Books Read: 2020

I’m trying to be a bit more on the ball with the reading list this year. It’s not even February 2020, and this post is in draft mode. It’s a start…

After the the Charles Dickinson short story called ‘The Chimes’, which I attempted to read for several weeks, I moved onto something short. A small palette cleanser. I read a short PDF/ebook put out by The Minimalists called Minimalist Rulebook: 16 Rules for Living with Less. It’s a great short read with some practical tips and tools to help get things on track.

Toward the end of last year I watched the pilot episode of Anne with an E. Having never read Anne of Green Gables it took me half the show to figure out it was based on the book. This garnered a rather sumptuous eye-roll from my wife! So, I read it. I grabbed the book from Project Gutenberg, which is a great resources for books in the public domain.

I enjoyed reading it, though it’s obviously written for a younger audience. I found the flow of the book interesting. It was like reading a string of unconnected events until the last few chapters where a lot of foreshadowing paid off. All the loose ends you’d hope would come together did, and in a satisfying way. I’m glad to have read it.

I then read the journal of Michael Palin’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, which is a companion to a 7 part TV series that aired in the late 1980s. Michael and a BBC film crew were attempting to really complete the journey of the Jules Verne novel by the same name. I’ve always enjoyed his various travel series and it was fun to read this while I re-watched the series again. It’s a bit like watching the extras on a DVD, where the director or some actors talk about the process of making the movie, but in this case you get a bit more depth on certain topics, and some interesting bit of information or commentary that didn’t make it into the voice over for one reason or another.

I enjoyed it so much, I then read his journal for his most recent trip, to North Korea. I enjoyed the TV special, which I thought was done with a good combination of sensitivity and skepticism, and equally enjoyed the book/journal.

Reading those then lead me to his most recent book, a history of a ship, called Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time. The title is a bit of an overreach I’d say, but the book was interesting. The ship, which sailed in the 1800s, did two notable journeys, one exploring the antarctic, and one the arctic. His book follows the ship from it’s creation and subsequent modification to suit it’s task through the voyages, pieced together from journals, letters, and other sources. The ship was lost on it’s arctic journey and Palin spends some time sifting through the information we know about what happened, and visits the some of the sites where wreckage or other artifacts have been found. I found the latter portions of the book the most interesting, but for a history buff, especially one who likes naval history, this would be a fun read.

After that, to correct an oversight on my part, I began reading the book/journal from Palin’s TV series, Michael Palin: Full Circle. The book is also called Full Circle. I have the videos for Full Circle, but I’ve never actually watched it. So, I watched and read in tandem; A full 23 years after both were released. In addition to all the color and humor Palin normally works into his writing, this journal also included a bit more about his family, and his crew’s families during this trip. Incredibly, they were on the road for 9 months to complete this journey. To my understanding just Palin and one other member of the crew went home during that time, and only once; For 4 days! Both Palin and the crew member were traveling home after learning some upsetting news about their families. Thankfully, both of those situations worked out just fine. But, the remainder of the crew left home one day, and returned home 9 months later. Committing to a trip like his ‘Around the world in 80 days’ journey is one thing, but around the Pacific in 270 is quite another!

Then, it was back to a murder mystery. I read The Monogram Murders: A Hercule Poirot Mystery, which interestingly is not by Agatha Christie but, Sophie Hannah. She must have some arrangement with the Agatha Christie estate, since the novel bears Christie’s name as well. I really enjoyed the book and read it much more quickly than I was expecting. Having now completed it though, I wish it wasn’t a Poirot. Sophie certainly hit upon the standard plot points in a Poirot, but somehow it felt a little off. It was like a subtle version of when you play the game telephone. One person whispers into a person’s ear, and then that person repeats it to the next person, on and on.. and then the last person says out loud what they heard. It usually rhymes with the original phrase, but it’s never quite the same. That is how this story felt to me. I was reading someone else’s idea of who Poirot is.

Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train was the next book I read, which was great. I think it’s particularly fun Poirot story, with several twists and turns. It’s classic Poirot and made me appreciate the nuance of Christie’s writing. It was during the reading of this story that my enjoyment of the previous book waned. Not to take anything away from ‘The Monogram Murders’ as an enjoyable book, but it’s hard to compare these two stories as equals.

From here, it was back to an author I’ve not read since 2018: Faith Martin. I picked up the story line of DI Hillary Green with Book 13, Murder of a Lover. Hillary, now several years into her early retirement, still works for the police force outside Oxford, England, though now as a consultant. She works in a department of with 3 others working on cold cases. The team consists of one other similarly retired cop, her sergeant, and two (usually) young people who are volunteering with the police to see if they like the job. As you would expect from Hillary, she continues to perform very well in her duties even though the cases she works now are cold cases. I find this series to be quick and easy to read, but the author Faith Martin does an excellent job linking the stories together with a larger story line beyond the case that is the focus of each book.

After book 13, I pressed right on with books 14 through 16, Murder Never Misses, Murder at Midnight, and Murder in Mind.

Then, inspired by a new TV adaptation, I read two books by James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small, and All Things Bright and Beautiful. These books are great to read, and offer a fictionalized telling of James’ life as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales in the years before, and after, World War II. They are filled with stories of him caring for beasts large and small, as well as anecdotes about his personal life including his marriage and relationships with his colleges. They are fun to read and are written as small chapters, each covering one short story. It was great to read this as we watch both the new and the old versions of the TV series by the same name.

I then began reading book 17 in the Hillary Greene series, Hillary’s Final Case but ran out of time this year to finish it.

Once Christmas week arrived, I re-read Dickens’, A Christmas Carol and then moved onto a book I received for Christmas, Al Schmitt on the Record: The Magic Behind the Music. Al is a well known and influential recording engineer and record producer who has been in the industry from it’s very beginning up through to where it is today. He has recorded with everyone you can imagine and has so many great insights to share. This book, while very enjoyable, was not the memoir I was expecting. He does retell his path through life, and he does share stories about many of the artists and band’s he’s worked with, but he does so in blocks based on topic and not in chronological order. Whatever his writing style, it’s worth reading if you’re interested in that sort of thing. His approach to recording is unique among the similar memoirs I’ve read and really boils down to getting things to sound their best right at the source and not relying on equipment later in the process to get things right. At his level, and in the studios he works in, that process is a bit more straightforward than it would be for someone in my situation but his process and methods offer a lot of good information for everyone with an interest. Good book, and a good guy.

When the COVID-19 Pandemic began to impact us here in the US, I expected I would increase the number of books I’d read during 2020, but the opposite was the case. Working from home, I traded my 30 minute reading lunch at the office, for a 30 minute walk in woods here in town. All of those 20-30 minute chunks of time reading really added up and I think it also impacted the types of books I read. With all of the uncertainly of this past year, I stuck to mostly easy and relaxing books. Usually, I read a few murder mysteries and then chase down some kind of topic, about which I’ll read some non-fiction books.

With 2020 now officially behind us, I’m cautiously optimistic about 2021. That being said, I’d be content to be at this lower rate in 2021 if it means I can continue to be working from home…


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