Like so much else in 2020, reading became a challenge for me, especially later in the year.
The explanation for that probably comes down to one word: distraction. News of the coronavirus and COVID, then the racial unrest, then the election -- they all contributed to my becoming too much of a news junkie.
Add to that a new world of working from home (as one of my colleagues quipped, it's hard to know whether I work at home or live at work), and one of my favorite hobbies and pastimes (reading) took a back seat. And of course the personal challenges over these past two months contributed to the reading lull.
I plan to remedy that in 2021. And still, even with the distractions, I did manage to read 28 books in 2020, most of them excellent. Rather than list fiction and non-fiction separately, I'll list them in order as I read them and put an "F" or "NF" beside the title. I'll give some commentary after the list.
1. A Good Man is Hard to Find (F) -- Flannery O'Connor.
2. A Woman is No Man (F) -- Etaf Rum
3. Why We Sleep (NF) -- Matthew Walker
4. Community is Messy (NF) -- Heather Zemper
5. This Tender Land (F) -- William Kent Krueger
6. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (F) -- Robert Dugoni
7. Naked (NF) -- David Sedaris
8. In the Fullness of Time (F) -- Jeff High
9. Everything that Rises Must Converge (F) -- Flannery O-Connor
10. Hardscrabble Road (F) -- George Weinstein
11. The Bright Side (NF) -- Melanie Shankle
12. Deacon King Kong (F) -- James McBride
13. Liturgy of the Ordinary (NF) -- Tish Harrison Warren
14. Camino Winds (F) -- John Grisham
15. The Good Lord Bird (F) -- John McBride
16. All Things Reconsidered (NF) -- Knox McCoy
17. Nothing to See Here (F) -- Kevin Wilson
18. Just Mercy (NF) -- Bryan Stevenson
19. Stand All the Way Up (NF) -- Sophie Hudson
20. The Lager Queen of Minnesota (F) -- J. Ryan Studal
21. Countdown 1945 (NF) -- Chris Wallace
22. The Splendid and the Vile (NF) -- Eric Larson
23. Sold on a Monday (F) -- Kristina McMorris
24. Little Beach Street Bakery (F) -- Jenny Colgan
25. All Adults Here (F) -- Emma Straub
26. Calypso (NF) -- David Sedaris
27. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (F) -- Mark Twain
28. The Only Plane in the Sky (NF) -- Garrett M. Graff
My nod to classical reading this year was definitely the selections by Flannery O'Connor, both of which are short story collections. They are not easy reading, but they're worth the effort. Late in the year, I also picked up my weathered copy of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which delighted me yet again.
My favorite fiction would have to be a tie between The Lager Queen of Minnesota (which, if you like beer and enjoy skillful character development as I do, is sure to please) and This Tender Land (by the author of Ordinary Grace, one of my favorites of the last decade). If you have read my lists in the past and tend to have reading tastes as I do, put both of these high on your 2021 TBR.
A close second would be The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, a work of fiction based on some of the author's personal experiences dealing with a rare ocular condition. (Thanks, Kelly).
A Woman is No Man, although fiction, is also based on the author's personal experience, this one being her life in an oppressive Arab family, and it's riveting. (Warning: the ending is likely to frustrate you).
Favorite non-fiction would be Countdown 1945, which begins the day FDR dies and Harry Truman takes office, and leads up to the bombing of Hiroshima. Even if you tend to become bogged down with historical narrative, this one reads fluidly and I found it fascinating.
I enjoyed it so much, I decided it was time to tackle The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson, another WW II tome which centers mainly on Churchill. It was great and well-written (to say the least), but it is over 500 pages not nearly as easy to read as Countdown. If you don't ordinarily read much in the history genre, I would not recommend reading them back-to-back as I did.
I continued to enjoy David Sedaris, who simultaneously cracks me up and makes me think. I recommend both of the essay collections listed above.
I was delighted to learn Tennessee author Jeff High added another to the Water Valley series about the young country doctor. However, for whatever reason, he self-published this time around and my copy was full of typographical errors. I'm hoping perhaps subsequent printings got that corrected.
The last book I read in 2020, which I finished only a few minutes ago, The Only Plane in the Sky, consists of accounts of those who personally experienced September 11, 2001. It is excellent, and I highly recommend it.
My disappointments for the year would be both of the picks by James McBride, whose The Color of Water is an all-time favorite non-fiction of mine from 20-plus years ago. These were well written, of course, but I had trouble getting into the storylines of each of them. It was probably me, not him, so give them a try if you are so inclined.
Happy to share thoughts on any of the titles on which I did not elaborate. Ask me in the comments or send an email, and I'm glad to discuss.