My Favorite Books This Year (2020)

2020 has been a wild, scary year, but as always, books remain a great way to escape, learn, grow, and find enjoyment. I decided to put a quick “year in review” together of what I read and enjoyed. A few of these items I’m glad to say were on my list of series to read at the beginning of the year. There is just under 3 weeks left of the year, which is plenty of time to read a few more (which I will be doing), but I figured I had plenty to put into a list.

Murderbot Series

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
I started the year off going through the first several installments of The Murderbot Diaries. The newest released in May this year, Network Effect, and the next comes out this coming April titled Fugitive Telemetry. This series is simply fantastic and I am glad I now have it on my shelf.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew QuickThe Silver Linings Playbook book cover
One of my more recent reads, I really enjoyed this one and go into detail about my thoughts on book versus movie on my post about the book.

Talking to StrangersTalking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell’s newest book delves into how we perceive those we do not know and how a few recent events escalated the way they did. Touching on some dark material while illuminating on how we interact to others subconsciously, this book is a great insight into how we move through society and, unfortunately, how we fall into situations of miscommunication.

The Inheritance GamesThe Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The great start to a mystery I happily compare to Knives Out, one of my favorite films of yesteryear. Filled with intrigue and questionable family dynamics, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This was one that has been on my shelf for some time. I picked it up after enjoying Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas novel and wanted to read more of his work. I was surprised with this one, but pleasantly so. The story was much different than expected though the prose was beautiful and enticing.

Every Tool's A HammerEvery Tool’s A Hammer by Adam Savage
An enlightening look into the life of a main Mythbuster, this book was a great insight into building and what goes into creating some of the iconic films we all know and many love. I learned a lot about craft and making things and I really enjoyed Adam’s passion for what he does (even when things don’t turn out quite like he wanted). It was great to get to know more about him.

All The Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book came as a recommendation and it was a beautiful book to read. The story was interesting as it covered some of the magical, invisible experiences of our world while centered around young characters trying to make it through World War II.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
A series on my list and an author I had yet to read. This series opened me to Wolfe’s work and I am a fan. I enjoyed this four book series and am about to finish a collection of short stories. I wish I would have read him sooner, but I am glad to have found his work regardless. His prose is not for everyone and I liken many of his stories to a veil with an entire universe hiding beneath. I intend to read more, and I will not be surprised if he becomes one of my favorite authors.

Books of the New Sun

Mythologies

Norse MythologyI’ve always loved mythology. My favorite has always been Norse Mythology. I recently began listening to Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I’ve read it before but was in the mood for some stories and figured what was better than to have Neil read them himself. It was the perfect choice, and it got me thinking about different mythologies and some I want to learn more about.

Greek & Roman

MythosI know a decent amount about Greek and Roman mythology mainly because they are closely intertwined, taught in school, and likely the most popular mythologies in the world. Everyone knows of Zeus and Poseidon and Hercules and the many others within these pantheons. There have been dozens of movies made based on these stories and characters, but there is still much I’d like to learn. I’ve read The Odyssey but have yet to read The Illiad. I really want to read Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths in his book titled Mythos. I have a copy and just have to take the time.

Egyptian

Egyptian mythology may be my second or third favorite. I’ve always liked these characters since I was young, but I realized I don’t know too much about their actual history. I hope to find some texts that will give me a better background in this area. Ironically I can’t think of any at the moment.

Celtic

I know very little about these mythologies aside from a few characters and I only recently discovered them. I definitely want to know more and I did pick up one book to help me do so. Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis.

Chinese – Japanese – Hindu

Another few mythologies I know very little about aside from a few characters or names. I mainly learned of these characters through shows or video games. I used to play a game called Smite where you played as mythological gods from different pantheons. It was a lot of fun to play with friends and I really liked learning about the different mythologies and characters through the lore provided in the game even if it was brief.

Maori

Kia Ora. I lived in New Zealand for a brief time and was lucky enough to learn a bit about the Maori culture and their creation myths including Papatuanuku and Ranginui. Learning these stories increased my interest in mythologies around the world because there is so much and many of them have similarities despite the cultures never being in contact with each other.

