Last year, the vast majority of my reading was short fiction, which was by design, as I’m really, really good at buying collections and anthologies and then a new anthology or collection comes out and repeat and suddenly I’ve read one story from eleven different books. This led to my Short Stories 366 Project last year, which was about finishing those magazines, collections, and anthologies, and absolutely not buying new ones.
Okay, so that last part didn’t happen. At all. I bought so many new short story collections and anthologies. But I did finish many of the ones I already had coming into 2020, so it was still a win.
That isn’t to say I only read short fiction, just that it was the majority. Even more so if you include novellas (which I do).
So, all that said to hopefully not end up with tilted heads at “Why are so many of his favourites collections or anthologies?” I’m going to take a whirl at some Books of 2020 posts over the next little while.
First stop? Audio. I listened to a lot of audiobooks this year, though probably less than usual. I’m the sort who gets motion sick when I read in a moving vehicle, so I started on audiobooks back when I was working retail and had massive commutes because I live in Ottawa and our public transit system is designed to get people to the downtown core, not out from one end of the city to malls at the other end, and so I’d blast through audiobooks by virtue of my hour-and-a-half coming home and hour-or-so of getting to work (often more than that in both directions). I also listen to books while walking Max, which is my post-retail career largest slice of audiobook listening, but given 2020 did its whole 2020 thing, my husband is now working from home and so I’m walking the dog solo about half the time or less than I used to. He’d likely not like it were I to pop in earbuds and listen to a book while we walk together.
Still, a lot of audiobook love was still to be had, and these were my favourite listens of 2020, in no particular order:
Her Body and Other Parties is first, a brilliant flipping collection from Carmen Maria Machado that I know I likely discovered a year or two after everyone else, but holy crap. The slice of spec-fic was air-kiss perfect throughout this collection, and the range and breadth of tone was incredible. I think every story landed for me as a reader, and that included a specific story based on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where Machado took the titles of episodes and spun out an alternate version of the episodes in little blurb formats. I’ve never seen the show. I was still completely rapt. I imagine anyone who had seen the show would be just amazed. (I reviewed each story as I read it as part of that Short Stories 366 Project, and you can read them with this tag.)
Xeni, by Rebekah Weatherspoon was a re-read, except this time in audiobook, and if anything I loved it all the more the second time around. Burly Scottish fellow and Black witchy teacher enter into a marriage of inconvenience (it’s a whole family drama thing, one of those ‘you can inherit all this fortune if you agree to remain married for thirty days) and they’re basically the best ever for each other. To say this one had sizzle is to understate to the nth, and the audio performer’s rumbly voice kind of made the whole Scotsman thing all the more knee-melting. Also? Doubling down on awesome bisexual rep for the win. (Tripling down on Weatherspoon audiobooks here with A Cowboy to Remember, which reminded me of how impeccable Weatherspoon’s handling of supportive friend groups are, and also hot cowboys, and Rafe, which, I mean, hot inked manny.)
Bet Against Me, by Fiona Riley did the impossible and gave me an enemies-to-lovers plot where I did want the two women to end up together, and I need to be honest here: after the first couple of chapters, I was worried, y’all. I love Riley’s books, but enemies-to-lovers is so not my thing, and the things one character said to another were awful, beyond-the-pale sort of insults and I had no idea how I was going to get past it, let alone root for them to be together. I should know to trust Riley, though. I’m still not sold on the trope as a whole, but this instance goes down as a solid exception to my rule.
Twice Shy, by Aurora Rey, is another staple author bringing me the comforting joy I wanted so much in 2020. This brings a baker and an architect into each other’s orbits, and it lives up to all the usual Rey joys: food, butch and femme dynamics without any toxicity, and gentle levels of angst. More, I liked that both women were gun-shy thanks to their previous relationships, settled in their lives and careers, and older. The usual warning applies, however: have snacks handy. Rey describes food in the best ways, and this time it was baked goods. (Doubling down with Rey audiobooks here, as I also loved The Last Place You Look, for pretty much all the same reasons, but especially that non-toxic butch masculinity thing.)
Finally, The Cartography of Sudden Death, by Charlie Jane Anders was another favourite (and a novella-length audio) that I freaking adored this year. Sci-fi with a time-travel flair that I’ve never encountered before: the process of traveling through time happens via the death of impactful people—meaning you can find these doors through time if you’re there when someone important to history (not necessarily in a positive way, mind) dies. The world-building was brilliant, the arc of the point of view character was entrancing, and I sank right into this one from the opening to the final lines (I also reviewed this one as part of my SS366 project, here).