Archive for December, 2020

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

Top 5 Books of 2020


Every year we make a list of the top five books read by LibraryThing staff, and we’re not going to let 2020 stop that tradition. You can see past years’ lists here. And you can talk about your reading year on Talk.

What were your top five for this year? We want to know, so we started a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. Note: This is about what you read in 2020, not just books published in 2020.


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. I found this historical fantasy, steampunk London book just completely captivating. It’s a delicate magical mystery, and its sequel The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is just as good.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey. I loved this the way I love a Sarah Waters novel. Gothic and tense and SO tightly written, it unfolded so precisely and beautifully. Perfection.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. This book has heart. It is charming and delightful and queer and kind and I want to clutch it to my chest and keep it safe forever.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. Magic secret societies at Yale. Need I say more?

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. A quiet and evocative book set in Dublin in 1918, in a hospital maternity ward, in the middle of the Spanish Flu pandemic.


Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Funny and provocative, this tightly-plotted novel had me laughing, crying, and cringing. The story begins with twenty-something Black woman Emira being falsely accused of kidnapping the white girl she babysits. Reid uses this set up to tackle questions of race, gender, age, and class. I found myself constantly entertained while also doing some tough self-reflection.

Writers & Lovers by Lily King. It was not that long ago that I was living in Boston writing stories that I worried would never be published. Which is to say, I related very much to King’s latest novel. I actually saw myself so deeply in this book that I wondered if anyone else in the world would like it. People did. In retrospect, there are a lot of differences between my experiences and Casey’s: I never waitressed or went on a writing retreat or dated a much older man. I think it’s a testament to King’s ability to write so specifically about this character and her world that it becomes universal.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. The protagonist of Frazier’s debut novel is eighteen and pregnant. She works as a pizza delivery girl and at night, while her boyfriend is sleeping, she sneaks out to her dead father’s shed and drinks can after can of beer. She is lost and the only thing that seems to feel real to her in Jenny Hauser, an older woman who orders pizza with pickles. The two become friends, of sorts. Our heroine fixates on Jenny in a way that can be hard to read, but feels very true. This is a bold book that surprised me at every turn.

The Book on Pie by Erin Jeanne McDowell. I won this book from a local independent bookstore right before Thanksgiving. I am normally the pie-baker in the family, and I was feeling sad about not being able to share pies with my parents. A recipe for hand pies solved that problem deliciously. I had less success with my attempt to make the Apple Butterscotch pie: my butterscotch pudding never set. But, I took the whole thing, crust and all, dumped it into the ice cream maker and made apple pie ice cream. I think McDowell would approve.

Quintessence by Jess Redman. Perhaps my favorite trope is a group of unlikely kids coming together to save the world. In this middle grade novel, four mismatched kids must help to return a fallen star to the sky. There’s a mix of magic and science, and a blurring of the line between the two, which is something that I also love very much. What really makes this novel stand out, though, is the way Redman addresses the main character’s anxiety. Alma has panic attacks, but the book isn’t about that. With anxiety on the rise in children, this book offers a nice reminder that all kids can have adventures and save the world.


Annus horribilis! It started in New Zealand, which was lovely, but by March we were fleeing back to the US on the last Hawaian Airlines flight, leaving the only country that would truly defeat the virus. In truth, I could barely concentrate on reading for months. Eventually reading came back, with a special focus on lighter fare, and home schooling and enjoying time with my 14 year-old son, Liam.

Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman. Although I studied American History in college, I had never done a deep dive on the Constitution. Beeman provides a detailed narrative reconstruction of the (somewhat vexed) primary sources, with some valuable content and analysis. To understand the Constitution and its origins well is, of course, a corrective to much contemporary political discussion and—shall we say—treasonous shenanigans?

Facebook: The Inside Story by Stephen Levy. This is a comprehensive, well-sourced and engrossing narrative of Facebook’s improbable rise. Unlike Brad Stone, whose The Upstarts, on Uber and Airbnb, utterly missed what was toxic and broken in Uber, Levy sees clearly how Facebook’s culture and reckless early decisions created the dangerous mess it eventually became.

Honorable mention goes to two other company bios I read this year. In the Plex, Levy’s portrait of Google, was great, but didn’t quite match up to Facebook. The topic is interesting, but he does not seem to have enjoyed the same access to top Google people as he had to Facebook people. And Google is simply less of a trainwreck. Lastly, I enjoyed We Are the Nerds by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, about the history of Reddit. As LibraryThing began on the edge of some of the circles involved in that story, it had an element of reminiscence for me.

Red Shirts by John Scalzi. My 14 year-old son and I enjoy listening to science fiction together, but have struggled to find the right books. We ended Dune about a third of the way in when my son proclaimed that it had no funny parts at all. (Honestly, he’s right; Dune takes itself way too seriously.) After Red Shirts we listened to Agent to the Stars, Scalzi’s other humorous book.

