Each December, I publish my list of books I’m not recommending for Christmas. I could also call the list “the best books I read this year,” but I try not to press too hard on people as to what my ideas of what they should read. People can usually figure that out for themselves. Perhaps the real point of this is to look back at the year, and review the books that impressed me, challenged me, cheered me, and perhaps even changed me a little.
Looking at this list, and comparing it to previous lists, I can see that I’m increasingly moving away from what’s popular or celebrated in the culture. You won’t find many bestsellers or national prizewinners here. You also won’t find much that is transiently popular – books that skyrocket to fame because they happened to be available when something notable happened – but soon disappear into the pile you keep in the basement because they’re no longer news.
Here it is, the 2020 edition of the books I’m not recommending for Christmas. I haven’t selected any as “No. 1” in their category; instead, I’ve grouped the handful of the best titles in each category in no particular order. Each are linked to my review either here at Faith, Fiction, Friends, at Dancing Priest, or at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Literary Criticism and Biography
You can find some really fine analyses and biographies of writers and poets. These are some of the best I read this year. I really, really liked Cross of Snow.
I’ve loved poetry since elementary school, when we were required to memorize and recite poems (usually something like “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Longfellow. I found T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” in high school. It made such a profound impact that I can even remember the bookshop where I bought it. And then poetry stuck throughout my career as (among other things) a speechwriter.
Non-fiction and Memoir
I likely read more general fiction than anything else, most likely because I write it. Writing it gives you an appreciation for what fiction writers can do, where they fall short, and where they soar.
I love mysteries; I loved reading them since I was a kid. This year, I read (or reread) all of the Philo Vance mysteries by S.S. Van Dine, which were wildly popular in the 1920s and gradually declined in popularity in the 1930s. The great Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins said Van Dine was the only author he never had to edit (unlike F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe). Rather than list individual titles, I’ve listed authors of whom I’ve several works this year. Everything they write is good. The links will take you to the most recent review which will include a list of all of their works I’ve read and written about.
Most romance novels are generally written according to a formula: Woman (or man) returns to hometown and rekindles romance with first love. Here are four that break away from that formula.
Classic books don’t have to be by big-name authors. What defines a classic is that its influence (and popularity) lasts, or that it broke ground when it was published and still hasn’t been equaled. Here are a few I read this year.
Top photo by Jarred Craig via Unsplash. Used with permission.