2020: The Year When Reading Just Didn’t Happen

We are now five whole days into 2021. While a change in that last digit doesn’t dramatically change things (especially when it comes to reading and backlogs), I think we can all say this now to 2020 with some semblance of bravery or confidence:

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You tell ’em, Ransom Drysdale.

The past year has given everyone our worst nightmares. I won’t get into the many nightmares people here in the Philippines have faced last year aside from COVID-19, or my own major personal setbacks. Those would take much more than a blog post to tackle, plus an immense amount of emotional and mental strength because… fuck.

One nightmare I’ll talk about would be temporarily losing my love and enthusiasm for reading (and writing my own creative nonfiction manuscript for graduate school). I had initially blanked out and panicked from March to May, then I regained some ground from June to August. But I was also battling one serious illness starting in late June, and another in late August.

(NOT COVID for both instances! Just saying.)

Then I just gave up for the rest of the year. There was no point in forcing myself to do something I didn’t feel like doing, and going into survival mode took up whatever little was left of my energy and reserve of fucks to give.

To be fair, 2020 wasn’t my worst reading year of all time. It was still pretty bad, though. I finished 10 books from front to back cover and carried over six titles from 2019’s reading list, making for just 16 books crossed off.

Yeah, I definitely need to read more this 2021.

The Reviews

These six carry-overs and one pre-pandemic 2020 read were the focus of this blog post done back in May. I had a good mix of fiction and nonfiction work, although I wish I had focused on Kilometer Zero and Convenience Store Woman more.

Out of all the titles I finished in 2020, Martha Wells’ Murderbot series held my attention and awe the longest. I sped through its novellas in mere days, and I needed only like a week or so for its first full-length novel, Network Effect (which I didn’t write about).

Honestly, I was just obsessed with this series. Its dynamic and interesting characters, amazing world-building, snappy writing and pace, and fun action ‘scenes’ won me over really quickly. But the endless asides were too much for me, and some parts seemed like they were written just to plug gaping plot holes.

I also went through the first two Snowpiercer graphic novel volumes after watching all the episodes of Snowpiercer season 1 on Netflix. And this is years after I saw Snowpiercer the movie adaptation, helmed by the great Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.

These two volumes give the small- and big-screen adaptations a roadmap of sorts, and opportunities to branch out and improve on the source material’s way-outdated parts. However, I’m curious to see if the current TV show sticks to the graphic novels and prequels. Guess I’d have to get the remaining four books – and watch season 2 (premiering on January 25!) – to find that out for myself.

My last review went up in August. It was a Ted Chiang special featuring two of his non-dystopian fiction collections. Unlike most of the other short story collections I’ve read in the past, Chiang goes for the slower, subtler, and more cerebral style. That makes readers look inward instead of being spoonfed, ask deeper questions, and seriously consider the very thin line between right and wrong. With the world going full cackling villain these days, ‘thinky’ sci-fi was a real balm for me.

Reading on hold

Just like in previous years, I tried reading a few books and then stalled partway or even halfway through. 2020’s unfinished business was a lot smaller in size, but yeah, they didn’t quite make the cut… yet.

I still plan on going back and crossing these titles off my long list:

  • Boneshaker, Cherie Priest
  • Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: An Extraordinary Diary of Courage from the Vietnam War, Dang Thuy Tram
  • Calling Out the Destruction: Collected Non-Fiction Meditations on Violence and Transcendence, Karl R. de Mesa
  • Digital Loves, Jade Mark Capinanes

(I bought Calling Out the Destruction directly from Karl, and got my USTNWW 2017 CNF co-fellow Jade’s Digital Loves – and the follow-up How to Grieve: Stories – through his linked Weebly sites. Man, my inability to finish books even under 100 pages says a lot about my state of mind last year.)

Also on hold is my habit of buying paperbacks and hardbounds at will. Throughout 2020, I stuck with e-book purchases for both cost and safety reasons.

That means I missed every single book festival that made a big deal of going online but still sold physical books for individual shipping, like Aklatan and MIBF. I also missed events like the PH Readers and Writers Festival because I became so sick of video calls and online events in general.

(I will write about where I get my legit e-book fix soon. Watch out for it!)

What else?

I didn’t do much in 2020, in hindsight.

LOL, get the joke? No? OK.

The Reading Spree celebrated its 10th birthday; and I changed my reviewing approach from themed, meticulous book rundowns to something I’ll call “Whatever the Hell I Feel Like Reading and Writing About.”

That’s one change I never felt down about or regretted, unlike my trip to Chiang Mai with my now ex-colleagues. I loved the destination, and I may come back again after the pandemic ends. The company? Let’s rate ’em just three out of five. 😉

I left that content marketing agency months after that trip and took a long break from content marketing as well. Lesson (re)learned: If something feels off, it most definitely is. Stop second-guessing yourself and just RUN.

Guess that’s it. Goodbye, 2020; and hello, 2021! Frankly, I’m just hoping to stay alive long enough for 2022 – and maybe do for my reading backlog what Gretchen Wieners couldn’t do for a certain word.

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That’s just mean.