What a year, friends, what a year. At the start of the year I had big plans both intellectually and physically, but in the end, I ended up holding on and finishing, even if just barely, 52 books. Here they are, with some of the best highlighted.
Best Fiction Book
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison Over the last two years I’ve been working my way through Morrison’s work and for the second year in a row, she was, surprise, surprise, the author of the best book I read. Song of Solomon has to be as close to perfect as any work of fiction I have ever read. You’ve probably already read it, but if not, do.
Best Nonfiction Book
I am again going to go with two very different, but brilliant, books here. First, The Power Broker, by Robert Caro. A work of stunning brilliance that I am ashamed I took so long to read. I’ll admit, I was intimidated. I thought I’d be bored, but I tore through this. Yes this is history, but it is also literature.
And speaking of books that are history and literature, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman is a beautiful, haunting, work of genius that we’ll be talking about for years to come. This is not always an easy book to read, but it is an incredibly important one showing us in vivid detail the lives of Black women at the cusp of the 20th century. Incredibly good.
Book That Had the Biggest Influence on My Life
I held off on reading How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell because I figured it could not live up to the hype. I was wrong. As a general rule, listen to Obama. My overriding goal in 2021 is to slow down, go deeper, respond rather than react, and this book went a long way in helping me think about that.
I am a huge admirer of Danez Smith and it was one of the highlights of my year when they followed me on Instagram for my project this summer highlighting Black authors. I read Smith’s latest, Homie, right before everything went to total shit and it’s brilliant. Many people I know are intimidated by contemporary poetry. Don’t be. Start with Smith.
EVERY BOOK I READ IN 2020
Here they are along with a note of whether I recommend it for general readers, recommend it for enthusiasts in the subject matter, or don’t recommend it all. Click through for capsule reviews. One final note before the list, this will be the last year I do these little capsule review posts for each book. As short as they are, they’re still a fair amount of work, yet very few people read them. The list and recommendations will continue forever, but the individual reviews part of this project is over.
- Anti-Social: Online Extremists Techo-Utopians and the High jacking of the American Conversation, Andrew Marantz — Recommended
Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, Dianne Tavenner— Recommended for the enthusiast
- Homie, Denez Smith — Recommended
- Tightrope: American’s Reaching for Hope, Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl DuDunn — Recommended
- The Optimists Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age, Bina Venkataraman — Recommended for the enthusiast
- Drink? The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health, David Nutt — Recommended
AND… COVID HITS
7. The Splendid and the Vile: A saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, Erik Larson — Recommended for the enthusiast
8. The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, Tony Ord — Recommended for the enthusiast
9. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert Caro — Recommended
10. Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts, Grafton Tanner — Recommended for the enthusiast
11. In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, Erik Larson — Recommended for the Enthusiast
12. The Wedge, Scott Carney — Not recommended
13. The Great Influenza, John M Barry — Recommended
14. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami — Recommended for the enthusiast
15. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel — Recommended
The killing of George Floyd…
16. Sula, Toni Morrison — Recommended
17. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin — Recommended
18. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering the Art of Self Control, Walter Michel — Recommended for the enthusiast – Recommended for the enthusiast
19. The Spook Who Sat By The Door, Sam Greenlee Recommended — Recommended
20. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King, Jr. — Recommended
22. Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy, David Fleming — Recommended for the enthusiast
23. To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, A Son and a Lifelong Obsession, Dan Koeppel — recommended for the enthusiast
24. Beloved, Toni Morrison — Recommended
25. Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, Mark Bowden — not recommended
26. I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism, A.M Gittlitz — recommended for the enthusiast
27. The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception, Emmanuel Carrere — recommended
28. Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties, Tom O’Neil — recommended for the enthusiast
29. Eiger Dreams: Adventures Among Men and Mountains, John Krakuer — Recommended for the enthusiast
30. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright — Recommended
31. Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy and the Fall of Trust in America, Mark Jacobson — Recommended for the enthusiast
32. The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, Ryder Carroll — Recommended for the enthusiast
35. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford — Recommended
36. A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe — Recommended
37. Dancing in Odessa, Ilya Kaminsky — Recommended for the enthusiast
38. Aphrodite Made Me Do It, Trista Mateer — Not recommended
39. The Silence, Don Delillo — Recommended
40. Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, Alex Ross — Recommended
41. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor — Recommended
42. This is How You Loose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone — Recommended
45. Sibley’s Birding Basics, David Allen Sibley — Recommended for the enthusiast
48. True Stories, Sophie Calle — Recommended for the enthusiast
51. Skiing with Henry Knox: A Personal Journey Along Vermont’s Catamount Trail, Sam Brakeley — Recommended for the enthusiast