Red Shirts takes place in a Star Trek-like universe, where some of the minor characters are beginning to suspect something is wrong with reality. Agent to the Stars imagines that aliens initiate first contact with a Hollywood agent. These books aren’t great literature, but they are fun!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. I’d read it when young, but on a re-read—holy smokes this is a great book! Douglass is an absolute master of his craft and aims. My son and I were fairly floored by it. If you haven’t read it, you simply have to.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. H. P. Lovecraft was, of course, a racist, and racism is shot throughout his work, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that a Lovecraftian exploration of American racism would work. It largely does. I resisted putting it on my 2020 list, but however jagged the story can be, it “stuck”; my mind keeps returning to certain scenes months after I finished the novel. I have not seen the HBO miniseries, but I hear it’s good.


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. Being emotionally devastated by beautifully written stories is one of my favorite things. I’m still thinking about the characters and their lives and this perfect book.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo What Abby said.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia. 2020 was the year of a global pandemic, yes, but also the year of Kate Racculia for some reason. I know so many folks who read and loved this book and rightly so! It is so stinkin’ good! The highest praise I can give this book is that it’s evocative of The Westing Game, but more modern, more fun, and with more heart.

The Searcher by Tana French. Is it even a best books of the year list if I’m not talking about Tana French? My father-in-law and I share an appreciation for French’s books and after reading this one we both had the same reaction/synopsis: there were no major plot points that made any sort of impression, but we loved reading it. The Searcher is said to be French’s take on a western, which is not a genre I particularly like (save True Grit. True Grit is a masterpiece.), but this book proves that I will read and enjoy literally anything that Tana French offers me.

Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. This one was a departure for me as I tend to avoid anything remotely scary, but I’m glad I made an exception. Reader, I wasn’t scared! It was heavily gothic and atmospheric and creepy, and I enjoyed every bit of it.


The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Blockchain : the next everything by Stephen P. Williams

21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Harari

Yesterday’s son by A. C. Crispin

The rational optimist by Matt Ridley


Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman. Braverman’s coming-of-age memoir is as raw, wild, and visceral as the Arctic. Great read.

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. A collection of essays that hits on the big issues in America today. A witty, intelligent, cathartic read. (And yes, yes we are coming.)

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. If you’re looking for a fun, adventurous mystery, and you can overlook a few plot/character holes, this is it. It was a welcomed escape read.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Chilling.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. A nod to my children’s-only genre from last year’s picks, this was one of my favorite bedtime reads with my now 20-month old son Finn. Each animal in the story was given their own voice, of course (in the spirit of Redwall). Looking forward to collecting the series!

Honorable Mention: A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I can’t vouch for the whole book just yet (and I’m “reading” the audiobook narrated by Obama), but it’s been a delightful listen so far. Best described as a nostalgic breath of fresh air.

That’s it!

Come record your own Top Five of 2020 on Lists and Talk.

Labels: top five

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

TinyCat’s December Library of the Month: The Anomaly Archives Library

To read more about TinyCat’s Library of the Month feature, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

December’s Library of the Month is a fascinating organization focusing on the most curious phenomena this world has to offer: congratulations to The Anomaly Archives Library! The Founder of the Anomaly Archives, SMiles Lewis, was kind enough to take my questions this month:

Who are you, and what is your mission—your “raison d’être”?

Our legal name is the Scientific Anomaly Institute, but we generally refer to our organization as the Anomaly Archives and that’s how we promote ourselves. I founded the organization with the State of Texas in 2003 and we became an established nonprofit in 2006.

Our raison d’etre is the, “Preservation and dissemination of scientific research into anomalous phenomena; Research and analysis of accumulated collections; Education of the public regarding scientific investigations into these phenomena.” Put another way the purposes of the organization are:

  • Managing and developing an archive and library for documents and literature with regards to a multi-disciplinary approach to anomalous phenomena
  • Supporting, promoting and pursuing research to obtain increased knowledge about anomalous phenomena
  • Pursuing and stimulating a critical, scientific discussion of anomalous phenomena, and providing a forum for information, support, and sharing among researchers
  • Functioning as the archives and library for like-minded organizations, and other groups in the community that have similar interests.

Some of the types of subject matter our special collections cover include: UFOs and Ufology, Consciousness (“What is it?”, meditation, dreams, lucid dreaming, and more), Parapsychology (ESP, PSI, Remote Viewing, etc.) and the Paranormal (Ghosts, Hauntings, etc.), Fortean (after Charles Fort: chronicler of the unexplained) Phenomena, Cryptozoology (Bigfoot and undiscovered hominids, lake monsters, sea serpents, and other undiscovered/out of place or sightings of presumed extinct animals), ParaPolitical Science (after Professor Peter Dale Scott’s, Mae Brussell’s and John Judge’s approach to “ParaPolitics” aka Conspiracy Theory), Human Potential, Jungian Theory, Frontier Physics and much more!

Tell us some interesting things about how you support your community.

Far too often, the personal libraries and research materials of researchers—including correspondence among researchers and witnesses—of these mysterious phenomena end up lost or thrown into landfills by family who don’t recognize the importance of such legacy materials. Or such collections end up being sold online via eBay or passed along to other researchers who may not share the material with others nor properly protect and preserve the materials. That’s where we, and the small network of similar anomalous archives (see our “Other Archives” online directory), come in.

