BOOKS! Creating Your 2020 Wish List

By Carole Reedy

“Pleasure lies first in anticipation, later in memory,” Julian Barnes 

Like many of you, I never make a New Year’s resolution list. I do, however, create a book wish list, which turns into an ongoing year-long project. My criteria for the book list is based on five elements:  

  •  my favorite writers
  • recommendations from friends
  • my travel destinations for the year
  • book reviews (usually from The Guardian)
  • unread books from the past 

Very seldom do I re-read a book, even my favorites. 

To help you create your own list, here are some of the most anticipated books of 2020. The first three top my list.

THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT, 

by Hilary Mantel

At long last, the highly anticipated third volume and the follow up to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s brilliant creations depicting the power and rise of Thomas Cromwell in England’s 16th century. Mantel won the Booker Prize for both previous books, the first woman and Brit to win this prestigious prize twice. Two men have won the prize two times each, Australian Peter Carey and South African J. M. Coetzee. The jury chair for the 2012 Booker Prize, Sir Peter Stothard, praised Mantel’s accomplishment (in Bring Up the Bodies) in writing about the history of the time, noting that she “is able to bring it to life as though for the first time.”  This new installment about the fall of Thomas Cromwell is number one on my wish list. Publication date: March 10, 2020.

THE MAN IN THE RED COAT, 

by Julian Barnes

Author of the introductory quote at the top of this article, Barnes is a favorite not just of Brits, but worldwide, most of his books having been translated into multiple languages. As readers of The Eye know, he’s a novelist and art critic near to my heart. We anticipated this book last year, but now Amazon gives us a February 18, 2020, delivery date.  Simplyput, it is the story of society surgeon Samuel-jean de Pozzi. In 2015 Barnes spotted a portrait by John Singer Sargent entitled Dr. Pozzi at Home on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the National Portrait Gallery. Intrigued and then obsessed, Barnes went on to paint a portrait in words of the eclectic, diversified, dedicated, and idiosyncratic life of Dr. Pozzi. As with all Barnes’ books, the story is not simply of a man but of the times, as well as the parallels to our own politics. 

THE LYING LIFE OF ADULTS, 

by Elena Ferrante (translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein)

Italians lined up at midnight to buy copies of Ferrante’s first novel since her successful Neapolitan quartet.  Reading vigils were formed, and now the rest of us await the English translation, due out June 9, 2020.  The premise is once again a woman’s story in Naples. Ferrante’s prose, which took us into the minds and worlds of her characters in the Neapolitan Quartet (2012 – 2015), is just one element of her charm. It’s undergirded by her admirable stance against publicity for her work, as well as a desire for no personal publicity. Her hidden identity continues to lend an aura of mystery to her work.

UTOPIA AVENUE:  A NOVEL, 

by David Mitchell

This will be Mitchell’s first novel in five years, following the successes of Cloud Atlas (2004), The Bone Clocks (2014), and Slade House (2015). In this book, Mitchell’s story centers on the creation of a British band in the 1967 psychedelic movement. He says it best when explaining his purpose in writing about the subject of music: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” He goes on to say, “Songs (mostly) use language, but music plugs directly into something below or above language. Can a novel made of words (and not fitted with built-in speakers or Bluetooth) explore the wordless mysteries of music, and music’s impact on people and the world? How?” These are the questions he attempts to answer in the novel.  Eager to see just how he does it?  You’ll have to wait until June 2, 2020, for this one.

THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE:  A SAGA OF CHURCHILL, FAMILY, AND DEFIANCE DURING THE BLITZ,   by Erik Larson Author of The Devil in the White City (2003), this bestselling New York Times author again creates a work of nonfiction in his creative storytelling style. This time the subject is Winston Churchill, the setting is the Blitz, and the task onerous.  We are fortunate that Larson didn’t continue his original pursuit of a career in journalism, as he once desired, but instead took to freelance writing. His first book, The Naked Consumer (1994), was about how companies spied on individual consumers. He loved it, but no one else seemed to, he claims. He went on to write the entertaining and informative works we love, including In the Garden of the Beasts (2011) and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (2015).  Publication date, February 25, 2020.

APEIROGAN:  A NOVEL, by Colum McCann

Although I never read McCann’s novel that won the National Book Award, Let the Great World Spin, I continue to hear it praised by friends. McCann returns this year with a novel about two men, one Israeli and one Pakistani, who find a common element – loss – that bonds a friendship. “He [McCann] crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate, and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our time,” says the description from Penguin Random House publishers, who anticipate a February 25, 2020, publication date. 

HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE:  A NOVEL, 

by Imbolo Mbue

Many of us were impressed by this Cameroonian writer after reading her PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel Behold the Dreamers (2016), the story of two connected New York City families (the haves and have-nots) during the 2008 financial crisis. Her latest book takes us to a village in Africa and the consequences suffered by the local people from American oil interests. June 16, 2020, publication date.  

AMERICAN DIRT:  A NOVEL, 

by Jeanine Cummins

There is tremendous hype for this novel. Waterstone’s is calling it a page-turner as well as a literary achievement. It’s the story of a woman living in Acapulco with a journalist husband and a young son who suddenly finds herself traveling toward and then at the US border fighting for her life.  Definitely on my list, if only for curiosity! 

A sampling of reviews:

“Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment. Jeanine Cummins makes us all live and breathe the refugee story. If a book can change hearts and transform policies, this is the one.” Julia Alvarez

“This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel! This is the international story of our times. Masterful.” 

Sandra Cisneros

“One hell of a novel about a good woman on the run with her beautiful boy…I defy anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it.”

Stephen King

“It’s been a long time since I turned pages as fast as I did with American Dirt. Its journey is a testament to the power of fear and hope and belief that there are more good people than bad.” John Grisham

Tough, powerful… American Dirt made me understand better why someone would give up the home they know and love to survive, and the grit required to cross that border.”

Tracy Chevalier     

In anticipation of a two-month return trip to Italy and Sicily this year, my own wish list includes the novel The Leopard (1958) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and the dark, but fascinating, Midnight in Sicily:  On Art, Food, History, Travel, and La Cosa Nostra (1996) by Australian Peter Robb.  

Happy reading!

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