2020: A Hellacious Year Can’t Keep a Good Reader Down

23 Dec

The list of all that I missed thanks to this godawful year is lengthy, but who wants to dwell on all that? One of (several) silver linings it brought was extra time for reading. I’ve become a voracious reader over the past several years – prompted by a fear that I was losing my ability to concentrate as I grew older. Working at home for months, followed by a return to a sparsely-staffed library, meant I found myself with uninterrupted time more often than usual. At first, I found it boring, but then took advantage and I put aside tasks that I was working on, from time to time, and read some great books about scholarly communications, about measuring the impact of research, about data – all things related to my work – along with LOTS of things I just thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you’ve found some treasures to absorb yourself in this year, too. And thanks to the many authors who gave them to us. Here are a bunch that I read:

Work Stuff

I discovered Cassidy Sugimoto via a conference that I attended (virtually, of course) and really enjoyed her keynote. It prompted me to seek out two works she’s involved with on the topic of bibliometrics and measuring the impact of research. I recommend both for those who work in scholarly communications. Speaking of, Rick Anderson’s little primer on scholarly communication is one I could refer to friends and/or family who never really understand what I do as a librarian. Not that they’d find it all that interesting, but…

Stephen Few gave the world one of his usual big books this year. (Literally. He has a thing for large-sized books. The 2020 gift is his work, Signal.) I also found myself tracking down a couple of his “little books.” All involve looking at “big data” with a skeptical eye, something that I find myself doing often. We have certainly seen countless benefits of big data and open science during the global fight against COVID, as well as in vaccine development. We’ve also seen more than a few cautionary tales of the troubles of big data as big noise. A longtime key figure in the data discussion, Few steps up to say “hold on” just a bit. Good wisdom.

Georgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec’s fun companion to their wonderful, Dear Data, from a few years back is good fun. I throw this one in my bag at least every other week to work on one or two of the “assignments.” Data Feminism and Calling Bullshit are two excellent accessible academic reads. They prompt a thousand thoughts and ideas for action.

I’ve read (actually, I own) all of Alberto Cairo’s books on data visualization. His latest was a nice companion to others that I read, in terms of getting better at cutting through all of the noise, the falsehoods, the trivial, the bias thrown at us daily via news bits and misleading graphics. These are all skills we need to have – and that we need to teach – in the current world.

Finally, I read Matt Shipman’s book on scientific writing. Matt works in research communications and media relations at North Carolina State University. True story – our Twitter paths crossed someday, somehow, and in doing so we discovered that we both grew up in Petersburg, Virginia, and spent many, many happy years as kids at the Rodof Sholom branch of the Petersburg Public Library. We’ve become twitter friends over the years and I enjoyed reading this really insightful and handy reference book about the work he does. I learned some things for my own work, too.


If you’re a fan of the Talking Heads, Chris Frantz’s story of love and music will not disappoint. He and Tina Weymouth have remained together through all of the years of art school, of being in a groundbreaking band, of founding their own terrific group, and mentoring/fostering the careers of many others. Great love story.

I’m not sure what led me to Jimmy Webb’s memoir. I’ve long loved his work as a songwriter. After reading his memoir, I honestly think I’ll stick to listening to his songs alone. I’m not sure that I like him much as a person.

Natasha Trethewey and Allison Moorer have written two of the most powerful memoirs you can find. I don’t recommend reading them back-to-back, as I did. They are stories of domestic violence that ends in the worst way, and the long, arduous struggle it takes to rise from such circumstances. Both are brilliant wordsmiths and their stories will last with me for some time.

Book Club

I’m part of a truly great book club. We are a really diverse bunch of readers and it results in me reading lots of things (science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction) that I would never choose on my own. These are a few that quickly popped to mind this morning as I snapped photos from the shelves.

In a word, I LOVED A Gentleman in Moscow. We started it last December and I read it through the darkest weeks of the year. It was the best snuggle-into-bed-and-read-book. A beautiful story. I will read it again. I know I will.

Sy Montgomery’s, The Soul of an Octopus, brought me to tears. Really. It’s such an eye-opening adventure into the world of one of our most amazing creatures. Who knew? There are also dozens of fascinating YouTube videos about octopuses, as well as the beautiful Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher. Year of the Octopus.

We recently read Agatha Christie’s introduction to Hercule Poirot. It was only the second Christie mystery that I’ve ever read (Murder on the Orient Express being the other) and it was pure delight.

The Great Believers is our current pick. I’ll finish it in January, but about a quarter of the way through, highly recommend it. The characters are ones easy to follow. I look forward to how it all comes together.

Re-Reads and More

Allie Brosh returned in 2020 with Solutions and Other Problems. I pre-ordered it, read it the day it arrived, and then had to re-read Hyperbole and a Half. I laughed, I snorted, I cried, I shook my head at her talent. And perseverance.

Another election year and all of the social upheaval we’re experiencing these days (a good bit of it long overdue), found me re-reading Sarah Smarsh’s memoir, Heartland, as a means of keeping faith in the people of the “fly over” states. It’s also so much better a book than that Hillbilly Elegy. Smarsh is heads and shoulders above J.D. Vance when it comes to both telling a story and understanding humanity.

We are currently reading and discussing Ibram Kendi’s, How to be an Antiracist, as a library staff. It was chosen as the UMMS all-campus read. It is a 2020 read and act book.

The bird lover in me read Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s, Mozart’s Starling (perhaps the book that I most enjoyed reading this year) and Jennifer Ackerman’s, The Bird Way. Both of these authors have authored multiple books on nature in general and birds, specifically. And they are always excellent.

And I re-read the Ravenmaster’s lovely memoir while on a camping trip in October. I liked it just as much the second time around.

Finally, I was missing my old friend, Kinsey Millhone, the other evening and I pulled G is for Gumshoe off my shelf. I own A to … sigh … Y in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series. RIP, Sue. I may re-read all of them next year. So good.

So, there you have it. As I said at the start, no shortage of good stuff this year. A few good listens, too:

  • Michael J. Fox, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality
  • Anthony Boudain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2nd time through)
  • Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
  • Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave: The Arthurian Saga, Book 1 (book club pick)
  • James Taylor, Break Shot: My First 21 Years
  • Jill Lepore, This America: The Case for the Nation
  • Blair Braverman, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North (I combo-read and listened to this one.)
  • Ani Difranco, No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir (I want to read this, i.e. turn the pages, in 2021.)

What a year it’s been! I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a 2021 filled with good health, good friends, good work, good music, and good reading!

~ Sally

4 Responses to “2020: A Hellacious Year Can’t Keep a Good Reader Down”

  1. Deb Knippel December 23, 2020 at 2:43 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! I am going to check out a few of your reads! I really enjoy your blog. Best to you in 2021!

    • salgore December 23, 2020 at 9:02 pm #

      To you, too, Deb. Thank you for following.

  2. Ellen Lutz January 15, 2021 at 9:27 am #

    I am currently reading A Gentleman in Moscow for my book club and enjoying it. We read The Soul of an Octopus in 2019 and I loved it! I have always been fascinated by watching octopuses and that book made me even more enamored of them.

    • salgore January 15, 2021 at 1:46 pm #

      They’re both so good, aren’t they? Happy New Year, Ellen!

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