2020 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2019, I read 29 books. So far this year, I’ve read these 9 books:

 

Star rating legend:

★★★★★ Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. Or—more than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening).
★★★★☆ Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would highly recommend.
★★★☆☆ Average. An entertaining read but probably forgettable. Might or might not recommend.
★★☆☆☆ Finished, but did not like. Would not recommend.
★☆☆☆☆ Abandoned before finishing, usually because it was poorly written or just uninteresting to me.

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—summary
Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry below, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.




Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou 317 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, classics
The Bookshop of Yesterdays Amy Meyerson 364 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, books about books, mystery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery 325 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, philosophy, French culture
The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead 336 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, historical
The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Terri-Lynne DeFino 336 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
After the Funeral Agatha Christie Audio 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Ottessa Moshfegh 304 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary
The Once and Future King (Abandoned) T.H. White 647 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days) ★☆☆☆☆ fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
What Alice Forgot Liane Moriarty 476 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary, romance, Australian culture, mystery
How Will You Measure Your Life Clayton M. Christensen 240 12/31/19 – 01/02/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ business, leadership, management, personal development, philosophy, productivity, psychology, self-help

 

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—details

 

Book cover Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Author: Maya Angelou
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, classics
10-word summary: Maya Angelou from three to seventeen—resisting racism in America.
6-word review: On identity, racism, rape, and literacy.
Description: Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Thoughts: I’m happy to have finally read this book. In no surprise whatsoever, the writing was exquisite and the story compelling. In devising my 2020 reading list, I didn’t purposefully schedule two books with a racism theme during Black History Month, but I’m glad it worked out that way. I had no idea Maya was the first African American streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and I enjoyed her telling of how she made that happen. My favorite scene in this book was when Maya’s grandmother was out on the front porch of her house, standing still, singing continuously and without wavering as little white kids abased her, calling her names and making fun of her. Powerful.



 

Book cover Book: The Bookshop of Yesterdays Author: Amy Meryerson
Pages: 364 Duration: 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, books about books, mystery
10-word summary: Girl inherits bookshop that holds clues to her family’s past.
6-word review: Family secrets. Mostly believable. Implausible moments.
Description: Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric Uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear from him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy—and one final scavenger hunt.
Thoughts: This was a “refreshingly light read” after The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The scavenger hunt thing got old by the end, but I enjoyed it overall, just more so at the beginning. The “family secrets” part of this book reminded me of my favorite book of a 2019, The Secrets Mothers Keep. The female protagonist annoyed me at times—her character being portrayed, not the writing about her, which is a compliment to the author. I’m pretty sure there was one editing error (which I have little patience for) where one character was referred to with the wrong name.



 

Book cover Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog Author: Muriel Barbery
Pages: 325 Duration: 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, philosophy, French culture
10-word summary: A 54-year-old and a 12-year-old contemplate the meaning of life.
6-word review: Big words. Deep thoughts. Great ending.
Description: Paloma (a 12-year old resident) and Renée (the 54-year old concierge) both hide their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he can gain Paloma’s trust and see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Thoughts: Be prepared to look up a lot of words reading this book. It has to be written at a grade 16 (or higher) level. This is a typical example of the high level of writing: instead of just writing, “How crazy that yesterday no one cared about my place, but today everyone does,” she writes, “How extraordinary that this loge, which yesterday was of no interest to anyone, seems today to be the focus of global attention.” The large amount of philosophical discussion in the book reminded me of my philosophy (& logic) courses in college, which I really enjoyed. It was nice to revisit that kind of writing, but it’s definitely not “easy” reading for me—and one book like it this year will be plenty.

I didn’t like that the author used the r-word at least 4 times. I did like that Renée’s deceased husband’s name was Lucien, which was my paternal grandfather’s name. I enjoyed the parallel stories of the 54-year-old concierge and the 12-year-old child who were the two (alternating, for the most part) narrators. I particularly liked when it happened that you heard one side of a scene from one of them and the very next chapter revealed the same scene from the other one’s perspective. I also liked that the 12-year-old girl was planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. (Not a spoiler; it’s revealed early on in the book.) And finally, I liked the ending, and if you know me at all—with regards to the endings of books or movies—then you can guess what happens.




 

Book cover Book: The Underground Railroad Author: Colson Whitehead
Pages: 417 Duration: 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, historical
10-word summary: Cora flees Georgia plantation for a life on the run.
6-word review: Unspeakable acts of racist American history.
Description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned.
Thoughts: This was one of our Mostly Social Book Club books. I really struggled rating this book in my (admittedly, self-imposed) rating system, and if I’d’ve allowed myself half-stars, I easily would have given this one 3½ stars. In the end, I couldn’t go to my 4-star rating, because I couldn’t “highly” recommend this book, but in the 3-star rating, which says I “might or might not recommend” this book, I would recommend it in most cases—depending on how much I knew about the person asking about it.

I didn’t find this book too tedious to read, as a couple of my friends seem to have—according to some Facebook comments about it. I did find it difficult to read because of the graphic descriptions (as they should be) of the horrific things we did to slaves in this country. I’d never heard of the “underground railroad” before reading this book. I had a white history teacher who was a memorize-these-events-and-dates kind of teacher, so I never found it interesting, and I’d be very surprised if he ever even mentioned the underground railroad. If I hadn’t read the Wikipedia entry about it, this book would have led me to believe the myth that it was an actual, physical railroad. )Yes, I know the book is a novel, so I shouldn’t have assumed that, but I did.) And finally, I’m glad this was a book club book, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, and I’m very glad I did.



