2020 in books

Where the pandemic/quarantine made it difficult for many people to concentrate, and I certainly understand, I found that I had a bunch of spare time for books. In fact, I sort of needed to pour my attention into something. As the year went on, looking back now, I probably trailed off from my daily news obsession and spent more hours with books. Some of these novels, in particular, kept me laughing while the world was falling apart (Portis, moments in DeLillo, Mooallem), and in general the rhythms of reading helped me make sense of the complete fragmentation of time. It was calming.

My favorite book of the year was Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, easily. I decided to check out his stuff after reading this feature by A.O. Scott, the first installment of what is slowly becoming an incisive series on unheralded American writers (the second and third installments of which center on Edward P. Jones, also on my 2020 list, and Joy Williams, respectively). Scott wrote: “[Stegner] can’t be enlisted as a partisan in the culture wars, but he isn’t a pacifist either. He’s more like a one-man battlefield, whose dreams of peace — the ‘repose’ and ‘safety’ promised in those titles — express the longings of a tectonically divided civilization.”

Runners-up in my personal favorites include: About a Mountain (which I read in one day, completely mesmerized by the surrealist and controversial blend of journalism and essay), Gringos (the one repeater on my list this year), Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, River of Shadows, Eat the Document, The Meadow, Invisible Man and If Beale Street Could Talk. Just great stuff.

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

About a Mountain by John D’Agata

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

2019 Best American Magazine Writing ed. by Sid Holt

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Zed by Joanna Kavena

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

True Grit by Charles Portis

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta

Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal

Gringos by Charles Portis

This is Chance! by Jon Mooallem

Ornamental by Juan Cardenas

On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The Names by Don DeLillo

The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William Blundell

Stoner by John Williams

Make Noise by Eric Nuzum

Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

Boom Town by Sam Anderson

Little, Big by John Crowley

Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William Gass

River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen

Here We Are by Benjamin Taylor

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

The Years by Annie Ernaux

Native Son by Richard Wright

Norwood by Charles Portis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas

Black Boy by Richard Wright

The Glass Eye by Jeannie Vanasco

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Zero K by Don DeLillo

Litany for the Long Moment by Mary-Kim Arnold

The Silence by Don DeLillo

Barnstorming Ohio by David Giffels

Blackfishing the IUD by Caren Beilin

Gringos by Charles Portis (again!)

Uncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones

The Meadow by James Galvin

V. by Thomas Pynchon

The Man Who Walked Backward by Ben Montgomery

Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

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