams and simultaneously a warning about cutting corners and ignoring expertise.

Nose Dive by Harold McGee. Every good thing about The Secret Life of Colors, save the brief examinations of particular subjects, can be echoed for this book. It provides information on history, on science, and on general trivia with the bonus of being exceptionally well written and structured. Food and smells might seem like an odd combination to serve as the focus of a book, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from buying it.

The Amulet by Kasu Kibuishi. A series of graphic novels for older children and young adults, there are some themes which are potentially challenging: the loss of a parent, betrayal by allies, the importance of duty and more. That said, the dialogue is sharp, matching the illustrations perfectly, and the plotting has enough complexity to keep someone interested while not being so intricate as to lose an inexperienced reader. If you have anyone aged 8 to 15 in your life, read through the first book yourself and if you think they can handle it, pass it on.

About the opinions in this article…

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.