The Independent's “51 Favorite Books Of 2020”

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The nonprofit Washington Independent Review of Books, host of the annual Washington Writers Conference, has announced its 51 Favorite Books of 2020.

“We don’t possess the hubris to declare certain books ‘the best,’ but these titles are among our favorites of 2020, a year that can’t end fast enough,” said Editor-in-Chief Holly Smith. “We hope readers enjoy them as much as our reviewers did.”

Here are just some of the books that made the list. See the rest at www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com.

Oligarchy: A Novel” by Scarlett Thomas
Reviewed by Josh Denslow
“What Thomas pulls off here is astounding. This is a truly funny book. It is acerbic. It is mean-spirited. It is heavy (and I don't just mean weight gain). The characters are flawed and sometimes intensely unlikable, but they are also naive and susceptible to peer pressure and scared to be different and just so crazy-believable. I was rooting for all of them to survive.”

Run Me to Earth: A Novel” by Paul Yoon
Reviewed by Alice Stephens
“Yoon’s mission is not to educate the reader on the history of Laos, and those unfamiliar with the country must stay alert to figure out what’s going on. Other than the author’s note and a few incidental details, there is little explication of that country’s political situation. Instead, his story is the human tragedy of war, with a leitmotif on the calamity of colonialism.”

Shuggie Bain: A Novel” by Douglas Stuart
Reviewed by Mike Maggio
“This is a book I did not want to read. Why? I didn’t like the title. First takeaway: Never judge a book by its name. Second takeaway: This is an instant classic. A novel that takes places during the Thatcher years and, in a way, defines it. A novel that explores the underbelly of Scottish society. A novel that digs through the grit and grime of 1980s Glasgow to reveal a story that is at once touching and gripping. Think D.H. Lawrence. Think James Joyce.”

The Boatman’s Daughter: A Novel” by Andy Davidson
Reviewed by Daniel Weaver
“Much like in Davidson’s debut, ‘In the Valley of the Sun,’ the gothic, magical horror elements of ‘The Boatman’s Daughter’ come second to, and build upon, a darker, realistic depiction of violence … Because the truly fantastical horror elements take time to emerge and only ever involve a portion of Davidson’s cast, men like a corrupt constable, John Avery, and even Billy Cotton read like the darker characters from the first season of ‘True Detective,’ a show with which Davidson’s novel shares the humid, hazy, vine-draped setting of the American south.”

The Boston Massacre: A Family History” by Serena Zabin
Reviewed by Dean Jobb
“The Boston Massacre was a turning point in the march toward the War of Independence. Britain’s military might and colonists’ demands for liberty collided on Boston’s streets, with deadly results. In ‘The Boston Massacre: A Family History,’ historian Serena Zabin takes a fresh look at this historic milestone by shifting the focus to the human story that lies beneath this tragic and momentous incident.”

Interior Chinatown: A Novel” by Charles Yu
Reviewed by Josh Denslow
“If you read Charles Yu's ‘Interior Chinatown’ (and I strongly suggest you do), you’ll find that it kind of looks like a script. Indented dialogue throughout. Rampant scene headings, one of which gives us our book’s title. But it’s in the action where things are different. In these blocks of prose, ‘Interior Chinatown’ reveals itself to be a stunning novel about identity, race, societal expectations, and crippling anxiety told with humor and affection and a deep understanding of human nature.”

Half Broke: A Memoir” by Ginger Gaffney
Reviewed by Gretchen Lida

“The healing power of horses is not a new concept. It’s been explored across art forms. But narratives featuring equine therapy programs for veterans, autistic children, and others can often feel too sweet or tidy. This isn’t the case with ‘Half Broke.’ The healing here is hard-won, subtle and small. And that makes it all the more miraculous.”

Notes from an Apocalypse” by Mark O’Connell
Reviewed by Colin Asher

“Part jeremiad and part travelogue, the book reports on the subcultures of doomsday preppers, billionaire survivalists and Mars-colony advocates. O’Connell visits the Alladale Wilderness Reserve, a vast expanse of land denuded by industrial activity that is being rewilded, and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The book is full of wry humor, and O’Connell is an earnest, self-effacing narrator wise enough to employ filial love as recurrent theme to give his book emotional ballast. His greatest virtue, however, is his talent as a critic and interpreter.”

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change” by Hope Jahren
Reviewed by Gretchen Lida

“If there’s one book all of us should read about the state of the environment, it’s this one. Sure, that might seem a little overzealous. One book isn’t going to solve the slow-motion catastrophe of a warming planet. It will, however, help readers understand the problem without making them run to the bunkers of fear, shame, denial and tribalism.”

They Went Left” by Monica Hesse
Reviewed by Caroline Bock

“Some wouldn’t choose a book about a Holocaust survivor as an antidote to a pandemic. Still, I found myself engrossed in Monica Hesse’s third historical YA novel, ‘They Went Left,’ set in 1945 Poland and Germany. As I read this immersive story from within my shelter-in-place suburban home, I kept thinking in a wry, melancholic way: Things could be worse. However, as I emerged from reading, I was glad it was 2020, not 1945. I have my immediate family around me (even if we are going a bit stir crazy) and I am grateful for them.”

Anxious People: A Novel” by Fredrik Backman
Reviewed by Robert Allen Papinchak

“How do you follow up a sensational international bestseller like ‘A Man Called Ove?’ Fredrik Backman does it spectacularly with the entertaining conundrum ‘Anxious People.’ As equally idiosyncratic and iconoclastic as his debut, it is an outrageously hilarious, flawless novel about ‘how a bank robber failed to rob a bank but instead managed to spark a hostage drama.’ It is the most bizarre heist story since Sidney Lumet’s ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ with narrative nods to Ann Patchett’s ‘Bel Canto’ and O. Henry’s ‘The Ransom of Red Chief.’”

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