With the demise of Facebook Notes, I wanted to preserve my annual year-end lists of all the books I’ve read in the past year. So if you’re looking for recommendations, you can find them all on this page.
My 2020 reading list was dominated by the same theme as the rest of our lives: a devastating pandemic that wreaked more havoc than any other public health crisis in the past 100 years. While I was more fortunate than most — my job and my physical health remained intact, but I’ve talked to more cats than people face-to-face since last March! — and too many people I care about have experienced profound losses in their lives. For those of us who are still here, our worlds are forever altered.
One of my coping mechanisms, for better or worse, has been to read (and occasionally write) more about how people have experienced life during previous pandemics: Márquez, Camus, and Porter’s books served as a reminder of what life may be like on the other side of our current crisis, while John Barry’s “The Great Influenza” was a powerful lesson in how quickly the world can mobilize to make medical advancements when we all work together.
My other reading theme was the escapism of fiction, which turned out to be a huge boost to my mental health. In particular, I returned to an old favorite, Stephen King, with a few collections of short stories that took my mind off real-world anxieties. Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Bean Trees” was a delight. Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” and Marcus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” both had heavier storylines, of course, but were the two books that stuck with me the most. Of the two baseball fiction titles, I preferred Linda Holmes’ “Evvie Drake” over Emily Nemens’ “The Cactus League” (perhaps because I’ve lived too long in Arizona!)
I’ve read every one of Tony Horwitz’s history-travel books, and while this one wasn’t an instant classic, his premature death saddened me terribly. The loss of pitcher-author Jim Bouton made Mitch Nathanson’s terrific biography all the more poignant. Kate Moore’s “The Radium Girls” was outstanding, as was Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book.” Finally, Jeremy Beer’s award-winning biography of Oscar Charleston opened my eyes to this long overlooked Negro Leagues great.
Without further ado, here’s my full reading list for 2020:
- So Big, by Edna Ferber
- Spying on the South: Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land, by Tony Horwitz
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
- Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player, by Jeremy Beer
- The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
- Westside, by W.M. Akers
- Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes
- The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America, by Karen Abbott
- The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
- Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
- Night Shift, by Stephen King
- The Cactus League, by Emily Nemens
- Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original, by Mitchell Nathanson
- The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry
- Joyland, by Stephen King
- Elevation, by Stephen King
- The Plague, by Albert Camus
- If It Bleeds, by Stephen King
- Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter
- The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
- Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel
- The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
- He Had It Coming: Four Murderous Women and the Reporter Who Immortalized Their Stories, by Kori Rumore and Marianne Mather