This year I read 116 books with a total page count of 44,163 (~381 pages/book). I now present you with my fifth annual best and worst reads of the year lists (titles linked to my full review if I wrote one; excludes re-reads; presented in groups of five unranked with an additional honorable/dishonorable mention; & starting with the “worst of” list so we can end on a positive note…no purchase necessary; void where prohibited):

Worst of the Year

  • The Comedians by Graham Greene – Our selfish creep of a narrator pursues his sordid little affair amidst the horror of Papa Doc’s Haiti. The secondary characters and setting were interesting, but being in that jerk’s head the whole time was depressing and gross.
  • The Beetle by Richard Marsh – An ambiguously-gendered were-beetle isn’t a strong enough antagonist to make this book worth the boring Victorian nonsense in the middle and abrupt deus ex machina ending.
  • The Necromancers by Robert Hugh Benson – The author seems more interested in warning you against spiritualism than in actually writing a scary story.
  • The Last Ritual by S. A. Sidor – I set the bar for tabletop-game-inspired books pretty low, but this one still failed to clear it with watered-down Lovecraft in a flimsy 1920’s setting.
  • The Scapegoat by Daphne DuMaurier – With this wholly unbelievable tale, DuMaurier becomes the second author ever to appear on both the “best” and “worst” lists in the same year (John LeCarré achieved the same feat last year).
  • Dishonorable Mention: Gwendy’s Magic Feather by Richard Chizmar – The author tried to do way too much in this disappointing sequel to the excellent Gwendy’s Button Box.

Best Non-Fiction

  • Before You Vote by David Platt – This is the rarest of finds: a Christian book about participating in elections that truly places godly principles above partisan agenda!
  • The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark – The author makes a valiant (largely successful?) attempt at describing the complex events and motivations that led to World War 1.
  • Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre – Ben Macintyre makes the list three years running with another excellent true espionage tale: how a corpse sowed disinformation in the Nazi war machine.
  • The Trolley Problem by Thomas Cathcart – This book cleverly stretches out the classic ethical dilemma of “the trolley problem” to provide a whirlwind introduction to various ethical theories and theorists
  • Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter J. Williams – The author ably argues from a variety of external sources and internal characteristics that it is reasonable to trust the veracity of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
  • Honorable Mention: Linguistics and New Testament Greek edited by David Alan Black & Benjamin Merkle – This was like a step back into seminary with my favorite professor (who passed away before this book was written, but is mentioned in it several times)

Best Fiction

  • Reimagining Lovecraft by Victor LaValle, Kij Johnson, Cassandra Khaw, Kaitlin R. Kiernan – An excellent collection of four novellas that self-consciously riff on Lovecraft while subverting his bigotry. (I would also highly recommend Cassandra Khaw’s followup novella A Song for Quiet)
  • Reggiecide by Chris Dolley – The Reeves & Worcester series is a hilarious pitch-perfect steampunk sendup of P. G. Wodehouse (& golden age detective stories), and this novella is my favorite of the lot.
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman – I liked each book in this trilogy less than the one before it, but I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding and this first book in the series has it in spades.
  • The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – This seeming “murder at the manor house” kind of mystery evolves into some sort of sinister Groundhog Day.
  • My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier – Is she a murderer and manipulator or a misunderstood and maligned widow? DuMaurier shows her genius for creating tension and ambiguity.
  • Honorable Mention: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe – Any other year this horrific but (extremely) dry fictionalized account of the 1665 Black Plague pandemic in London would have seemed boring, but it was fascinating to see the parallels in human thought and behavior to our current situation.

And that does it for reading in 2020. My reading goal for 2021 is my old standby of 100 books with an average of at least 300 pages/book. It’s a goal that I usually pass without a lot of effort, but I see no reason to pressure myself and turn enjoyable reading into a high-pressure duty. My Goodreads TBR currently has 100 books on it (at around 38,000 total pages) and I’d like to do most of my reading from there (or at least from books that I already own). Given my usual reading habits, I have my doubts whether that will actually happen. Anyway, it’s way past my bed time so, Happy New Year!

11 thoughts on “Best & Worst of 2020

  1. Nice jorb!

    I love having soft goals. I’ve never understood the drive some bloggers have to “push” themselves in terms of numbers. You either already enjoy reading or you don’t. Pushing yourself to read more isn’t going to make you enjoy it more, just create stress.

    So here’s to those of us who make up goals just keep everyone else off our backs! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahahaa! My favorite part of Homestar was when I was first introduced back in the ’00’s and it showed a possum that suddenly sprouted a coat of arrows and the word “Arrowed” appeared over it. I still misuse that term today 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When I was in college they would have a cardboard boat regatta at homecoming, and my brother’s dorm built a large Trogdor the Burninator longship (complete with Trogdor theme blasted from speakers on shore)… it sank half way across the pond when someone broke right through the bottom

        Liked by 1 person

      3. hahaha! I showed my kids some of the random popular memes from when I was in college and mostly got weird looks (though my oldest is obsessed with “What does the fox say?” so she can’t exactly look down on “Magical Trevor” “The Llama song” or “numa numa”)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. About the same as before…a bit stressed with trying to navigate between keeping people safe and not completely ticking off the people who think COVID is a hoax. But we’re all staying healthy and (mostly) happy.

        How about yourself?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Glad to hear it’s no worse anyway 😀

        Our church is still open and running physical services. I think things have reached the point where those who are going to come no matter what are coming and those who aren’t willing have stopped making excuses and just use the online/tech tools provided.
        We also now have a statewide, governor issued mask mandate. The only upside is that the singing at church has been cut down so we don’t have to deal with the puerile “worship” songs they tend to like so much 😉 So instead of suffering through 5 songs, now I just have to suffer through 3, hahahahahaa 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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