Last year, I wrote a post about all the books I read in 2020. Well, it’s been a year, and I read more books. Here they are!
Liu Cixin: Remembrance of Earth’s Past#
I read the first book in this trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, in December last year, and finished the rest early in the new year. It’s a science fiction trilogy about humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization. The details of the series are a little foggy, but I can confidently say that it’s one of my favourite sci-fi works. The scale is pretty gigantic, and there are some really cool elements of cosmic horror that I enjoyed very much. It gets a bit depressing at times, but I liked the ending of the main trilogy (The Redemption of Time is technically fan fiction).
This is a non-fiction book about city planning. Since I was planning a cross-country move at the time, I read it as a sort of instruction manual on what to look for in my eventual destination. It got a bit dry towards the middle and end, but the earlier parts that talked about what makes a good neighbourhood really hit home for me.
Martha Wells: The Murderbot Diaries#
- All Systems Red
- Artificial Condition
- Rogue Protocol
- The Future of Work: Compulsory
- Exit Strategy
- Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory
- Network Effect
- Fugitive Telemetry
The Murderbot Diaries is a sci-fi series about a sentient “artificial construct” that manages to obtain independence from its programming and names itself Murderbot. Most of the entries are novellas, but there are a couple of short stories and also one full-length novel.
Murderbot’s job is to be a Security Unit, and the story follows its interplanetary adventures in protecting survey teams, being a bodyguard, etc. But really, the series is about Murderbot’s ongoing struggles with “human” relationships and emotions. It raises some interesting questions about what it means to be human, and carries great humour throughout.
This is a book about personal finance. Despite the subject matter, it was actually very engaging. Highly recommend.
The Romance Spree#
- Beth O’Leary: The Flatshare
- Helen Hoang: The Kiss Quotient
- Sally Thorne: The Hating Game
- Rosie Danan: The Roommate
- Denise Williams: How to Fail at Flirting
- Christina Lauren: The Unhoneymooners
- Emily Henry: Beach Read
- Emily Henry: People We Meet on Vacation
- Christina Lauren: In a Holidaze
Leading up to Valentine’s Day, Goodreads released a list of recommended romance novels, and I figured I’d give them a try—I’m a sucker for a good rom-com movie, and books ought to be no different. These are all contemporary novels (I read enough about the Victorian era in university), and I made sure to pick ones with Corporate Memphis-esque covers instead of the ones with scantily-clad vampire men. I’m not going to talk about them individually because I don’t remember them well enough, but I do have some impressions of the genre.
To be honest, they’re real page turners. There’s not a whole lot to think about besides the immediate plot (and that’s a good thing sometimes!), and they tend to have no more than two POV characters so it’s easy to keep your reading momentum going1. They all tend to be in the 200-350 page range, so they never feel like they’re dragging on.
Probably the biggest annoyance I have with these books is the exact same one that I have with their movie counterparts: the conflicts feel small-scale and contrived. If the story’s big problem can be solved with a conversation and profession of love (and could have been entirely avoided by an even shorter conversation earlier on), then I have a hard time feeling too strongly about the whole thing. Sometimes I wonder if these stories wouldn’t be better off without any conflict whatsoever, since let’s face it, the goal here is just entertainment and to warm my cold, dead heart.
Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle was my favourite series of books as a kid. I hadn’t yet read Lord of the Rings or seen Star Wars, so all the plot points and themes were new to me. Even now, I still think it’s a great story, and I will defend it to the death, so naturally, I was extremely excited to see a near-1000-page science fiction story being published. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. It felt kind of cartoonish, with tentacled aliens unironically named Jellies (at least we find out that they have a less comical “real” name later on), a Deus ex Machina weapon unironically called the Staff of Blue (which turns out to be irrepairably broken, making the entire plotline that led up to it a bit wasted), and a very weird, abrupt romance involving the main character. The book isn’t bad, but I don’t feel that I got enough out of it to justify the length of it.
This was a random French book I borrowed from a friend, and it turned out to be quite good! It’s about a guy who travels across the country with an eccentric companion to find his brother. It reminded me a lot of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, which I really enjoyed in high school.
Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere#
- The Stormlight Archive
- White Sand
- The Emperor’s Soul
- Sixth of the Dusk
- Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell
This was quite the undertaking. I read in publication order, starting with Elantris at the end of February and finishing with Rhythm of War at the beginning of November. I only read two other novels and one novella during this time.
