From December 22, 2020 at NA Confidential. Some articles from late in the year were not archived here, and this is one of them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched tens of millions of people around the world. For us, it precluded the usual work and travel schedules and kept us here at home, where I’ve probably spent more time in 2020 then the past two or three years combined.
Bizarrely and for all the wrong reasons, at long last I’ve had ample time to read. In turn, all this reading has constituted a massive brainfood overload, and I’ll make no attempt to summarize the following.
However, at this precise moment in time, here are the three books from 2020 that made the deepest impression.
Capital and Ideology, by Thomas Piketty
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
War and War, a novel by László Krasznahorkai
These were consumed in a frenetic period from late July through November; as the mass insanity engendered by the presidential campaign intensified, so did my need to sept aside and try to make sense of it. After Krasznahorkai’s deeply affecting novel, I plunged into non-fiction until the election was concluded.
Then, turning back to fiction, I learned a final lesson: when your neighborhood is descending into crazed madness, Broch’s novel The Sleepwalkers cannot provide the slightest measure of escapist relief.
But four novels by Kurt Vonnegut in one calendar year might be trying to tell me something, too.
So it goes; here they are. A final note: 2020 was the year New Albanians said goodbye to Destinations Booksellers. It was a refuge amid the school paste Gahanist mediocrity hereabouts, and will be sorely missed.
Books of 2020 (chronologically in reverse order)
31. Cat’s Cradle, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
30. Finding Bix: The Life and Afterlife of a Jazz Legend, by Brendan Wolfe
29. The Sleepwalkers, a novel by Hermann Broch
28. Encounter, a collection of essays by Milan Kundera
27. Capital and Ideology, by Thomas Piketty
26. The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch
25. Jailbird, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
24. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
23. Capitalism & Disability, selected writings by Marta Russell
22. Backlash: What happens When We Talk Honestly About Racism in America, by George Yancy
21. Towards the One & Only Metaphor, a novel by Miklos Szentkuthy
20. Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future, by James S. Shapiro
19. Craft: An Argument, by Pete Brown
18. War and War, a novel by László Krasznahorkai
17. Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, translated by Matvei Yankelevich
16. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, by Frederick Lewis Allen
15. Mother Night, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
14. Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon?, by Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler
13. How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs, by Melanie Mühl and Diana von Kopp
12. Bliss Was It in Bohemia, a novel by Michel Viewegh
11. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, by Elizabeth David
10. Russian Cosmism, edited by Boris Groys
9. The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World, by Christy Campbell
8. Bluebeard, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
7. The Ghosts of My Life, by Mark Fisher
6. Capitalist Realism, by Mark Fisher
5. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginnings of the Modern World, by Thomas Cahill
4. The Prague Cemetery, a novel by Umberto Eco
3. Bavarian Helles, by Horst Dornbusch
2. Strong Towns, by Charles Marohn
1. The Tragedy of Liberation, by Frank Dikkotter