My Top 10 Reads of 2020

This year I read 150 books, and though it was a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of books I didn’t finish and lots of reading for classes, there were still a number of great books. In fact there were well over 30 books this year that I unreservedly loved, and narrowing it down to 10 was a bit of a challenge, but (somehow) I managed to do it because a top 30 favorite books of the year list is a little too much, even for me.

2020 was a strange year for reading. Although I read more than I have done in many years, it came in strange bursts and droughts. I found a lot of great comfort reading, in the form of romances and magical books. The great thing about fantasy and historical fiction is that it takes you somewhere else, but I think the best of these books are imbued not just with escapism but with a mindfulness that’s as full of the real issues of the world as it is with the otherworldly. For me, reading is a journey into empathy, imagination, and hope rather than an escape. My 10 favorite books differ quite a bit in terms of genre, but they all explore how we come to be where we are and who we are and they don’t hide the fact that this process is a struggle whether against society, the self, or the supernatural.

My 10 favorites, in reverse order of reading (most recent first):

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab This book has everything: deals with the devil, a feisty protagonist, twists and turns…I couldn’t stop reading it. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded to seize the day. In other words, everyone. I think this is a widely enjoyable book.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks Historical fiction at its finest–the kind that connects you to the past and shows you that the past is still with us, even when it’s hard to see. Recommended for: Anyone who likes historical fiction or books.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett More great historical fiction. This book tells the story of two sisters who make very different choices and lead very different lives. Recommended for: Anyone who’s looking for a family saga.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik I have read quite a bit of Novik’s work at this point, and really enjoy her writing. Her characters are really strong and have believable voices. Although I still prefer Uprooted, this book has even more strong female voices in it, and I love how she spins together threads from so many different fairytales and folklore. Recommended for: Anyone who’s tired of how many fantasy books are about dudes.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Even though the title gives away the fate of the main character, this book doesn’t get less heartbreaking, poignant, or beautiful. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded of the power of community (for both good and bad).

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood I couldn’t put this short story collection down. I really like Atwood’s command over her sentences and structures and the worlds she spins. One of these stories does relate to her novel The Robber Bride, but I don’t think you need to have read that to enjoy the stories. That said, that book is well worth reading as well. Recommended for: Anyone who wants their narrative in rapid, witty bursts.

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel Over the holiday, my brother and I had an interesting conversation about the ethical dilemma of parenting a transgender child and what that would mean, which is what this book explores in a humanizing and life-affirming way. Recommended for: Anyone intrigued by this conversation.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston Okay so this one is pure escapist fantasy. But it’s the pure escapist fantasy I needed. The gay romance is hot, romantic, and so sweet, and I love the exploration of this alternate universe. Recommended for: Anyone who needs a reminder about the joys and sorrows of first love. And some escapist romance.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow Speaking of alternate universes, what if there were doors hanging around, waiting to be discovered that could take you to other worlds? Recommended for: Anyone who would open the door.

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter A short, image-packed, coming-of-age novel that is the stuff of my dark fairy tale dreams. Recommended for: Anyone who likes their stories a little darker.

Have you read any of these or are you interested in reading any of these? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Bi-Weekly Roundup August 2 – 15 A Weekend Away and Some Melodramas

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

Last weekend my partner and I headed up to my family’s property near Yosemite. It had been quite some time since we’d been up there, but I’m really glad that we were able to rearrange things when my aunt called and asked if we could join her up there. The property is beautiful, but like any heavily forested land, it requires constant vigilance, which we have not been giving it. So now we have a new project as well as a new getaway out of our studio apartment. We go back in a few weeks to chop down tiny (and not so tiny) trees, reorganize the cabins, and generally make ourselves useful.

My friend mentioned to me a few days ago that she was planning on taking the rest of the week off and just planned on sitting down and reading 10 books. I decided that was a challenge that I could get behind and am joining her with the goal of reading 10 books before my classes start next week. I’ve finished 5 so far with a few more days to go, so I think I’ll make it. I’ll share a post on the books I read in the next couple of weeks, so I won’t be sharing those here.

