2020 has ridden into that good night, ever so not-gently. I always wrap up the year with a look back at the books I read – who wrote them, what they did for me, and where they could take you if you read them, too.
In order of how I read them:
1. The Little Friend, Donna Tartt
2. The Tempest, Shakespeare
3. As You Like It, Shakespeare
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
5. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest J. Gaines
6. The Ways of White Folks, Langston Hughes
7. A Mercy, Toni Morrison
8. The Mirror and The Light, Hilary Mantel
9. Between The World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
10. If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin
11. The Book of Night Women, Marlon James
12. Twelfth Night, Shakespeare
13. Richard II, Shakespeare
14. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
15. Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights, Dovey Johnson Roundtree
16. El Libro de Rosy (The Book of Rosy), Rosayra Pablo Cruz (Spanish edition)
17. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
18. The Street, Ann Petry
19. Uncle Tom’s Children, Richard Wright
20. Goodbye, Darkness, William Manchester
21. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
22. Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth
23. Julius Caesar, Shakespeare
24. The Sonnets of Shakespeare (collection)
25. What Jesus Meant, Garry Wills
26. The Mercy Seat, Elizabeth Winthrop
27. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
28. Nemesis, Philip Roth
29. What Paul Meant, Garry Wills
30. The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
Taken together, these thirty books run 8,237 pages and average 275 pages apiece. Yes, I have some time on my hands; but that time is for books :)
If I had to name the best among the great, I would say:
Favorite Fiction: The Mirror and The Light. The conclusion to her Tudor-era Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Hilary Mantel’s 800-page novel is a phenomenon. Fans like me waited eight years for the final book. It was worth it. Mantel could be the best historical novelist working today.
Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and McCarthy’s Blood Meridian are American epics that would top my list in any year that Mantel hadn’t published.
Favorite Nonfiction: Between the World and Me. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book-length essay, a letter to his son about growing up as a black man in America, had sat for several years in the back of my mind. Finally, like so many others motivated to seek new reading amid this summer’s protests against racism, I read it. I won’t forget it. Coates speaks forcefully of people as “bodies,” emphasizing our physical dimension to a degree that most writers reserve for the soul and the mind. He demolishes the idea that “race” exists as anything other than an idea created to control and subjugate. He made me look with renewed attention at how slavery’s legacy reverberates in our present culture.
This book is an education. Read it.