Reading List 2020

What I’ve read this year. I sample or skim some that aren’t included. Happily, I have lost the compulsion or sense of duty to finish every book I start.

December

A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life by Andrew Krivak 2008 Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown 2017 4th Estate the 20th century refracted through her life; insightful on celebrity culture; imaginative technique and structure

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (c2006) 2007 The Dial Press a sad, delicate novel of a boy whose family and world are caught up in political terror

November

Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochada 2017 Harper Collins memorable characters, underside of contemporary LA

The Return by Hisham Matar 2016 Random House powerful memoir of personal loss and the larger suffering of people caught up in political turmoil, Gaddafi’s Libya in this case

No Man’s Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain’s Most Extraordinary Military Hospital in World War I by Wendy Moore 2020 Basic Books truly remarkable story, equally inspiring and disheartening, of the struggle for women’s rights and professional opportunities in the context of the Great War

Enemy Of All Mankind by Steven Johnson 2020 Riverhead Books so much more than a pirate’s story, best kind of popular history

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi 2009 Night Shade Books immerses the reader in a very vivid dystopian world, best fantasy I’ve read in a good while

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann 2017 Doubleday true story of crime so cruel and shocking in extent, it is truly heartrending

Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley 2020 Scribner immersive evocation of a vanished world, the late Shogunate

The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gikuyu and Mumbi by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o 2020 The New Press a verse novel, an epic of creation and quest for ideals of living

October

Frontier Wolf by Rosemary Sutcliffe 1980 Oxford Univ. Press one of the series of entertaining tales of Romano Britain

A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar 2019 Random House beautifully written meditation on art, memory, loss and recovery

The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald (c1949) Vintage Crime ed 1998 masterful noir The light blue haze in the lower canyon was like a thin smoke from slowly buring money.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (c2009) translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones 2018 Riverhead Books a singularly witty literate mystery set in a rural polish village; impossible to convey the plot or tone but the translation of William Blake’s poetry by an elderly animal loving astrologist is a significant plot point

Illegal Action by Stella Rimington Knopf 2008 solid spy tale

The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury (c1994) 2006 Grove Press quirky in a good way, warm singular portrait of small town Midwest life

September
Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, And The Real Count Of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss 2012 Crown Publishers
the extraordinary life of a remarkable man, Alex Dumas, admirably told in lively style with solid historical context

A Crack In The Wall by Claudia Pineiro translated from the Spanish by Miranda France c2009 Bitter Lemon Press edition 2013 really interesting, unusual mystery story set in Buenos Aires

The Bramble and the Rose by Tom Bouman c2020 W.W. Norton good start to a mystery series set in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born c2003 Graywolf Press edition 2005 beautiful language, story very skillfully builds delicate layers into an affecting whole

August

Vernon Subutex by Despentes translated from the French by Frank Wynne c2015 English edition 2017 Farrar, Straus and Giroux; first volume of a trilogy; funny, fairly brutal satire of Paris’ cultural and social life with the music/arts/media crowd

Hell’s Foundations, A Social History Of The Town Of Bury In The Aftermath Of The Gallipoli Campaign by Geoffrey Moorhouse 1992 Henry Holt and Company; unusual blend of military and social history; the town, the men who became soldiers, the powerful attachment between the townsfolk and the local Regiment, the interaction of memory, myth, and grief after the War; a fascinating and often moving study

A House In The Mountains, The Women Who Liberated Italy From Fascism by Caroline Moorehead 2020 HarperCollins; gripping, horrifying account of the partisan resistance to both Italian and German Fascist rule in northern Italy; focuses on the leadership and action of women, particularly a core group in Turin

Darke by Rick Gekoski 2017 Canongate; a professor of Literature shuts himself away from the world after the death of his wife, reminisces and reflects on his life, the value and limitations of literature; witty, poignant, very pleasurable story-telling

Murder Underground by Mavis Dories Hay c1934 US edition 2016 Poisoned Pen Press, one of the series British Library Crime Classics; an amusing, entertaining (if not terribly puzzling) mystery story involving the residents of a London boarding house

Comrades-in-Arms: The World War I Memoir of Cpt. Henri De Lecluse, the Count of Trevoedal translated from the French by Jacques Dubois, edited by Roy Sandstrom 19998 Kent State University Press; brief vignettes of life on the Western Front as experienced and remembered by a French officer

A Not So Perfect Crime by Teresa Solana translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush c2006 English edition 2008 Bitter Lemon Press; clever, satiric story of life and politics in Barcelona

Hammer To Fall by John Lawton 2020 Atlantic Monthly Press; cold war spy novel, good atmosphere and interesting characters

July

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher 2008 Grove Press; an extraordinary, foolhardy journey through the Democratic Republic of Congo to retrace the route taken by Henry Stanley to explore the Congo River; a compelling heartbreaking story of history, adventure, and the dangerous, desperate lives of the people today

