According to my Goodreads page, in 2020 I read 65 books or 20,091 pages. The shortest book, at 105 pages, that I read was Between mirage and miracle: selected poems for seasons, festivals, and the occasional revelation, by J. Barrie Shepherd. This was also the least popular, as far as Goodreads. However, in this case, it makes my “notable books of 2020” list. Here is why, as well as my other choices of recommended books.
Between mirage and miracle: selected poems for seasons, festivals, and the occasional revelation, by J. Barrie Shepherd. Rev. Shepherd is originally from Scotland, but lives in the summer on Chebeague Island. Every year, at the Choral Arts Society’s Epiphany concert, he has been reading his poetry, in his enchanting Scottish burr. At last year’s concert, I said to my fellow music lovers, “I’m buying one of his books.” This is the one I ended up with, and I have loved it so much, sharing poems with friends and my church. Favorite poems include “Ordinary time,” “Winter solstice,” “Don’t stop me … ,” “Stained glass windows,” and “Why I still go.”
The dearly beloved: a novel, by Cara Wall. This first novel took my breath away, and stayed with me a long time. The story of two ministers, who share a church leadership, and their wives doesn’t seem like it would be that engrossing, but the characters and story really drew me in.
Almost French: love and a new life in Paris, by Sarah Turnbull. This absorbing and entertaining book has all the right elements for me, and made me laugh out loud. It’s a great love story, as well as a commentary on French life and culture, by this Australian author, who falls in love with a Frenchman.
American dirt: a novel, by Jeanine Cummins. Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore before her life changes dramatically, thanks to her favorite patron, who turns out to be her greatest nightmare. This extremely well written and paced book is a thrilling book to read, although I could only handle one chapter each evening, due to the intensity of the story telling.
To build a trail: essays on curiosity, love, and wonder, by Paul Willis. This was such a lovely book to read – I so enjoyed each chapter. I think poets make the best essayists. Reading this book by Paul Willis, a professor at my alma mater, made me wish I had been an English major. I loved his humility and honesty and humor, but best of all his fabulous writing.
The Eyre affair: a Thursday Next novel, by Jasper Fforde. What a great find! I came across this book in a Little Library, and had to bring it home, given my favorite book ever is Jane Eyre. What a rollicking tale I stumbled into – so many interesting layers of science fiction and historical fiction, with characters stepping in and out of classic novels. This book is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time!
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux. I had read this book years ago (I think on a cross country train ride), but we read it again, as a “read out loud by the fire” book. It’s such an enjoyable book to read together – we learned so much from Theroux’s travels, 30 years after his original trip. He doesn’t just travel by train, he takes buses and whatever means of transportation gets him to where he wants to go. We especially enjoyed reading about Turkey, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Northern Japan, and his trek home through Russia. Despite the breadth and depth of the book, we were never bored, and thoroughly entertained.
Rodham: a novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld. This was such an amazing book, from beginning to end. First, the writing was spectacular – at times intense and detailed, and then at other times full of wonderful wit and humor. I totally felt Hillary’s passion for Bill in the early years, and loved how she says “it could have gone either way.” In real life, it went the other way, which makes for fascinating reading of what could have been, had Hillary said “no” to Bill’s proposals. I did at times get bogged down with the politics, but for being a 400+ page book it held my interest the whole way. I was very happy with the conclusion of the book.
The dirty life: on farming, food, and love, by Kristin Kimball. I had a very serendipitous encounter with this book, and was so glad I found it – loved reading about this odd couple who found each other and built on a dream, on a farm in northern New York. My kind of book, although some of the animal husbandry wasn’t as interesting to me as the relationship between Kristin and Mark, and the community they found.
This tender land: a novel, by William Kent Krueger. Last, but definitely not least, this is possibly the best book I read in 2020. I had heard of this author, but had not read any of his books. A friend lent this to me, thinking I would like it, and boy, was she right! I so loved the writing, the setting, the story, the characters, and the somewhat mystical magic of the story. Even though there were grim themes, it always felt hopeful. This book had great depth of writing and entertainment, as well as giving insight to the times of the Great Depression, and the history and geography of the area the “Voyageurs” travel through.
May 2021 continue to bring wonderful new books our way – so far, we’re off to a great start!