My 2020 started off great, because I was finally going to have both my children enrolled in some kind of school, including free (!!) albeit half-day kindergarten. This point had been what I was steadily “working” toward the last five years; anytime I was in the midst of some childcare crisis, people would assure me that “one day they’ll be in school.” I was editing my second novel and getting it ready to submit to my editor.
The first book I read in 2020 was Amy and Isabelle. I fell into an Elizabeth Strout hole late last year and this was the last one of hers I hadn’t read. It was perfect. I liked it so much I’m thinking about re-reading it now, eleven months later.
I read Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I’m not normally a sci-fi reader; I try, the concepts sound so cool and I’m in awe as to how they were dreamt up but I can just never stick with them. My first attempt in 2020 was a famous title which I took out with me to the park, only for a random Tesla employee to approach and inform me that it was their overlord Elon Musk’s favorite book. I gave that one a break and swapped to Children of Time. And I loved it. There are sentient spiders. Although my favorite character was the psycho scientist Avrana Kern.
I read The Return, by Hisham Matar. An elegant and touching memoir. This was not a long read, but sometimes it seemed like it was longer than it actually was just for how much I was thinking about it.
In March, COVID hit, no more school, no more childcare, See’s Candies also closed, and so I retreated to re-reads of old favorites.
I re-read See Under: Love, by David Grossman. This is my favorite of Grossman’s books. The structure of it is unique and it’s the sort that gets better as you pick up things that you missed the first time. I also have writer envy for the title, it’s one of the best ever, in my opinion. I feel something just seeing it on my shelf.
I re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary (both the original and The Edge of Reason), by Helen Fielding. These two books are the OGs of my adult reading life. They have done a LOT of spiritual heavy lifting over the years.
I re-read Tenth of December, by George Saunders. I love all stories in this volume but my favorite is, “Home,” about a veteran returning home. My husband is a veteran and I always feel moved reading this.
After that, some more new non-fiction and fiction:
I read Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu. Yu’s short story Hero Absorbs Major Damage is one of my favorites and this novel was everything smart and funny and thoughtful in that story and expanded to a novel. Yu’s writing is wonderfully stylish but never lacking meaning.
I read The Chiffon Trenches, by André Leon Talley. I love reading about fashion and so this was already a no-brainer – but it’s a book that’s so touching, both in what ALT is willing to share and what he is not. And there’s lots of good fashion gossip.
I read Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong. This had been on my radar after it came out, but I put off reading it; I didn’t want to think about my own feelings. I’m having too many feelings! But once I started, I couldn’t stop, I was filled with so much admiration for both Hong’s writing and her insights into the Asian American experience, things I have long felt or experienced but was too ignorant or ashamed to put into words. Bravo.
I read Memorial, by Bryan Washington. This book reads so smoothly that for a while it’s easy to forget the skill of it. That’s what I miss the most from when I was just a reader, and not in the middle of a manuscript – the way I could just go all the way through a book and at the end say, “That was good.” Now if a book is good I’m always stopping and saying, wow, how did they do that? I did that a lot with Memorial.
I’m in the middle of copyediting my novel now, and I’ve learned from prior experience that you’ve got to be careful about what you read during this period. It’s easy to be consumed by jealousy and despair. While you’re trying to think of another way to say “shrugged” in your manuscript or when you’ve discovered via Ctrl-F that your character has “coughed” fourteen times, it really doesn’t help to be in the midst of the work of some Hot Young Thing who doesn’t rely on punctuation marks at all. So during this period I’ve read:
Essays After Eighty, by Donald Hall. Lovely and wise. Writing that is powerful in its subtle wisdom and essays that are also just plain entertaining.
JR, by William Gaddis. Not the easiest read (for me). But worth it for the laugh-out-loud moments. How has corporate life not changed in over forty years?
Open Book, by Jessica Simpson. I was never a celebrity memoir reader; then this year, I read a bunch. Simpson’s is great and you come away from it with so much more respect for her dedication to her craft. Other ones I read included The Meaning of Mariah Carey, by yes, Mariah Carey, and Open, by Andre Agassi. All fascinating, even if Mariah declined to dedicate even a single sentence to a topic I am most interested in, the James Packer Era. And though I have zero interest in tennis, Andre (and his excellent co-writer J.R. Moehringer) make match after match (after match after match after match) seem fascinating.
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