Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… And here we’ll focus on the worst 😉 Or, to be more fair, just on the most disappointing for us personally, for as you will see, most of the works mentioned below enjoyed quite a lot of acclaim and following.
To be true to our title, we should probably start and stop this post at COVID-19, the wellspring of our woes (though there are a few hopeful signs along the way, from the evidence of effective and efficient trust-based cooperation above the national level to the human-caused limitation of greenhouse gases emissions). But as this is predominantly a book blog, with a small but significant addition of comics, TV series and movies, we feel we need to elaborate a bit and avoid easy finger-pointing.
As in the previous summary post, we wanted to divide our choices into a few categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Comics, TV Series; but as Non-fiction this year proved to be a major hit without any misses (YAY!), we’ll omit this category.
Ola’s Worst of 2020 in Fiction
Here the choices are easy, at least for me – though for many might seem quite controversial, as some of these books seem to have become fan favorites ;). But what can I say? By now you really shouldn’t be surprised by any of this 😛 So without further ado, here it is:
That’s the only book on this list that I wrote a review of; I felt this instant favorite of the bookish community deserved a critique, and whether I achieved the goal of making it measured and not just scathing, it’s for you to judge. So let me just quote the crux of my review here:
Nanking Massacre was a truly horrible event, an atrocity for which there can be no excuse. The world should learn more about it, so that it stops being a footnote in history books. But using it in a fantasy book as a plot device designed to further the main character’s evolution into a vessel for a demonic/demigod entity and as a rationale for her own acts of genocide seems beyond bad taste.
Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
It’s becoming a tradition that we can’t fit all we want to write about in our end-year post, and again we had to divide it into two. Before Christmas we wrote about the blog and stats, now we want to share our favourite – and least favourite – books and shows, consumed in this fateful year.
Ola: Well, say what you want, but for me 2020 turned out to be a good time for reading ;). As last year, I decided to divide my best reads into three categories, Fiction, Non-fiction, and Comics. With so many books read, my The Best Of criteria had to be very harsh, so below are the best of the best of the best, which means a very impactful, thought-provoking and delightful read, as well as the even rarer 10/10 rating :).
This was truly one of the very best reads of 2020 and one of the very best SF reads ever. Stephenson’s love letter to Western philosophy and science is pure perfection, and his decision to wrap it into a hero’s journey through a world as like and as unlike our own was a masterstroke, allowing the readers an incredibly immersive experience. The prose is dense, ambitious, unforgiving, but given a chance it shines with amazing clarity and emotion. I owe big thanks to Bart, who recommended Anathem to me; Stepehenson’s Seveneves is good, especially the first part dealing with orbital mechanics, and would’ve been even better if the last part didn’t exist, but Anathem is a masterpiece, clear and simple. If you haven’t yet, read it!
The grand finale of the critically acclaimed Cromwell trilogy doesn’t disappoint. It may be more meandering and more sentimental than the naked blade of Bring Up the Bodies, but that’s to be expected since it deals with the final years of Thomas Cromwell, whose tragic history is inextricably linked with that of Henry VIII. A historical novel with grand ambitions, a deep psychological portrayal of human vices and virtues, of naked ambition, egotism and the pitfalls of power, The Mirror & the Light is astonishingly modern, significant novel; a mark of true classic, its contents equally relevant in times of Henry VIII and our own.
I’ve written all I could about this quirky, thought-provoking read. I loved Lee’s bold, utterly brilliant mashup of Korean mythology and political anti-utopia clad in military SF accoutrements and wrapped up in a stolen identity mystery happening in the middle of a galactic war. Ninefox Gambit is wonderfully ambitious, broad in scope, and lyrical. I’ve read the remaining two books in the trilogy, but sadly, their quality seemed to be deteriorating with each installment, and by the end turned into a political treatise focused on gender issues while what I was expecting was an all-out AI revolution ;).
Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman (2005)
The second installment in the Saxon Stories series, popularized by the Netflix’s TV series Last Kingdom (very good, actually, though I haven’t seen it past season 1 as I want to read the books first ;)) is impeccably written, heart-rending, thoroughly researched, and simply riveting. The first book is good; but only in The Pale Horseman Cornwell achieves the psychological and societal depth to make his work outstanding. Many thanks to Sarah, who recommended this series to me. A review will come one day, I promise 😉
I was really surprised by this little novella; its impact on me was far bigger than I’d expected judging by its length and the misleadingly obfuscating beginning. But this tiny bit of a book is simply amazing, turning midpoint from a slightly generic fantasy into a Kafkian treatise on the nature and limits of power. I absolutely adored every aspect of it, from the stunningly apt use of the second person perspective to the impeccably structured journey – inward and outward – of the protagonist.
