2020's most impactful reads.

I don't have to preface this post with how shitty 2020 has been - we are all painfully aware. As a cynical person, I have to fight my own negative nature, and the battle has never been harder. That being said, my commitment to reading stood the test this year, and is one reason I didn't dig myself a hole to hide in. So let's talk about some of the books that got me through this year.

“We all create stories to protect ourselves.”

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Honestly, this is an intimidating book. Flipping through the pages, you'll see nearly empty pages, pages covered from margin to margin in upside down and backwards text, a ridiculous number of footnotes (and footnotes within footnotes), redacted text, red text, blue text, letters, pictures... a veritable labyrinth, which is appropriate considering an impossible maze is one of its main focuses. But I don't think people should be afraid to dive into this terrifying, complicated, multi-layered story. It's dizzying, claustrophobic, intense, and totally worth the investment. I didn't read this one quickly, taking me well over a month, but it will haunt me forever.

"A single line is a naked thing. It is both light and heavy."

A Little Book on Form by Robert Hass

This book on the form of poetry is esoteric (perhaps too much so), but also solidly grounded in the patterns that we humans love so much. It introduced me to poets I didn't know and helped me understand the whys of poetry outside of the meaning of words. Definitely not an exhaustive list of terms and definitions - it deals more with amorphousness of poetry.

“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear."

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

A book about life and death, of love and grief - topics we constantly explore, but can never tell enough stories about. This focuses on a group of ghosts trying to help Abraham Lincoln's son's ghost move on (stuck in the titular bardo, a Tibetan word for the time between life and rebirth). Bitterly humorous, utterly hopeful, and wonderfully beautiful.

“And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.”

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

My warning is to tread lightly with this book: you should be in a "good" place to read it. The cover alone tells you you'll probably end up in tears. I certainly did. It's the story of 4 friends during college and into adulthood, but Jude and his trauma is the main focus. There were times I thought Yanagihara must be ridiculous and cruel to put Jude through so much, almost a caricature of pain, but I know true stories that are far worse. Abuses do happen every day, and Yanagihara shines an ugly light on them. Beautiful prose, sympathetic and imperfect characters, and decades of these little lives inside 800 pages.

“Kill him before he makes you love him.”

The Wicked King by Holly Black

The second book in The Folk of the Air Trilogy is my favorite of the series, which isn't to say that I didn't adore them all. It took me a good 50 pages to commit to The Cruel Prince, but from those 50 pages on, I was hooked. The Wicked King amps up the stakes, solidifies the characters and their motivations, and explores further into this lush world. I appreciate that Jude and Cardan aren't good people, but they are compelling, manipulative, passionate, and hurt. The politics of this series are riveting, and I highly recommend it for lovers of dark fairy fantasy or those just discovering the genre.

“All must pay the debt of nature.”

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

I guess didn't realize how many big-ass books I've read this year. This books is over 700 pages long, and it carries the weight of all the history it conveys. Deceptively marketed to lovers of generational stories, it's actually the story of trees. From the 1600s on, through two families, it depicts the realization that wild forests are finite and humans are capable of destroying so much more than they build. An immersive experience that holds nothing back.

I read a lot more than these 6 books, a lot of them good, but these 6 are ones I'll remember and hold precious. I'd love to know which books impacted you the most during this trying year!

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