Monthly Archives: December 2020

2020 Reading Wrap-Up

I read 69 books in 2020!
More books* than ever before**!

Bill and Ted: "69, Dudes!"

* I read quite a few shorter books and graphic novels/comic collections. According to Goodreads I read 15,841 pages. This is the second most behind 2013 when I read 17,121, but only 63 books. That year included A Storm of Swords as well as my first voracious trip to the Las Vegas casino buffet of magic-related books.

** This is based on Goodreads stats, which go back to 2010. I probably had years in college when I read more books. Those were considerably before 2010.

More numbers!

Average rating: 3.4 (out of 5)
I don’t publish my ratings for individual books. If I liked a book well enough but it doesn’t knock my cozy socks off, it gets three stars.

Fiction/Nonfiction: 74% / 26%
I’m guessing that if I were able to break this down by pages read, the percentages would be closer. My goal for next year is at least 30% nonfiction. (Last year: 45% nonfiction)

14% were rereads.

51% of the books I read were from the library—the vast majority of those were from various online libraries.

72% of the books I read were in some ebook form.
4% were audio books.

The biggest change this year is that I stopped reading and reviewing ARCs. I had threatened to for a few years, but I finally stopped in February 2020. I really wasn’t feeling very inspired to review books and no longer wanted the requirement to do so.

Favorites!

Click on the covers for details at Goodreads.

The Beetle by Richard Marsh
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
Dive Deeper by George Cotkin
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski
Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

Reading Notes, 12/28/20

bookshelf containing Pride and Prejudice
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Finished Reading

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

There is an infamous internet review of Pride and Prejudice (which I can’t find now) along the lines of “it’s just people visiting other people.” Reviewer ain’t wrong. Okay, it isn’t just about visiting. It is in fact about pride and prejudices and how first impressions and rumors can be wrong.

This was my first time reading P&P; I’m not much of an Austen fan. All of the Austen I have read previously was for college classes (not necessarily conducive to enjoying a text), but also, honestly, what she writes about doesn’t often appeal to me. I might have to be in the right mood—that mood apparently being the End of 2020.

I am struck by how modern Austen’s writing is here. I was reminded last night of E. T. A. Hoffmann, who is contemporary, and how clunky his writing is (though in translation). Mary Shelley and the other Gothic novels of this period I’ve read all have a much different style.

Deal Me In

Week 52:
5♦️ – “Full Circle” by Edith Wharton

Last story of the year and the last story of Edith Wharton’s Tales of Men and Ghosts, which I was reading for Classics Club. These haven’t been my favorites of Wharton’s stories. I was really hoping for more ghosts and fewer men… Wharton, when she’s dealing with the real world, is maybe a little too witty for my taste. These tales only really work if you read them in the voice of Joanne Woodward (having had my experience of Edith Wharton’s books scarred by Martin Scorsese). “Full Circle” was amusing though: a best-selling writer hires a down on his luck friend/rival to answer his fan mail…except his second book isn’t as well-received as his first. Hi-jinks ensue.

Currently Reading


I didn’t do much reading over the weekend so I’m still in the midst of The Christmas Party by Gillian St. Kevern. Next up will be Edgar Huntly or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker by Charles Brockden Brown for Classics Club. I started also a reread of The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination by Robert Coles on Sunday. I’m planning on this being my morning reading for a while.

Cinema Saturday, 12/26/20

Red Band Trailer! Viewer discretion advised!

Only God Forgives

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

“I don’t understand you. And I never will.”

Initial: After watching Fear X (2003), I promised myself that I’d watch more of Refn’s movies.

Production Notes: Filmed entirely in Bangkok.

What Did I Think:
I was in the mood for hallways, moody lighting, and a nearly mute Ryan Gosling, so this movie definitely fit the bill.

Refn never seems to bother with exposition. On one hand, I think he expects audiences to be smart enough to keep up. Which is nice considering that many movies spoon-feed every plot point. On the other hand, sometimes when watching a Refn movie, you’re left not really knowing what’s going on. If you can just go along for the ride (down a dark hallway), most things will make sense eventually. Only God Forgives has some of the murkiness of Fear X (Julian, our main character, has some visions of the future) and the brutality of the most violent moments of Drive (2011).


Thor: Ragnarok

Year: 2017
Runtime: 2h 10m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher L. Yost, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Greg Pak, Walter Simonson, Carlo Pagulayan

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett

So, last time I saw you, you were trying to kill everybody. Where are you at these days?