A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien 1997 W.W. Norton; very little Tinseltown glitter in this satiric story of two washed-up movie stars and their son; based on the author’s childhood in Hollywood, one hopes that the comedy (and it is very funny, mostly) is more exaggerated than the bitter edge suggests

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic 2017 Pushkin Vertigo; tough, compelling Australian mystery, follow-up to award-winning Resurrection Bay

The Book On The Book Shelf by Henry Petroski 1999 Knopf; an engineer’s look at the design and technology aspects of the history of books and their storage

Murder In The Crooked House by SHIMADA Soji translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai c1982 Pushkin Vertigo edition 2019; a locked room mystery for fans of the intricate puzzle style

Food Will Win The War: Minnesota Crops, Cooks, and Conservation During World War I by Rae Katherine Eighmey 2010 Minnesota Historical Society Press; focuses on the enthusiastic citizen response to calls to feed the army and starving Europe, a large and complex undertaking; includes a good number of recipes for dishes like Victory Cabbage and Uncle Sam’s War Biscuits

The Glorious Hussar, The Best of the Exploits and Adventures of the Brigadier Gerard by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1961 Walker and Company
hugely entertaining stories of a Hussar in Napoleon’s army

18 Tiny Deaths, The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics by Bruce Goldfarb 2020 Sourcebooks
very interesting history of the development of science based crime investigation; Lee created 18 exquisitely detailed miniature dioramas of crime scenes as training tools

Outlaws by Javier Cercas translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean c2012 2014 Bloomsbury
an absorbing thoughtful novel about how a summer of crime shaped the lives of three members of a juvenile gang, about the changes over time in how we understand our memories, and the destructive power of celebrity and media

June

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
c2010 Spiegel & Grau
a skillfully told dual biography; moving reflection on the people, opportunities, and choices that shape our lives

Death On Demand by Paul Thomas c2013 Bitter Lemon Press
Maori detective Ihaka is a wonderful character in this very well written and entertaining crime novel

Baksheesh by Esmahan Aykol translated from the Turkish by Ruth Whitehouse c2003 Bitter Lemon edition 2013
strong on the local color of Istanbul and the Turkish way of life

Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin c2016 Little, Brown
I always enjoy a visit to Rankin’s Edinburgh and this 21st(!) adventure of John Rebus and his colleagues has the pleasures his fans expect

Good Man Gone Bad by Gar Anthony Haywood 2019 Prospect Park Books
Haywood gives us a strong character in LA PI Aaron Gunner; a mystery grounded in contemporary social and racial issues

Lumen by Ben Pastor 1999 Van Neste Books
1939 Poland, a psychological thriller of conflicting loyalties and moral choices for the American priest and German officer investigating a murder

May

Dreamers: When The Writers Took Power Germany, 1918 by Volker Weidermann translated from the German by Ruth Martin c2017 Pushkin Press edition 2018
a vivid recreation of the collision of political dreams and idealism with the desperate realities of Germany in the first months after defeat

The Inugami Curse by YOKOMIZO Seishi translated from the Japanese by YAMAZAKI Yumiko c1972 Pushkin Press edition 2020
very enjoyable, satisfyingly intricate murder mystery

Journey By Moonlight by Antal Szerb translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix c1937 Pushkin Press edition 2001 (NYRB)
a wonderful novel; ruthlessly honest, tenderly ironic observation of a man on an improbable journey to recover/understand his youth and to escape his conventional life

Shots from a Lawyer’s Gun by Nicholas Everitt and Ernest Ivens Watson 6th edition c1927 Gilbertson & Page
a tour through English Game Laws with anecdote and illustration; just as incomprehensible but more entertaining than one would expect

Books, a memoir by Larry McMurtry c2008 Simon and Schuster
agreeable shoptalk of a life in the book trade

Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein c2010 Europa edition 2012
satiric and serious comedy of immigrant life in contemporary Rome

April

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin translated from the German by Michael Hofmann c1929 New York Review Books edition 2018
an extraordinary feat of translation; a novel that immerses the reader in lower class Berlin in a torrent of images, politics, scenes, sounds, facts, characters, literary set pieces, and more until the reader feels like she is careening through a whitewater rapids of words with only the hapless one-armed Franz Biberkopf to steer as they race to the waterfall’s edge….

Master Of The Day Of Judgment by Leo Perutz translated from the German by Eric Mosbacher c1975 Pushkin Vertigo edition 2015
great atmosphere and suspense in old Vienna, clever twist

The Buffalo People, Pre-contact Archaeology on the Canadian Plains by Liz Bryan c2005 Heritage House Publishing
very well written survey of a century of archaeology, current historical understanding of the artifacts and sites, what’s known and what’s argued about

Death Going Down by Maria Angelica Bosco translated from the Spanish by Lucy Greaves c1955 Pushkin Press edition 2016
many layers of lies and deceptions in this satisfying mystery story
Doubts make nasty enemies

The Murdered Banker by Augusto De Angelis translated from the Italian by Jill Foulston c1935 Pushkin Vertigo edition 2016
the appealing Inspector De Vincenzi solves his first (of 20!) case

