BEST and WORST READS of 2020

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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BEST and WORST READS of 2020

joulukuu 15, 2020, 10:29am

Or, as the financial pages say, Stars and Dogs.

Tell us what stood out for you this year for better or worse.

Have your ideas on earlier favourites changed over the course of the year, or have those books been replaced by others? Have you reconsidered books you dismissed earlier in the year?

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 16, 2020, 9:47am

Hmm, gotta say that I may give up on The Luminaries. First two chapters consist of guys sitting around in pubs giving each other Significant Looks and avoiding some Big Issue involving a death on a ship while telling rambling stories in which everyone seems to have an alias. So far there are no women in it. I keep falling asleep over it, and there are 800 pages to go.

Best read was Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. All's I can say is that plague-ridden London had better political leadership in 1665 than we do in the States nearly 400 years later. If I were ever to go to London again, I would lay flowers at the grave of Lord Mayor John Lawrence.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 16, 2020, 3:18pm

With 15 days left, I know I will read more books but as I plan to mainly stick to series books, I really don't think this list will change (and if it does, I can always edit/add).

Most of my reading this year was series books and these are hard to add to recommendation lists, mostly because they were later books in long series and because I look at them as part of the whole and not as individual novels. So (almost) non-series books only:

Top 5 Novels (the #2 position is a split between 4 books):
The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf - hands down my favorite book this year.
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn

Honorable mentions (novels):

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
Cane by Jean Toomer
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Favorite non-fiction:
After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000–5000 BC - extremely dense, with some weird writing ideas but absolutely delightful.
The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga

Almost no stories (ok, this is officially a very weird year), three novellas that arguably could have been better but I enjoyed them a lot so they get honorable mentions:
The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn
Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma
Sea Change by Nancy Kress

No comics this year (huh?). No poetry (the book I am reading now will probably be finished in 2021). Very few plays (my "a play a day" got caught up into "I am not reading"...). Still:

The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence was my favorite one.

The books that disappointed me:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag - it really annoys me when a writer repeatedly writes themselves into a corner and then solves it by having things happen just at the right time and place. It read almost as a checklist being expanded and where it did not connect, things just happened. Not a bad novel otherwise but... it needed either an author who can pull these off or a bit more imagination.

Watershed by Doreen Vanderstoop - unlike the previous one, this one almost worked so I was really not sure if I wanted to add it here. But I really hoped it will work better so... it makes the list.

Made in Saturn by Rita Indiana - not a bad novel per se but... it could have been much much better. I almost did not include it in the section but...

Looking back at what I read, the fact that the last 2 books above made the "bad" list shows that I had a very very good reading year... And looking back, very little of the non-series books I read did not make the list so... definitely a good reading year...

Most of these have reviews if you want some of my thoughts on them.

joulukuu 16, 2020, 11:04pm

Had the best reading year in ages: over 60 books, discovered new authors, and lots of great reads

Favorite new to me author: N.K. Jemisin

Favorite Fantasy series
Stone Sky trilogy,
The poppy war

Favorite Fantasy stand alone:
A Night in the Lonesome October
How You Lose the Time War

Favorite Historic fiction
Mirror and the Light
Queen of Swords
Daughter of Time
Favorite Hstoric Fiction no one has heard of A Man on a Donkey

Favorite Sci Fi
Pride and Prometheous

Non Fiction
A More Heavenly sphere
Mantel Pieces
Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon

Favorite Short Stories
Stories of your Life Ted Chiang

Favorite Children's book for adults too: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Biggest disappointment
Starless Sea

Favorite General Fiction

Little fires everywhere
Girl Woman Other
Let Nothing You Dismay
Dutch House
The Pull of the Stars
Finding Dorothy
Great Migrations
The Vanishing Half

and those are just the 5 starred!

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 20, 2020, 6:39pm

Most disappointing: The Fifth Element by Jørgen Brekke

Best Overall as it stands today: Restoration by Olaf Olafsson and Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

Best Crime novel: White Out by Ragnar Jonasson

Favorite of the poetry: Dwellers in the House of the Lord: A Poem by Wesley McNair

I don't feel I can come up with a 'best' nonfiction, as they were all quite different.

