One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.
Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.
The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”
Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible,Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre.
Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”
“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”
Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”
In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”
Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”
“Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind imagines the world after a global disaster, but its real subject is white entitlement.”
[Alam] has an interior barometer exquisitely calibrated to signifiers of social class: fashion houses, just-trendy-enough restaurants, interiors detailed with the loving eye of a copywriter for a high-end furniture catalog. His interest lies in taxonomies of race and class, not in generating the reader’s empathy or evoking an emotional response. Lacking the capacity for deep reflection, his characters drift along in their bubbles, so perfectly self-absorbed that the other people in their lives are all but invisible . . .
What intrigued me most about this list is the format. Writer Neema Roshania Patel asked “Torrey Peters, author of “Detransition Baby,” which came out on Jan. 12,” to name a book she is looking forward to this year, then asked the author of that book for a recommendation, and so on.
“I spoke with 10 female authors by the end of the chain, and together, they brought me down an exciting path of novels — plus a collection of poetry, a book of essays, a memoir and even a journey to the cosmos.”
I was attracted by this article’s title because, well, it’s George Saunders, but also because I’ve always had a very tenuous relationship with comedy. Growing up, I did not find the Keystone Cops and the Three Stooges funny at all. This article didn’t really help me sort out my concept of comedy, but, hey, it’s George Saunders talking about writing.
I haven’t read it yet, but House of Leaves has been on my TBR shelf for a while now because I’m always intrigued by descriptions of books with unusual structures. Here Melissa Baron discusses what she calls “fiction’s coolest niche genre: the weird and unconventional world of ergodic literature.” She pares the definition down to “books or digital text that use unusual methods to tell their stories,” but you’ll have to read the rest of the article to even begin to understand what the term means.
And I just moved House of Leaves several places upwards on my TBR list.
Michael Dirda finds that reading “serious literary fiction . . . [can] be exceptionally draining.” So, when he needs a break, he turns to nonfiction: “even a dry-seeming nonfiction category like ‘books about books’ — a librarian might label them ‘studies of print culture’— can be dangerously fascinating.”
Read what books about books he has especially liked recently.
Jonathan Kellerman, a former practicing clinical psychologist, created the fictional psychologist Alex Delaware in the novel When the Bough Breaks, published in 1981. Now at nearly 40 novels, the Delaware books comprise “the longest-running contemporary American crime fiction series.”
Here Kellerman discusses how, in Alex Delaware, he aimed to create a portrait of an ordinary person who works in the mental health profession. Kellerman laments that most other fiction continues to present mental health professionals in terms of two clichés: “evil shrink/screwed-up shrink. Sometimes a combination of both.”
German thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek discusses why he writes psychological thrillers: “In my view, the fascination for psychological thrillers can be explained in part by the fact that they deal with one of the last unexplored universes of all, one we carry right inside us: the human mind.”
Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:
Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?
After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”
Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.
Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.
As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”
“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”
Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:
We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.
Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”
In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.
I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.
Christine Hume, author of “Saturation Project,” recommends modern stories that turn patriarchal folklore on its head.
At the end of story-telling is myth-making: exhausted, stripped down narrative, pure grammar crystalized into affect. And when it’s good . . . Myth-structure holds the power to awaken us to our own history and also to make ourselves into strangers.
Do you have a reading plan for 2021? If you’ve never put a reading plan together, the task can seem overwhelming. Here are some resources I’ve collected that can help.
But you don’t have to develop a formal reading plan to find these articles useful. Maybe you’d like some advice on how to keep track of the books you read. Or perhaps you’re just interested in finding a few reading challenges to motivate you or help you discover new kinds of literature.
Either way, you might find something you can use in these articles.
Tirzah Price has developed a spreadsheet for keeping track of her 2021 reading. She provides a link where you can download a copy of her template, which you can then modify to fit your own needs. She even provides a video tutorial to help you work with the spreadsheet.
2021 is the seventh year for Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge. This year’s challenge “has 24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”
Most of the annual best books of the year lists refer only to books published during the stated calendar year. But my annual list always refers to books I read this year, regardless of when they were published.
Here, then, are the 10 best books I read this year, listed alphabetically by author, plus 5 more honorable mentions.
You could check out all the lists below. Or you could just start here and be done with it. Emily Temple of Lit Hub has scoured all the “best books of the year” lists to find out which books appeared most often.
