• Your Year in Reading: 2020

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 57 comments

    Discussion questions: Have you hit your 2020 reading goals, if you made any? Did you read anything that moved you? Do you have any titles you want to recommend to me and your fellow WriteByNighters? Let me know below.


    In last week’s post we talked about our 2020 writing and reading goals and the ways in which this insane year has derailed, or at least stalled, some of us.

    Looking back at my reading-related goals, I’ve done… not all that well. I wanted to read a few books on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list, and I wanted to “find new books that inspire and move me.”

    From mid-February through mid-April (much of lockdown in NYC), I finished zero books. And here in mid-October, I haven’t finished a book since mid-September. Four months’ worth of not reading cuts down on the odds of success.


    Of the books I hadn’t read before, William Kennedy’s Ironweed came the nearest to inspiring/moving me. It’s also on the Modern Library list (no. 92), so, two-fer. I recommend it, though not universally.

    I read Lord of the Flies, no. 41 on the list. I enjoyed it, but it won’t stick with me. I wish I’d read it in school, like I was supposed to

    I also reread a couple of favorites from the list, Under the Volcano (no. 11) and Slaughterhouse-Five (no. 18).


    All in all, a pretty dim year in my reading life. I’ve read just about every issue of the New York Review of Books, which is definitely my favorite publication. So that’s something. I’ve read much more poetry than usual, which I think has helped center me. (Not that I understand most of it.)

    I’ve also left more than the usual amount of books unread. But hey, the presidential election is in suspension — why not my stack of books, too.


    Now I want to know about your reading year. Have you hit your 2020 reading goals, if you made any? Did you read anything that moved you? Do you have any titles you want to recommend to me and your fellow WriteByNighters? Let me know below.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Terry Anderson Girard

    75 books in 2020- all audiobooks while traveling for work. Loved every one. Typically finding a good author and then devouring what he or she had to say. Sorry when I had read all their work! Writers that I enjoyed this year: Robert B Parker, Lisa Scottoline, David Baldacci, John Grisham, James Patterson et al, Michael Connelly. Grateful for all of them! Interestingly, I write nothing in that genre. My work is almost totally autobiographical, biographical or technical. Any suggestions for autobiographies or biographies- please lmk!! Regarding audiobooks, my library network has a great supply , but I wonder if… Read more »

    Terry Anderson Girard

    I love Robert B Parker’sSpencer especially because I am a Bostonian. He was quite authentic in his descriptions of the times
    Interestingly the library has recently released a lot of his early work and it has been wonderful seeing how he developed as a writer over time
    Good question about retention though Time to physically turn the pages was prohibitive while working in health care
    I remember generally and will invariably stop and add a note-quote-or idea to me cell phone memos
    Thank you! And many thanks to Elissa and others for great new reading suggestions!

    Joe Miragliuolo

    During this pandemic, several friends and I started a book discussion group. Though not intentional, it’s now an all-male group, which in the world of book groups is a bit unusual. It’s broadened everyone’s reading zone with titles from classics like Great Expectations (last read at age 14), the fantasy genre, which I almost never read, the Fifth Season, non-fiction, Say Nothing, a look at the “troubles” in Ireland, and contemporary fiction like Trans Atlantic by Colum McCann. BTW, reading Great Expectations again has convinced me that the classics, like youth, are wasted on the young.

    Joe Miragliuolo

    Yes. That was my introduction to McCann. Love him. His phrasing is stunning. We’ve been meeting outside, socially distant, so far but it’s getting pretty cold here, so I think we’ll be zooming this month.

    Joe Miragliuolo

    Wow. That’s a visceral connection to that book. I hope you get to read another of his in cushier circumstances.

    T.W. Day

    It has been a weird year. I’ve read about as many books as usual, but between the stress of covid, a country going insane, and old age it has taken more of an effort to get through a book. Partly, that’s true because I’ve taken on a lot more history books, mostly trying to console myself by the fact that this country and humans have always been short-sighted, violent, and times have always been dangerous.