Might revise come the beginning of January.

joulukuu 18, 2020, 6:22am

It's been an odd year (understatement!) — a lot of people have found they don't have the time or the motivation to read as much as usual; I found I had to put practically everything except reading on hold, and I've read something like 270 books to date, with a couple of weeks to go. So it's difficult to step back and get an overview of the year as a whole. It's themes rather than individual books that stand out.

The four parts of Pilgrimage by Dorothy Richardson were a high point in the first part of the year, as was finishing the Zolathon.

It was also fun discovering the eccentric English writer B S Johnson, someone I should have read a long time ago but didn't. Finding that Jonathan Coe had written his biography, with the great title Like a fiery elephant, was a nice bonus.

The middle part of the year involved discovering a lot of exciting writers I didn't know about in the RG Southern Africa theme read: high points of that were perhaps And a threefold cord by Alex La Guma, Down Second Avenue by Es'kia Mphahlele, and Serowe by Bessie Head.

In the later part of the year my dive into the drama of Friedrich Schiller was maybe more of a satisfying thing to check off than a great revelation (I knew roughly what to expect), but I did very much enoy (re-)reading all of A S Byatt's novels and stories.

Fun, but not necessarily very useful, was accidentally getting sucked into reading a pile of English-language paperbacks published by Seven Seas Books in East Berlin — lots of British, Australian and American communist writers from the 50s and 60s I didn't know about. But it did also lead indirectly to me reading a couple of real East German classics, Ole Bienkopp and Die Aula, which gave me a lot of pleasure.

Other books that stand out, with no particular context:
The cone-gatherers
Lost children archive
Sarah Caudwell's endearingly silly legal mysteries

...and lots more!

I don't think there's any book that could compete with real world events for the title "worst of 2020".
But I'm glad I don't have The Quincunx staring at me from the TBR any more!

joulukuu 27, 2020, 7:19am

I only gave two books the coveted 5 stars this year. The first was Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It was so well researched that I've never read anything quite like it in terms of really getting under the skin of poverty and the horrendous decisions that it induces those in its midst to take. Runner up in the genre of heartbreaking journalism was Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers on the grim reality of India's slums.

My other 5 star read was The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards, a beautiful piece of fiction about the extraordinary ordinariness of a quiet lifetime spent in Guernsey.

Some of my 4.5 star reads have become forgettable, whilst some of those I gave 4 stars have stayed with me (perhaps I should hold off rating anything until the end of the year), so here's my best of the rest on the basis of the titles which have stuck in my head:

- Blindness by Jose Saramago
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
- My Struggle: The End by Karl Ove Knausgaard
- The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
- Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovksy

Thankfully I hadn't too many waste of time reads, but my wooden spoon award goes to The Memory Illusion by Dr. Julia Shaw.

joulukuu 27, 2020, 8:54am

Best: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, for much-needed optimism, sort of. No particular worst comes to mind.

joulukuu 27, 2020, 10:28am

> The Luminaries is not a book I've tackled, or even really considered, but your brief summary 'so far' deserves its own kind of star.

>3 AnnieMod: I love the idea of a "books that disappointed me", which is far more gentle than "worst", and also in some ways more useful. I see >4 cindydavid4: and >5 avaland: have adopted some version of it too, as well as >7 AlisonY: 's "waste of time reads".

>4 cindydavid4: Congratulations on a great reading year. Do you know, apart from the obvious - the books themselves, what prompted and encouraged such a year?

>5 avaland: Nonfiction is difficult to comparatively rate, especially if the books encompass with a wide variety of topics. You remind me that I have to try Olaffson.

>6 thorold: The Cone-Gatherers still stands out for me after a decade. Have you read any other of his works?

>7 AlisonY: Another good category: "heartbreaking journalism". I think it can have a huge impact if the author is lucky enough to publish at a time when people are actually paying attention to the topic.
Were you able to read those first three non 5 star titles, all of which require commitment, because of extra time this year, or did they just fit?

