It’s undeniably been a weird year. But weirdness aside, I’m pretty lucky to be able to say that it’s actually been a pretty good one for me. My career is doing great, I got back into shape and ran a marathon, and I started reading for fun again. Of those three things, the last one is what I’m most excited about.
I have vague memories of learning letters from a set of fridge magnets, and later, reading Magic Tree House books in kindergarten. Apparently I was pretty gifted with language at a young age; or at least I keep telling myself that to keep my fragile ego intact. In any case, I continued reading through elementary school with mostly fantasy works like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Inheritance Cycle (which still holds up as my favourite childhood book series), and authors like Cornelia Funke and Kenneth Oppel. For a school project, I mailed interview questions to various authors, received a lovely handwritten response from Kenneth Oppel, and then went on to meet him at a reading of Darkwing! 1
In high school, I kept reading mostly fantasy, such as Lord of the Rings, but also got exposed to some less kid-friendly books that have stuck with me over the years, most notably The Stranger and All Quiet on the Western Front. 2 When university abruptly took over my life, I stopped reading almost entirely. Not because I didn’t like it anymore, I just didn’t have time (or at least, I didn’t make time). I think a lot of people can relate to that. Despite that, I managed to sneak in a few English courses as electives, and had a blast there too.
But now that I’m just a regular nine-to-fiver with no commute, I have plenty of spare time to pursue forgotten hobbies. It all started at a secondhand bookstore in Bangkok, where I found a signed(!) copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Make Something Up, and Seul sur Mars, the French translation of Andy Weir’s The Martian, all for 330 baht[?]. I still haven’t finished finished the latter, and I didn’t even start the former, but it served to remind me how much joy I used to get out of books. Since then, mostly thanks to the purchase of an e-reader, I’ve been tearing through (virtual) pages. So here’s the list, and a brief summary/review:
- A Game of Thrones
- A Clash of Kings
- A Storm of Swords
- A Feast for Crows
- A Dance with Dragons
Even after the the TV series' abysmal final season, I wanted to read the books to get the full Westerosi experience. I wasn’t disappointed, although I probably will be in the future (it’s looking less and less likely that the series' last two books will ever be published). But even if A Dream of Spring never comes, I’ll still be glad to have read what’s published. The worldbuilding in this series is second to none, and if you don’t believe me, you can hear it from the YouTubers publishing video essays on YouTube, or the readers posting on /r/asoiaf (and let’s not forget /r/freefolk), to this day.
I started the series around the beginning of May, and finished it in mid-September. There were weeks where I read 100+ pages per day, and there were also entire weeks where I didn’t read. I found the last two books to be somewhat slow reading, but I consider the first three books to be among the best I’ve ever read.
- The 100
- The 100: Day 21
- The 100: Homecoming
- The 100: Rebellion
After over 4000 pages of dense reading, I needed something light to cleanse my palate, so I picked up The 100. I’m actually a big fan of the TV series, despite its many plot holes, so I thought it would be interesting to check out the source material. It was… exactly what I expected from a young adult series. Like scrolling through memes on the internet, I knew I wasn’t getting much of value, but I still couldn’t put it down. I read them in a day each. I have no regrets and no shame. In all seriousness, not every book needs depth and meaning. Sometimes it’s just a story, and that’s totally okay!
- Leviathan Wakes
- Caliban’s War
- Abaddon’s Gate
- Cibola Burn
- Nemesis Games
- Babylon’s Ashes
- Persepolis Rising
- Tiamat’s Wrath
- The Butcher of Anderson Station
- Gods of Risk
- The Churn
- The Vital Abyss
- Strange Dogs
- The Last Flight of the Cassandra
Continuing with the theme of “television source material”, I had been looking forward to reading this series since halfway through ASoIaF. The Expanse is one of my favourite TV shows for sure, and as someone who has read mostly fantasy, I was excited to dive into science fiction. It’s got realistic space mechanics like gravity and light delay, politics that somehow manage to not be boring, and ever-elusive female characters that aren’t horribly written. Oh, and space battles. And aliens.
It took me about three months to get through roughly 5,000 pages. Until now, I didn’t realize there was so much… it really did fly by and I still wish there was more to read. I’m looking forward to the last novel this upcoming October!
- The Three-Body Problem
- The Dark Forest (in progress)
I can’t imagine anything more more interesting to read about than the simulation of celestial mechanics on a fully functioning von Neumann-architecture computer made entirely of people holding coloured flags. Add in a premise rooted in real physics and a generous dose of cosmic horror, and you get something very appealing, at least to weird folks like myself. I’m in the middle of The Dark Forest right now, and two more novels remain after that (Death’s End and The Redemption of Time).
This series was written by a Chinese author and is set mostly in China, so it exposed an interesting blind spot in my own education. The translator’s footnotes do a good job filling in background knowledge, but I still found myself spending a lot of time on Wikipedia. I’d definitely recommend broadening your horizons with the works of foreign authors!
In total, I read just over 11,000 pages, starting in May. Not bad, but let’s see if I can double it in 2021! At around 60 pages per day, it seems doable.
Here’s a list of stuff that I might want to read next year (sorted by author because prioritizing them would take all day). Realistically, a list like this can last me through 2025.
- Christopher Paolini: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
- George R.R. Martin: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
- George R.R. Martin: Fire & Blood
- George R.R. Martin: The Winds of Winter (one can hope, right?)
- J. R. R. Tolkein: The Silmarillion
- James S.A. Corey: Leviathan Falls (the final book in The Expanse!)
- Andrzej Sapkowski: The Witcher
- Brandon Sanderson: Cosmere (Elantris, Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive, & Warbreaker)
- Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, & Kevin J. Anderson: Dune
- Patrick Rothfuss: The Kingkiller Chronicle
- Richard Morgan: Takeshi Kovacs (source material for Altered Carbon of Netflix fame)
- Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson: The Wheel of Time
- Albert Camus (in French!)
- Chuck Palahniuk (I got halfway through his novels years ago, but I think I’ll just restart)
- Cormac McCarthy
- H.P. Lovecraft 3
- Jack Kerouac
I’d also like to branch out a bit to non-fiction next year. Here are a few books that interest me on topics that I care about:
- Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of American Cities (urban planning)
- McKenzie Funk: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming (climate change)
- Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (climate change)
- Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway: Merchants of Doubt (climate change)
- Tim Hwang: Subprime Attention Crisis (internet advertising)
And who knows, maybe I’ll even finish Seul sur Mars.
As the footnotes below this should make clear, my teachers have played a huge role in fueling my love for reading. Teachers reading this: please continue to encourage and facilitate reading for fun, and thank you!
I’m not 100% sure that it was Kenneth Oppel that I interviewed, but I can’t think of who else it would have been. Also, thank you to whoever at Dugald School organized an evening field trip to a book reading just for me and a few of my friends. You went the extra mile. I wish I remembered which teacher it was! ↩︎
Thank you to Larry Paetkau, my high school English teacher, for choosing such awesome material, and for the excellent contents of his classroom bookshelf. ↩︎
Thank you to Jonathan Ball, my professor in a horror-themed English course, for assigning The Call of Cthulhu. ↩︎