    Kenneth Harris

    Yep. Seemed like half the school was yakking about “Lord of the flies” and the other half pontificating on “”Atlas shrugged.” Couldn’t tear my self away from paperback westerns long enough to read either one. But I did wonder about them. Does that count toward literary enlightenment? (About like gripping the bat in a purposeful manner counts toward a home run). As for your backsliding reading habits, I recommend moving forward with David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers”; well researched and engaging from start to finish. Imagine; proprietors of a Dayton bicycle shop fashion a “flying machine” by hand from spruce… Read more »


    I started the year with the intention to read and review a lot. Even so, I set a modest Reading Challenge goal in Goodreads of 11 books. I just finished reading my 15th for the year and starting a reread (“On the Beach” by Nevil Shute).  My reading included a couple of “Lost Horizon” sequels: “Messenger” and “Shangri-La.” Both were good-not-great and, though I enjoyed both, certainly they did not move me like their progenitor novel. What did move me (in fiction) was the post-apocalypse genre classic, “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” From this year’s readings, I can recommend: “A Canticle… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    Dave, I appreciate the honesty and clarity of your post. One point has me curious: It would seem like lockdown was a time we might read more, rather than less. I was more into TV/movies right then. But do you know why, when being locked down, you didn’t disappear into a stack of novels. (My wife, Kris, dove into books before we met, and I’ve hardly seen her since. :-) ) My reading goals for 2020 were fluid, or, if you prefer a more insulting goal, vague. So it’s not easy to say it I met them or not. I… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    My goal is more in terms of creativity, productivity, and joyful health than about rules about what I do. My goal is to spend substantial time in creative work (both fiction and spiritual) each week, to be productive, and to feel really good in body and mind. That will include time filling the well with fun and creativity. So far, I’m finding that, when I can do this, the desire for dark TV vanishes. I do want to include nourishing TV with spiritual messages. Lately, I’ve been finding that in kids shows. I see a lot of deep spiritual meaning… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    I can’t think of a TV series that inspired my fiction writing, probably because TV was the parental injunction that kept me from all play and creativity. “Go watch TV” was the law and panacea of my childhood. Now, though, some movies do inspire creativity, most recently, Frozen and Frozen 2. I ended my decades of watching TV crime dramas, and writing one short story was part of the process. Memories of thrillers I no longer watch educate my writing of fight scenes in my own work. Shows help in three other ways. Some, like “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” on… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    I’m not sure. I watched Season 1, and I’ve been saving later seasons for a special time. Give it a try, and I can fill you in if you need it.

    Sid Kemp

    Hi David,

    The topics of your last two blog posts collided in my head, and I thought of a question I’d love to hear about from you and from other writers on the blog. As writers, do we read our own writing? Why and how? I don’t mean re-reading as part of the writing process, but rather re-reading either published or unpublished (finished or unfinished) works of our own for any reason at all. Hearing what writers have to say about this would be fascinating and could help us all get some new perspectives and new possibilities.

    Sid Kemp

    My experience is very different, Dave, probably because we have very different reasons for writing what we do. I write to allow messages from what I can Soul and Spirit to enter this world to uplift me, and others, if they are open, to vaster Love and Wisdom. Thus the content of what I write, when it works, includes and expresses messages that are lifelong. Just as my wife and I reread The Lord of the Rings to remember courage in desperate times and purpose and acceptance and Pity and Mercy (Tolkien’s capitalization), so I reread my own work to… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I’ve finished reading 62 books so far that I’ve started this year. (This was also my year for reading Lord of the Flies, which occurred in June.) I don’t set out with reading goals. If something sparks my interest, usually from reading an article or listening to an interview, I pop onto Overdrive and see whether my local library or Brooklyn (where I hold my beloved nonresident card) has it. Or I treat myself to an ebook purchase. Or I purchase an ebook and a hardcopy because my partner prefers dead trees. Or I download free copies from Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, or U Chicago Press… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Ooh, the Seghers looks good. Just reserved it at Brooklyn, where it’s running neck and neck in wait time with Cuomo’s American Crisis. Thanks for the recommendation. (The plot point in the summary about assuming a different identity makes me think of Arnold Zweig’s The Case of Sergeant Grischa, which I had read in the 80s. Different overall plot line, but that’s one that had grabbed me.) Flies was a first read for me. I found it engaging, in part because it resonated with If, an excellent British film I’d seen decades ago.   https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063850/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1 The edition I borrowed included a good discussion section, so… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    You’re on! :-)

    Elissa Malcohn

    Having just finished with Woodward’s Rage and with an estimated 4-week wait time for Transit, I’ve gone ahead and borrowed The Seventh Cross. Am enjoying it so far!