>8 dukedom_enough: "Much-needed optimism", even "sort of" is certainly a plus this year. I see it made the Guardian Books of the Year for 2020.

joulukuu 27, 2020, 10:31am

>7 AlisonY: Ive had many good reading buddies over the years exclaim over Ebeniza LePage, and have tried but I just cant get into it. What is it that you loved so much about it. Maybe I'll give it a try again

joulukuu 27, 2020, 10:35am

Sassy, two things - recent retirement reduced my levels of stress and anxiety considerably, even with the covid thing and gave me more time and energy to read. The other is that I am a news junkie from childhood, and I needed something anything to pull me away from it. I found the refocus helpful. Oh and three - the enablers of this place that keep me going to that book and the next and the next....

joulukuu 28, 2020, 12:08pm

>9 SassyLassy: I've actually had less reading time this year as work has been busy and during the first lockdown when I read those 3 runner-ups I was also home-schooling my youngest. I think I just made a decision that I wanted to commit to read them and got on with it. It helped enormously doing the group read for Ducks - I think I would have taken a lot longer to read it otherwise. Perhaps it was also beneficial given the size of Ducks and Knausgaard's final book that I didn't have to carry them on my commute given I was home working.

>10 cindydavid4: Ebenezer just grows on you like a favourite sweater the more you get into it. I think I love the way it's just very life affirming - it's the chronicle of a life from the childhood to old age, and it really hammers home the idea that even the quietest of lives are truly extraordinary. The more I read of it the more I took Ebenezer into my heart as a character.

joulukuu 28, 2020, 6:45pm

Thanks. That makes me want to try again. I'll let you know how it goes

joulukuu 28, 2020, 7:02pm

I will have read 76 books by year's end (just finishing one up that won't make any of my lists). I'm going to have more categories to post on my thread, but the following is most pertinent to this thread.

Best Overall:
1. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
2. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
3. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
4. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
5. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
6. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
7. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore
8. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
9. La Bête Humaine by Emile Zola

Books That Broadened my Understanding
1. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
3. Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit
4. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
5. Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet
6. Presidential Elections and Majority Rule by Edward B. Foley
7. Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift

Bottom of the bunch:
1. The Anarchy by William Dalrymple – I had high hopes for this nonfiction about India and British interference, but it ended up being too focused on war and not enough on culture/society for my taste
2. The Hills Reply by Tarjei Vesaas – I’ve loved other books by this author, but this was so poetic that I couldn’t grasp the point
3. The British are Coming by Rick Atkinson – another one that, for me, was too focused on war and troop movements to grab my interest
4. The Commandant by Jessica Anderson – this sounded appealing (woman-centered historical fiction set in Australian penal colonies) but it had too much of a 1970s vibe for me
5. Camilla by Fanny Burney – just too long and melodramatic, read Evelina instead!

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 28, 2020, 8:13pm

Ducks, Newburyport - the stream of conscious just worked for me. The best book I read all year.

Iza's Ballad - the complete, genuine inability of Iza and Ettie to understand each other is perfectly told

How We Fight for Our Lives - a compelling, beautifully told memoir

Lost Children Archive - there is something about her prose & the novel's structure that I loved

Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl - technically I started this on 21-Aug-2019 (the year of the novel is 21-Aug-1967 to 20-Aug-1968), but I loved the chapter a day structure, the mixture of news stories from NYTimes with fictional events, the dual timelines, and the obvious love for NYC

The Book of Disquiet - the backstory of the novel is almost as intriguing as the work itself

The Magic Mountain - read in Sep/Oct and after 6 months of pandemic life, Hans' life in a sanatorium was sounding really good - five excellent catered meals a day, daily walks in the mountains, and numerous rest periods in the day spent in the most comfortable and ingenuous lounge chair ever. And since everyone there was already sick they didn't need to wear masks or practice social distancing!

joulukuu 28, 2020, 8:54pm

>16 ELiz_M:

Which translation of The magic Mountain did you read? The Woods' translation wasn't around when I first read the novel, and so I picked it up earlier in the year. For comparison, I'm now rereading the older Lowe-Porter translation, which I prefer. Such a wonderful book!