Norse

Norse MythologyBack to my favorite. Of course there have also been modern retellings of these myths as well. Marvel comics (and the MCU) have made several characters popular despite only key elements remaining true to the myths themselves. Thor is my favorite Avenger even though he is quite different in the myths. I’m going through Neil Gaiman’s recent retellings of these myths. I’ve also read Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber and Snorri Sturleson’s Prose Edda. I still need to read the Poetic Edda and there are surely many stories in this pantheon I have yet to discover. I will eventually.

What are some of your favorite myths? Do you have some recommendations for me to learn more about some of the pantheons I mentioned? Or perhaps some that I did not? I’d love to learn more so let me know with a comment or message me on Twitter at @YarberWrites.

An Alphabet of Authors

Inspired by @WS_Bookclub’s post of alphabetical fantasy authors. I decided to do an Alphabet of Authors myself. These are authors I have read and I was surprised to see several gaps in letters, so please give me some recommendations if you know of any.

I made this list mainly by perusing my bookshelf so it may very well be incomplete. I’ve also only added the authors whose work I have enjoyed (of course) because I figured you may want to read them if you haven’t yet. If you want a specific book recommendation for any of these authors, peruse my list of recommendations I have posted here. Anyway, here we go:

An alphabet of authors (by last name)

A – Douglas Adams with Honorable Mentions: Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, Ryunosuke Akutagawa

B – Ray Bradbury with Honorable Mentions: Edgar Rice Burroughs

C – Ted Chiang with Honorable Mentions: Orson Scott Card, Raymond Carver, Albert Camus, Ernest Cline

D – Philip K. Dick with Honorable Mentions: Emily Dickinson, Anthony Doerr, Alexandre Dumas

E – Cary Elwes with Honorable Mention: Matthew Eck

F – Raymond E. Feist with Honorable Mentions: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carrie Fisher, Victor Frankl

G – Neil Gaiman with Honorable Mentions: William Gibson, Arthur Golden, Helene A. Guerber, The Brothers Grimm, Malcolm Gladwell

H – Frank Herbert with Honorable Mentions: Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, Aldous Huxley

I – Dave Itzkoff with Honorable Mention: Kazuo Ishiguro

J – Robert Jordan with Honorable Mention: Diana Wynne Jones

K – Stephen King with Honorable Mention: Franz Kafka

L – Ursula K. Le Guin with Honorable Mentions: Stanislaw Lem, Ann Leckie, Tom Lloyd

M – John Marco with Honorable Mentions: David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy

N – Garth Nix with Honorable Mentions: Phong Nguyen, Patrick Ness

O – George Orwell with Honorable Mentions: Joyce Carol Oates, Nnedi Okorafor

P – Terry Pratchett with Honorable Mentions: Gary Paulson, Robert M. Pirsig, Gareth L. Powell, Edgar Allen Poe

Q – Recommendations Please (I do want to read Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook)

R – Patrick Rothfuss with Honorable Mentions: Ayn Rand, J.K. Rowling

S – Antione de Saint-Exupery with Honorable Mentions: V.E. Schwab, Snorri Sturluson

T – J.R.R. Tolkien with Honorable Mention: Karen Traviss

U – Recommendations Please

V – Kurt Vonnegut

W – Tobias Wolff with Honorable Mentions: Gene Wolfe, Martha Wells, Danny Wallace, and Andy Weir

X – Recommendations Please

Y – Recommendations Please (I do want to read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life)

Z – Yevgeny Zamyatin with Honorable Mention: Timothy Zahn

Who Said You Should Never Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Yeah, yeah, there is that old saying (which is true), but I thought I’d list books whose covers I think are beautiful, made me pick the book up initially, or I simply like. There are often several variants to book covers based on editions, reprints, etc. The cover is meant to entice you or else they wouldn’t spruce them up. I’m a sucker for cool artwork too. Here are several that I enjoy.

The Sword of Angels

Sword of AngelsThis cover is actually the reason I picked up this trilogy by John Marco. I saw this cover, thought it looked cool, found out it was the third book in the series, and went on to buy the first book. I need to re-read this series since it has been (I believe) over ten years since I first read it and a fourth book has been released since then that continues the story of one of the main characters.

Exhalation

ExhalationAnother simplistic cover that goes along with an equally simplistic yet mysterious title. This collection of short stories, and one novella, by Ted Chiang is a great read for any SFF fans or if you like stories that make you think.