We are constantly looking for such abandoned or forgotten collections while also actively working with still living researchers to help make sure their legacy, in the form of the materials making up their personal collections and life’s work, is preserved for future generations. We serve as a research resource for other investigators looking into the many and various anomalous subjects covered by the collections within our archives. We also host regular public events featuring researchers and experiencers of these strange phenomena. Our current Streamathon event series is our most ambitious such event to date!

What are some of your favorite items in your collection?

There is so much, it’s very hard to identify specific items but…our oldest materials include historical texts from the 1600s that are part of our biggest donated collection: that of rare book collector and seller Bob Girard. Robert Charles Girard was the entrepreneur behind North America’s largest reseller of UFO related books, called ARCTURUS BOOKS INC. He published a long-running CataZine in which he’d write reviews of everything he sold. Bob has been called the “Proust of the UFO phenomenon” (John Chambers, Paranormal journalist, 2004).

Bob Girard’s collection has books on everything from Alchemy and Atlantis to all aspects of the Unexplained but also contains some of the most rare early Flying Saucer-era UFO books. We also have a nearly complete collection of his CataZine.

Other gems of our collection include an amazing collection of 1990s alternative media zine scene publications as well as rare audio and video recordings, materials from a local Past-life Regression Hypnotherapy clinician, the unpublished manuscript, daily diary, personal letters and more of a local Alien Abductee and Trance Medium who was featured in a 1990s anthology of similar cases, and much more!

What’s a particular challenge your library experiences?

Funding and staffing: we’ve grown considerably over the past 3 years, acquiring more collections and getting more volunteers active in our ongoing activities. However, we still have no paid staff and this severely limits the amount of hours we are open to the public. Then with the current COVID situation, we’ve had to completely shut down and this has been the single greatest threat to our ongoing existence.

What is your favorite thing about TinyCat, and what’s something you’d love to see implemented/developed?

My favorite thing about TinyCat is its ease of use and inexpensiveness. I have many ideas I’d love to see implemented but mainly I’d like to see a desktop cataloging extension that synced with the online version in ways that allowed easier updating of both a local catalog and the online catalog.

Want to learn more about The Anomaly Archives? Follow them on social media (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook), visit their website at, and check out their TinyCat collection here.

To read up on TinyCat’s previous Libraries of the Month, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Calling all TinyCat libraries: become TinyCat’s next Library of the Month—just send us a Tweet @TinyCat_lib or email Kristi at

Labels: libraries, Library of the Month, TinyCat

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

Welcome Meg!

We’re thrilled to welcome Meg (LT member megbmore, Litsy member megbmore) to the team, as our new Project Specialist for

Meg will be running the official social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, writing State of the Thing, and eventually taking over the Early Reviewers program. If it involves writing, she will probably have a hand in it. One of her first projects will be launching a new group for requesting and giving book recommendations. Stay tuned for more details.

Meg learned about the Project Specialist position through State of the Thing, so she gets to keep the $1000 reward. She plans to spend part of it on Jólabókaflóð. In the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood tradition, books are given on Christmas Eve and people spend the evening at home reading. Sounds like the perfect way to celebrate the holiday in 2020, especially on a cold winter night in Maine.

Say “hello” on her LT profile or on the “Welcome Meg” Talk topic.

About Meg

Meg grew up in New Hampshire. She left the small town for the big city to attend Columbia University where she received her B.A. in English and Comparative Literature. After a short stint in the Peace Corps and dabbling in television production, she found her calling in libraries. She received her MLS from Simmons and worked in several K–12 libraries in Maine and Massachusetts. She later returned to Simmons to pursue her doctorate in library science with a focus on diversity in young adult collections. At the same time, she began writing and publishing books for children and young adults. Meg is one of our LibraryThing Authors and an alum of the Early Reviewers program. Visit her website or LibraryThing author page to learn more about her work.

Meg lives in southern Maine with her husband, two children, two cats, and a very, very old leopard gecko. She and her family keep bees somewhat successfully and enjoy spending time outdoors hiking, swimming, and skiing. They also enjoy their weekly family movie nights and are always looking for recommendations.

Some favorite authors: Shirley Jackson, Kate Racculia, Rebecca Stead, and Mary Roach.

Recent reads that she can’t stop thinking about: Writers & Lovers by Lily King, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia.

LT member megbmore
Litsy member megbmore

Labels: employees

Monday, December 7th, 2020

December Early Reviewers batch is up!

Win free books from the December 2020 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 55 books this month, and a grand total of 1,973 copies to give out. Which books are you hoping to snag this month? Come tell us on Talk.

If you haven’t already, sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Request books here!

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, December 28th at 6PM Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Akashic Books Unsolicited Press Arrowsmith Press
Revell Black Rose Writing Prufrock Press
TouchPoint Press BLF Press The Wild Rose Press
Rootstock Publishing NewCon Press Red Adept Publishing
Ooligan Press University of North Georgia Press Bellevue Literary Press
BHC Press ClydeBank Media Chipper Press
Zimbell House Publishing The Parliament House Press BookViewCafe
Open Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER