A Year in Reading, 2020

This was not a year for reading. By 26 December 2020 I had read one book.


Granted, it was a great book, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It is a fantastic gothic horror book, and if it had been the only thing I read in 2020, it would have been a good reading year.

On the 26th, I decided I wanted to do a little better, so I picked up a book I had started in July, but only got about 40 pages in before life got in the way—The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, who I had discovered a few years ago with The Ghost Bride with a random, but successful Amazon recommendation. Both are historical novels in Malaysia, and both are fantastic reads.

And then on the night of the 30th, thought, why not one more? Why not. I picked up Black Sun bu Rebecca Roanhorse. Another great book, and a great way to see out the year.

As always, I read a lot of LampLight submissions, and can never discount the amount of work and emotional energy that goes into submissions. And I am always grateful for the writers who send me stories.


For poetry, there is one shining ball of amazing from 2020, and that is the translation of Beowulf from Maria Dahvana Headley. It is fantastic, and so readable. I haven’t finished yet, but will do so tomorrow, bringing in the new year right.

Bro, tell me we still speak of kings!


Here’s what I read in 2020 and I recommend them all.

  1. Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  2. The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo
  3. Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse
  4. Beowulf – Maria Dahvana Headley

Haiku Monostich

One of the Haiku writers I’ve been reading, Hiroaki Sato, talks about how in Japanese haiku and tanka are written as a single line poem.

The three lines are a product of translation, and are an interesting discussion about ‘what makes a poem a poem’ and how that can change between cultures and languages.

In English the requirements for poetry have become less rigid over the years, especially in the last 100. Blank verse, free verse, prose poetry are all poems. But the same would not have always been true. Forms exist because there were rules about what made a poem a poem, and line breaks and stanzas were a major part of that.

Rhyme as well was a major piece of English poetry through most of its history, and as such you’ll see some older haiku translations include rhyme (A B A is the most common scheme I’ve seen). Since almost every word in Japanese ends in a vowel, rhyme is not a defining part of Japanese poetry.

So if haiku in Japanese is a single line poem, should it be translated as such? Sato thinks so, and his books have them as a single line.

I’ve been trying to write haiku, and have started writing them as a single line after reading Sato, and it works well for composition.

One of the principles of haiku that I’ve been working on is the poem is two parts. Usually this falls at a line break in translation, but that is not a requirement. By composing in a single line I can worry more about having the parts, independent of the line breaks, which impose an artificial constraint.

The other thing it does is it removes the initial urge to be rigid about the syllable count. (And yes, there is another translation discussion about English syllables and Japanese ‘sounds’ to be had)

For example, if a poem has 17 syllables, but you would have to beak a word to have a 5-7-5 line break, did you succeed? More importantly, would you have even picked that word if you were forcing yourself to have the line breaks?

For a constrained form, removing some of those constraints during composition, pushing them to editing, has helped. Because a haiku isn’t a 17 syllable poem, 5-7-5; it is a comparison of two things with a turn and seasonal word that has a syllabic constraint.

Dark Mode Twenty Sixteen

I decided I wanted to have a dark mode on this site. It’s a nice feature, and with some CSS can be made to auto change based on the user preferences—meaning you will only see it if your computer / phone is in dark mode.

The theme I use is Twenty Sixteen, which I have previously modified for some changes to typography.

The task, similar to to the typography change, started by searching through the CSS file to find any reference to color. I then took those references and organized them by what color they were using.

The pallet turned out to be 5 primary colors, two accent ones (which were used as inverses of each other). I hunted for colors to use and put together a dark theme that looks like this:

screenshot of this website with the dark mode theme active, background is black and dark grey, words are white and blue

I used a simple media query to allow the site to change with the user preferences:

@media screen and (prefers-color-scheme: dark)

There was one issue I found. Twenty Sixteen has color customizations that load stylesheets at the bottom of the header. I tried a few things to get the dark mode css to load after that, which would mean both were working, but couldn’t get it to work.

I used the functions.php file to remove both the loaded CSS and the options from the customizer to prevent any issues. I plan to figure this one out so modifications to ‘light’ mode will work with ‘dark’ mode.

I did make an option pane to let you switch which dark pallet you’d like to use. Alpenglow is a theme for Firefox with a rich purple pallet, and I wanted to see if I could make something similar for this and have the option to change back and forth if I need to (spoiler, it worked).

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