Best Books of 2020

Jeez, I didn’t do a “State of the Dread” for this month AND NO ONE NOTICED. That’s blogging for you.

Anyway, 10 books made the list this year, and only two were fiction. Two of the nonfiction were biographies about the Civil War, focusing on generals on different sides. Quite fascinating. Here’s the list.

1: HILLBILLY ELEGY by JD Vance

Originally a recommendation from the Andrew Luck Book Club, I picked this one up from the library audio app and gave it a listen whilst hauling acid in January. It’s a jarring insight into the life of J.D. Vance, a guy who’s only a year or two younger than me, who grew up in hick country back in the Midwest.

He would go on to serve in the Marines and get a law degree at an Ivy League school. This book had particular significance for me because one side of my family comes from the exact location and demographic that he describes, and it helped me to understand that side of the family a lot better.

I covered it in episode 103 of the BTBC.

2: STILLNESS IS THE KEY by Ryan Holiday

Stillness is the Key — Calm Blog

I’ve become a big fan of Ryan Holiday’s work since discovering THE DAILY STOIC in 2016, and it’s been a delight to get into his backlist. The audio for this one also came from my local library.

Holiday dives into the lives of successful people and examines how stillness, calmness, and the ability to self-analyze without explosive emotional responses is the best way to accomplish great things in life. The section on Tiger Woods alone was mind-blowing to me, and a very good cautionary tale.

In addition to SITK, I purchased a paperback of PERENNIAL SELLER by him, and was likewise impressed, but I didn’t want to saturate the best-of-year list with more than one title from the same author.

Covered on episode 106 of BTBC.

3: DINOTOPIA by James Gurney

Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time by Gurney, James | eBay

INCREDIBLE ARTWORK, HOLY CRAP!

That’s all I want to say about it. This is a visual book and must be experienced with your eyes.

Covered on ep 107 of the BTBC.

4: THE DINOSAUR ARTIST by Paige Williams

The Dinosaur Artist : Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth¿s Ultimate Trophy by Paige ...

Another nonfic audiobook that I listened to whilst hauling acid in the post-C*vid lockdown of the spring, out in the Nevada wilderness. I wrote about it here.

Also covered it on ep 111 of the BTBC.

5: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Far too many multi-year sequels or prequels or tie-ins have been disappointing of late. Many times it’s the author trying to retcon Current Year sociopolitics into a popular world of Yesteryear as an apology to the Woke Mob.

Fortunately Collins isn’t all about that, she actually gives a damn about characters and story in their true sense. The 64-year prequel to THE HUNGER GAMES was incredible and beautiful and moving, everything I’ve come to expect from her stories in this vein.

Schaara and I covered it on this special episode of the BTBC.

6: WHY WE DRIVE by Matthew Crawford

Why We Drive Audiobook by Matthew B. Crawford - 9780063015685 | Rakuten Kobo United States

Crawford has made my best-of-year lists before, and with this book he was like “I’LL ****IN’ DO IT AGAIN!”

You want to know why I love to drive, and why I’m against robot cars and Big Tech? Jump in.

Covered on ep 113 of the BTBC.

7: A HOBBIT, A WARDROBE, AND A GREAT WAR by Joseph Loconte

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You probably knew that Tolkien and Lewis fought in the trenches of WW1 together, and later penned two of the biggest fantasy series of the 20th Century.

You need to read the story behind the story, especially of Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, and the role that Tolkien played in that journey.

Somehow I didn’t cover this one on the podcast, I must have finished BTBC before finishing this one.

8: WINTERDANCE by Gary Paulsen

Quick Book Reviews: "Winterdance" by Gary Paulsen - The Race Against Nature

It’s hard for Paulsen not to make my best-of lists, especially with his personal memoirs. In this case, his adventures running the Iditarod are mind-numbing, and the things he learned (both technically and spiritually) just blew me away. The man is harder than I’ll ever be.

This book covers his first attempt at it. He ran it twice before medical issues sidelined him for the rest of his life, and he talks about all that in the epilogue.

9: REBEL YELL by S.C. Gwynne

Rebel Yell Audiobook by S. C. Gwynne, Cotter Smith | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster ...

Funnily enough, I was only listening to this one as research for a character in a future DreadVerse story. And he’s not going to be a huge character necessarily, just an antagonist in a one-off story featuring Atlas and Razor.

However, Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was such a fascinating figure that I found myself excited to turn this book on every time I was at work. Gwynne is now on my list of biographical authors that I want to read more of.

Stonewall Jackson, despite fighting for what was ultimately the wrong side of a moral conflict, was himself an incredible man. My personal takeaway after reading of his grit, his drive, and his exploits, was that it was necessary for him to die in order for the North to win the war. He was just too formidable.