Piotrek: Wow! We made it through another year! The blog, that is, but the world as well, even if not in a great shape. Re-Enchantment did splendidly though, thanks mostly to Ola’s efforts, as I’ve been an infrequent contributor, certainly in the second half. And yet 2020 was quite good for me as far as reading goes, and not for the same reasons many people read more. Quite a bit of my reading used to be done in during commute, so working from home I had to change my habits just to keep up. And keep up I did, with a 102 GoodReads titles, as of December 14, and 32,281 pages – versus 81 titles and 30,233 in 2019.
Piotrek: How will we do in 2021? I’m not into divination, but I plan get better in time-management and create more posts. Still not as many as Ola, probably 😉 Apart from that, I’m not even making too many plans about my reading next year, we’ll see how it goes. One thing that seems probable – I might finally get a Kindle, and admit I cannot have all the books on my shelves.
Ola: I’ve absolutely no idea what 2021 will bring – but, as humans tend to (and that’s the main reason they largely cling to life as a species) I hope it will be better than 2020. What a year that was! A Chinese proverb – or rather a curse – come to life, and survived. So many aspects of our lives changed (hopefully temporarily) for worse, but we know all about them and there’s no need to bring these up again. I’d prefer to focus on positives instead :). 2020 was a great reading and blogging year for us here at Re-Enchantment, with many records broken and equally many firsts achieved. I signed up for NetGalley (and while this was a rather mixed bag for me reading-wise, as my reviews can attest) it was at the same time a very interesting learning experience and one I’ll be happy to continue. I also signed up for Goodreads, and I’m glad to say it’s going pretty well. Maintaining old bookishfriendships and making new acquaintances is always a big positive for me, so in that respect GR serves as a valuable extension of our blog. And while I kept my stats anyway, in a customised Excel spreadsheet, it is indeed nice to have all the books read in a year presented in a pleasing infographic ;).
I got over 120 titles under my belt this year, mixing up a healthy amount of non-fiction (10%) and fiction (11%) into my usual genre and comic book reading. And I’m hoping to add a book or two to the list on my upcoming vacation :). As we did last year, this year we’ll have a separate post covering our best and worst reads of the year (and maybe some TV series too, though sadly not many movies ;)) too. In this one, we’ll focus a bit more on our blog stats.
In 2020, Re-Enchanted nearly doubled the last year’s stats when it comes to the number of visits (a whooping 15k), the number of comments (over 2.5k) and the number of likes (over 2.3k). We also had 10 more posts, 57 to date, than last year. As we drifted slowly toward longer posts, mainly reviews and a few fun tags, judging by the number of comments we seem to have found our sweet spot. The blogging friendships we made all over the world continue, and this year we cherish even more of them with new bloggers finding our blog and us finding theirs. Our number of followers almost doubled – thanks everyone! 🙂 But the 2020 wouldn’t be itself if it weren’t turbulent in every aspect of life, and so even our exceedingly bookish blog couldn’t stay apolitical as Polish politics barged uninvited into our lives.
Our most popular post in terms of views was Ola’s glowing review of Neal Asher’s The Line of Polity, garnering well above 300 views. It’s this year’s post, which is worth noting as the next two are comparative oldies: Ola’s scathing review of Ernest Cline’s Armada and the last year’s Re-E blockbuster, Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, which were both written back in 2016. The most popular posts are garnering more and more views through search engines, which is very encouraging as we keep building our repository of quirky, detailed, lengthy reviews ;).
We’ve also beat the 50 likes boundary this year. Our most popular posts in terms of likes were Piotrek’s Vacation Post, closely followed by Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, Marie Brennan’s Driftwood, our lonely tag in this review-dominated field, Favorite books in five words, and Daniel Polansky’s The Seventh Perfection. As for the comments section, our most commented post was the review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (again), a highly enjoyable tribute to the Gothick tradition with a delightful fungal twist ;). With 76 comments it maintained its one-digit lead over Madeline Miller’s Circe and Brian McClellan’s Blood of Empire.
We have taken part in one concerted bookish effort this year, Wyrd and Wonder. It was a great adventure, and an unparalleled output for us with 7 posts in a month, but with so many things going on around us we weren’t able to celebrate any more similar events. Maybe next year 😉
Piotrek: I quess it was a year when people would get excited by even a mention of vacations 😉 I’m so happy I managed to squeeze that in between all the lockdowns… I have to admit I did not suffer too much in this troubled year.
It’s been a very good year for the blog, no doubt. Apart from the editor monstrosity WordPress forced on its users – we all still hate that with a passion, it goes without saying. But here we’re allowing ourselves a well-deserved celebration, so we’re not going to spoil the mood :). And next week we intend to go deeper into our best of/worst of lists for 2020 🙂
Piotrek: Back in October we’ve been nominated for this tag by the illustrious Orangutan Librarianherself! A set of dangerous, exhibitionist questions designed to reveal our bookish sins. Lets see how sinful we are, then, within the limits of our honesty 😉
Ola: Mea culpa, mea culpa… I’m getting in the mood 😀
Have you ever re-gifted a book you’ve been given?