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 6:37pm

I have read 98 books this year and today I thought maybe I could make that a round 100 especially as I was over halfway through my current novel and had nearly finished a poetry collection. Then I thought whats so special about 100, why spend the whole of the last day of 2020 trying to finish two books to meet some stupid self imposed deadline. Relax - don't do it, so I didn't and my total of books read this year will be 98 or perhaps 99 if I finish that poetry collection.

First category is Shakespeare's plays - I read 8 and watched the BBC productions of seven of them.

King Henry VI part 2
King Henry VI part 3
A Comedy of Errors
King Edward III
King Henry VI part 1
The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
King Richard III
Titus Andronicus.

I enjoyed them all, but there were joint best reads for King Henry VI part 3 and Richard III. The BBC play I enjoyed the most was Comedy of Errors starring Roger Daltry of the WHO (rock group). My wife keeps talking about the WHO (W.H.O.) this year and I always have to do a double take. The worst of the plays was King Edward III, but then that probably wasn't written by Shakespeare.

I read other plays but only Christopher Marlowe's Edward II came close to the Shakespeare (the ones that were written by him). Honourable mentions for Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay by Robert Greene, The old Wives Tale by George Peele and Love's Metamorphosis by John Lyly.

Another category in the Elizabethan section was Poetry and this meant by and large Elizabethan Love sonnets. Following on from reading the very good collection by Sir Philip Sidney the previous year nothing came close this year. The best was Samuel Daniel's Delia.

Science Fiction and three categories here:

Science fiction published in 1951
Limiting myself to one year in a genre not noted for it's great literature was never going to unearth any classics, but I was surprised to find a few good reads

John Wyndham - The Day of the Triffids
Philip Wylie - The Disappearance

H P Lovecraft - The haunter of the Dark and other Tales of Terror

The H P Lovecraft and the John Wyndham were both five star reads, but as the Lovecraft short stories were written prior to 1951, then The Day of the Triffids gets the Oscar.
By far the worst of the ten books I read was Isaac Asimov's The stars like dust and if you think that science fiction is full of books with cardboard-like characters, clunky dialogue and plotting that suspends belief then this is a good example.

Science Fiction Master Works series
Master works so the they should all be five star read, but this was not the case, just two were very good:
Richard Mathieson - The Shrinking Man
Robert A Heinlein - The Door into Summer.
Robert A Heinlein who manages to keep much of his sexism under wraps wins the Oscar

Proto Science Fiction or books now considered science fiction
I expected some real clunkers here and I was not disappointed. The only book worth a look was After London or Wild England by Richard Jeffries.

Books published in 1951
This proved to be an excellent year for literature and five stars for:
Julio Cortazar - Bestiary
Jean Giono - Le Hussard sur le toit
M Klein - The second scroll
Simone de Beauvoir - The Mandarins
And the following books all came close:
Morley Callaghan - The loved and the Lost
Howard Fast - Spartacus
Rachel Carson - The Sea around us
Shirley Jackson - Hangsaman

The Oscar goes to Simone de Beauvoir because she is French and female

The penultimate category was unread books on my shelf and for the most part I realised why they had remained unread, because only two were five stars and they were both non fiction

Ian Watt - The rise and fall of the novel
James Lincoln Collier - The Making of Jazz
Honourable mentions for:
Iain Banks - The Bridge
A S Byatt - Angels and insects
Caroline Moorhead - Village of Secrets
Shirley Jackson - The haunting of Hill house

The winner is James Lincoln Collier because I love jazz.

The final section is Hors-categorie
Only one book here - a five star read and book of the year:
The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas - Rick Harsch

Addendum - going through my list of books to find my favourite reads unearthed two more novels and so Yes I Have Read 100 books this year (can I go to bed now)

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 31, 2020, 5:07pm

Because I often had difficulty focusing during this year of confinement, there are only thirty books on my list.