March

The Door by Magda Szabo translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix c1987 NYRB edition 2005
unsettlingly unsentimental story of the relationship between two women, a writer and her housekeeper, in late Communist Hungary; thematically rich and complex

The Lady Killer by TOGAWA Masako translated from the Japanese by Simon Grove c1963 Dodd, Mead & Co. edition 1985
a good example of the Japanese psychological mystery; well-drawn characters, touch of humor

Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler translated from the German by Philip Boehm c1941 Scribner edition 2019
how this novel was included in the Modern Library Best English Novels list is part of its fascinating backstory; compelling, absorbing story of an old revolutionary reevaluating his life and convictions when arrested and interrogated during a party purge (book group)

Sci Fi, A Yellowthread Street Mystery by William Marshall c1981 Holt, Rinehart and Winston
the reader is bounced between hilarity and suspense in this pinball game of a police procedural set in pre-handover Hong Kong; not everyone has come to the Science Fiction and Horror Movie convention to have a good time in costume

Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa translated from the Arabic by Leri Price c2016 Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition 2019
the misery of contemporary Syria made plain as three siblings attempt to take their deceased father’s body to his home village for burial; an increasingly dangerous and nightmarish journey of black comedy and despairing recollection

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic c2015 Pushkin Press edition 2017
terrific Australian thriller

A Dose of Frontier Soldiering: The Memoirs of Corporal E.A.Bode, Frontier Regular Infantry, 1877-1882 ed. by Thomas T. Smith c1994 Univ. of Nebraska Press
“soldiering is mostly laboring”; no flashy campaigning stories, but a very interesting account of the life of an enlisted soldier, albeit an exceptionally well-educated one who writes with humor and a sympathetic interest in the natural and human world of the western frontier

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun Translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell c2016English language edition Arcade Publishing 2018
psychological suspense, falling into the holes of our own making of misunderstanding, loneliness, and regret

The Honjin Murders by YOKOMIZO Seishi translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai c1973 Pushkin Press 2019
delightful locked-room mystery

February

Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher
c1942 Penzler Publishers 2019
clever locked room mystery, cast of Science Fiction writers (thinly disguised Golden Age luminaries), an insouciant, engagingly breezy style In the lounge car of the Lark, Pullman train from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a tall thin man with a pale face and flaming hair sat contentedly with two highballs and a blonde.

The Path To Rome by Hilaire Belloc c1902 Catholic Answers 2015
a charming, eccentric account of a pilgrimage to Rome, walking a straight line (by the map) and writing about whatever he thinks and meets along the way; illustrated with pen and ink sketches by the author

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson c2019 Bloomsbury Publishing
a heartfelt call to reclaim the dignity and value of life in its third phase; a devastating critique of American medical practice and its failure, even indifference, to provide true care as part of the so-called Health Care system

For All The Gold In The World by Massimo Carlotto translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar c2016 Europa Editions
a fine example of noir crime fiction; interesting situation, a complex hero, and the right balance of action, introspection, and social commentary

They Will Have To Die Now: Mosul And The Fall Of The Caliphate by James Verini c2019 W.W. Norton & Co.
powerful reporting from the Iraq war

A Month In The Country by J.L. Carr c1980 NYRB edition 2000
humorous, delicate novel of healing; poignant recollection of a summer after the Great War

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller c2018 Europa editions
superior historical novel of England circa 1809

The Anatomy Of A Moment, Thirty-five Minutes In History And Imagination by Javier Cercas translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean c2009 English translation 2011 Bloomsbury
a brilliant piece of historical research and writing about the attempted military coup in Spain in 1981

January

Measuring The World by Daniel Kehlmann
translated from the German by Carol Brown Laneway c2005 English translation c2007 Quercus
wonderfully entertaining, witty and intellectualy stimulating (book group)

The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen
translated from the Finnish by David Hackston c2016 English translation c2017 Orenda Books
darkly comic mystery, surprisingly warm and hopeful as the poisoned protagonist reflects on his life and Life while solving his murder

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
c2015 Graywolf Press remarkable, singular, poetic story of loss, grief, recovery

The Lord of the Rings, being The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin
rewarding and deeply satisfying to revisit

The Wolf Children by Cay Rademacher
translated from the German by Peter Millar c2012 English translation c2017 Arcadia Books
the second in a trilogy of mystery stories set in ruined post-war Hamburg; solid storytelling and a vivid evocation of the city

The Moor: A journey into the English wilderness by William Atkins
c2014 Faber & Faber
a very well written history – natural,human, literary – of the English moorlands; entices one to go for a long tramp

Author: abookwomansholiday

The perfect holiday for a lifelong reader is one with a stack of books and few distractions. Retiring after three decades as a bookseller, I look forward to reading my way through the stacks and shelves and lists of books waiting for me. This blog will be something of a grab bag or commonplace book of reviews, quotations, notes on the history of books, the contemporary book trade, and anything connected with books and language. Reading is a great pleasure. Thinking and talking about books multiplies and intensifies that pleasure.

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