Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 Year in Review: Books and Podcasts

2020 was a very strange year for me, reading-wise. I had a terrible attention span and often struggled to focus enough to read more than a few pages at a time, starting from relatively early on in the pandemic. I was also a much fussier and pickier reader than usual. But I was still able to find a few books I enjoyed, in the end. I read 35 books in 2020, finishing around half of them before the COVID-19 shutdowns in NYC began in mid-March and my ability to focus on reading took a hit.

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Here are some of my favorite books from this year, listed in chronological order based on when I finished them:

  • Circe by Madeline Miller: You've likely already heard about this book because both Circe and Madeline Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, were ultra-popular bestsellers. As far as I'm concerned, all the hype about these books is well-earned! They're extremely well-written and engaging adaptations of Greek myths. 
  • The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon: This is a horror novel, which I know isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I like being swept away into a good, creepy story the way I also enjoy thrillers and murder mysteries. I started reading Jennifer McMahon's most recent novels in late December 2019, and almost immediately blazed through three of them. Suffice to say, I think McMahon's a good, reliable writer. Each of her books that I've picked up is quite enjoyable! It's difficult to pull off a good "reveal" in horror to explain what caused the creepy events by the end of the story. Out of her most recent three novels, I personally think this one has the best "reveal."
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I don't think this book will quite attain modern-day classic status like The Handmaid's Tale - which was part of my required reading list in high school - but it's still an interesting story. It's the first book on this list that I started reading after all the COVID-19 shutdowns started, when it became difficult for any book to hold my attention. The Testaments contains a fairly fast-paced story, and I couldn't put it down. 
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong: This is an older book I borrowed because it was featured on the New York Public Library's ebook website. Ed Yong is able to write in a clear and accessible way about science, as you might have seen from his recent articles about the COVID-19 pandemic for The Atlantic
  • The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: This book was my personal favorite in N.K. Jemisin's debut series The Inheritance Trilogy. (You probably do need to read the first book in this series, however, before getting to this one, which is the second installment.) The entire series was great, each of them is separated by a significant time jump and told from the perspective of a different character. 

I was also a somewhat fussy and flighty podcast listener last year, I sometimes found my attention wandering even from podcasts I typically enjoy. Still, I did encounter a few engaging podcasts that were able to entertain me while stuck at home and social distancing. 

Here are two podcasts I enjoyed this year:  

  • You're Wrong About: The journalists who host this podcast series do deep dives into various top news stories from the semi-recent past. The Princess Diana-focused episodes might be a good starting point to see if you'll also enjoy this series. I listened to those episodes right before watching the most recent season of The Crown, and they provided good background.
  • Doctor Death, season two: I recommended the first season of Doctor Death quite a while back and, I must say, I was shocked to learn there was another doctor out there worthy of the moniker, leading the show to have a second season. I would say the content warnings on this season are not as serious as for season one because there aren't detailed descriptions of failed surgeries. But the subject matter is still similarly dark and horrifying. As far as federal crimes go, Medicare and Medicaid fraud are extremely common (see, for instance, the health care fraud-related press releases from just the SDNY US Attorney's office), but not like this, where actual patients were being seriously harmed. By far the more common variant of health care fraud is for defendants to bill Medicare and Medicaid for services never actually delivered, which... is not what happened in the case discussed in Doctor Death season two. 

Did you also have a harder time focusing on books or podcasts than usual in 2020? Were you still able to find some favorite books or podcasts last year? I'm basically always interested in getting more book or podcast recommendations, even if I always have a big backlog of past recommendations I still need to look into. 

I also hope that everyone is having a good start to 2021! 

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