What a long strange year it’s been. Often during a period like this, people find themselves drawn to reading. They say reading increases empathy, something we could all use a little more of, and no one can deny that a great story provides a perfect escape.
Of our staff’s list, almost half of the recommendations are nonfiction, more than usual, and all were biographical. Two recommendations are short, dense personal essays: When Breath becomes Air, and You Will Not Have My Hate; tiny little books that pack a powerful blow despite their size. The remaining five are about people and all their difficulties, obsessions, preoccupations and personal revolutions: True Crime Addict, Every Last Tie, Killing Reagan, The Nine of Us, Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams.
Of the fiction a good number of the books read employ humor, the sugar to help the medicine go down, which, unexpectedly, provides a reprieve from an overwhelming amount of insincerity. El Deafo, Modern Lovers, The Nest, The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, A Man Called Ove, and The Bed Moved expose laughable but relateable quirks of personality, imagination and situation. Others are more irreverent in tone, and thus more piercing, like Making Nice, Stiletto, or The Underground Railroad.
The quest for identity was a theme in a few too. Swing Time by Zadie Smith, The Girls by Emma Cline and Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, contained stories of marginal identities wading through existential gray areas via some sort of major external crisis. Georgia, a highly praised novel of Georgia O’Keefe’s life made the list, as did two recent WWII historicals: Mischling and Everyone Brave is Forgiven.