The Faded Sun Trilogy

The Faded Sun TrilogyI picked up a copy of this trilogy in one volume a long time ago. The cover was of course a factor. I had no idea who C.J. Cherryh was but she has become an author whose work I really need to look into, which of course means I have yet to read this trilogy. I have a lot of books on my TBR and I will get to them eventually. I’ve been trying to read through the books I have and purchase fewer books.

Memories of Ice

Memories of IceMemories of Ice is actually book three of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. This is the first on this list of books I picked up because of the cover but have not yet read. The Malazan series is a larger series and I currently have the first five books. I plan to read them some day, but I just haven’t gotten around to it just yet.

Norse Mythology

Norse MythologyOkay. There are a lot of different versions, retellings, and of course covers of the Norse Myths. The cover I refer to specifically is a recent retelling by Neil Gaiman. I think the cover is fantastic and we get a few versions of it. One for hardback and one for paperback. I have a copy of both mainly because I happened to get an opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the paperback, which honestly is the cover I like best. I think there are a few other variants of the hardback cover (which is different from the paperback version you see here) but they are different color backgrounds including black, white, and red.

Fahrenheit 451

FahrenheitFahrenheit 451There are a lot of different covers for Fahrenheit 451 as it has become a classic and is taught in schools. I particularly enjoy the simplistic 60th anniversary cover as well as the Folio Society version which I recently acquired.

A Memory of Light

The final installment of The Wheel of Time. This cover actually holds more significance because it comes at the end of a long journey and holds the fates of many beloved characters, which makes this cover perhaps the only one on this list linked directly to the story it tells. I’m sure there will be many new covers for the books in this series as time goes on and as the television series releases, but the original (to me) will always have a certain appeal.A Memory of Light

Too Like The Lightning

Too Like The LightningI purchased this book from a big sale my local library puts on every year so I was able to get it really cheap. I picked this one up for two reasons. The cover, and the fact that it made a bit of a wave when it first released however many years ago that was (it was 2016). I believe this is the first of a four-book series by Ada Palmer with the first three currently available, which is a good reason for me to wait a bit longer to read this book as I prefer to read series that are complete since I often need to re-read the first books when a new installment comes out if it has been a while since the initial read.

The Stormcaller

The StormcallerLike The Magician, this cover is for the first of a series that caught my eye. I think the artwork on all the covers is great, but this one made me give the book a try. I read the first three of the series by Tom Lloyd and then stopped as the final two books had not yet released. I plan to return and re-read the entire series some time.

The Magician

Magician Raymond E FeistI remember this one distinctly. I was in high school and about to go on a small trip to visit family when I picked this one up. The version I bought was actually two books in one and was my introduction to Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga. I have read the saga but have not read much beyond the core books and into the ever expansive world(s) contained in the larger Riftwar Cycle. I picked up the book for my trip because the cover did interest me, especially at the age of 15 with the image of the wizard, and I always enjoy magic.

All Systems Red

Last but not least, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I absolutely adore this series and have also loved the cover art for each book. Network Effect is the fifth installment that was released earlier this year, and we will get the sixth book, Fugitive Telemetry, next year.

Murderbot Series

8 Reasons Why I Don’t Finish A Book

There are very few books I have not finished, but in the past few years I have been more apt to not finish a book if it doesn’t capture or maintain my interest. I used to be particular about finishing any book I read because it felt like giving up. Luckily there were very few books I had to force myself to finish. Now I look back and wonder why I wasted the energy on a book I didn’t enjoy.

I remember the first book I never finished. I was about halfway through and took a long hiatus on reading it for various reasons. When I finally got back to it, I had forgotten most of what had happened in the first part of the book, which goes to show that the story didn’t capture my interest. Since I didn’t really remember what was going on, I simply set it aside and never picked it back up.

Since then, I usually will give a book about 50 to 75 pages before I make a decision to give up on it. If the book captures my interest, then I don’t even consider this, but if I’m struggling that far in I’ll set it aside.

These are the reasons I stopped forcing myself to finish books:

It’s not the right time.

Some times I know a book is good but when I go to read it, I find I’m not really interested at the time or that the subject matter is too prevalent with recent events for me to really enjoy it. This also happens with “classics” I intend to read because I know they are good if they have been around for decades or centuries, but perhaps I would rather read something more contemporary at the moment. I usually put it down within the first 20 pages to select a new book in these cases but intend to come back to it eventually.

