2020 was a hard reading year for me. I know that for some people the global pandemic and stay-at-home orders led to a boom in reading, but I experienced quite the opposite. When COVID-19 shutdowns began, I found myself totally disinterested in reading and much more interested in building a happy little world of animal friends in Animal Crossing. We each cope in our own way. That said, I did manage to read a few books this year, and here are the ones that stand out.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
This is perhaps the best book I have ever read about social media’s magnetic draw, its powers of instant celebrity, and the perils and rewards of that potential. It is also a book about space robots. April May is walking home at 3 a.m. from her soul-sucking job at an NYC start-up when she happens upon a 10-foot-tall robot sculpture that seems to have appeared on the sidewalk at 23rd Street. For a moment, April appreciates the beauty of the sculpture and almost walks right by…but she reconsiders and calls her college friend Andy to meet her to make a YouTube video about the sculpture. April is thinking their video will be about how absolutely remarkable things can happen in New York every day and we often just walk right by them. Little does she know that robot sculptures just like this one, which she dubs “Carl,” have just appeared in cities all over the globe. Her video makes her an instant celebrity, the initiator of “first contact with the Carls.” April is catapulted to a level of instant internet fame she could never have imagined, and didn’t think that she wanted. But fame, like likes, retweets, and comments, is addictive, and April wants to be the one to solve the mystery of the Carls…even if that means doing some pretty reckless, potentially life-threatening things.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Daughter of the sun and a water nymph, Circe is best known as the witch who became the lover of Odysseus during his fantastical journey home. But Miller’s retelling of the Greek mythological figure fleshes out her immortal history to paint a picture of an outsider trying to discover her self over millennia. Though Greek mythology features many strong and charismatic women, the lens of the story is almost always masculine. Circe is a temptress in the Odyssey, but in the world through her eyes she is a victim who learns to guard her island and those she loves through her talent for spells. Woven into her story are many other familiar names: Prometheus, Icarus, the Minotaur, Jason of the Argonauts, Hermes, Athena, and more. Miller breathes life and humanity (or inhumanity) into the story, which was a compelling read.
In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
This is actually the fourth book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series, and I highly recommend you read them all. The concept may sound familiar: a school for wayward children, each who once found a door into another world and now find themselves trapped back in the world of their birth, waiting, sometimes in vain, for their door to reappear. But McGuire richly paints the alternate realities the children come from, creating fabulously drawn worlds each with their own set of rules, or lack thereof. An escape, if ever you need one.
I really hope to read more in 2021. I’m trying. I have a huge queue of amazing books that I’ve bought this year and just haven’t started. Hopefully, 2021 will bring, among many other things, the right headspace for reading for me.