From Lit Hub editor Emily Temple: “I’ve polled the Lit Hub staff to settle on the ten best literary adaptations that debuted on small or large (ha ha) screens in this bizarre death spiral we’ve called 2020.”
Katy Walkman, book critic for The New Yorker, has a refreshing approach to compiling her list:
I regret to announce that I will not be declaring the ten best fiction books of the year. Such lists are malarkey. I’d be delighted to boss you around—I assume that’s why you’re here, to receive direction or fight—but please just think of the titles below as ten worthwhile books, milestones of a sort, published in this Very Weird Year.
OK, this is not exactly a list of best books. But according to Nicole Saraniero, “The most checked-out titles reflect the way New Yorkers were feeling about the historic events and cultural movements that have occurred over the past twelve months. Many books that earned top spots tackle subjects like social justice and isolation, while others offer pure escapism.”
This article avoids merely listing titles by commenting on and attempting to explain the significance of the data.
Kendra Winchester, from Appalachia, has compiled this list of works to counterbalance “the stereotypes of J.D. Vance’s version of Appalachia . . . [that] the entire region is made up of poor rural white people consumed with violence who have no one to blame but themselves for their life circumstances.”
This year, Oxford Languages, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, has forgone the selection of a single word in favor of highlighting the coronavirus pandemic’s swift and sudden linguistic impact on English.
This topic has come up periodically since the recent upheaval about racism in law enforcement. The article reports:
some cop TV shows including CBS’ “S.W.A.T.” and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” and “Chicago PD” are returning for their new seasons . . . And many plan to dive head-first into the new environment surrounding law enforcement.
Another issue that gets talked about a lot is the lack of diversity in publishing. Here’s a look at the latest merger, the acquisition of Simon & Shuster, the third largest publisher in the U.S., by Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House.
Epigraphs are those short quotations at the beginning of books or, sometimes, at the beginning of each chapter or section in a book. I admit that I usually don’t pay as much attention to them as I should. I always intend to go back at the end and ponder their significance, but often I don’t remember to do it.
Here’s a list compiled by Ashley Holstrom of the best epigraphs of books published in 2020.
Bill Buford, the writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker, once said: “Stories protect us from chaos, [and are] essential to the way we make sense of our lives.” Given the tumult of this past year, we’ve needed stories more than ever. And fortunately, while 2020 has fallen wildly short of many expectations, it’s been a boon for readers who enjoy great books.
From Erin Kodicek, editor of Amazon Book Review, comes this list of the top 10 books of the year. The list includes both fiction and nonfiction. And, since it’s from Amazon, you’ll find many links to other lists that might suit you.
The New York Public Library offers lists for adults, for kids, and for teens. There are also Spanish lists and information on books available in accessible formats (e.g., digital talking books and braille editions).
From The Guardian, this is the portal page to lists in fiction, children’s books, crime and thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, memoir and celebrity books, politics, ideas, sport, nature and science, poetry, comics and graphic novels, art, food, and stocking fillers.
This list contains only a few titles, with a link to the full list of 20. I’ve included this link because the article begins with a brief description of how the Amazon Book Review selects its best books of the year: “there’s no formula. It’s just us, reading new books by authors we love, reading books recommended by publishers, or reading books because we just like the look, or the description, of that particular book.”
NPR offers a big list of books that allows you to apply all different kinds of filters to find something that’s just right for you or for some lucky gift recipient. And just in case you can’t find anything published this year that quite fills the bill, you can also consult the best books of years past (back to 2013).
AudioFile has its list of the best audiobooks of 2020. Here Audible, the audiobooks arm of Amazon, offers its list of the top 10. At the bottom of the page are links to other categorical lists, such as fiction, comedy & humor, memoir, self-development, and mysteries & thrillers.
From Jamie Canavés for Novel Suspects: “The way I judged this year’s list was rather simple: what are the thriller books and mystery books published this year that I read and am I still thinking about? In a year that felt a decade long, it seemed like a good way to set the bar.”
From Emily Temple for LitHub: “We Lived Through 2020 and All We Got Were These Really Good Books.”
Of all the unique occurrences of 2020 that Temple lists (and the first paragraph is worth reading just for this list), my favorite is this one: “We all watched every TV show ever created and then complained about them on the internet.” I say this after watching all seven seasons of The 100, a show with an interesting premise that outlived that premise by four seasons and ended up with a totally stupid conclusion.