What I Read in 2020

This should have been the year I read many more books than I did. Covid 19 kept us all on a tight leash with few distractions beyond reading, streaming and eating. But then there was that election. With millions of others, I ceaselessly roamed online news left, right and center trying to glean the latest political insights. I consumed Covid 19 stories like it was a magic elixir to avoidance. My 2020 attention span was fraught and fragmented.

Okay, enough excuses! I did read lots of books that were good, bad and indifferent. But I should/could have read so much more. Please share any great reads I missed. Hopefully, 2021 will be a year of more books and less death and news. And now for the list:

Books 2020
Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I didn’t love this one but was clearly in the minority.
Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. Not my favorite Allende.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo. Biography of America’s first Native American Poet Laureate
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. Not much to read here either.
The Vegetarian by Han King. At first compelling and then increasingly bizarre if you like that stuff.
Consider This Senora by Harriet Doerr. Not as good as her first.
*Euphoria by Lily King. One of my faves. Anthropologists’ menage a trois in the jungle.
*American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Tops my list of great reads (or listens). Despite controversy, this is a powerful immigrant tale.
Dear Edward  by Ann Napolitano. A pleasant, time passing story.
Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. Ponzi scheme, murder, mysterious graffiti. Escapism!
Such a Fun Age by Keily Reid. Not really.
Wych Elm by Tana French. My first French mystery and my last.
*Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Want more plague? This moving medieval tale fits the bill.
*The Order by Daniel Silva. What’s a year without our hero Gabriel Allon? Luckily, Silva delivered.
*Book of Salt by Monique Truong. Paris life of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein through the fictional eyes of their Vietnamese cook. Gorgeous writing!
*Squeeze Me by Carl Hiasson. Perfect for ending the Trump years. A madcap murder in the definitively crazy state of Florida.
*Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Perfect reading for this year of racial reckoning. Documenting the great Black migration from the south through detailed personal histories over decades.
Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Not a keeper!
*Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous. Started off disliking and then became enamored of the Duchess’ backstory.
*Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Gorgeous, spare story of two widows.
Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham. Meh.
*The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another extraordinary look into the inner lives of young women on the cusp of adulthood.
*Normal People by  Sally Rooney. Beautifully written arc of a complicated romance.
*Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Deserving of all accolades. Literary imagining of Shakespeare’s backstory.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. Disturbing story of a Palestinian woman trying to find her way in America
*The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet. Glad to finish the year with this book that made many best lists. Lots to digest in a well-crafted story.

Happy end of 2020 everyone!

14 comments

  1. Loved reading this post. I read a lot during 2020 but much of it what I would call “light” reading and not worth listing…although some were good reads. I do have some great recommendations which i will list at the end.

    I TOTALLY agree with you about Hamnet (my second favorite book of the year) and of course, our annual visit with Gabriel Alon is always a treat. I have stayed away from American Dirt even though EVERYONE is raving about it. I find these immigrant stores enraging and upsetting these days. Maybe after Biden puts some sensible immigration policy in force I’ll be able to read this.

    I had just uploaded A Woman is No Man and Vanishing Half right before I read your post. I am now even more eager to read them.

    My recommendations:

    * Apeirogan – by Colum McCann – my favorite book of the year although not an easy read. It is a novel based on the true story of two fathers – one Israeli and one Palestinian who each lose a child to the craziness that is the situation over there. They end up creating “Combatants for Peace” after much action that I will not give away and create a spoiler. I have had the privilege of meeting the main characters so that may also have colored my view of the book. But it is beautifully written and engaging and is a must read for anyone who is interested in the complex issues of the Israeli/Palestinian issue without trying to simplify it.

    * Lost Girls of Paris – by Pam Jenoff. Inspired by true events. From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

    * The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – by Kim Richardson. Also inspired by true events about both the Kentucky Blue People (about whom I knew nothing before I read this book) and the New Deal. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.

    * The Button Man – by Andrew Gross. Based on the true story of his grandfather (are we noticing a trend). This new novel is equal parts historical thriller, rich with the detail of a vibrant New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, and family saga,

    I don’t set out to only read novels based on true stories but it frequently turns out those are the ones I like the best.

    I am currently reading the Children Act by Ian McEwan – it is not based on a true story, but I am still enjoying it so far.

    Like

  2. I read about six of the books on your list.
    For good mystery writing I love Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. There are 17 so far and I hope to read them all.

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  3. Howdy. My favorite book this year was The education of an Idealist by Samantha Power. A remarkable woman.
    I enjoyed the lost city of the monkey god by Douglass Preston about an archeological expedition to a never before found city. Happy 2021

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your annual list Mimi but sorry to hear there were a lot of books that you were not crazy about. Here’s one I loved: The Editor by Steven Rowley. It’s fiction about a debut novelist who learns his editor at the publishing house is Jackie Kennedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa–I did actually like quite a few but neglected to star all of them So, thanks to you, I went back in to BOLD my favorites so they are easier to find. Thanks for the helpful comment and new book suggestion!

      Like

  5. Love your annual list Mimi but seems there were a lot of books not worth reading! I really enjoyed The Editor by Steven Rowley. Fiction about Jackie Kennedy as the editor for this debut novelist.

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  6. I read at bedtime.
    1. I’m reading this one now, but she’s in another hot mess and it’s not soporific enough at the moment. But it’s a good read:
    The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou
    Maya Angelou

    2. ‘Loved this one:
    Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal, 10th Anniversary Edition
    Rachel Naomi Remen

    3. Surprisingly interesting but also ‘bedtime reading’ – not a page turner, but I liked it a lot:
    The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War
    Catherine Grace Katz

    4. A classic, worth reading this year:
    The Fire Next Time
    James Baldwin

    5. Another good non-fiction, generally good at bedtime:
    This Is Chance!: The Shaking of an All-American City, A Voice That Held It Together
    Jon Mooallem

    Liked by 1 person

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