Retrospective 2020: Books

It was the year of the pandemic but also a year that provided a lot of opportunities. In the next few posts I’ll look back on some of the things that I accomplished. Today, books. I read 60 books, 9 more than I read in 2019. When you look at the list, you’ll see that I binged on a few authors, particularly Sara Paretsky’s that feature the hard-assed Chicago detective V. I. Warshawski and her band of friends and family. Ms. Paretsky will not be on my list next year unless she writes another Warshawski novel. I’ve read all of them. I thank my friend Thea for the introduction to Sara P’s work.

Anything that is a literary novel, was likely recommended by my niece Koren. She has great taste in books. One of the most uplifting of her recommendations was Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin. The story is wonderful, including the descriptions of people and places. The fact that I had visited Kigali, Rwanda several years ago made Ms. Parkin’s imagery even more real.


The duo Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen write a series of murder mysteries that feature a prominent French wine critic and his assistant. I enjoy hearing their descriptions of wine and the delicious meals that eat. I learned a lot about French wine and wine regions. The wine critic isn’t someone I’d want to hang out with, though, because where ever he goes in France, someone turns up murdered.


Someone asked me if reading a book again counts as reading a book. But of course! I revisited some of the books that made an impression when I was in high school by authors Pearl S. Buck, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. The Good Earth impressed me as exotic back then, but this reading made me see how oppressed the women were and how cruel the main character was. Hemingway and Steinbeck stood the test of time.

I never read War of the Worlds, so I felt I had to give the classic a chance, and I’m glad I did. Flatland is another oldie. I wrote a separate post on that several weeks back. It’s terrific for getting an understanding of multidimensional physics, but not so good for the cause of advancing women.


I read are two historical books, one about photography and the other about the California wine industry. Both were readings I completed for courses that I took.


My favorite book of the year is A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. It’s hilarious, irreverent, and sad. Don’t be put off by the length. It is 617 pages of pure genius.

  1. Immigrant, Montana: A Novel, Amitava Kumar

  2. Foul Play in Vouvray, Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen

  3. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving

  4. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

  5. Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky

  6. Deadlock, Sara Paretsky

  7. Killing Orders, Sara Paretsky

  8. Nose: A Novel, James Conaway

  9. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery

  10. Bitter Medicine, Sara Paretsky

  11. Fallout, Sara Paretsky

  12. Hard Time, Sara Paretsky

  13. The Herd, Andrea Bartz

  14. The Woman in the Window, A.F. Finn

  15. The Glass House, Emily St. John Mandel

  16. Blood Shot, Sara Paretsky

  17. In the Heart of the Fire, Dean Koontz

  18. The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present, Beaumont Newhall

  19. Photographing the Dead, Dean Koontz

  20. The Praying Mantis Bride, Dean Koontz

  21. The Mercy of Snakes, Dean Koontz

  22. Memories of Tomorrow, Dean Koontz

  23. Mr. Nobody, Catherine Steadman

  24. The Shooting at Chateau Rock, Martin Walker

  25. Lola Quartet, Emily St. John Mandel

  26. The Vanished Birds, Simon Jimenez

  27. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

  28. When She Returned, Lucinda Berry

  29. Crush: The Triumph of California Wine, John Briscoe

  30. Burn Marks, Sara Paretsky

  31. Guardian Angel, Sara Paretsky

  32. Tunnel Vision, Sara Paretsky

  33. Death at the Chateau Beaumont, M. L. Longworth

  34. Murder in the Rue Dumas, M. L. Longworth

  35. The Unspoken, Ian K. Smith

  36. Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan

  37. Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips

  38. Total Recall, Sara Paretsky

  39. Less, Andrew Sean Greer

  40. Blacklist, Sara Paretsky

  41. Fire Sale, Sara Paretsky

  42. Baking Cakes in Kigali, Gaile Parkin

  43. Hardball, Sara Paretsky

  44. Body Work, Sara Paretsky

  45. Breakdown, Sara Paretsky

  46. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck

  47. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

  48. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen

  49. The Pearl, John Steinbeck

  50. The Red Pony, John Steinbeck

  51. Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott

  52. War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

  53. Critical Mass, Sara Paretsky

  54. Brush Back, Sara Paretsky

  55. Shell Game, Sara Paretsky

  56. Dead Land, Sara Paretsky

  57. Trace Elements, Donna Leon

  58. Windy City Blues, Sara Paretsky

  59. The Aosawa Murders, Riki Onda

  60. News of the World, Paulette Jiles

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I am from a long line of orphans. Perhaps the line isn’t that long, but abandoned babies don’t have the luxury of genealogy. My grandfather was a foundling. He became a detective. Never had children.

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