What ho Wee Readers, how are you all doing? Are you trapped at home in quarantine? Or practicing social distancing to protect yourself and or your family? Yeah, my Mum’s got a damaged lung, so I’m right there with you. At times like these the world can seem a terrifying place, almost overwhelmingly so – and I find the best cure for such depressing thoughts, can be found in the pages of a good book.
Wow, that was a far more depressing opening than I thought it would be. Anyway, if you’ve been following my Goodreads account, then you’ll know that I really enjoy their Reading Challenge. At the beginning of 2020, I challenged myself to read a hundred books, which is quite a step up from the thirty I read in 2019. I’m well on my way to completing this year’s challenge, so I’d just thought I’d take a look back at my favorite reads of last year, to try and forget about this year.
10. Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly
This is a collection of essays about the cancelled tv show Firefly, one of two I read over the course of 2019 – though by far this is the superior volume. Mainly because unlike its sequel, it didn’t go on and on about how not having aliens in it made Firefly the greatest sci-fi show ever to exist. Or sneering at the notion that anyone would ever put an alien in their space fiction, let alone actually believe in life on other planets. Which, as someone who is patiently waiting for the mother-ship to return, I find slightly offensive. Anyway, you won’t find any of that nonsense in this book – at least, none that I can remember.
9. Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The Musical Drama
So…Michael Sheen’s voice…wow. Anyway, back on topic…I started this post quite a while ago, and then got pulled away to write another essay (I know I’ve said that before, but it’s not just an excuse, it really is what I’ve been doing all this time) and during that interval the world kind of…exploded. Basically, we somehow woke up one day and found ourselves living in a dystopian novel, which is…well…bad whatever, but if it was going to happen, why couldn’t it be ‘The War of the Worlds’ instead? Look I’m not trying to be crass here, I’m well aware how terrible the coronavirus, the mass panic buying of loo roll…for some unexplained reason…and well everything the British government has been doing lately, is. All I’m saying is that I would rather watch Boris Johnson be disintegrated by a Martian, than worry about the bloody coronavirus.
8. Coffee at Luke’s: An Unauthorized Gilmore Girls Gabfest Edited by Jennifer Cruise
So, this is a thing. Rather like the first book on this list, this is a collection of essays; except this time on the topic of Gilmore Girls. Gilmore Girls is one of those shows in which I have a… complicated relationship with. On the one hand I loved the original show, and yet like many of you out there I found the revival lacking in the charm that made the original so appealing. Also, the characters were all awful, and by that, I mean they were all awful people. Where they like that in the original, I don’t remember that. Still the book is well worth a look, even for the most disappointed of Gilmore Girls fans, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys digging deeper into their favorite shows.
7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R Tolkien.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s least enjoyable book…there I said it. I’m of two minds about this book, on the one hand nowhere else is J.R.R. Tolkien’s genius most evident, and yet the only way to describe how I manged to finish this is: with great difficulty. Whether or not you enjoy this book really depends on how much you’re invested in the Elves as a people – for you see The Silmarillion is not just the history of Middle-Earth, it’s the History of Middle-Earth as told by the ruling class of Elves. It’s why we never really get a look into the other races unless they’ve had direct contact with the elves. Notice how it’s only the men who live under the Elves sovereignty who are in anyway explored in a meaningful way. This isn’t the story of Middle-earth but rather how the elves perceive it. And nowhere is this more apparent than the story of the petty Dwarves. The petty dwarves were a diminutive race that lived in the continent of Beleriand (the north most tip of middle-earth) during the first age (or at least round about that time, Middle-earth calendars are a lot less straightforward than you’d think). In fact, they were the first people to live in Beleriand, even before the elves – and what did the elves do when they got there? Come on, we all live in a post-colonist world, you know what they did. That’s right, they massacred them…hunted them for sport actually. Claiming all the while that they thought they were animals. While they do stop doing this once they meet the larger dwarves, and realize the creatures they were gleefully slaughtering – which had worn clothes, and held weapons – were not in fact a strange kind of boar. However, they don’t actually seem to feel guilty about what they’d done. In fact, the text itself implies that the petty dwarves had it coming, because they were…unpleasant, and didn’t like anyone. My Valar of the Forge and Earth, why would a people that have been hunted to near extinction, and smeared in the history books, not have a sunny disposition? Madness, don’t they know that the feelings of their murders come first above all things.
Yes, I am a Tolkien nerd, why do you ask?
6. Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel Jose Older
They should have let the cooking robot kill Ben Solo. Out of context that sentence sounds like nonsense, doesn’t it? But trust me, after you read this book, you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, getting down to business. Despite my first impressions of the film I can freely admit that ‘Solo’ is by far and away probably one the weaker members of the Star Wars franchise. Many people have tried to pinpoint the exact reason for this – raging from the sensible to the outright ludicrous – but I have come to the conclusion that ultimately, it was the pacing that let Solo down. Namely, it was originally supposed to be three films, but got squished into one for…some reason…and you can really tell. Despite this, the film had many positive qualities, not least among which was being the only film to note the cruelty many heroes casually throw at droids – I mean it didn’t do it well, but at least it mentioned it. Last Shot is everything Solo should have been: it explores Han Solo’s past but only so much as it pertains to the story, and it gives characters that had previously been killed off before they could do anything more than snark a chance to shine. And most of all, droid abuse and activism was made a central theme and story plot, rather than just something to be giggled at.