Books Read

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke Sometimes a book can be exactly what you need to read and you aren’t really sure why, and that’s how I felt about this memoir. Tembi Locke describes the loss of her husband after his battle with cancer, their story of adoption, and bridging family distances with her husband’s Sicilian family. Not only did this book make me laugh and cry, it led me to Cinema Paradiso, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood I’m a huge Margaret Atwood fan because I think that she can make the very strange feel strangely mundane and make the everyday feel fantastic. She makes the most of coincidences, she’s insightful, and she writes really interesting, human characters. This collection of short stories is no different. I don’t usually consider short story collections to be page turners, but this one is.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele I think that stories are our ultimate tool for empathy and listening to Patrisse’s story made me grapple with the very privileged view I’ve always had of Los Angeles, the criminal justice system, and mental health. My grandmother had severe mental health problems, and contrasting the way she was treated with the way that the author’s brother was treated because of race and class made me cry and made me angry.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Movies Watched

Since we went up to the mountains this weekend and I embarked on my reading project, I’ve watched way fewer movies in the past couple of weeks…

I cannot get over the beauty of the blue and yellow light in this scene. Their mother goes on her first real date since the death of her husband, and the children have all kinds of opinions that will quickly change when she falls in love with a much younger man from a different social class…

All That Heaven Allows (1955) I have had this film on my list since we talked about it in my film class. This movie has been remade twice, once by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) and more recently by Todd Haynes as Far From Heaven. On the surface, it seems like a pretty typical melodrama about class and love and how our families can make our lives pretty miserable when they’re being selfish. And yet, it’s worth watching this film for the absolutely gorgeous lighting and for Rock Hudson’s performance, which seems to be so revealing about his sexual identity despite being awash in the blissfully look-the-other-way golden light of the 1950s.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My Blue Heaven (1950) Betty Grable (sporting my least favorite of her myriad hairstyles) stars in this film about adoption and parenting. I don’t know what it is I didn’t really like about the movie, the embarrassing and baffling appropriation of Pacific Islander culture, the trite dance numbers, the casual sexism, the idiot friends of the couple, the offhand comments equating American Indians to savages, the racist depiction of the couple’s maid and the really shitty way they treat her, the strange (forced?) adoption and the way they treat the unwed mother…. it’s harder to know where this movie goes right. There is literally a number in this movie about income taxes. Who does that? The only redeeming feature of this film is Grable’s put down of the woman her husband is cheating on her with (!). The drama is entertaining, but All That Heaven Allows and Peyton Place are much better movies if you think your life needs more melodrama in it.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Peyton Place (1957) I think this movie might deal with every possible taboo topic from the 1950s: teen sex, poverty, alcoholism, blackmail, murder, rape, abortion, illegitimate children, suicide…. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more melodrama play out over the course of two hours. The only topic it doesn’t deal with directly is race, because there are only white people in this town apparently This film was nominated for a couple academy awards including best picture and best actress, and the New England setting actually reminds me a lot of one of my favorite Hitchcock films, The Trouble with Harry (1955). I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. It was really interesting to watch, and I thought the end message of the film was a good one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
This montage of different scenes in the film with the title song sums up this movie pretty well.

The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) Starring Jayne Mansfield as the sexiest woman alive who would rather be a homemaker. Totally believable. I’ve never believed anything more…. Also some really fun old rock and roll performances from Little Richard and others. Remember when rock stars wore suits and played at night clubs to well dressed clientele? I certainly do not but apparently that was a thing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Late Night (2019) Mindy Kaling writes and stars in this sweet comedy about an aging Late Night show host (Emma Thompson) who needs to be less complacent about her content and the writing on her show and hires Molly as a diversity hire. I really liked this movie, it was exactly what I needed to watch and it felt smart. If you like Mindy Kaling’s comedy, I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this film.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Links/Articles

Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.

A sweet interview of two friends that own and run a bookstore together from the Atlantic.

