Countdown to 2021: 2020 Books

Last year, I read 14 books! This year I read 11. Not as many as last year but I still surpassed my usual goal of 10 books per year. I also listened to a lot of podcast and have started including those at the end of this list.

Overall, I read 4 fiction books (1 contemporary, 2 Sci Fi or Fantasy, and 1 classic–last year I read 8 fiction), 3 non-fiction books (1 books of theater essays, 1 theater history book, and 1 Political Science/Abolition–last year I read 3 non-fiction), 1 children series book, 2 plays, and 1 book of poetry. I’m also in the middle of a book of short stories but will have to include that on next year’s list. I didn’t read any non-American authors this year; last year I read 3. Last year I read 8 female authors, with 1 being a woman of color; this year I read 6, with 2 being women of color. 1 book and the short stories book I’m in the middle of were for my virtual book club with my college friends (last year there were 3), and 1 was sort of for another book club at work (I say sort of because I was really reading the last book in the Broken Earth trilogy when the first book was actually the one for the book club)–last year there were 3. Usually I try to read 1 book by someone I know, which kind of counts with reading Musical Theater Today, but I also read a book by someone I knew in college. 1 book I read because it related to something I was writing/working on (same as last year), and 2 books were plays that I read with The Thornton Wilder Society’s virtual readings.

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s, although I read slightly fewer books this year, most notably fewer fiction books. I am happy that I kept up with reading more women authors and increased the number of women of color authors slightly, however I did not read any non-American authors this year. I did keep my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, children/young adult books, and poetry, although I did not read a feminism book this year, again (unless you count the chapter on gender in the book Are Prisons Obsolete?). My resolution has been to read 1 poetry book a year, and I have stuck to that, as well as to my resolution to read 1 Thornton Wilder book a year. However, one of my resolutions last year AND the years before that had been to read a biography, and I still did not do that, again. I basically achieved all my reading goals except for biography and a feminism book, though. Next year: Continue with at least a 50:50 ratio for women to men authors and continue with my reading variety–make sure to continue to read 1 poetry book a year, 1 feminism OR political science/abolition book a year, and 1 Wilder book a year–but make sure to read a biography as well.

I also read 5 New Yorkers (1 less than last year) and 4 New York magazines (2 less than last year) in between each book, as well as various other magazine/web articles. Plus, every Barnard Magazine in print (one was online this year, which I did not read).I’m a little disappointed I fell yet again in my magazine reading. Next year: Try to bring myself up to previous years’ numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year, or at least 7 each.

I’ll still list the online reading/writing classes I was in. This year, I did ModPo this fall and continued working through an Iowa Writing Center class (Hidden Meanings: Creative Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Facts), which I didn’t finish, but maybe I’ll finish up to be finished next year. Last year I didn’t read any short stories except for those in the short story collection I read. This year, I read 1 as part of my online class. I did read two thirds of a book of short stories by Katherine Anne Porter–I was hoping to finish the entire book this year but since I didn’t, the two thirds of short stories count towards my short story count.

My favorite book(s) of the year:
Heaven’s My Destination by Thornton Wilder
U.S. 1 from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser by Muriel Rukeyser

The List:

1. The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical by Warren Hoffman
I read this book in order to have the author on my podcast, and it worked out that the book was a fascinating read on many classic musicals and how race and whiteness works within them. In some shows I had never even considered these elements, while in others I had and the book’s discussion made me think about them more deeply. The author looks at various turning point musicals–Show BoatOklahomaWest Side StoryThe Music ManA Chorus LineThe Book of MormonHamilton–as well as certain trends in casting and revivals to argue that the history of musicals is also a history of race in America. This book was, of course, right up my alley, and I very much appreciated looking at the idea of whiteness, not just the idea of race. A recommended read for anyone who sees/listens to/enjoys musicals.
Finished: January 27, 2020

2. A Lady’s Guide to Selling Outby Sally Franson
I really enjoyed reading this book by former Barnard classmate Sally Franson (which I read for my Barnard friends book club). The tone and pacing was light and fun, but there was still a lot of depth in the writing style and characters. And the climax of the book–damn, it had me all messed up. The book has a lot to say about being a writer vs. living in a capitalist society, as well as being young and a woman in an industry that is ultimately fake. To me, the deepest moment was with the artist Mort, a Holocaust survivor, which provided the most nuanced look at how the world works and how one chooses to live in it.
Finished: February 17, 2020