The Cosmere is the epic fantasy universe in which all of these stories take place, but they take place on different planets. The worldbuilding is really top notch, and the climax of each book is more gripping than just about anything else I’ve read (they’ve been dubbed “Sanderlanches” for a reason). Some of the most interesting bits come from the little crossovers between series that can be picked out if you’re attentive enough. I think anyone into epic fantasy should read all these books.
However, they probably shouldn’t read them all in one go. I found myself very fatigued of fantasy and having so much information to keep in my head during the last few books. After I was done, I decided that I was going to change my reading style, and just pick individual books to read instead of committing to the entire series at once. I’ll definitely still read more books from the series I’ve started, but I’m letting myself “decompress” by moving to new worlds in between.
I watched the movie adaptation a few years ago, and thought it was super weird, in a good way. Surrealism and cosmic horror are super interesting to me, so this was right up my alley and short enough to feel easy after the gigantic tomes that are The Stormlight Archive. There are two more books in the series and another one yet to be published, which ought to be just as interesting.
Frank Herbert: Dune#
Leading up to the very-hyped Dune movie, I figured I needed to read the book as it’s a real classic. I think it definitely holds up as one of the best sci-fi works out there. One thing I liked in particular was the omniscient third-person narrator, which I don’t think I’ve encountered in any other book so far. It’s cool to get the internal monologue of all the characters involved, although it takes a bit of getting used to. I read the sequel a while later, and I think it’s really a must-read for any Dune reader as it really drives home a lot of the themes from the first book. I’ll definitely be continuing in the main series.
I was feeling literary, so here we are. I can see why it’s a classic. The metaphors were painfully obvious, so it makes me wonder how I ever struggled at analyzing this stuff in high school. But literary value aside, it’s a pretty interesting story even if you read it with your head in the sand.
After watching the first season of Foundation on TV this year, I wanted to see what the source material was like. I was really surprised, because the plots of the book and the show are hardly related, besides the main premise. My guess is that a bunch of TV material was taken from the subsequent books in the series, which makes sense because the story takes place in many different places in many different eras. I love the huge scope of this series, I’m looking forward to the next ones.
I read The Stranger in high school English class and really loved the absurdist themes. Despite the actual plot being rather dry and depressing, I found it quite gripping, or at least intriguing. I’ve wanted to read it in French (its original language) for quite some time, and managed to find a paper copy in Montréal this summer. It’s just as good as I remember it being! My French has definitely gone downhill since high school, but I still had a really good time reading this. I’ll definitely be reading some more of Camus' work in the future.
The final book in The Expanse, arguably my favourite series (combined with the TV show that just wrapped up, it’s without a doubt my favourite franchise), it’s over, and I am very sad. It’s one of those series where you’ve grown so familiar with the characters that saying goodbye to them feels almost like losing someone in real life. I think they really nailed the conclusion, and the epilogue especially was just so satisfying. It was just as good as the rest of the series; look it up in last year’s post if you want more details.
Guy dies and is cryogenically preserved, only to reawaken to find that he’s become the computer of a space ship, and subsequently explores the galaxy and makes clones of himself. Such an interesting premise, and great humour throughout. I can’t wait to continue this series.
In total, I read 56 books and 20,469 pages (according to Goodreads). I had a goal of reading 50 books and more pages than my mom (I just about doubled her count). This year, I have a 50-book goal again; I feel like anything more than that makes doing anything other than reading really hard. Honestly, I feel like 25 is probably a more reasonable goal, since I have a lot more going on in my life than I did in the first third of last year.
I mentioned last year that an e-reader really helped me get back into reading, and that hasn’t changed, but this year I replaced my Kindle with a Kobo. The main reason is that with a Kobo, I can read ebooks that I’ve borrowed with my library card. It feels a lot better than the less-than-ethical methods I use alternatively… Also, Amazon is not deserving of our support.
I don’t really have a plan or a list of books I want to read this year, but I do want to at least start The Wheel of Time and continue the series that I started in the last couple months of this year. Last year, I said that I wanted to read more nonfiction, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m really happy just reading fantasy and sci-fi for the most part. If that makes me shallow, oh well. It’s better than watching TV at least.
I have a love-hate relationship with books that have many POVs. On one hand, a truly epic story, especially a series, should have enough going on that many perspectives are required to properly describe all of the concurrent events. On the other hand, I find it much easier to keep reading for a long time when the perspective doesn’t change—I hate being left on a cliffhanger and having to move to a new perspective instead of immediately seeing what happens next (even though the new perspective is probably about to resolve a previous cliffhanger that I was loathe to leave unresolved). ↩︎