It varies from moment to moment.

Initial: Rewatch.

What Did I Think:
There are some movies I watch because they are (like Refn’s Drive) “good cinema.” And there are some movies I rewatch because they are enjoyable and satisfying.

A lot of Thor: Ragnarok relies on 21st century jokes and references, which may not be entirely appropriate to immersive world building (something I have a problem with in the more recent Star Wars movies). But really, the tone is consistent and jokes are funny. The action is well-done and there is a nice roundness to the plot. And if we are going to engage in era nostalgia, I’d rather it be for the late 70s and early 80s when fantasy films were being scored by rock bands than the sweet sentimentality of Spielberg. Say what you will about needle drops, but is there score more appropriate to Thor than Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”?

Notes, 12/21/20

Reading

Still casually reading Pride and Prejudice. I plan on finishing up by Christmas Eve and then reading The Christmas Party by Gillian St. Kevern. Then maybe The Greyhound of the Baskervilles by John Gaspard.

Challenges!

Deal Me In
9♥️: “The Rabbi’s Hobby” by Peter S. Beagle
This story kind of meanders but finally settles on being a quiet ghost story (but not a horror story), which isn’t a genre that Beagle writes in very often. This was the last of the tales in Sleight of Hand. All I have left is an Edith Wharton story.

Challenges 2021
I decided on the challenges I’m going to participate in next year. Mostly, I’m going to focus on classics and reading book I already own. Ah! I also want to read a good 30% nonfiction, which I didn’t mention in my post and will fit in…somehow.

Listening


Cinema Saturday, 12/19

Batman Returns

Year: 1992
Runtime: 2h 6m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Bob Kane, Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm

Stars: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

Remember, Max: you flush it, I flaunt it!

Initial: A rewatch. My first Christmas movie of the year!

Production Notes: Wait, this movie was over two hours long? Didn’t feel that way *at all.*

What Did I Think:
A long time ago, the common movie- and tv-watcher’s concept of Batman was the Adam West television show. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was much darker, much more gritty, but missile-wearing penguins didn’t yet seem overly odd for the franchise. I can’t imagine The Batman (upcoming in 2022-ish) embracing the notion of the Penguin’s primary army being, well, penguins. Batman Returns has many kooky things, but it’s so fun and so very Tim Burton. What it doesn’t have is a lot of Batman. That’s fine, we know who Batman is; the villains are the show. Along with Danny DeVito’s almost sympathetic carnie Penguin is Michelle Pfieffer, purring and blowing things up as Catwoman, and Christopher Walkin, doing his best not to chew the scenery as tycoon Max Shrek. I don’t know how they’re going to do better than that 30 years later…


While You Were Sleeping

Year: 1995
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: PG

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Writers: Daniel G. Sullivan, Fredric Lebow

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher

Lucy: I’m having an affair. I like Jack.
Jerry: Who’s Jack?
Lucy: Peter’s brother.
Jerry: So?
Lucy: So he thinks I’m engaged.
Jerry: To who?
Lucy: To Peter.
Jerry: Lucy, I really don’t have time for this.

Initial: A rewatch. This movie is a Christmas tradition for me.

Production Notes: Jon Turteltaub, director of The Meg but also episodes of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. A man of facets, surely. The writers have pretty much no other credits, which is a shame.

What Did I Think:
In college, I think my friend Tania and I saw this movie about three times in the theater. It was originally released in late April, during the end of the semester crunch. Taking off to a quick movie was great stress relief.

If I’m going to watch a rom-com, I want one with a fairly ridiculous concept. I’m not interested in enemy-to-friends bookstore owners or friends who just eventually end up together. And if characters are going to have miscommunications, let them be big ones! Like never correcting the fact that our lead is NOT engaged to the guy in a coma. But, surely, a plot like that can be nearly believable and also romantic and funny with crisp dialog delivered by a top-notch cast. This movie should also be set in Chicago, the most photogenic movie city (just ask John Hughes). That’s not too much to ask, right?


Notes, 12/14/20

From Around the Internet

On December via Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses & Prejudices… – A beautiful look at this month that’s already almost halfway over!

Read

Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life

Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood

The original title of this book is Living Dolls, which makes so much more sense. Edison’s Eve is less about automata and their history and more about the fascination we humans seem to have with the uncanny, especially when that relates to the human form. Early chapters enumerate the early efforts of automaton makers to replicate the human body or parts of the human body. There is, of course, a chapter on the Mechanical Turk, and another on Thomas Edison’s talking dolls. The last chapter, though, is about the Doll family, four siblings with dwarfism who became circus and film stars in the early half of the 20th century. This was the most interesting chapter to me, probably because it was what I knew the least about.

