In the years prior to 2020, my reading habit had taken a bit of a nose-dive. I'd pick up a book every so often and work through it, but I wasn't reading nearly as much as I wanted to. With 2020 being a nice round number, I decided to aim for reading 20 books in 2020. Combine this target with using TickTick to encourage daily habits, including doing a bit of reading each day, I managed to hit the target.
On reflection, there were quite a number of re-reads. I heard somewhere that during unpredictable times, people can sometimes gravitate towards things that are familiar as a way of adding some stability. I don't have any conscious recollection of this being the motivation so who knows.
Anyway, here's a quick run down of the books I've read:
Marvel Art of Skottie Young
I got this book for Christmas 2019 and it was beginning this book when I decided on the reading goal. The book covers a broad overview of artist Skottie Young's career starting with his first work for Marvel and following through to the work he still does today, along the way covering off his work on the Oz series, which I'll get to shortly...
This is a short book and it's a collaboration between Neil Gaimann and Chris Riddell. It's not really a how-to book or anything, more a collection of mantras to help inspire or help figure out why an artists does what they do.
This is Going to Hurt
The first of a couple of books by Adam Kay recounting diary entries from his days as a doctor working in the NHS. This book is a bit of a rollercoaster, going from some of the funniest stuff you wouldn't believe (like a couple wondering how they got pregnant, they used condoms... then would turn them inside out and use them again) to some of the most heart-wrenching stories of still-births or babies being born but not making it longer than a few days. It's not an easy read, in parts, but I think it's an eye-opener which everyone should add to their shelf.
Having seen the film many times and heard the book adds a bit more detail, I wanted to give this a read and was really drawn into the book. It follows the same broad plot of the film but does dive a little deeper into the thoughts of the protagonist and the various challenges he faces and how he overcomes them. If you've seen the film, the book definitely adds to the story and makes it richer so definitely worth a read.
Oz Collection 1
For some reason, Marvel put out a single volume of Skottie Young's series of adaptions the novels by L. Frank Baum but it appears to be somewhat limited, the only listings I could find to buy were on eBay and I was looking at £60+ for a copy.
When Skottie Young announced the first of a series of new collections, I jumped on buying this first collection, covering the first two books in the series: The Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz.
The artwork is fantastic and the first story was a fun read. I didn't enjoy the second half as much for some reason. The story sort of felt like it was a bit all over the place for me. That might be unfair, but that's my memory of the experience when I read it back in January, as I write this in December.
Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby is a book compiling a load of diary comics Marc drew some years ago now. They follow a relationship from it's start through to it's end.
Looking for Calvin and Hobbes
This book is a sort of biography of Bill Watterson, tracing the artist's school days through to his early career working for newspapers. It's an interesting read for any fans of Calvin and Hobbes. The book has as much detail as you could expect without talking to the artist himself, lots of anecdotes from people who knew or know him.
The Walking Dead
I picked up a Humble Bundle deal during the Summer. I thought I was just buying a chunk of the series but it turned out to be the entire thing. Having seen the series up to a certain point, I knew broadly what to expect in terms of overall plot points but the comic is different enough that viewers of the show could read this and not find it too repetitive.
War of the Worlds
I'd started reading War of the Worlds a few times over the last 10 years and abandoned it for reasons I can't even recall. This time around, I was determined to to get it read, it's not a long read after all.
Having seen various adaptations, I sort of knew what to expect but it seems no adaptation has been entirely faithful so it was quite an enjoyable read, especially if you put yourself in the mindset of the time in which it was written.
Bone is one of those books that anyone who likes comics will say is a "must read". I've seen it in comic shops (back when we could visit them) and flicked through and the general vibe always hit me. I managed to get a copy of the single volume for about £15 or something. At 1300 pages, that's great value for money.
I had no idea what Bone was about going in so every page was a step further into the unknown. The book is a slow drip of plot points, keeping you interested as the story unfurls and it culminates in a satisfying conclusion. If I recall, the last 300 pages gripped me so much, I read them all in one evening.
Even if you end up paying the average £30 for the single volume, I promise it's money well spent.
I Hate Fairyland
The first re-read of the year was a return to Skottie Young's work. This time, it was his first creator-owned series which has a few broad parallels to The Wizard of Oz, but has a bit more of a darker, funny approach. I read the series around once a year now, I just enjoy the story and love pouring over the art.
If you're into cartoon violence, I'd definitely recommend this.
The Time Machine
Another re-read! I first read The Time Machine around 10 years ago and really enjoyed it. Having grown up with the George Pal film adaptation, I had a general inkling of the story but the film deviates a fair bit.
Like War of the Worlds, if you read this book bearing in mind the time it was written, it's so prophetic in where the Time Traveller goes on his journey. It's a book I'm going to return to in future (less than 10 years) because I think it might make for a fun comic adaptation...
Of Mice and Men
Another re-read. I first read this book for GCSE English. Our teacher, Mr Staples, must have had an interest in drama. Any excuse to roll out characters and accents, he would and in this case, I think it added to my enjoyment. He was a tall guy, not fat but big build, so when he would read Lennie's dialogue, it sort of helped visualise the story.
