This year I read 47 books; six were non-fiction and more than half (26) were audiobooks. Of the “print” books, most were on kindle, which is much easier for me to read than paper books. Three of these books had the pandemic as an important backdrop and each of them spoke of it in ways that I connected to. A good year of reading.
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. I have listened to many of the audiobooks in the Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman, though I do not write about them. The main character here is pleasingly self-reflective and makes a big change in her life. The author lets many characters speak in first person and it turns out they all have something interesting to say.
On Tim Winton by Geraldine Brooks. What a treat to read what an author I admire wrote about one of my favorite authors. Everything she said rang true to me and made me think of the joy I feel when I read his books.
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. I believe this is my favorite of the seven Elizabeth Strout books I’ve read. She captures the pandemic and other traumas of 2020 in a poignant way.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy. How can a book set in such a grim time (Ireland, in the midst of the Troubles in 1975) ultimately be heartening? Well, a book about irrational love, the resilience of children, kindhearted teachers, and upended families coping can do it.
The Power Broker by Robert Caro. This 66-hour audiobook about the very powerful New York figure you’ve never heard of was gripping. If you want to learn how Robert Moses amassed power, what he did with that power, and how he lost it, this is the book for you.
Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen Schine. A 90-something woman tells her stories of escape from the Nazis in Vienna through help by an organization of movie professionals who moved Jewish families to LA. She tells of her fictional life growing up among actual figures, including Greta Garbo, Arnold Schoenberg, Irving Tabor (a Black man important in the development of Venice, California), and others. I loved this book.
Take What You Need by Idra Novey. I love a book with a character that can’t easily be characterized. Jean lived her life in hardscrabble Western Pennsylvania; she made art of leftover scrap metal, and found it beautiful in contrast to some of her ugly actions.
The Sorrows of Others by Ada Zhang. These short stories had many poignant and wise moments, as well as a vision I won’t forget. A newly arrived immigrant from China adopts American cooking with enthusiasm and makes what her husband described as a dome the color and translucence of urine with vegetables trapped in it.”They call it Jell-O,” she explains.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. I love a book with wonderful storytelling, engaging characters, and important insights. As a bonus, it is set on a cherry tree farm in Northern Michigan where I have visited because my brother lives there.
Fraud by Zadie Smith. It’s hard to believe that a fictional book that goes on about the squabbles among the Nineteenth Century literary lights (William Ainsworth, Charles Dickens, Thackery) would be of such interest to me given how little I know of them. An added bonus was the view of the fictional characters of the actual story from that time of a man claiming to be the long lost heir to a baronetcy. You can read here about Tichborne case that captivated Victorian England.