This year has been so completely disrupted. Obviously in terms of all the theatre that was cancelled (to the point I probably won't bother to do a best theatre of 2020 post), but even on the literary front. I am finding it all but impossible to reconstruct what I actually read, and of the books I did read, when I read them. For instance, I definitely read Basic Black with Pearls, but it isn't entirely clear whether I read it at the very tail end of Dec. or in January, though I think it was Dec. While I wasn't completely wild about it (and didn't put it on my best of 2019 list), 2020 has basically been a real dud in terms of reading, and it would certainly make the 2020 list... Similarly, in a more typical year, Rushdie's Quichotte would probably only have been honorable mention.
I have completely stalled out in terms of my main reading list. I actually gave up on the last 100 pages of so of William Maxwell's Time Will Darken It, as I thought it was quite an inferior novel compared to his others, and I actually haven't gotten back to reading him or Dawn Powell, where I also thought a bit of a break from her would be a good idea, though I hadn't intended on making it a year-long break! A large part of the winter into spring was taken up with Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, and it is a book that I am glad to have gotten through, but didn't generally enjoy along the way, particularly the last, interminable chapters.
I did manage to grab a handful of library books before the major travel restrictions came into place in the spring, which meant I had months and months to finish those books. While Camus's The Plague was definitely worthy, I found I didn't really like Kundera's novels as much as I had expected and finished them more out of obligation than anything. I generally switched my focus onto e-texts for a very long time after that, and while I certainly amassed an enormous collection of them (which will come in handy when it is time to downsize and move to a condo or something), I didn't necessarily read that many of them, aside from poetry collections, which I generally do not put on my end of year reading lists. I did, however, reread Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead almost entirely on my phone while in line at the grocery store. It held a bit more menace this time (there is a virus that wipes out humanity!), though I wasn't entirely sold on the ending, which is the primary reason that Atwood takes the prize for best reread book this year... Unusually, I even got around to listening to several audio books (which I virtually never do), almost entirely recordings of Toni Morrison reading her novels (unabridged no less).
I also was making a concerted effort to go through books that would then go out into the Little Free Library (and I did make it through The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis, though I thought it was nowhere near as good as his earlier books), but sort of by default that means these aren't likely to be great books. In the fall, I slogged my way through the Library of America's The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, which I didn't care for at all. I'm hoping to actually resell it (if used bookstores ever reopen), but it may just end up in the Little Free Library after all. And then I got sidetracked by starting to read Quebecois novels published by QC Fiction but unfortunately not really liking the first 3 books I tackled, and even abandoning one of them.
I don't think this was all down to me having a generally negative outlook on life and literature due to the coronavirus. I think I just hit a pretty bad patch and no question I read much, much less than I normally would because I biked exclusively to work (so no reading on transit) and often, though not always, was putting in overtime at work. Also, over this past month I have started watching a movie or two each week with my son, which also cuts into my spare reading time.
Top 3 of 2020
Albert Camus The Plague
Carrianne Leung That Time I Loved You
Salman Rushdie Quichotte
Best novel reread
Margaret Atwood The Edible Woman
John Cheever Thirteen Uncollected Stories
Julio Ramón Ribeyro The Word of the Speechless (NYRB)
Sonny Liew The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (interesting graphic novel covering the history of Singapore)
Kamila Shamsie The City by the Sea (ending may be a bit too upbeat given the circumstances)
Sheung-King You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.
Dawn Powell The Wicked Pavilion (takes a while to find its footing)
Steven Jay Gould Ever Since Darwin
Marc-Uwe Kling QualityLand
Kurt Vonnegut w/ North & Monteys Slaughterhouse Five (the graphic novel adaptation)
I had certainly expected to finish Don Quixote by 2020, along with Nabokov's Lectures on Don Quixote, but instead it will be one of the first things I finish in 2021. I may also tackle another plague-related book (Station Eleven), and if I can find the time, then I will try to take on Eric Dupont's Songs for the Cold of Heart (published as The American Finance in the US). There is a small chance that I will read Nersesian's The Five Books of Robert Moses, but truthfully I think it is more important that I read War and Peace and probably even reread The Brothers Karamazov before this contemporary epic.