Books of 2020

Last year I got myself into the habit of writing down the names of books as I finished them, because I was curious to know how much (or how little) I actually read in a given year. I was completely satisfied with the answer, which I posted somewhere around here, but the habit stuck with me and I have another index card filled up with book titles. So I figured I’d take another snapshot of my psyche and fire it into the aether:

Year of the Manuscript: Sons of the Scythe

I cheated a little bit this year. The plinth under that statue is a book I wrote rather than read. After four years of toil, Sons of the Scythe (Volume One) is finally a functioning manuscript. It took me much longer than I anticipated to complete it – and the tale itself is only half told – but in the end I did in fact complete it. I don’t care what else 2020 was; for me it will only ever be the year in which I printed the first volume of Sons of the Scythe.

If you’re curious what such a manuscript might look like:

I was tempted to carry those pictures out to the hundredth slide, but I think I would have been the only one in on the joke. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about Sons of the Scythe in the future – hopefully to inform the aether that I’ve been published – but in the meantime here’s the upshot.

  • 188,000 words
  • alternate history/ literary fiction
  • set in an alternate version of Imperial Russia – in a land called Scythia
  • based loosely (very loosely) on the Romanov dynasty
  • a long cold book about death
  • an absurd epic

I haven’t decided whether or not to post any excerpts from it, or whether to make it available in part or in its entirety as downloadable content . . . I only know for certain that I won’t be self-publishing through Amazon again. I have nothing against Amazon or self-publishing, but I put too much blood into this particular book to watch it sink into that abyss. If I continue to utterly fail with traditional publishing, maybe I’ll host it here and sell it myself. I have no idea. Right now I’m just happy to have birthed the fucking thing.

As for the Books I Didn’t Write

Manufacturing Consent was by far the most important and impactful book I read this year. I sort of “knew” what I would find in there – an indictment of mass media as a willing tool of governments and corporations – but it’s nevertheless devastating to see the case laid out so clearly, viciously, and irrevocably. It’s one of those books that changes more than your opinion, but it actually alters the way you construct that opinion. It sharpened my bullshit machete – that’s a better way to put it.

Left Hand of Darkness and Kafka’s Complete Stories were the books I enjoyed the most. The former is a sci-fi adventure through an otherworldly communist dystopia; the latter is Kafka. Of Kafka’s stories I recommend The Penal Colony, The Hunger Artist, The Burrow, and The Metamorphosis.

Don Quixote and Lord of the Rings – the books I read again. Old favorites to get through quarantine.

Varieties of Religious Experience wins the Worst-Book-of-the-Year Award. I appreciate that it’s author, William James, was breaking new ground – namely, he was proposing to study religion scientifically, as a psychological and anthropological phenomenon – but this stuff is as dry as the paper it’s written on. It’s a book I really want to like but can’t. I suspect it was brilliant in its day and has aged poorly.

Quotes to Carry into 2021

In every venture the bold man comes off best, / even the wanderer, bound from distant shores.

Suspicious we are, we men who walk the earth.

I’d rather die at sea, with one deep gulp of death, / than die by inches on this desolate island here!

Homer – The Odyssey

Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood.

The tragic artist is no pessimist: he is precisely the one who says Yes to everything questionable, even to the terrible – he is Dionysian.

What was formerly just sick is today indecent – it is indecent to be a Christian today. And here begins my nausea.

Nietzsche – from Zarathustra, Twilight of the Idols, and Antichrist

The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony.

William James – Varieties of Religious Experience

Compromise and common sense are habits of mind, and cannot be established in a written constitution.

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.

In all this I feel a grave danger, the danger of what might be called cosmic impiety. The concept of “truth” as something dependent upon facts largely outside of human control has been one of the way in which philosophy hitherto has inculcated the necessary element of humility. When this check upon pride is removed, a further step is taken on the road towards a certain kind of madness . . .

Bertrand Russell – History of Western Philosophy

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time . . . when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide almost without noticing back into superstition and darkness.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World

“How little you know about it! . . . Why, I have yet to tear my garments, scatter my armor about, and bang my head against these rocks – and other similar things that will amaze you.”

Cervantes – Don Quixote

And a Resolution

I hereby resolve to post more than two posts this year.