I rated these as five-star reads:There are no clunkers on this year's list.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 31, 2020, 3:51am

>19 librorumamans: Intrigued by the Shakespeare is hard, but so is life I will get to it next year. The Magic Mountain is one of my all time favourite books and I love the translation by Lowe-Porter

joulukuu 31, 2020, 11:25am

>18 baswood: Oh door into summer is one of my fav reads (which reminds me it would work for the December reading through time thread of predictions) Not a huge fan of Heinlien but this one stands out for me (here in the desert, when my cats are going door to door hoping its not so hot, I always think they are looking for the door into winter!)

joulukuu 31, 2020, 4:16pm

>21 cindydavid4: Cats looking for the door to winter. Wonderful image! Here in Michigan, the cats look at me reprovingly when the screen porch becomes a deep freeze. What have you done to our weather??

tammikuu 2, 12:41pm

What a range of books here and I love all the categories. It also seems to be a year when there is no one sort of 'book of the year' for the group.

While I read only a few books this year, for the most part they were well worth it.

Right at the top, in fiction I would put The Door by Magda Szabo.

The nonfiction prize would most likely go to The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston, although depending on the day, Kathleen Jamie's Sightlines would be a contender too.

The books better forgotten were at the beginning of the year: The Breakdown by B A Paris and Cloud by Eric McCormack, although this latter was more of a disappointment than a 'to be forgotten'.

tammikuu 2, 2:35pm

>7 AlisonY:

Some of my 4.5 star reads have become forgettable, whilst some of those I gave 4 stars have stayed with me

Isn't that just the truth! Still, a 4 star read for me is still good.

Sorry to hear bout the Julia Shaw book. I read something else by her and rather liked it

tammikuu 2, 2:42pm

>24 Nickelini: >7 AlisonY:

That's why I generally ignore the exact numbers in my star system when I look at best books for the year/month - anything with 4, 4.5 and 5 is close enough and could have lost a star because of something in the text that annoyed me or because of something I read around it... And for some books, they are like a good piece of chocolate/cheese just when you need it(whatever your preference is) - they hit the right spot at the right time... and then 2 months later you may not even remember you read them... And some books I found fault with at the time are still on my mind...

tammikuu 2, 2:44pm

I finished off the year with 46 books, which is slightly better than I've done the last 4 years, but half of what I used to do for years before that. 2020 reading ended strong and I have quite a nice list of good book memories:

5 star read: Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone, Stefan Kiesbye

Other great reads:

Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss
Starve Acre, Andrew Michael Hurley

The Temptation of Gracie, Santa Montefiore
Breaking of a Wave, Fabio Genovesi
My Sister the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Summer Villa, Melissa Hill
Ghost in the House, Sara O'Leary
Miss Iceland, Audur Ava Olafsdottir
Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware
Tinder, Sally Gardner
Enya: a Treatise On Unguilty Pleasures, Chilly Gonzales

I finished two books that I didn't like at all:
Darcy's Utopia, Fay Weldon
The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 2, 4:36pm

My book of the year:
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri.

I used the Hollander translation. This is the book the defined my year and kind of just wowed me on how he created narrative space. I now apply that idea to how I view other works.

My sort of tier 2 are five books that I have just kept thinking about:

My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

Cather is under appreciated. My Mortal Enemy is a compact master class in characterization colored with a disillusionment of the American 1920's. While Death Comes is unique among Cather's output. It combined her sense of landscape with a spiritual view and just somehow created something hard to explain. The other three were all audiobooks for me. Memories was my introduction to Hustvedt and I just adored being in her mindset. Frankissstein was my introduction to Winterson and it's just memorably fun. The Man Who Saw Everything was my introduction to Deborah Levy, and captured me first because it's a nice story, and second because I listened a second time and discovered an entirely different book. You have to read it twice. The whole thing is brilliant.

My tier 3 favorites:

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
Glory by Vladimir Nabokov
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I read ten Russian-original language novels by Nabokov this year, all translated to English. Invitation to a Beheading was my favorite because of atmosphere he creates, mixing dream state and doomed prison confinement. Glory just hung around, maybe because the protagonist spent so much time looking for himself in the Alps. My Sister, the Serial Killer hung around because of its humor, without blinking, and the Blazing World because it's Hustvedt. The Dutch House has not hung around, but I adored listening to it and was carried away, and that feeling I remember.

I read eight Shakespeare plays, but none seemed the right fit for a favorites list. Still they all left a mark: The Comedy of Errors, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Love's Labor's Lost, Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, and Timon of Athens