Piotrek: I wanted to start this survey with a resolute “NO”, but I think I actually did commit this sin, years ago. There was a book I had two copies of, as I first bought it myself and then received as a gift. I got invited to a birthday party on a very short notice, and did not arrange to buy a joint gift together with other friends, as we used to usually do those days. I gave this book, which was actually much more suited to my taste than the giftee… not a very proud moment. After that, I always either sold such books on Polish equivalent of eBay, or gave them away to strangers.
Ola: I remember I entertained that thought but ultimately didn’t. Said book, which I hate with a passion and know it would’ve been better received by someone else (Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind, for those interested) still burdens my shelves.
Have you ever said you’ve read a book when you haven’t?
Piotrek: Do high school lit classes count ;)? Because I’ve been an avid reader since the age of seven, but some of the stuff we’ve been told to read just failed to resonate with me. In one case I admit I was probably wrong and should go back to the book. In a few others – I’m unrepentant.
I don’t remember doing so in recent years. What would be the point?
Ola: Yes, you should revisit this book!!! It’s great, and shame on you! 😀
I don’t think I did… though I might’ve mixed up a comic or two and said I read one meaning the other, and realize that only after the fact.
Ola: As much as we’d love to keep to the books and movies, the Polish ugly reality won’t allow us this luxury. After the brazen dismantling and subjugation of the judicial system, effective reintroduction of censorship in media, transforming the Roman Catholic Church into a political force, and crawling incapacitation of the military and foreign policy, the ruling authoritarian party ironically called Law and Justice decided to take posession of the citizens’ hearts and minds – by force. Starting with the persecution of the minorities: from LGBTQ to foreigners, Polish government has ended on a very Atwoodian note – by overturning (arguably illegally) the already very restrictive abortion laws, in effect banning nearly all forms of abortion, even in cases of severe foetal damage or abnormality, which often results in the death of the embryo.
Let’s put this in context: 98% of the 1,100 terminations permitted last year in Poland (a country with a population of nearly 38 million) were in the category of severe fetal abnormality. The current government had sought to overturn this law before, and not because of some high abstract values but mostly for a very concrete political gain – the removal of women’s rights comes as a gift from the Law and Justice politicians for the ultra-conservative Polish Catholic Church; it serves a very significant symbol of goodwill and a tangible guarantee of continuing support of the dominant religious institutions for the authoritarian regime.
Let’s be clear here: while the abortion theme might be the most apparent, controversial, and commanding attention, it is not the main issue here. The crux of the problem is that an increasingly authoritarian ruling party decided to overturn a long-standing and widely accepted axio-normative compromise rooted in law in the middle of a growing deadly pandemic, hoping that the battered an divided Polish society won’t notice this (yet another in a long line of progressively punitive) encroachment on civil freedoms. And now, when Poles are protesting on the streets, the leader of the Law and Justice party officially calls for the extreme right-wing organizations to defend traditional values “at all cost,” exhorting them to “win this war” – basically, and in not so many words, inciting social unrest and violence. The Guardian called it simply a betrayal of democracy, and is right.
Piotrek: It’s increasingly controversial to call what we had a compromise. If it ever was one, it was between conservative politicians and the Church, and resulted in some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. The Church seemed to be doing well despite a growing wave of scandals, but this time they might have gone too far and the bishops are seen as just as valid a target of public anger as politicians.
There is something going on in Poland. And we’re not talking about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases – although this is very worrying, as we had twice as much cases in October than during the entire pandemic before the current month.
There is also a rise in people marching against the regime. They march, they drive very slowly on busy streets, they sit and block crucial crossroads in city centres. The rural areas I blasted in our previous political post are on the move as well, bless them. What has changed? It’s too early for a final verdict, but one thing is clearly visible – young people are mobilized like never before. It’s probably the biggest political mobilization of Polish teenagers ever. I was among the oldest on the first demonstration last week. Veterans of the resistance are a bit bitter, perhaps if we had more support five years ago we could prevent a lot of evil – but that doesn’t matter now, and clearly people younger than me needed to find their very own reasons to join the good fight. Now they see they have a very personal stake in how the society is organized and they are doing something about it. I salute them!
I’ve never seen so much energy, joy, optimism. It’s a street revolution, it’s a meme war, there’s music. Politically we might achieve nothing, again – although I might be surprised again. But this week revealed a huge social change that never before translated into the world of politics – the catho-nationalistic ideology the regime tried to feed to the young generation didn’t take.
There is hope; please, even now, when the most important thing going is is undoubtedly happening in America, pay some attention to our sad little country.