We know we’ve all moved on from 2020, and none of us really want to revisit it. But 2020 was a really, really good year for books. We know that our staff picks are some of the most beloved shelves in our store. And since many of you are still staying home, and browsing is limited, we figured we would bring our staff shelves to you once again, in the now-annual Top Ten Reads of Last Year posts that we know many of you look forward to.
Kelvin’s list is his usual delightful, eclectic mix of nonfiction, literary fiction, and books that make you think. Sure to keep your brain occupied for pages and pages (or bite size short stories), Kelvin’s picks will keep you engaged when it is too easy to become unfocused.
Kelvin’s Ten Favorites of 2020
Your Duck Is My Duck (Stories), by Deborah Eisenberg
I confess I’m not always certain what Eisenberg is up to in her fiction. But each of these beguiling stories pulled and stretched my mind in various, wonderfully unpredictable directions.
Thalia (A Texas Trilogy), by Larry McMurtry
Like a bull rider out of a gate, McMurtry’s first three novels (Horseman, Pass By, Leaving Cheyenne, and The Last Picture Show) waste no time in taking apart the stubborn tropes and mythology of the romanticized West. Lonesome Dove is of course his best known example, but I would argue these early works are equally deserving of readers’ time.
Due Considerations (Essays and Criticism), by John Updike
Sitting in the shade reading Updike’s casual but clear-eyed takes on a potpourri of topics during the summer months proved a surprisingly effective and enjoyable way to calm my often slightly pandemic-obsessed mind. At 600 plus pages, finishing this book also felt like a satisfying accomplishment.
In the Land of Men, by Adrienne Miller
A smart, multi-faceted memoir of Miller’s time spent in the trenches of the still men-dominated world of magazine publishing. Changes on the horizon promised excitement, career fulfillment, even romance. But predicting the future is a tricky business.
UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On Record, by Leslie Kean
Kean, a respected journalist, makes the compelling case that discontinuing official government investigations failed to banish strange flying objects from our skies. And that quite possibly we ignore the continuing phenomena at our peril.
The Pandemic Century (One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris), by Mark Honigsbaum
Honigsbaum shows how we’ve been here before. In doing so, however, it also becomes clear this is unlikely to be the last time. It remains an open question just what we’ve learned over the past 100 years, or what lessons we’re learning now.
The End of the End of the Earth (Essays), by Jonathan Franzen
Franzen has been unfairly criticized for his non-fiction ornithological obsessions. Several of these essays do focus on our feathered friends, but I’ll bet few of those critics are aware of just what an ecological catastrophe our continual callous and abhorrent treatment of birds across the globe represents.
Sorry for Your Trouble (Stories), by Richard Ford
It’s Richard Ford, so love, marriage, affairs, divorce, life and death, and, for something a bit different, Ireland, are all here. Anything by Ford is likely to make my end-of-year list, in whatever year it comes out.
Zuckerman Unbound, by Philip Roth
Instead of reading The Ghost Writer (possibly my favorite novel of all time) yet again, I re-read this, its immediate sequel, in which Nathan Zuckerman experiences the bizarre and unsettling consequences of best-seller fame. Re-familiarizing myself with more of Roth’s work seems a good way to pass the time until Bake Bailey’s authorized biography comes out in a few months.
The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
In this laconic, enigmatic, funny, fish-out-of-water tale, a young woman of Turkish descent struggles to understand herself and others around her during her first year at Harvard in the early 90’s. The internet and e-mail are new and potentially revolutionary. But when you travel halfway around the world and find yourself just staring at ducks yet again, who and what should you count on?
Remember, you can purchase any or all of these amazing books online by clicking on their titles above. And you can check out 2019’s and 2018’s Staff Top Ten lists here.