3. Musical Theater Today Volune 3 Editedby Ben Van Buren, Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed, Ian Axness, Shoshana Greenberg, Timothy Huang, EllaRose Chary and Natasha Sinha
I’m listed as an author/editor on this, so it seems like a conflict of interest to review it. I’ll just say that Volume 3 had as much fascinating and relevant articles on the state of musical theater today as the previous volumes, and it’s worth reading cover to cover, as I did.
Finished: April 12, 2020

4. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Finally finished this trilogy! I read the first book in 2017 and the second in 2018. And even this book felt like a journey because when I started it, I was still reading during my work commute not realizing that in a week I’d be working from home for the unforeseeable future. This book has been with me through every phase of this pandemic and quarantine so far. Like with the first two books, it took me a little while to get into the world of the story. Overall though I really liked how this book was structured. It was similar to the first two in that it alternated among the perspectives of the main characters, but I think that now that I was more familiar with the characters those delineations were much clearer. I loved how the different points of view and who was telling the stories were carried out, and it paid off in the end. That confusion of perspective was hard to parse in the first book, and the perspectives became clearer as the books went on. There are some world-building concepts from all three books I still don’t think I fully grasp, but I’m fine with that because the story works, the ideas are interesting, and it’s fun to be transported to an imaginative world that feels just similar enough to our own to feel like I need to pay close attention to what went wrong.
Finished: May 3, 2020

5. Heaven’s My Destinationby Thornton Wilder
Even though this book is by my favorite author, I knew very little about it. I was surprised to find it humorous and written in a similar style to Don Quixote, a Picaresque novel in which the hero, a traveling salesman, goes from one incident to the next. The book is also a bit of a coming-of-age story, in which the main character, George Brush, goes through his 23rd year. The crux of the book, however, is that George Brush is a fundamentalist Christian, which may seem off-putting, and sometimes it is, but the book is about how he tries to live by his ideas and ideals in a world that rejects those ideas and ideals. That friction leads to the philosophical nature of the book, which is what I’m more used to in a Wilder novel. George challenges himself to think through his ideas, even if he’s stubborn about them. He also has an intellectual curiosity and commits himself to non-violence and studies the teachings of Gandhi. Though he’s fundamentalist, Wilder writes him more like an everyman, and we see in him our own tendencies to hold fast to our ideas of the world to the point that they become the basis for judgements; we see our own contradictions and faults as humans. I felt challenged as a reader because I both agreed and disagreed with him at various points. There are also some great supporting characters who serve to challenge George’s beliefs, and his relationship with Roberta, and by extension her sister, is a lot more complex than it first seems. The book is under 200 pages, and makes for a swift yet thoughtful read.
Finished: June 12, 2020

6. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer has been on my shelf for many years, and then it advanced to my large to-read-soon pile about two years ago when I learned it was my new boyfriend’s favorite book. Finally, this summer, I made time to start it and did a mini-book club with him while he re-read it with me. I’m glad he did because I don’t think this is a book I would have fully understood on my own. It reminded me of when I read some Philip K. Dick novels after college and got through them fine but felt like there were layers that I was missing. It took me two months to read this 260-page book because, well, one, I was waiting for my reading partner to catch up hehe, and two because I read most chapters twice and asked very detailed questions along the way. I wasn’t bothered by this. In fact, I generally enjoy difficult books and difficult reading experiences. Reading the book in this way made it feel like the book was a code I had to crack. I think the most interesting aspect about this book is that it’s a bit of a quest story in that the protagonist is chosen somewhat against his will and has to complete a mission, but there’s no morality to the mission. There’s no saving the world or doing something that will benefit humanity in some way, which I think is the case in most quest stories. This quest is more of a crime, with no typical heroes and no true good. Still, I was involved in the story, maybe because it seemed like completing the quest should result in some good, even if it didn’t. And of course, as in many of these futuristic stories, I was involved in the world itself, which often surprised me in what it entailed. Then there was the content of the future itself. This book is known for introducing the word Cyberspace but there’s also how corporations function, and that the book feels so anti-corporation seems ahead of its time in the early 80s when it was written. Two thirds of the way through the book we thought, we should have made our discussions into a podcast. I wish we had because it would have been a nice way for people like me (but who don’t have a reading partner) to get through the book. Ah well. If you are reading this book on your own and want to bounce questions and thoughts off someone, please let me know!
Finished: September 7, 2020