In all, this book was too philosophical for my taste. I suppose I’m too practical to believe, for example, that when replicating a circulatory system for an automaton that you wouldn’t start with the thing known best: the human heart and vessels. There doesn’t need to be a higher motive for the choice. Also, there was a lot of show biz surrounding automata, and I can’t think of anything less philosophical than creating for the entertainment of others.

Deal Me In

4♥️: “The Best Worst Monster” by Peter S. Beagle
If you’re looking for the Beagle anthology where he plays with fairy tale tropes the most, Sleight of Hand is probably it. And that’s the type of fantasy I like the most (see also, The Last Unicorn). This is another very short tale in which the bad guy is maybe not so bad.

Reading

Currently, I’m reading Pride and Prejudice. I might even be enjoying it. Next up, if I finish P&P this week, The Christmas Party by Gillian St. Kevern.

Listening

About The Weather

The temperatures are finally down to normal levels; I’m baking things like frozen pies and refrigerated cinnamon rolls, poorly. Winter has been tardy, but at least it’s here now.

I’m writing a little. I’ve also started a film class through MIT’s Open Courseware. Christmas is creeping up and I’ve gotten most things sorted for that. I’m looking through the reading challenges I want to do in the next year and generally getting my ducks in a row, as I like to do at the end of the year.


Cinema Saturday, 12/12/20

Tesla

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 42m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Michael Almereyda

Writer: Michael Almereyda

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Eli A. Smith

“AC versus DC. People think it’s a difference of opinion, but we know better.”

Initial: Ethan Hawk is not the guy I’d choose to play Nikola Tesla, but what the heck!

What Did I Think:
I’m not a stickler for historic accuracy when it’s obvious that a movie is going for feeling over fidelity. A Knight’s Tale (2001) works because it is a sports movie about a jousting tournament. The soundtrack, the fashion, the use of Chaucer as a medieval hype man: all these things lend weight to the feeling that Brian Helgeland is putting into the movie.

So, it doesn’t really bother me that Tesla is not faithful to history. The life of Nikola Tesla is muddied anyway with the sort of myth-making that any showman of the era might envy. What’s the real story about Tesla? No one quite knows. So I’m there for a fanciful take on Tesla. But… I don’t quite know what Almereyda is going for with this movie. The narrator, who in cut-away informs us (for example) of the number of Google search results for Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse, seems too removed from the story to be part of Tesla’s vision of the future, which is kind of what I thought the film was going for. Some of it is fanciful biopic, but it’s also a commentary on how history has treated Tesla. I don’t think those things get along.

For the moment, my favorite fictional Tesla remains David Bowie in The Prestige (2006) and my favorite Tesla biography remains Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson.


Pride and Prejudice

Year: 2005
Runtime: 2h 9m
Rated: PG

Director: Joe Wright

Writers: Deborah Moggach, Jane Austen

Stars: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn

“What on Earth have you done to poor Mr.Darcy?”

“I have no idea.”

Initial: To myself while writing: “I think this main character might look like the guy from Ripper Street. Wait, he’s in Pride and Prejudice? I thought that was Colin Firth?”

Production Notes: There is in fact a 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. So, I’m not entirely insane. Also, this trailer kind of sucks. No wonder I hadn’t bothered to watch this movie before.

What Did I Think:
I’m going to say something sacrilegious to book bloggers: I don’t care for Jane Austen. This might be because the only time I read her was in college, for class. That imbues a certain type of baggage that can be tiresome. (I’m fairly certain I would have hated Moby-Dick if I’d had to read it for a class…). I find movies based on Austen’s works more palatable (I’m rather fond of Sense and Sensibility (1995)), but I don’t seek them out either. So, I hadn’t seen this movie. I was also under the mistaken impression that I had read the book. (Apparently, I’ve only read Emma and Persuasion?)

Lovely movie, full of long shots of countryside and buildings. I also very much enjoyed the choreography; not just of the dancing, but how characters moved within space and around each other—the sort of thing you might see in a physical comedy or a heist film. I’ve watched a few other of Joe Wright’s films and I don’t quite remember any of the others having this sort of motion to them.

Story-wise, I’ll probably say more after I read the book. …Yes, I’m reading the book.