I don’t care about any of the characters.

Unfortunately, there are some books that I just didn’t care for. Even if they are written by a large name in the literary world. Their stories don’t get me interested or I find their characters lacking. If I can’t care about the characters or what is happening, then why should I keep reading?

I can predict the story or I already know what will happen.

It can be easy to predict how some stories will end. This doesn’t make it a bad story, but it can make you lose interest if it is overtly obvious what will happen. Another point here is if I’ve been exposed to the story prior to reading. This happens in mainly one of two ways: I’ve seen an adaptation (likely film) or I have had something about the book spoiled for me by another reader. I usually will read a book before the movie comes out if I am interested in it, and I will sometimes read the book even after seeing the movie to see how the story differs. The latter is usually because I didn’t know the movie was based on a book. I usually won’t stop reading just because the story is predictable, but it can make the finishing stretch a little hard to push through. However, if I read a book that is hugely popular and it doesn’t capture my interest, I may give up on it or put it down to read later because it was a little over-hyped for me to read it at that time.

The size factors in or I’m not quite ready for another series.

There are times I’ll go to read a larger book and find I’m just not up for it, or I’ll think of starting a series and think I would prefer a standalone novel. I often find I prefer standalone novels for a while after finishing a larger series, or I’ll look for shorter books or novellas after reading a larger book or series. Bigger books/series can be commitments for me because I usually read only that series until I finish it. This is partly why I have developed the habit of reading two books at any given time. One is fiction while the other is non-fiction.

Pacing.

Pacing can really put me off a story. If nothing is happening or there are long hiatuses between important events, I can be tempted to simply set it aside. I don’t want to spend 50-100 pages on non-essential information. This is one reason I think so many people never read or finish Moby Dick.

It’s not the right story.

I usually have my next 3-5 books lined up to help me get through my TBR pile. They vary so I can switch the reading order depending on what I want to read next, but some times I go to start a book and realize that maybe I’m just not currently interested in this type of story. For example, maybe I go to start a science fiction book but realize I’d rather read a biography, fantasy, or collection of short stories. Again, I always intend to read the book in question if this is the reason I decide not to read it at the time.

I don’t like the writing.

Since I started writing stories myself with the hopes of publishing books in the future, I’ve begun noticing and sometimes scrutinizing the quality of writing in books. I never speak about the quality of writing publicly because I don’t believe in being nasty for the sake of being nasty and I know other readers like the book. But if the writing is poor, it can make it a struggle to even read the story. Luckily, this is very rare since books go through a long process before getting published. Also, a story can be good enough to overcome bad writing. I can’t remember who said it, but “A great story written poorly is still good, and a bad story written well is still bad.”

There are too many other books to read.

My TBR list only grows the older I get. Even though I am constantly reading something, I am also discovering new books and new authors faster than I read them. I know I will likely never be able to read everything I want to within my lifetime. This may be a little sad to realize, but it only solidifies my decision that I shouldn’t waste time on books I’m not enjoying. I find that if I am struggling to get through a book for any reason, I read less frequently. Therefore, it is important for me to be able to give up on any book that doesn’t capture my interest. It effectively is preventing me from reading a book I may love or one that may change my outlook.

There have been few books I have completed recently that I’ve not really cared for. Unfortunately, these were the first books I tried by authors who I’ve come to like. I was kind of bummed that I ended up not liking their work since I like them as people, but I may try another story of theirs to see if it was simply that one story that didn’t capture my attention.

I have only put down a few books in the past several years after reading the first 50-75 pages despite liking other work by the same author. It was usually content-related and I just didn’t care for the story or put it down to try again later on. The one that comes to mind right now is The Stand by Stephen King. I think this was both content related and pacing. I was about 70 pages in and it was still introducing characters. Also, pandemic/end-of-the-world scenario can be a bit of a bummer. And it is over 1200 pages long. I’ve always heard it is a great novel, and I may get to it eventually, but I wasn’t ready to read it at the time.

I’m happy to say that the number of books I haven’t finished is still really low. Probably less than 10 (maybe even fewer than 5), but that number will only grow. The few books I mentioned that I did finish but didn’t really care about the characters or story happened to be the first book in a trilogy, and I won’t be finishing the trilogy. There are just too many books I want to read. I hope you focus on reading books that you enjoy and put aside those that you aren’t eager to continue reading.