1. THE NICKEL BOYS – Colson Whitehead
I have to start by saying I am the ultimate Colson Whitehead fanboy. I have read everything he has written; most of them more than once. While The John Henry Days is my favorite Whitehead book. The Nickel Boys is definitely in my Top 5 Whitehead books. Writing something fictional about Nickel was pretty amazing. It didn’t have the mystical moments of The Underground Railroad. There is a scene of a boxing match that made me think of the battle royale in Ellison’s Invisible Man.
2. THEMES AND VARIATIONS – David Sedaris
I am not one to read a book and laugh out loud. Somehow, David Sedaris does it to me every time. The book is the shortest book I read in 2020, but I could not stop laughing.
3. INVISIBLE MAN – Ralph Ellison
Ellison wrote this book in the ’50s. It is sad, stunning, and soberingly reminds me not a lot has changed since almost seventy years later. One of my favorite parts is Ellison’s homage to Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground which transitions into his battle royale scene.
4. THOSE WHO RIDE THE NIGHT WINDS – Nikki Giovanni
If you haven’t read Nikki Giovanni, I feel sorry for you. Her poetry is heartsy, spiritual, and sensual. Reading her poetry is like listening to a Jill Scott song. Nikki is the Jill Scott of poetry or Jill Scott may be the Nikki Giovanni of Neo-Soul.
5. OTHER PEOPLE’S TRADES – Primo Levi
This was one of my favorite books of the year. Levi writes beautiful prose and you can tell from his observations, he sees the world in a deeply insightful way.
Our future is not written; it is not certain: we awakened from a long sleep, and we have seen that the human condition is incompatible with certainty.
6. SALINGER – Shane Salerno
This starts with a confession….I have never read A Catcher in the Rye. Salinger is one of the most intriguing Americans of the 20th century. He was part of the New York elite. He saw some of the worst parts of World War II. He wrote one of the most amazing novels of the 20th century. Then he became an eccentric recluse who had a thing for very young women.
The format of the book is probably as interesting as the subject.
7. THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH AND OTHER STORIES – Leo Tolstoy
The novella about the death of Ivan Ilych is an amazing work about a man who has an accident and slowly dies. Tolstoy has such a mastery of the inner dialogue of man. He writes the inner workings of a man like no other.
There remained only those rare periods of amorousness which still came to them at times but did not last long. There were inlets at which they anchored for a while and then again set out upon that ocean of veiled hostility which showed itself in their aloofness from one another.
8. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD – John LeCARRE
I decided to read the John LeCarre spy novels in chronological order in 2020. My kids were binge-watching Marvel and Star Wars in chronological order, and I decided to binge-read. I read the first four books: Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and The Looking Glass War. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is by far the best I read. It has the most action by far.
9. AFRICAN FOLKTALES – A. Kwada
A brilliant collection of folktales from all over the continent. The folktales are very entertaining and have some deep wisdom. I found my favorite stories were the origin stories of different animals or ways of the world.
10. THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I don’t know if I can say enough about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. They are brilliant and Holmes is the character that is the base for so many other fictional characters moving forward.
One of my favorite stories actually involves the Ku Klux Klan.