WITH ONLY a few days before the new year arrives, it is time to let you know which books I enjoyed the most this year. As if you gave a hoot!
There were a lot of books released this year, many of them very, very good. I read or listened (mostly listened) to 36 books. Twenty-eight of them were fiction. I know non-fiction books are valuable, but I’m at a stage in life where I choose entertainment over education. Actually, the truth is that I’ve always preferred to read about made-up people in a made-up world.
Two of the books I consumed this year (Como Agua Para Chocolate and Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra) I had read before. I re-read them because my Spanish book club chose them. I had also already read Solito and even though it was a book-club selection, I listened to it because I wanted to. It’s that good!
In fact, Solito topped the list of my favorite books this year, fiction and non-fiction. It’s a well-written and compelling memoir by the poet Javier Zamora detailing his months-long journey from his home in El Salvador to California, where he joined his parents. He was 9 years old and travelled with strangers, who were to become like a family to him.
Not all the books on my list were published this year. My second-favorite book, Apeirogon by my new favorite writer, Colum McCann, was published in 2020. Had it not been given to me as a Christmas present last year, I may have missed it. I had never heard of him.
“Goodreads” has this to say about Apeirogon: “an epic novel rooted in the real-life friendship between two men united by loss.” It continues: “McCann crafts Apeirogon out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material. He crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate, and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our time.”
MY OTHER favorite fiction works of the year were (in no particular order):
- Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra. The NYTimes called Zambra “a writer of startling talent,” and he is (although I was not as enthralled by a more recent novel, Bonzai). This book made it into a number of best-of-the-year lists. According to Goodreads, Chilean Poet is Zambra’s “most substantial work yet: a story of fathers and sons, ambition and failure, and what it means to make a family.”
- Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski. From Goodreads: Set in early 1980s Poland against the violent decline of communism, a tender and passionate story of first love between two young men who eventually find themselves on opposite sides of the political divide—a stunningly poetic and heartrending literary debut.
- Young Mungo by Douglas Stewart. Goodreads: Mungo and James are born under different stars –Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic – and they should be sworn enemies… Yet against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong …
- In the Distance by Hernan Diaz: This is a much better, and much more fun, book than Diaz’s latest novel, Trust, which has gotten a lot of praise. Goodreads: A Swedish boy finds himself penniless and alone in California. He travels east in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great push to the west. Driven back over and over again on his journey through vast expanses, Håkan meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend.
- Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty: If you’re a fan of “Reservation Dogs,” you’ll love this short-story collection. Goodreads: Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the 21st century and what it means to live, to survive, and to persevere after tragedy.
- A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande: Thoroughly enjoyable. Goodreads: A Long Petal of the Sea meets Cold Mountain in this sweeping historical saga following a Mexican army nurse and an Irish soldier who must fight, at first for their survival and then for their love, amidst the atrocity of the Mexican-American War.
HERE ARE all the books of fiction I read this year, listed in alphabetical order:
- A Ballad of Love and Glory Reyna Grande
- Amor y Otros Demonios Gabriel García Márquez
- Apeirogon Colum McCann
- Bonzai Alejandro Zambra
- Chilean Poet Alejandro Zambra
- Como Agua Para Chocolate**Laura Esquivel
- Demon Copperhead Barbara Kingsolver
- The Devil Takes You Home Gabino Iglesias
- Dos Crimenes * Jorge Ibargüengoitia
- Fishing the Sloe-Black River Colum McCann
- French Braid Ann Tyler
- Harlem Shuffle* Colson Whitehead
- Hola Papi John Paul Brammer
- In the Distance Hernán Díaz
- L.A. Weather María Amparo Escandón
- The Last Chairlift John Irving
- Let the Great World Spin Colum McCann
- Less Is Lost Andrew Sean Greer
- My Name is Lucy Barton* Elizabeth Strout
- Night of the Living Rez Morgan Talty
- Portrait of an Unknown Lady María Gainza
- Swimming in the Dark Tomasz Jedrowski
- The Town of Babylon Alejandro Varela
- Trust Hernán Díaz
- Venice Beach* William Mark Habeeb
- El Viaje del Elefante José Saramago
- Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra** Tomás Rivera
- Young Mungo Douglas Stuart
***Print and audio