« H is for Haruf | Main | “...who was always more taken up with the text than the sentiment...” »

Good Reading 2020

As always, these are the best books that I read in 2020, but weren't necessarily published in 2020. (Actually, none of them were published in 2020. I'm a chronic late adopter.) A very good but strange year of reading.

1. Lorraine Hansberry: A Raisin in the Sun
2. Alex Kotlowitz: An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago
3. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas
4. Hamlin Garland: Main-Travelled Roads
5. Caryl Phillips: Crossing the River
6. David Rhodes: Driftless
7. John Edgar Wideman: Brothers and Keepers
8. Ursula K. Le Guin: Orsinian Tales
9. Eduardo Galeano: Soccer in Sun and Shadow
10. Chester Himes: If He Hollers Let Him Go

Honorable Mention: Charles W. Chesnutt: The House Behind the Cedars; Ralph Ellison: Shadow and Act; John McGahern: By the Lake; Stuart Dybek: Paper Lantern: Love Stories

Re-Readings: Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man; Richard Wright: 12 Million Black Voices; James Baldwin: Go Tell It on the Mountain; Matt Bell: The Collectors; Ben Katchor: Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer; Tarjei Vesaas: The Ice Palace; Hjalmar Soderberg: Doctor Glas

You might think, in this year of social distancing, I would have been an even more voracious reader than usual, but that wasn't the case. I actually read fewer books than any year since at least 2013. Part of that was from reading books that were longer than my norm (including Cloud Atlas, Invisible Man and Driftless), but also working from home for most of the year and losing my two hours on the train every day. Being on the train for that long means a lot of downtime with limited activities, while being at home for those extra hours gave me more things to occupy my time.

I didn't expect this to become a Black Lives Matter year of reading, but after the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests, I decided to devote my Summer of Reading to read nothing but Black literature, and as the summer was ending I decided to keep the reading going for the rest of the year. And as a result I read a lot of great stuff that I might never have discovered otherwise, most notably A Raisin in the Sun (which is surely one of the greatest works of American theater) and the authors John Edgar Wideman and Caryl Phillips, both of whom I'm now eager to explore further.

More re-readings than usual this year, due to a combination of Black Literature, comfort reading, and the unique situation of the last two books on that list. My daughter is a student at the University of Illinois (my alma mater), and took the same Scandinavian literature course last spring that I took there in the mid-1980s. Two of the books on her syllabus were Doctor Glas (which I first read in that class) and The Ice Palace (we actually read Vesaas' The Birds, but I picked up The Ice Palace a few years later), so I re-read both books at roughly the same time she was studying them in class, which was a pretty cool father-daughter bonding experience.

December 23, 2020 in Books | Permalink