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Quick Six: The best books I’ve read in 2020

Ever since I was a child, I have been greedy for books. I would stay up late into the night to finish my beginner chapter books, sneak in a few pages while riding in the car trying to block out my sister’s singing.

Sometimes I go through dry patches. After all, there are many distractions: work, family, Netflix.

The silver lining of the pandemic is that many people have returned to old hobbies or taken up new ones.

While others have been learning how to bake bread, taking up knitting or participating in the latest workout craze, I have spent my pandemic free time cracking open some books.

Out of the books I have read this year, here are my six favorites in no particular order.

1. A Widow for One Year by John Irving

This novel follows the Coles, a couple whose two sons died in a car crash, and the boy who falls in love with the mother while working as an assistant to her husband. It then jumps 30 years into the future, showing the life of the daughter the Coles had after the death of their sons.

It is tragic, well-written and has surprising twists and turns.

2. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

This novel centers on two families who become intertwined through divorce and remarriage. As the children grow up, they must deal with the effects of events in their childhoods, including a secret they all share.

There is plenty of family drama to keep any reader interested.

3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I would recommend this book to anyone who has writing aspirations.

Lamott, a successful novelist, gives practical advice on writing a novel and prepares writers for the challenges ahead. The book reads like advice from a good friend, not an author putting on airs to impress readers.

3. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

This book tells the story of an Iowa farm family. But if you are looking for a feel good story, don’t look here. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the tale of a king who bequeaths his throne to two of his three daughters after they declare their love for him excessively. Transport that to a farm town and the novel follows a father giving his thousand acre farm to two of his three daughters and the tragedies that follow.

At times it was difficult me to get through the book because of the cruelty of some of the characters, but by the end I was impressed by Smiley’s writing and the beauty of the story.

4. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

This book exists in the same universe as Slaughterhouse Five but remains a bit tamer with no aliens or time travel. The novel poses a tough moral question readers will be contemplating long after they put the book down.

5. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is a must-read for any fan of Atwood such as myself. As in all of her novels, her talent for writing shines through and brings attention to injustices in society.

6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Perhaps I am only including this novel to brag about finishing this beast of a book. But Tolstoy masterfully threads the story of a cast of characters people throughout the tale and many believe the novel is one of the best books ever written. If you have the time to read the 864 pages and are able to keep all the characters straight, it is an interesting read.

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Contact Anna Shearer at 641-753-6611 or ashearer@timesrepublican

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