The Best of 2020: Books

2020 was generally a shitty year; Covid-19, race riots, Wonder Woman 1984, an election. There were some high points though. Here are 10 books I read in 2020 that are worth checking out (and unlike the TV edition, these were not all released in 2020).

Honorable Mentions:
A Feast of Crows (George R.R. Martin) – Of the first 4 Game of Thrones books, this is the weakest. It focuses on more of the secondary characters than the previous books.
Thanksgiving for Werewolves and Other Monstrous Tales (M.L. Kennedy) – A collection of short horror tales that are a little off-beat but very enjoyable.
IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (Chuck Klosterman) – Another collection of stories, but these are dated pop culture articles that Klosterman wrote for various publications. While they might be dated, they are still very interesting.

10. Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution (Brian Kenny) – Kenny released this book and 2016, and while it shows its date, is still full of good information. He also shares experiences of the battle between stats and scouting that he faced as part of ESPN and MLB Network and how he’s gotten people to change their minds about stats. For those interested, think of it as more of a beginner book for Sabermetrics.

9. Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason (Timothy Zahn) – I will read anything with Thrawn that’s written by Zahn, the creator of the character. Set during Star Wars: Rebels, Thrawn is placed in a game of politics between Grand Moff Tarkin and Orson Krennic which calls in question his dedication to the Empire. You also get the return/introduction of the Chiss Ascendancy and the return of Eli Vanto. This Thrawn Trilogy is one of the highlights of new canon and ties in nicely with the events Rebels.

8. Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak (Travis Sawchik) – More baseball analytics, but more of a look of how it’s used rather than an appeal to be used. Sawchik recounts the Pittsburgh Pirates temporary emergence out of the cellar of the NL Central by using defensive metrics to build a team. It’s also shows how the Pirates front office got the players and staff to buy into their plan. It’s much like The Only Rule is it Has to Work, except it’s at the Major League level rather than Indy ball.

7. Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost (Cavan Scott) – This is actually the script of an audio drama, and it’s in script format; that makes it a very quick read for those that haven’t read scripts before. The story is set during the Clone Wars, but mixes in flashbacks to Dooku’s time as a Jedi (from Padawan to Master). This is one of the best character pieces in Star Wars, because you see how Dooku starts to become disenfranchised with the Jedi Order and how he eventually meets Palpatine while also training Asajj Ventress to be his assassin and Sith Apprentice.

6. Dune (Frank Herbert) – I won’t lie, I was hesitant to give this another shot; I attempted to read it a few years ago and got less than 200 pages in when I set it down. After watching the trailer for the movie, I thought I’d give it another shot. The book is as dense as Tolkien or Martin, with a lot of details and time jumps to confuse readers. This time, with IMDB ready to give me faces to go with names, I really got into it. It was confusing at times; later in the book, it was hard to determine how far time had jumped. But I stuck with it and I’m ready to eventually see the new movie (and the David Lynch version too).

5. Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (Timothy Zahn) – The third and final Star Wars book on the list. This one was different though because it didn’t feel like traditional Star Wars. This prequel era novel explores the Chiss Ascendancy in the unknown regions of space. Rather than dealing with the Republic and the Separatists, we get new aliens. Since it didn’t have many of the traditional Star Wars characters, locations, and ships, it felt like more traditional sci fi rather than Star Wars. There was one point in the story that they did cross into Star Wars, and it was a big payoff for those that read Thrawn: Alliances.

4. The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players (Ben Lindbergh/Travis Sawchik) – One of my favorite types of book about baseball are those that introduce me to new things in the game. The MVP Machine got me to rethink training and technology in the game. Lindbergh and Sawchik look at companies like Drive Line, technology like Rapsodo, and players like Mookie Betts and Trevor Bauer. As a Cardinal fan, it makes me realize how far behind they have fallen. I feel like this is Moneyball 2.0.

3. Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen (Brian Raftery) – I really hadn’t read about movies in a while, and this was the right book to get me back into it. 1999 was right in the middle of my 5+ years stint of working at Blockbuster Video and I had watched probably 75% of the movies in the book – Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, American Beauty, American Pie, and a bunch more. The book goes into the making of the movies, from getting them green lit with the studio to fallout of the release. The book was a trip down memory lane, while also being an interesting look at the movie making process.

2. The Princess Bride (William Goldman) – Children of the ’80s know the movie like the back of their hands. What they don’t know is there was a book of it which has a better backstory than the movie/book itself. Goldman wrote both the book and movie, and he created a fictional tale of his father reading the story to him when he had pneumonia as a child; the “original” story was never translated into English and Goldman felt he needed to do it. He studied the original author (Morgenstern) and discovered that his father left out many of the details, which he would point out in the book. The movie is very faithful to the book; the only difference is the author’s notes point out the Morgenstern stuff. It’s a quick read too.

1. Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman) – I was late to the Gaiman train, but better late then never. Anansi Boys is an indirect sequel to American Gods, which follows the 2 sons of Anansi the Spider God. Charlie is a guy that nothing goes right for; he’s estranged from his father, but returns to America when he learns Anansi has died. There he learns that he has a brother he knew nothing about, and once they meet, Charlie’s life isn’t the same. It’s all very light hearted compared to Gods. Gaiman weaves a mythological web that keeps readers wondering what will happen next. He knows mythology better than a majority of fiction writers that attempt to use it.

Tomorrow I’ll have the best comic runs I read last year.


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