The Economist: Books of the Year 2020

A list from a list (highly idiosyncratic — in which self decides which kind of writing she’s going to spend most of 2021 doing)

BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR

  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama – “A reminder that the 44th president is one of the best writers ever to serve in that office”
  • Stranger in the Shogun’s City, by Amy Stanley – “The everyday struggles of an obscure woman in Tokyo in the first half of the 19th century”
  • Kiss Myself Goodbye, by Ferdinand Mount – “The hilarious tale of a . . . pathologically inventive aunt in raffish, upper-class Britain either side of the second world war”

HISTORY

  • A House in the Mountains, by Caroline Moorhead – “Weaving deep research into a compelling narrative . . . about four women fighting with the partisans in northern Italy in 1943”
  • Alaric the Goth, by Douglas Bain – “Colorful portrait of the city and empire in the fifth century”

FICTION

  • The Slaughterman’s Daughter, by Yaniv Iczkovits – “Late 19th century picaresque about a Jewish mother in the Pale of Settlement who sets out to retrieve her wayward brother-in-law in Minsk”
  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart – “Coming of age in Glasgow in the 1980s”
  • Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar – “Part autobiographical tale about growing up as a Pakistani-American through the age of 9/11 and then Donald Trump”
  • Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi – Opens with “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.”

CULTURE AND IDEAS

  • Leo Tolstoy, by Andrei Zorin – “Weaves together his times, his writing, his faith and his political activism”

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

  • Apollo’s Arrow, by Nicholas Christakis – “the history of plagues”

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS

  • No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer – “The boss of Netflix and his co-author explain how he arrived”

The Two-Thousand Dollar Sock: The Final Story in BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE

Self knows what she feels most like writing from the kind of books she chooses to read. There was a year she read only travel books. Travel books by women. Two years ago, she decided to read books written on, or about, islands.

Hard to say what the theme was for her 2020 reading. In the early part, she read a lot of science fiction. Towards the end, she read some great books about American politics: Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, by Larry Tye (Five Stars), and Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy, by Edward Ball.

She stayed up all night reading Megan Mayhew Bergman’s short story collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise. (This was a year for really excellent short story collections: Caroline Kim’s The Prince of Mournful Thoughts, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory)

In the final story in Bergman’s collection, the main character’s dog has swallowed one of her socks. He’s done this before, the sock always works itself out. But this time, she’s not so lucky and ends up having to take the dog to the vet.

  • I said we’d do anything, but I was worried we couldn’t afford to treat him. I knew his eyes would convince me to mortgage the house, become a one-car family, eat ramen noodles five days a week.

It reminds self of that time when her beagle, Gracie, went into seizures. Self found her one morning, tongue purple and hanging out of her mouth. She rushed her to the vet, and the vet said self would have to take her to a more equipped vet hospital. They would put her in intensive care: $1,500/day. And self decided, right then and there, that she couldn’t afford it. And she cried her heart out in the vet’s office, after calling son in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (He did not want to put her down). They let her hold Gracie when they gave her the shot. Self was depressed, non-stop crying, for at least a month. That was one of the hardest decisions she’d had to make in her life (Gracie had cancer; new tumors kept popping up, in strange places: in her mouth, under her tail, in her breasts. A new tumor a week, by the end)

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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