So I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this earlier (though I guess it’s only January 3rd…), but I want to give you my top five books of 2020. As you know if you’ve read my blog, I got a treadmill and a Kindle last year in preparation for a possible COVID lockdown that would basically leave us housebound. This never happened (luckily), but there were enough days of crappy whether where the treadmill came in super handy. On these days, I got to read for about four hours straight while I walked. Thus, I ended up reading a lot of books last year (at least in comparison to previous years).
So let’s look at the best ones! From fifth best to best.
#5: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Wolfe)
I think this is my #5 because of the writing style. The story itself is good, of course, but the way Wolfe writes is engaging, funny, and very poetic in places. It definitely influenced the style of my 2020 NaNo, which I started writing about a month after I read this book.
#4: Exodus (Uris)
This is a hard book to get through because of the subject matter, but I think it’s also a very important book to read for the same reason. Uris does a really detailed history of the Jewish people through several characters and their experiences and he shows how it all connects in one way or another. I’m excited to read QBVII when I get to my “Q” book.
#3: I, Claudius (Graves)
I love the style of this book. Like I mentioned in my review of it, I had no knowledge of this time period in history and so I was expecting to be completely unengaged with the book itself. But it was written in a very approachable way that also helped to put you in the time period so that you knew who everyone was and what was going on even if you had ZERO knowledge of it prior to reading.
#2: A Separate Peace (Knowles)
I love how organic and pure the friendship is between Phineas and Gene. This is a relatively short book, but that friendship is so fleshed out that it makes the story seem longer, if that makes sense. It makes you feel like you’ve known the characters and their relationship as long as they had known each other. I think “natural” relationships can sometimes be hard to write or at least hard to introduce, but Knowles does it beautifully here.
#1: A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)
I have yet to read a book that more perfectly takes every little aspect of the story and puts it all together in a two-page climax. It just…everything just comes together at that one moment and it’s not contrived, it’s not lacking, and it’s not unbelievable (even though it’s a pretty dramatic climax). It’s everything I’ve always wanted to get out of the climax of a story.
It’s a long book, and there’s a lot to it, but read it. It’s worth it for that climax. Trust me.
Have I read this before: Nope! First time.
Review: Oof, there’s a lot going on in this book. Not that that’s a bad thing. I knew nothing about the book before I started reading it, and after I was done I looked up some more info on it. Apparently Wolfe was trying to capture 1980s New York the same way Thackerary’s Vanity Fair tried to capture 19th century English society. Having read Vanity Fair, I think Wolfe does a pretty similar job of it. There’s a very serious issue going on at the main heart of the plot, but there’s a lot of humor and satire throughout. Also, a lot of the ideas and issues are still relevant in the US today…maybe even more so than they were, say, ten or twenty years ago, like the differences in wealthy and poor individuals and racial tension.
Favorite part: The style in which the book is written is very engaging and seems to poke fun at itself sometimes. Here are a few quick sections that I felt captured this pretty well:
“Who in the name of God would bring a half-eaten eight-ounce jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise to a public meeting?”
[Sherman on the elevator with his dog and another owner gets on.]
Browning stepped on. Browning looked Sherman and his country outfit and the dog up and down and said, without a trace of a smile, “Hello, Sherman.”
“Hello, Sherman” was on the end of a ten-foot pole and in a mere four syllables conveyed the message: “You and your clothes and your animal are letting down our new mahogany-paneled elevator.”
[Attorneys in their office.]
“Come on, Larry,” said Andriutti, “tell the truth. Deep down, don’t you wish you were Italian or Irish?”
“Yeah,” said Kramer, “that way I wouldn’t know what the fuck was going on in this fucking place.”
Caughey started laughing. “Well, don’t let Ahab see those shoes, Larry. He’ll have Jeanette issue a fucking memorandum.”
“No, he’ll call a fucking press conference,” said Andriutti.
“That’s always a safe fucking bet.”
And so another fucking day in the fucking Homicide Bureau of the Bronx Fucking District Attorney’s Office was off to a fucking start.