 

Book cover Book: The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Author: Terri-Lynne DeFino
Pages: 336 Duration: 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
10-word summary: Authors living assisted in their twilight years. Book-within-a-book literary device.
6-word review: The last small-font book I’ll read.
Description: A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them. As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible.
Thoughts: It took me a little while to get into the book within this book, which was being written collaboratively by the residents of the retirement home. I didn’t really like the characters in the book within the book in the beginning of their story, but they grew on me. I had a little trouble keeping track of who was related to whom in that story, too. I was definitely more interested in the characters outside of the inner book, or inside of the outer book. (Ugh!) With that said, at the end, I was interested to see what choice the main female character in the “inner book” was going to make. I would have enjoyed this book more, and read it in half the time I’m sure, if the font wasn’t so small. In fact, I have now vowed not to read any more books with font this small. Large-print books and e-books on Kindle are definitely the way to go for me here on out.



 

Book cover Book: After the Funeral Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: Audio Duration: 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
10-word summary: Classic Agatha Christie who-done-it with murderer confessing at the end.
6-word review: Amusing and mysterious. British and entertaining.
Description: Hercule Poirot is called on to investigate the murder of a brother and sister in this classic from the Queen of Mystery. When Cora Lansquenet is savagely murdered, the odd remark she made the day before at her brother’s funeral becomes chillingly important: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it. But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Desperate to learn more about both deaths, the family solicitor turns to detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.
Thoughts: This is classic Agatha Christie, so if you like her stuff, you’ll like this. Her Hercule Poirot books are among my favorites, so I enjoyed this book.



 

Book cover Book: My Year of Rest and Relaxation Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Pages: 304 Duration: 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, contemporary
10-word summary: Woman drugs herself out for a year to supposedly heal.
6-word review: Train wreck you can’t not watch.
Description: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be.
Thoughts: This story is an absolute train wreck in progress, and like the train wreck cliché, it was impossible to “look away.” Like this author’s book, Eileen, which I read last year, the storytelling was so compelling that I read large parts of it at a time and returned to it quickly for another dose. Also like Eileen, the story bordered on the bizarre. I wondered a lot about the sheer number—and combination—of drugs the unnamed narrator was taking (assuming they were all real, because most of them were, which made me assume the made up ones were just ones I’d never heard of). At least once I thought about the myriad of medication ingested by the elderly and the—at least 15—prescriptions my mother was on toward the end of her life. There were so many that she became unable to keep track of them herself, and we ended up paying the assisted living place $500 a month to manage them (and at times, and more often that we wanted to at that price, mismanage). In the end, after her year of “rest and relaxation,” the narrator claims that it accomplished her goal, but as the reader I thought, “That remains to be seen.”



 

Book cover Book: The Once and Future King (Abandoned) Author: T.H. White
Pages: 647 Duration: 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
10-word summary: Arthurian characters with more complex and contradictory traits and motives.
6-word review: Abandoned. Excessive description stalled plot interminably.
Description: T.H White′s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. Here all five volumes that make up the story are published in one volume, as White himself always wished. Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur′s personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.
Thoughts: I was inspired to read this book after seeing the play, Camelot; hearing about how much other people enjoyed reading it at various times in their lives; and how it’s considered by many as a seminal work. For me, it had too much description, with not enough plot movement. I mean 3 super long paragraphs describing the outside of a castle in excruciating detail and then the next paragraph starting, “So much for the outer defences. Once you were inside the curtain wall, you found yourself in a kind of wide alley-way, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you,” followed by paragraph after paragraph describing that. Nope. That, together with my dislike of fantasy! Merlyn’s says “Wash up!” and “At this all the china and cutlery scrambled down off the table, the cloth emptied the crumbs out of the window, and the napkins folded themselves up.” Add to that, super small font with over 600 more pages to go. Just wasn’t willing to do it. I abandoned this book on page 35.



 

Book cover Book: What Alice Forgot Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 476 Duration: 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, romance, Australian culture, mystery
10-word summary: Woman tries to adjust to 10 lost years of memories.
6-word review: Definite page turner. Realistic and thought-provoking.
Description: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a good job of capturing things you might not consider if you lost a 10-year period of your memory. I also liked how it made me think about how you might react to realizing you didn’t really like the person you’d become during the gap, and how you might resolve that. I read this author’s book Nine Perfect Strangers last year, which I only liked okay. I liked this one much, much better, and I’d highly recommend it.



 

Book cover Book: How Will You Measure Your Life? Author: Clayton M. Christensen
Pages: 240 Duration: 12/31/20 – 01/02/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: business, leadership, management, psychology, self-help
10-word summary: Criteria to measure your life and propel yourself to happiness.
6-word review: Unengaged by kids and religion chapters.
Description: In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions. How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.
Thoughts: Overall, this book didn’t resonate with me. I did get one important thing out of it, and that’s the notion of asking yourself what “job” something is doing for you. The example that stands out was his talking about what (different) “job” getting a milkshake in a fast-food restaurant is doing for both adult commuters in the morning and for kids after dinner in the evening. Several chapters were devoted to applying the theories in the book to raising children, which didn’t interest me much, and the ending was a lot about God, which didn’t interest me at all. I’d recommend this book for younger people—those still early in their careers or just starting a family.


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