Looking back at all the bad things that happened to me in 2020, I'm loathe to try and rank them, although one of the absolute worst was not being able to see my parents or my friends out of state at all. Further down the scale, but still pretty bad, was how I spent most of the second half of the year not reading much of anything. I got a lot of writing done, but I couldn't read for the life of me. Living in terrible times does a number on one's ability to enjoy immersive pleasures. But I also have to be honest: this was only partly a new thing. Bad times only exacerbated my existing pickiness in reading.
This is going to sound snotty, but here goes.
I read widely, but sparsely. Most of what I choose to read isn't stuff published within the last five or ten years, with a few exceptions. Anything that lands trailing awards and critical adulation, I'm almost inevitably skeptical of. It takes time for the good books to prove themselves. Nonfiction tends to draw more of my attention now -- and not "airport explainer" nonfiction of the Malcolm Gladwell variety, either, but stuff like Capital in the 21st Century or A Power Stronger Than Itself.
When it is fiction, it's also almost never recent stuff for the reasons mentioned above. And it's almost never things that fall into the same category of anything I'd write, because I don't want to draw on the wells of other science fiction or fantasy if I can help it. Most of what gets published under those labels leaves me cold anyway, because the things that got me into SF in the first place, the things that showed me what was most promising and even revolutionary about it, have turned out to be outliers, singular talents (Dick, Lem, Tiptree, Delaney, one-offs like The Revolving Boy, etc.).
I'm not proud of any of this, and I try to challenge it when I can. But this year's headspace sucked away what little oxygen I had to burn on such exercises, and I ended up reading so little of anything at all, let alone fiction. It was hard enough concentrating on my own work. It was a joy to have something new from a friend and colleague (Matt Buscemi's The Other, which I burned through in the course of a couple of days), but for the most part I hesitated to dive into reading lest I come back up for air and find the world had burned flat in the meantime. Not a ridiculous thing to believe over the last year.
Now there's a little more air to be breathed -- although, like most of you, I'm not sure I'll be able to get a proper lungful until at least 2021/1/20 -- and the urge to dive back into reading is reasserting itself. Too much has piled up on the endtable in the meantime. Some of it even fiction!
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind