Another New Year’s Top Ten list

I have adapted a New Year’s habit from my friend Wally Conger, who would list a “Top 10” for the year just finished from his brushes with pop culture and life in general. Here’s my list for an infamous year.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how the Arts have taken a hit from the COVID-scare lockdowns of 2020. I had that thought as I compiled this list and realized I haven’t been to a movie theater since The Rise of Skywalker at Christmas 2019, and we attended no live concerts or theater productions this year. Until now my Top 10 always had stuff I experienced as part of an audience. It’s a darn shame.

But 2020 was not devoid of delight. F’rinstance:

  • The Queen’s Gambit. This seven-part Netflix mini-series about a chess prodigy who overcomes her demons makes 2020 the second year in a row that Walter Tevis made this list; Tevis’ Mockingbird was one of the best books I read in 2019. The TV show featuring a stunning performance by Anya Taylor-Joy is based on another Tevis novel, confirming that I really must catch up with this brilliant author I never heard of until a year ago.
  • The Diving Universe series. I’ve spent a lot of time this fall with Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s series that revolves around a woman who “dives” space shipwrecks, exploring derelicts in space the way scuba divers visit the remains of ships underwater. I finished the first in her series, Diving Into The Wreck, toward the end of August and just completed Book 7, Searching For The Fleet. Rusch writes very entertaining page-turners.
  • Tiffany Aching. This is the year I discovered that Terry Pratchett should have been one of my favorite authors for decades, except I never got around to reading any of his books before. I ripped through the five audiobooks in his Discworld sub-series about the witch Tiffany Aching, aided greatly by the incomparable Stephen Briggs, whose voice is perfectly matched for Pratchett’s whimsical style. I love Pratchett, I absolutely adore his big wee hag, and Wintersmith, the third of the five Aching books, is probably my favorite of the 80 books I read this year.
  • Anne Shirley Cuthbert. We raced through the three seasons of Netflix’s Anne With An E, and I raced to the store for a set of the L.M. Montgomery books that begin with Anne of Green Gables. It is a mystery to me that, lover of the light and whimsical that I am, I managed to go 67 years without introducing myself to Pratchett or Montgomery, so I will remember 2020 as the year I finally discovered two of my very favorite authors.
  • My lockdown beard. Forced to work mostly from home and with my barber prohibited from doing her job by the Nanny State, I found myself with an extremely shaggy appearance by the time the governor lifted his boot off my barber’s throat, with the caveat that she must wear a mask while she works, as she could have been doing all along. The upsides were that she discovered she prefers having her patrons make appointments to her previous first come, first served, policy, and that I remembered I like wearing a beard. The hair is more under control now, though.
  • Books about writing: This is the year my thoughts about writing and writing habits came into focus, thanks to a harmonic convergence of books that got me thinking, including but not limited to The INFJ Writer by Lauren Sapala, The Write Attitude by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (who wrote almost 1 in 10 books I read this year), Writing Into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith, The Practice by Seth Godin, and Plotman to the Rescue by James Scott Bell. I don’t know if that cocktail of advice would work for anyone else, but I heartily recommend any and all to the creative folks among my readers.
  • How To Play A Blue Guitar. I was struggling to compile a short book of reflections, short stories and poems, but then one Saturday afternoon in April, I read what I’d done so far and realized the book was there and ready to go. Modern technology being as grand as it is, I published it by the end of that day, and the rest is history. If only they were all that easy.
  • Jeep Thompson. A dear friend messaged me out of the blue and said, “I have a name for you: Jeep Thompson.” I think she was imagining a hard-boiled detective or Indiana Jones-style adventurer, but as I have pulled Jeep’s story carefully out of the ether, I have found a number of surprising things about this wonderful new character, not the least of which being that he is a she. Lauren Sapala says it’s important to care about your characters; I must say I think Jeep Thompson is an amazing young woman, and I suspect you might agree when you meet her this spring.
  • The streak. Through the years I have made many bold predictions like “Watch for my new book Jeep Thompson this spring” that never happened, so I made no such announcement when I decided to blog every day during the months of August, September and October. I just made sure I had something to post once a day beginning Aug. 1. The next thing I knew, it was Dec. 31 and I had blogged for 153 consecutive days. It turns out the best way to do something is just to do it, without fanfare or promises that can be broken. (Jeep just nudged me and said, “So don’t say anything more specific than you already have.” Fine, Jeep, fine.)
  • Jo Jorgensen. It had been probably 20 years since I was able to vote for a presidential candidate without cringing. The two major parties are in a desperate race to the bottom, and even the Libertarian Party has fielded some lame candidates in recent years. But Jorgensen is the real deal, and even though I knew she would not be the next president, I was proud to support her without equivocation. It’s a nice feeling; you should try it next time.

Summing up, 2020 has been a year of introspection, learning and more delights than I might have expected listening to the doomsayers, and I’m excited by the prospects for 2021. I hope your New Year is everything you can hope for, as well.

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