5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The book is better than the show. Yeah, I’ll say it, the show was needlessly dark and depressing and… that second season, oh my god, did I hate that second season. I couldn’t even watch it to the end. Look I know both the book and the show cover heavy topics that need to be taken seriously, like abuse, possible murder and body issues, but somehow the book was able to do that without making every single character completely unlikable. I mean what was with that story-line of Madeline cheating on Ed? She didn’t need more drama in her story, her book story-line was dramatic enough and unique. It wasn’t just another copy and paste affair arch. In conclusion, read the book and skip the show.
4. Revenge of the Sith by Mathew Stover
I love this book. I’ve read it more than once, more than thrice really, and each time it just gets better. A common trend when praising this book, is to imply that it vastly improves upon the original film. However, I’m not going to say that, because quite frankly not only is that kind of petty prequel hate repugnant to me in every way but, I found nothing to hate in the original film. In fact, it’s one of my favourites. What I will say is Mathew Stover’s take on the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of Darth Vader is interesting and new, not better just different – but I found his description of the force, particularly how Obi-Wan experiences it, the most fascinating I’ve ever encountered in any Star Was franchise media, films included.
3. Snape: A definitive Reading by Lorrie Kim
Awesome, just awesome. Severus Snape is the essential base-breaking character. You either love him or loathe him, there doesn’t seem to be any neutral ground on this issue, but that doesn’t matter because Snape a Definitive Reading is the book for both sides of the argument. Whether you love him and want a conformation of why he is so awesome, or you absolutely hate him, but want an insight into what all your crazy friends see in him, this is the book for you.
2. Room by Emma Donoghue
I love this book. I was so, so about the film – since as a visual medium it lost much of the magic that was Jack’s misunderstanding about his situation in the beginning of the story – but the book was fantastic. Now I’m assuming, Wee Readers, that each of you fall into one of two categories. Either you’ve already read this book/watched the film, and know each of the ins and outs of the story, and therefore don’t need me to tell you what you already know; or you have no idea what I’m even talking about. In which case I don’t want to ruin the story for you. So I’ll just say this, if you’re stuck at home at this strange time, pick up a kindle or audible version of this book, sit back and enjoy.
1. The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair
Speaking of good books to read while you’re waiting out the coronavirus. This is, and I don’t think I’m overstating this, the best book published in 2019, hands down. If you’ve been following my blog for a while – hello early Wee Readers – you’ll remember I interviewed the author herself a few months back. If you’re interested go check that out here, or Ailish’s own blog here. There now the plugging is done, onto the real talk of the book. Without giving away the end – because as we all know, only gypes give out spoilers on the internet – this a book that will not end how you think it will. Whether you are a fan of sweeping Romance, accurate Historical Fiction, Heroines that aren’t a size two, or like me an accurate portrayal of a Scottish accent… this is the book for you. Trust me, Wee Readers, you will not be thinking about the coronavirus while you’re reading this book. Seriously go out and buy this book.
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9 thoughts on “Memories of a 2019 GoodReads Challenge: or, the top ten books to read while you’re social distancing”
Interesting that over half your list is film or TV-related rather than ‘pure’ literature. I make no comment other than stating that fact. My list, of course, would be very different. Nor do I want to one-up but I probably read an average of around 100 books a year already (it helps to live alone). The only one on your list that I’ve read is The Silmarrillion. I agree that it’s a book with a kind of magic in it that’s linked to Tolkien’s deep Cathlicism, but that it’s a difficult book to read. It’s about the Elves because they were Tolkien’s ideal: I’m no doubt teaching Granny the fine art of egg-sucking but his original conception of the myth-cycle was of a British Myth to compare with the Norse Myths and the Elves to be the ultimate forebears of we Brits (or, more likely, we English).
Still, you’ve sold me on that book by that Sinclair woman and I’ll make arrangements to get a copy. It had better be as good as you say it is, Wee Lassie, or I’ll force you to read one of mine…
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What an interesting and varied collection! I’ll put Ms Sinclair’s book on my TRB list. See you over on Goodreads.
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See you over there too 😁
Interesting list Lassie, the only items I recognized were the Tolkien book, the Snape book, and the two Star Wars books. I’ve been listening to a lot of audio readings on HorrorBabble on YouTube, a collaboration effort by couple Ian Gordon and Jennifer Gill that specializes in public domain Weird Fiction, Horror Fiction, and Sc-Fi Fiction. I highly recommend them, especially Ian’s readings as he has a soothing voice. This makes me wanna find all the Greek Mythology books I left in storage.
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That sounds brilliant, I’ll have to check that out right away☺️
Interesting! I like the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies over the book, but what I loved was the comparison between the two and seeing how you could make small changes to alter drama levels!
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It is fascinating to compare and contrast adaptions to the originals, I’ve always found that ☺️
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I listened to Big Little Lies on audio and enjoyed it. Never seen the show and don’t particularly crave watching it and even less so from what you say (Madeleine cheating on Ed? Why???). As for Gilmore Girls, I think we’re ok just ignoring the revival.
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Oh, the ‘Big Little Lies’ audiobook is fantastic, that’s where I read it too🙂