Anyway, this is another I've not read for 10 years or so. I forgot how short the book is so I ploughed through it pretty quickly. While I did enjoy reading it, some of the concepts in the book hit a different note now I'm getting a bit older. The ideas around aspirations, sometimes even unrealistic ones, is something I can relate to. I still have aspirations in life but only time will tell if I can achieve them.
Grow - Edward Ross
When you become a parent, the one thing you have in common with a lot of other people is your experience of having kids. You do spend a ridiculous amount of time talking to parents about different stories of when the kids hurt themselves or how they used to pronounce funny words.
I've followed Edward Ross for some time on social media and when I saw this book, I knew I had to get hold of it. It's a book compiling some autobiographical comics of the experiences of becoming a parent. I was nodding a long with a lot in recognition of various stories and scenarios.
Corporate Skull is currently a 7 issue series you can read online for free. It's by my friend Jamie Smart, whose work has been a constant inspiration and joy to me for nearly 20 years. The series is a long way from being finish, I think he's said there's a lot more to the story but he's just too busy doing work that actually generates some income. Practically, I appreciate that. As a fan, it makes me a bit sad because I love this comic and am dying to read more. I'm pretty certain if he were to do a Kickstarter or something, collecting the current issues as printed books, it'd be ridiculously popular but I guess that's easy for me to say.
It's a 7 issue comic series centered around a character who's fed up with life and tries to take his own life using products from the pharmaceutical company he works at. He fails to kill himself but the products he ingests (and other events) turn him into Corporate Skull and from that point on, a much wider story reveals itself. I won't say much more except go give it a read.
Be warned! Though the art style looks friendly enough, it's certainly not a comic for kids!
Art of Toy Story 3
I've had this book on my shelf for years. Periodically, I'd take the book out and flick through it. I'd read the odd passage here and there but never really took it all in. This time, I started at the beginning and read through the whole thing.
The stories and insights from the team at Pixar are gold for someone trying to learn the craft of storytelling. It's a book I'll be returning to and a notepad handy to take quotes.
As a slight aside, I've also got Art of Toy Story 4 and by contrast, is a bit more disappointing. There's lots of beautiful art to pour over, for sure, but there aren't any stories. No comments from the team about why this scene turned out the way it did or how that character started out very different.
Oz Collection 2
Another journey back to the land of Oz! This collection sees the return of Dorothy, who isn't featured in the second half of Collection 1. As ever, the art and colour work is lovely and just as a thing to flick through, it's worth owning. Overall, I enjoyed the stories more than collection 1, I think because it was all completely new. There are new characters as well as a return of familiar ones and in parts, it just gets weird which I found was fun to read.
Art of Coco
The penultimate re-read of the year. This book is short, in terms of written content, so I read it through in one short sitting. But, the ideas and artwork is just wonderful, though I may be biased. Anyone who's followed me on Twitter for 5 years may know Coco is one of my all-time favourite films. Make of that what you will.
Steven Universe Art & Origins
This was a bit of a random one for me. My friend Xander recommended it to me and since it was only £12, I took the bait. I've only seen bits of Steven Universe so it felt a little strange delving into the background of the show. People talking fairly in depth about characters or concepts I wasn't 100% familiar with.
Nonetheless, this book is brimming with loads of amazing anecdotes anyone interesting in the craft of storytelling will gobble up.
A Christmas Carol
The final re-read of the year and a fittingly festive one. I grew up watching The Muppets Christmas Carol film so I was familiar with the story. But, a few years ago, I wanted to read the original novella to see how it compared.
Needless to say, the Muppets version isn't quite as dark (though it doesn't shy away from some core scenes - such as people pawning a dead Scrooge's belongings). The book has a much darker feel to it, overall. You feel the grim cold of Victorian London. At the same time, you feel the festive jubilation in the story's closing pages. It's core themes are depressingly relevent even today, which is probably why it resonates with people.
Before I go, I just want to take a slight tangent on film adaptations. Though the sort of real-but-not-quite-real look of the Robert Zemeckis version starring Jim Carrey is a bit strange, I find it to be a really faithful adaptation of the book. It includes dark scenes missing from the Muppet version, such as Scrooge seeing loads of ghosts wandering London during Marley's visit or the appearance of Ignorance and Want. Like the book, I find the dark bits quite dark and the joyous bits hit the festive nail for me.
That's it! This hasn't been a particularly in-depth look at the books (despite how long it's take me to finish writing this) but hopefully you might find something new in here. Let me know if you do pick up any of these books and what you thought!
So, what's next? I think the underlying goal of getting back in the habit of reading every day has been achieved. It now feels odd if it starts getting late in the day and I've yet to read. Not pressure. Just an odd feeling. I think in 2021, I'm going to ease off on setting a particular target except to just keep reading.
I've got plenty of books on my shelves that haven't yet been read, I've plenty on wishlists to pick up throughout the year so it's not going to be hard to keep things fresh.
Here's to another year of reading!