A Book A Week in 2020: The Reading List

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A couple of years ago, Mere, my middle daughter, gave me a ballcap that I wear often while reading outside in the gazebo. The inscription:  Fight Evil. Read Books. It is one of my favorite caps. She also told me about the Goodreads app, which I now use to keep up with books I have read or plan to read. For years, I used to keep a handwritten list in a notebook. That was rather analog. Goodreads is way handier and likely will keep me from buying the same novel twice, a few years apart. I have done that more than once. Now that 2020 is in hindsight, Goodreads kindly provided My Year in Books. So here are the highlights and some of the books I consumed while holed up at home last year.

To tally up, I read 52 books that amassed a total of 20,596 pages. A book a week. Funny, it didn’t seem I read that many. The longest book, weighing in at 1,120 pages was Reaganland by Rick Perlstein, an account of the rise of Ronald Reagan and the election of 1980. I am an inveterate reader of presidential biographies. I am about to start reading President Obama’s autobiography, A Promised Land, with hopes of finishing by the end of the month. It is heavy enough to injure a cat if dropped, so I’ll be careful.

The shortest book, at 112 pages, that I read early last year was Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, by Father Jacques Philippe. Seeking peace last year certainly was a challenge for all of us. I can’t say I succeeded but am still trying.

Other books of note that ended up on my bookshelves last year:

  • Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, by Stephen Harrigan. The longtime Texas Monthly writer and novelist managed to capture the tale of this huge, crazy state in 925 pages of fast-paced and highly readable prose. As one reviewer put it, “The book itself is truly a big wonderful thing.”
  • The People’s Revolt: Texas Populists and the Roots of American Liberalism, by Gregg Cantrell. I have long been interested in the populist movement, after delving into it for a book I wrote for University of Texas Press in 2006. (A Hanging in Nacogdoches: Murder, Race, Politics and Polemics in Texas’s Oldest Town, 1870-1916. Apologies for the long title. Still available at The Bosslight in Nacogdoches, Books & Barrel in Longview, or from me.) Cantrell, a history professor at TCU, worked on this book, published by Yale, for a couple of decades. The effort was well worth it. He traces how the Texas People’s Party in Texas in the 1890s sparked the ideas that would eventually result in the modern liberalism movement. The People’s Revolt is not an easy read, but I found it fascinating.
  • The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Les Payne was a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who researched Malcom X’s life for nearly three decades but sadly died before completing the biography. His daughter, Tamara, served as his principal researcher and finished the book after her father’s death. It provides a much-deeper portrait of this complicated man, who was assassinated in 1965 by members of the Nation of Islam, with which Malcolm X had broken.

On the lighter side:

  • Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero, by Christopher McDougall, is the delightful true story of a donkey that he and his wife rescued from neglect and near-death and eventually trained to race. Yes, donkey racing is a thing. The owner doesn’t actually ride the donkey but runs alongside. Look it up on YouTube. And check out Running with Sherman. It is the very definition of heart-warming.
  • Deacon King Kong by James McBride is on most short lists of best novels of 2020. Set in 1969 in a south Brooklyn housing project, its chief character is Sportcoat, a church deacon, widower and serious alcoholic who shoots the project’s young drug lord because he is angry the dealer gave up baseball for selling drugs. The cast of characters and how they intertwine is both funny and tragic.
  • The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is the story of a terrorist bombing in a museum that kills the mother of a 13-year-old boy, who ends up with a small, but priceless, painting that once hung in the museum. This novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014, will keep you rooted to your seat, as you follow the twists and turns of Theo Decker’s life through adulthood.

There are plenty of other worthy books that I consumed in 2020. If you’re interested, take a look here: https://tinyurl.com/y4pxyhwl

Finally, I kicked off the 2021 reading season with His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, by Jon Meacham, an acclaimed historian and biographer. It is a truly beautiful story of one of America’s greatest heroes.

Happy reading, everyone.

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