Books of 2020

Due to health and other life complications, over the last several years I haven’t been able to read as much as I would have liked to. I was lucky to finish more than a few books in a year, so it’s been something of a surprise that in this year that has been hellish in so many ways, I was actually able to get in a lot of reading. Part of that was because my youngest reached a slightly more independent stage, so she doesn’t insist in being in my arms at all times. Another part of is that I just simply gave up on managing any of my responsibilities that didn’t absolutely require my attention right away. (There is a bathroom in our house that I’m pretty sure must be haunted by now because the neglect has made it a prime location for all things creepy.) 

I don’t think I’ve ever put together one of those lists of all the books I’ve read in a year. Probably because it would hardly have counted as a list. This year it actually seems like something worth doing. Even just as a reminder that reading voraciously is one of the few things from 2020 that I want to take with me into 2021. I’m not going to try to remember every book I read, though. Just the ones that really stuck with me. So, in roughly the order I read them, here goes:

The Living by Isaac Marion (final book in one of my favorite series)

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (Swoon)

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (I’ve been gifting this to everyone I know)

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard (Best slow-burn, enemies to lovers story of the year?)

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater (Oh, Ronan Lynch)

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Lovely)

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow (Magical and poignant)

Roar by Cora Carmack (Haunted me for several days following)

Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett (Very cool world building)

A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney (Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.)

The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion: Volume 3 by Beth Brower (I tell everyone these books are the perfect fall read.)

Merciful Crow by Margaret Owens (Got so into my mind I dreamt about it.)

I also got to be a reader for Volume 4 of Emma M. Lion and for a steampunk sci-fi by Kathy Cowley, both of which I loved. Kathy has The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet coming out in April 2021, so be on the lookout for that.

Warm Bodies(es): Two Stories I Wouldn’t Want to Live Without

WarmBodiesPosterAfter going goo-goo over the Warm Bodies film, I finally read the book and am kind of blown away by the fact that although the two versions may include a lot of the same events—may even feature some of the exact same dialogue—they couldn’t have felt more different. It’s almost like two completely different stories and I love, love, LOVE that they both exist.

The movie = charming, funny, touching.

The book = introspective, melancholy, complicated.

Mood-wise, the film feels more like a Nick Hornby and the book leans toward, um, maybe a Cormac McCarthy feel?

The thing is that though the two versions are different from each other, in the end they’re both about the same thing: love, what it means to be human, what it means to have hope. But while they use essentially the same characters and the same plot, they explore their themes from different perspectives and this is fascinating and lovely to me. It says something about stories, how alive they can be and how they can grow and change depending on who’s telling the story, whose reading/watching/listening to it, and when.

And we need different perspectives in the world, different renditions of the same story. It teaches us more about ourselves and it’s one thing that keeps us civilized.

So thank you, Isaac Marion, for writing the book and thank you, Jonathan Levine (and associates), for making the movie. I’m so glad I live in a world with both of them.

Why I (kind of) Love Zombie Movies

Warm BodiesWhen people say, “I love zombie movies,” used to be that I imagined they meant they enjoyed the blood spraying everywhere and guts and brains getting more screen time than most of the actual actors. Anyone who knows about my high school obsession with Edgar Allan Poe might think I would enjoy a little gore now and then, but that’s really not the case. I’d see parts of zombie movies when my husband watched them, but was more than satisfied with those brief glimpses.

Then I watched Shaun of the Dead, and I liked it. Of course, I suspect I’d like about anything that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright wrote together (especially if it also features Nick Frost). Because of my husband’s love of zombies, I ended up seeing some of The Walking Dead and getting totally drawn into it (I know this is a TV series and not a movie, but really I’m talking about zombie stories generally, right?). Then just a few days ago I watched Warm Bodies and fell IN LOVE with it, and I thought to myself, “Wait. Do I love zombie movies?”

I guess I kind of do. Of course, my eyes close automatically most the time when the zombies are actually doing their thing so maybe that has something to with why I can enjoy it. (Because really? Ew, gross.) I like zombie movies–or at least some zombie movies–because of the human element.

It’s about humans at our rawest, about surviving the monstrosity of people who have lost their humanity and the struggle not to lose our own. It’s about the best and worst of being human and about trying to triumph over our basest instincts.

Really what I love about zombie movies is the characters. I’m fascinated by how they go about facing what seems like an unstoppable force and what changes in them when everyone around them has turned into literal monsters. (Of course, one of the things I loved about Warm Bodies–and, in some ways, The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead–is that it kind of turns the monster idea on its head.)

I do think sometimes zombie movies can seem like they’re reveling in the horrific as much as or more than they’re examining the human situation, but I also think that zombie movies might touch on aspects of our fears and strengths that other genres can’t quite reveal. As soon as you’ve got actual monsters or non-zombified humans as the “enemy,” you’ve stepped into something different.

Maybe it’s because zombies bridge the line in our psyches between the imagined and the possible. They are a metaphor for our deepest fears in a way that aliens or monsters can’t be because zombies look like us, they are us. And at the same time, they’re enough removed from reality that it allows us to face our fears bravely and examine them.

I suppose that is why I (kind of) like zombie movies. Of course, I’m not going to watch them all the time, but I am going to go watch Warm Bodies again. Probably this weekend even. And I’m guessing I’m still going to love it.