Even as impressive as Robert E. Lee was in terms of his military command, Jackson was the more daunting foe for the Union to face. At least that’s my opinion after reading REBEL YELL.

Bonus: for a really cool audio recreation of what the rebel yell sounded like, take a few minutes to listen to this video.

10: GRANT by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow - Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

This marks the second Chernow bio I read in 2020, the first being TITAN, about John Rockefeller. I had also listened to a couple of audio-bios about different founding fathers (like Aaron Burr) and decided to put together a list of books to read about early US Presidents.

Grant wasn’t technically “early”, but having read Chernow’s books on Hamilton and Rockefeller, and having just read REBEL YELL, I decided to bump GRANT to the head of the list.

At the time of this writing I am only halfway through the book. While I will finish it this year, I’m confident that it will make the list, given Chernow’s adept writing and handling of his subject. He’s fair and genuine, going so far as to accurately recount Grant’s poverty, his poor judgment with the character of other men, and his alcoholism, contrasted alongside his impressive military successes.

Grant wasn’t a superman in the same way that George Washington was (and Chernow also has a book about him), he was more of an everyman who turned out to be the right guy at the right time.

I mean, this dude had a dozen failed business ventures and was SELLING FIREWOOD ON THE STREETS OF SAINT LOUIS, then went on to win the Civil War and become President twice. Beat that.

That’s it for this year, a few honorable mentions include:

LATE BLOOMERS by Karlgaard

THE WASHINGTON HYPOTHESIS (and its companions about Lincoln and the Pilgrims) by Timothy Ballard

MECHA SAMURAI EMPIRE by Peter Tieryas

SILVER STATE CRYPTIDS by David Weatherly

MINE WERE OF TROUBLE by Peter Kemp

and I AM DEBORAH SAMPSON by Patricia Clapp.

Hope you all had a great year reading, see you in 2021.

State of the Dread: December 2020

2019 didn’t end for me, it just evolved into its next, more terrible form. That being the case I’m not pretending to be revved up about 2021, because it’s built upon the bones and ashes of two bad years, and I don’t expect things to magically change for the better just because the calendar flipped.

That said, I’m glad I was able to adapt to some things this year. I’m glad I did these monthly posts and the daily drawings. Just three dozen to go and I’ll have created 366 new pieces in a year. Some of them were even good enough to keep.

Anyway, here’s the skinny for December:

The Podcast

WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE is finished. I’m glad that it’s finished. I’m glad that I took it on. TBH I don’t think it’s my best work, and that means I missed the mark somewhere along the way. The final episode didn’t get a whole lot of listens which means people lost interest, because frankly my version of the story isn’t better than what the Pilgrims actually went through at Plymouth 400 years ago. I completely accept that.

My main takeaway is that the research I did in order to write that book helped me to have a greater appreciation for what was required to build this country. Those people–and I include the Wampanoags in that, both groups benefitted from their treaty and alliance–were already greater than I’ll be in this life in terms of what they accomplished.

Now I’m on to my next story, WELCOME TO TIMBERVILLE. It’s another short one (though the word count is higher than I remembered). A few years ago I started joking about writing a Hallmark Christmas romance and this was the result.

The new episode won’t be up for a few days, I’m admittedly behind schedule because of how Thanksgiving shook out, and so on. I didn’t want to spend the whole break stuffed up in my office while my kids terrorized my wife. This is a hobby, after all.

Find the podcast on your favorite platform and subscribe if you haven’t!

DPAH on Google

DPAH on Spotify

DPAH on Anchor

The Writing

I had to write a few thousand words to finish ANSWERABLE COURAGE and man that was harder than I expected. Now I’m on edits for TIMBERVILLE and once those are knocked out, I’m doing edits on the next two stories. Trying to stay ahead of the curve.

The Reading

Last month I read another “best of the year” book, bringing the total up to 9. Hopefully I can round it out to 10 before the end of this month. I’m six books into the Longmire series, my library has them all on audio and I can usually finish one in a shift at work. The individual mysteries aren’t all that great but I love the characters. I’m also rereading the Bartimaeus trilogy by Stroud. Excellent piece of fantasy.

The Artwork

Got a few commissions in the pipe so I’m working on those, along with covers for upcoming adventures. Next year I’m definitely scaling back from “one drawing per day” to “one drawing per week.” That way I make 52 really good pieces instead of 365 mediocre-to-bad ones.

The Rest

Let’s finish this year strong. It hasn’t been all bad, and even if 2021 promises to be bumpy, we deserve to kill this one and leave it well behind us. We’ve got this, folks. Get back to work.