2020 in Books: A Review

In 2020, I read 67 books. 21 were non-fiction, 46 were fiction. Oooo, already I am pretty happy with myself since I did not think I had read that much non-fiction.

As I look at my non-fiction books more, I’m even happier since I read fewer memoirs than I thought. My favorite book was The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by Barry. It shot to the top of my to-read list in April, when I thought I should get better perspective on a historical pandemic. It’s really well-written, engaging, and informative. Learning about the disease spread and its likely start in Ft. Riley, Kansas were new information for me. It was also interesting that the incubation time was 48-72 hours, which meant that once it arrived at a place, it hit like a lightening strike. 5 stars, for sure!

Other recommendations from the year include She Said by Kantor and Twoley, Cork Dork by Bosker, Poor Economics by Banerjee and Duflo, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Wilkerson. And if you want a totally satisfying memoir in the beach readiest of ways, try Open Book by Jessica Simpson.

For 2021, I would like to read a more “educational” non-fiction book every month that broadens my knowledge base and academic frame of reference. I’m going to focus on the Navy Surgeon General’s list and Bill Gates’ book blog, but I’m open to other suggestions!

Fiction reading is my joy and if I scroll a little less on my phone, I anticipate even more reading in 2021. I gave myself a little grace to be mindless during parts of 2020 but it’s time to shape up!

On my year in review post, I listed all of my five star reads: Olive, Again by Strout; The Dearly Beloved by Wall; City of Girls by Gilbert; Celine by Heller; Writers & Lovers by King; Milkman by Burns; Deacon King Kong by McBride; Girl, Woman, Other by Evarist.

For Olive Again, I would definitely recommend reading Olive Kitteredge first. I really liked this character- a prickly, off-putting, stoic Maine woman. It reminded me of a more modern Ethan Frome where, due to upbringing and temperament, the character suffers because of how much is left unsaid. In Olive’s case, there is also the addition of what is said is often said in a less-than-constructive way. [By the way, I should have started off saying that I am the worst at describing books in a manner that would make people want to read them. But then this paragraph would have made such a warning redundant.]

The Dearly Beloved was a really thoughtful book on two married couples over several decades. The two husbands are co-ministers at a church, while the wives are as different as me and my college roommate (very). I loved the character of Lily Barrett, but all four members of the quartet are well-developed and complex.

City of Girls was a surprise to me since I find Elizabeth Gilbert slightly insufferable in her non-fiction (Eat, Pray, Love anyone?). This novel was well-told, frothy, and fun. I recommend!

Celine might be my favorite book of the year. This sporadically employed private investigator is a feisty, formidable woman in her 70s with COPD but she can still take on bikers in a bar! I so wish that there was a series based on this character but alas, this book is a one and only (so far!). I do like other Peter Heller books but this is tops for me!

Writers & Lovers opened my eyes to how good a writer Lily King is. The main character Casey is 31 and basically, just trying to figure it out. The writing is excellent and I really like it. There are few unlikeable characters, but none fully demonized which is pretty true to life, right?

Milkman is a similarly themed book of a young woman trying to figure it out but set in the time of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Since I had read Say Nothing by Keefe earlier in the year, I had a pretty rich historical context while reading this novel. It may be a little too dreamy and “literature-y” for some, but still, it was a five star for me!

Deacon King Kong features several characters in inner city 1960s Brooklyn. While there are some heavy themes and circumstances, the book is also hilarious. The title’s character ability to get himself into trouble but then somehow comically escape his fated comuppance/score-settling is laugh-out-loud funny.

Girl, Woman, Other starts as several loosely tied stories featuring a different protagonist before tightening up over the course of the book and becoming a pretty cohesive whole. I almost lost the thread a few times but ultimately, thought the book was fantastic.

So, the above fiction books are listed in order read through the year. If I had to rank them (tough for me!), I would say…

  1. Céline by Peter Heller
  2. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
  3. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
  4. Deacon King Kong by James McBride

But ask me again tomorrow, I may have a different order!

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