2020 in Reading: The Big List

The landing outside our bedrooms is tiny—barely big enough for one person to stand alongside the single floor vent that’s supposed to heat the entire upstairs. But! There’s enough wall space for two tall pieces of paper, so that’s where Zina and I have kept our reading lists since 2015.

I’ve never really gotten into tracking my reading online, so this practice has served as my visual archive of books devoured. It’s a lovely way to remind myself of when influential authors first appeared in my life, and to lend shape to the years. I used to keep the old ones pinned up in my room for easy access, but my impending move has meant getting rid of a lot of papery ephemera, so here they all are for posterity:

A collection of six tall, thin pieces of paper with lists of books written on them. They're dated from 2015 to 2020 and have the name Lucy at the top of each one.

Since I’m trying to keep more of myself on my own site, I figured I’d upload the whole catalogue from 2020 as a blog post. I’ll do a followup with a little more about my absolute favorites, but for now: here’s everything.

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Hell Yes
  1. 📖 The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern ❤︎
  2. 📓 All About Love – bell hooks
  3. 📓 Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino ❤︎❤︎
  4. 📓 Atomic Habits – James Clear
  5. 📓 The Way of Zen – Alan Watts
  6. 💬 Unversed – Ed. Jonathan Hill
  7. 💬 Uncomfortably Happily – Yeon-Sik Hong
  8. 💬 The Chancellor and The Citadel – Maria Frantz
  9. 💬 The Northwest Passage (Vol. 1) – Scott Chantler
  10. 💬 The Hunting Accident – David L. Carlson & Landis Blair ❤︎
  11. 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎❤︎
  12. 📓 Deviced – doreen dodgen-magee
  13. 📝/📓 Letters from Max – Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritvo ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📓 Van Gogh – Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith ❤︎
  15. 💬 Gaugin: The Other World – Fabrizio Dori
  16. 📖 The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow
  17. 📓 Madness, Rack, and Honey – Mary Ruefle ❤︎
  18. 📖 Axiomatic – Maria Turmakin
  19. 📓 The Crying Book – Heather Christle ❤︎❤︎
  20. 📖 Looking for Jake – China Miéville
  21. 🎭 Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  22. 📖 The Bird King – G. Willow Wilson ❤︎
  23. 📖 Steel Crow Saga – Paul Krueger
  24. 📖 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong ❤︎
  25. 📓 The Salt Path – Raynor Wynn
  26. 💬 Displacement – Kiku Hughes
  27. 📓 Time is a Thing the Body Moves Through – T. Fleischmann
  28. 📖 The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book – Kate Milford
  29. 📓 Pleasure Activism – adrienne maree brown ❤︎
  30. 📖 Tales from 1001 Nights – Trans. Malcolm & Ursula Lyons
  31. 📖 The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemesin
  32. 📖 The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea – Maggie Tokuda-Hall
  33. 📓 Constellations – Sinead Gleeson
  34. 📖 The Reapers are The Angels – Alden Bell
  35. 📓 The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis
  36. 📖 Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
  37. 📖 You Are the Friction – Ed. Jez Burrows & Anna Hurley
  38. 💬 The Golden Age – Cyril Pedrosa & Roxanne Moreil ❤︎
  39. 📖 Flights – Olga Tokarczuk
  40. 📖 Annabel Scheme and The New Golden Gate – Robin Sloan ❤︎
  41. 📖 How to Be Both – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  42. 📖 A Burning – Megha Majumdar
  43. 📖 If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin
  44. 📖 Blandings Castle – P.G. Wodehouse
  45. 📖 Summer Lightning – P.G. Wodehouse
  46. 📖 Heavy Weather – P.G. Wodehouse
  47. 📓 Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency – Olivia Laing ❤︎❤︎
  48. 📝 Citizen: An Americal Lyric – Claudia Rankine
  49. 📖 A Room with A View – E.M. Forster ❤︎
  50. 📓 Close to the Machine – Ellen Ullman ❤︎
  51. 📓 The Power of Ritual – Casper ter Kuile
  52. 📖 Artful – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  53. 📓 Coming to Writing and Other Essays – Hélène Cixous ❤︎
  54. 📖 Attrib. – Eley Williams ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  55. 💬 Go With The Flow – Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann
  56. 💬 Knight and Beard (Vol. 1) – Tara Kurtzhals & Sarah Bollinger
  57. 📓 The Heroine’s Journey – Maureen Murdock
  58. 📖 Each of Us a Desert – Mark Oshiro ❤︎
  59. 📖 Self Care – Leigh Stein
  60. 💬 Syllabus – Lynda Barry ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  61. 💬 Grass – Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
  62. 📝 Handwriting – Michael Ondaatje
  63. 📓 Letters from Tove – Tove Jansson ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  64. 📝/📓 Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties – Trans. John J.L. Mood
  65. 🎭 The Tempest – William Shakespeare
  66. 💬 The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui ❤︎
  67. 📝 Beowulf – Maria Dahvana Headley ❤︎❤︎
  68. 📝 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  69. 📖 Piranesi – Susanna Clarke ❤︎❤︎
  70. 📓 A Reading Life – C.S. Lewis
  71. 📓 Better than IRL – Ed. Katie West & Jasmine Elliott ❤︎
  72. 📓 Split – Ed. Katie West & Jasmine Elliott
  73. 📖 The Waves – Virginia Woolf ❤︎❤︎

Literary Archipelagos

Last week, in a moment of Peak Bellwood Weakness I signed up for an online class/study group called Literature at Sea: A Brief History of Existence. The facilitator shared something in today’s intro call that I can’t believe nobody sent me when it was released back in July. It’s called An Ocean of Books and it looks sort of like this:

A screenshot of the homepage for An Ocean of Books. It shows a pale greenish blue chart with a mass of tiny, tan islands spread across it. They're loosely grouped by subject: History, Science, Novels, Classics, etc.

This “poetic experiment” was made by Gaël Hugo during his time as an Artist-in-Residence at the Google Arts & Culture Lab. It pulls from the entire Google Books library and uses a bunch of (I’m waving my hands vaguely here) technology to generate a chart of Author Islands whose distance from each other is determined by their relationships on the web.

The site’s a little awkward in places, but I find the whole concept delightful. The weird aesthetic mix of pixelated game art and old nautical chart elements!1 The playful mechanism for revealing keyword searches within a bank of fog! There’s also little factoids beside various islands, like this gem about Maurice Sendak:

A screenshot from A Sea of Books showing a drawing of a boy riding a horse. The text beside it says The original title of Sendak's famous book was Where the Wild Horses Are but he couldn't draw horses. So, when his editor asked what he could draw, his reply was Things.

Anyway, I spent a lovely afternoon poking around in here, but what it really got me hungry for was a similarly attractive way to organize one’s own library for others to explore. The trouble is that I’m just not moved by reading lists—even ones curated by subject. I’m a visual thinker, and I need to make a big mess and tack a lot of red string to the wall before I can truly understand how all these ideas are contributing to the electric pinball machine.

I don’t want the map to be dictated by an algorithm; I want to play cartographer.

I rediscovered a piece of technology this week that might hold the key, but I’m saving it for now. You’ll just have to wait.


1. Fun pedantic terminology fact: if it’s to do with the ocean, it’s a chart, not a map. Yes, there will be a quiz on this later.