7. U.S. 1 from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser by Muriel Rukeyser
My yearly poetry book, also the second book within my “The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser” collection. This book contains her famous 1938 poem series, “The Book of the Dead,” about miners in West Virginia who sued their employer, Rinehart and Dennis Company, a contractor for Union Carbide, for the deadly conditions they worked in while drilling a tunnel under Gauley Mountain. The company’s criminal negligence and the large number of resulting casualties became popularly known as the “Hawks Nest Incident” or the “Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster.” In her book, Rukeyser combines lightly edited texts of the testimony given by the miners during the trial with her own descriptions of the people and the land. The comparisons to workers during Covid are intense, and this was a difficult read at times because of that, but very much worth it. One individual poem cannot convey the poem series, its power is in the wholeness of it. The next section was a group of shorter poems, and then the third section was two long poems about two sea voyages, both haunting in their own ways. The first one was about a cruise ship that can’t find a place to dock because every port is either a war or has an epidemic or minefield, and the passengers and crew get increasingly distraught. I really liked how weird and surreal it was and it definitely confirmed my resolve to never take a cruise. The second was about a ship carrying people away from Spain during the Spanish Civil War. I’m looking forward to reading the subsequent books in this collection, as well as more about Rukeyser, my favorite poet.
Finished: November 23, 2020

8. Are Prisons Obsolete?by Angela Y. Davis
I read this book in conjunction with a police and prison abolition study group (curriculum here). Only a few chapters of this book were assigned, but I read the whole thing because a. I’m a completist, and b. It’s so short, why not? For a book so short and succinct (115 pages), it’s amazing how comprehensive it is. It goes through the history of prisons to alternatives, with chapters on gender and reform. Some chapters, especially the one on gender, were a bit difficult to take, but necessary, of course. For those of us not directly affected by prison it’s easy to put it out of sight and out of mind, and there’s no way I can do that after reading this. There is way more work to do after putting it down–the final chapter mentions abolition alternatives but doesn’t go into full detail. The book was also published in the early 2000s, which doesn’t mean it’s outdated just that there’s been more written since. And even though there’s been a lot written, this book is a great place to start for those who have heard about prison abolition but haven’t read much about it.
Finished: November 28, 2020

9. Hilde Cracks the Case: Bear on the Loose!by Hilde Lysiak, with Matthew Lysiak
I love kid reporter Hilde Lysiak so much that I will read her children’s book series based on her life even when there are no children around to read it to. I read the first of these a few years ago to my babysitting charge. Now, I’m just checking out the second one on my own, which was very enjoyable if a bit simplisitic for an adult.
Finished: December 2, 2020.

10. The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder
I read that as part of the Thornton Wilder Society Zoom reading series we did this year, and I also read the foreword and afterword.
Finished: December, 2020

11. The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
I read that as part of the Thornton Wilder Society Zoom reading series we did this year, and I also read the foreword and afterword. The afterword, in particular, is very good.
Finished: December, 2020

Short Stories
“The War of the World” by Orson Welles and Mercury Theatre on the Air
The stories in Flowering Judas and Other Stories by Katherine Anne Porter
The stories in Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne PorterEssays/Long Articles:“Bully for You” by Soraya Roberts”It’s a Weird, Weird Weird Weird World: Weird Al Yankovic’s Comedy Music Speaks to the Lonely Child in All of Us” by Sam Anderson”The Kitchen is Closed” by Gabrielle Hamilton”Dismembering the Text: The Horror of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women” by Angela M. Estes and Kathleen Margaret Lant

Online Classes:
ModPo, 8th Year (University of Pennsylvania)
Hidden Meanings: Creative Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Fact (University of Iowa)

Podcasts
Scene to Song
The Authority: Exploring the World of His Dark Materials
California City
Three on the Aisle
Scene on Radio: Seeing White


And episodes of:
Poem Talk
Scriptnotes
Strong Songs
The Fabulous Invalid
Token Theatre Friends
Zack to the Future
Decoder Ring
Buried Broadway
Piece by Piece
Thesis on Joan
In the Spotlight
Broadway Baby
Playwrights Horizons Soundstage
Little Known Facts
Aria Code
Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill
Homo Sapiens
Movie Crush with Chuck Bryant
The Visceral Voice Podcast
The So Weird Podcast
Apple Sauced
Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
Throughline
Dear Multi-Hyphenate
The PolicyViz Podcast
The MC Lars Podcast
Real Music Talk Podcast
Aesthetic Resistance Podcast
Bleav in Sports Time Machine
Can’t Stop Watching
A couple podcast episodes about the film Poltergiest (The League of Geekz Podcast, Spook Factory)
A bunch of podcast episodes featuring Michael R. Jackson (Struggle Session, You Can’t Say That, Ben Rimalower’s Broken Records, Art Works Podcast, Stagecraft with Gordon Cox, Question Box, Sick Day with Dan Fishback)

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