    Elissa Malcohn

    I like that kind of trouble. :-) Yep, still enjoying. I’m about 3/4 through. From my journal entry of five days ago, shortly after I had begun reading: “Like the Kempowski, the Seghers paints a detailed portrait of the banality of evil, building up layers of everyday minutiae and the ways in which they construct the larger picture. To the 1942 novel there is now added a fourth dimension, because as I read about the mainly-life-as-usual around Westhofen — in which disruptions are seen as annoyances and are normalized — I think of Homestead, of Tornillo, and of all the repurposed Wal-Mart and other… Read more »


    I’ve completed 46 books so far, 32 audio and only 14 actual books. I’m happy with the total number, though the balance between audio and regular books is off. Normally I’m able to sit and read more. As for quality, very early in the year (back when we were still talking about the Wuhan virus) I realized that I knew nothing about China, so I set out to fix that with books. I especially enjoyed For All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose, and Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon. The latter isn’t actually particularly well-written, but it covers a… Read more »


    With audiobooks I’m always scrubbing, raking, driving, or doing some task that uses my hands but not a lot of my brain. That said, I’m much more likely to bail on an audiobook than on an ebook or print book. Besides the 32 I listened to from end to end this year, I must have started at least a dozen others that I didn’t finish. Usually, it’s an issue with the narrator, often something I can’t quite define, but the person’s voice just doesn’t sound right. For other books, complexity or references to tables/diagrams/images can make me lose the thread… Read more »


    The Devil in the White City—yes, very good IMO.

    david lemke

    I joined Goodreads a few years back and every year I set a reading challenge. It has always been 50 and the same for 2020. I’ve always been to busy to make those goals. (Retired? Busy? What?) And this year was no exception, but I’ve gotten closer to my goal than other years, 22. My reading is all over the place; both figuratively and literally; the latter, in the living room, in my bedroom, in my office, both in actual books and Kindle, in the car on tape or CD, and wherever I have to wait; pizza pick-up, dentist, doctor;… Read more »

    david lemke

    David, while I had little interest in the examples she picked; nothing I’d ever read or had an interest in reading; some of the insights she held up might be useful. It sounded like an art appreciation class more than a a art doing class. I think I learned some from from what she said she was trying to do, more so that what she was able to point out. She doesn’t come across as an author as much as someone with an agenda; to like this painting and here is why. That said, I still thought it was somewhat… Read more »

    Last edited 3 years ago by david lemke
    Barbara Mealer

    My year in reading was limited to 4 writing books and 3 blah novels and one good one. With classes and work and writing and editing and moving, it has been an overly busy year with little time for reading. I’ve actually been watching ‘feel good’ movies on Lifetime and Hallmark channels to chill.

    Barbara Mealer

    My writing space is getting there. I have the wiring in and most of the insulation. I now have to get the stuff I’m going to use for the walls. but after being off for 3 weeks I need a paycheck to do that. It will double as a reading space. I have an old wagon bench that I’m going to make pillows for to use. As to the good novel, Harlan Coben’s Tell No One. As to the Writing books, it was “Eat that Frog” by Bryan Tracy. It goes over how to get things done. (Like my hate… Read more »


    Reading is an essential activity for writers on so many levels. I have no reading goals per se because, simply, I enjoy doing it. In 2020, I knocked out 8 David Baldacci novels, 2 Preston/Lincoln novels, 2 Jim Butcher novels, 4 Richard Kadrey novels, and an Andrzej Sapkowski novel. I enjoy all formats of books – physical, digital, and audio – and always read or listen to 2 to 4 books concurrently. Last night, I read 2 chapters in a digital novel and followed that up with a chapter in an audiobook before grabbing some shuteye. I guess my mind… Read more »


    The most memorable and therapeutic thing I’ve read in the past four years and have returned to over and over for inspiration was An Illustrated History of Donald Trump’s Hair. Here: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/photos/2015/09/an-illustrated-history-of-donald-trumps-hair Very few things have made me laugh as hard, like stomachache hard. Most of the year I felt like I had to read every news story every day because the world was out of control and I felt like I had to know everything, or miss out on some important development that would mean war was immanent or, more children were in danger, or I was about to… Read more »

    José Skinner

    A little late to the game here, but I would really recommend Last Boat to Tangier. David Duhr recommended it, I just finished it, and wow. Much great writing there.

    David Duhr

    He’s so good. New story collection is out soon; worth a look.

    José Skinner

    Looking forward to that, for sure.

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