Bailey’s is publishing a bunch of books by women writers who, for one reason or another, were not able to publish under their real names and took men’s names instead, including George Eliot’s Middlemarch. If you’re looking for something to read, consider one of these free ebooks.

How was your week? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: My 10 Favorite Female Authors

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This calligraphy “Top Ten Tuesday” picture is free to use, but please give credit to Allison of Aliza Shandel. Your respectfulness is much appreciated!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the Broke and the Bookish.

Since today’s topic was actually a freebie, I thought I’d do a list on the life blood of this year’s reading challenge, which is all about female authors. Making this list wasn’t as easy as I’d thought, as my true favorite author list would be a pretty equal combination of both male and female authors, so I had to broaden my favorites. This means that I went backwards in reading history, and selected authors that made my childhood/young adulthood come to life.

So here they are in alphabetical order:

Margaret Atwood: Atwood is a relatively new discovery for me, as I read her book The Handmaid’s Tale just before 2015 had begun. Her deft mix of social commentary and science fiction is not to be missed, and when she isn’t writing science fiction she has an amazing mastery of character and description that allow her to hop from genre to genre. One day I’d like to be able to write like her–just a little bit.

Jane Austen: Some people claim that music or sports or certain groups of friends got them through high school, but I certainly think Jane Austen receives a lot of thanks for getting me through that period of time. Each of her heroines give different insight in what it means to be a woman, what it means to be in love, and what it means to navigate through an unyielding social system. Beyond the romance, Austen makes her characters people and she gives them the chance to improve themselves.

Meg Cabot: This woman is simply inspiring in the sheer volume of her work combined with its total readability. Her characters are just insecure enough and just strong enough to conquer all of the bizarre challenges she throws their way. Cabot got me through middle school without a doubt, though she did plant an absurd idea in my mind that it was possible to suddenly find out you’re a princess…

Angela Carter: A new discovery of mine also from last year, I can already tell Carter and I are going to be very happy together. Her short story collection The Bloody Chamber was dark and magical and completely enchanting. Her fairy tale adaptations were nothing short of brilliant–innovative, but still capturing that grim and slightly gruesome fairy tale mood.

Emily Dickinson: I tried to keep this list geared towards novelists and not poets, but I couldn’t resist adding this one. Dickinson’s poems capture little microcosms. Her small poems cut right to the heart of the matter and the person reading them.

Gail Carson Levine: Levine and I go way back. I read Ella Enchanted and loved her. Her adaptations have so much light and hope and her heroines have so much gumption. Her books were mainstays in my childhood.

Sylvia Plath: There are some writers you wish you could be as brilliant as, and then there are some you knew you would go crazy (literally) if you attempted to emulate them. Plath is just scary dark and scary good. Her writing makes mental illness accessible–more human and more possible for the average person. If you haven’t read The Bell Jar, you really should.

JK Rowling: All Potter fans think they’re the biggest ones. My love of these books runs very very deep. I’ve read them countless times and I reread them every summer. They capture something that is very hard to explain. She really understands teenagers and the universe she creates is vast and so easy to see yourself living in. I think she’ll continue to capture hearts for years to come.

Zadie Smith: Can I just say I read a lot of good books last year? This is another author I’ve just recently found for myself. Smith’s writing is humorous, witty, poignant, and tight–she has such control over her narrative and her characters. She’s obviously fond of them, but she doesn’t let them get away with just anything. White Teeth is one of the most amazing first novels I’ve ever read.

Patricia C Wrede: Another mainstay of my childhood, Wrede is another of those fantasy authors I couldn’t put down, whether it was Sorcery and Cecilia (cowritten with Caroline Stevermer) or the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Her heroines were just so feisty and the stories were playful and gripping.

I think what you can tell from these books is that I love well written female protagonists, fantasy, and whimsy mixed with just the right amount of feminism, wit, and gothic sensibilities.

Do any of these authors make your favorites list? What is your favorite book written by one of these amazing women? Let me know in the comments.