365 days have finally drew to a close. In its stead is a fresh set of 366 days. With the conclusion of a year is the commencement of a new one. Whilst the future is brimming with a whole world of prospects, the past is also indicative of how the future is gong to shape up. To celebrate the year that’s been, I am looking back to 2019, its hits, and of course, its mishits.
Carrying on from the momentum I gained in 2018, I was able to complete 56 books during the year. It is a decent number considering that I started working again in late March. I could have finished more but it is still fine because I am earning again! Haha.
This book wrap up is a part of a mini-series which will feature the following:
- 2019 Top Eight Not-So Favorite Reads
- 2019 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2019 Book Wrap Up
- 2019 19 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2019 19 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2019 New Favorite Authors
- 2020 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2020 Top 20 Reading List
Finally, I am on the last stretch of my 2019 wrap up series. The eighth and last part of my 2019 wrap up is more of a perspective of my 2020 reading journey. The annual Top 20 List, which I started in 2017 and has become a yearly tradition, is a list of 20 books that I look forward to reading for the year. These are books that I resolve to read during the year and will always be a priority over the rest.
Over the years, my Top 20 lists have provided me some of my best reading experiences for the year. With an interesting mix of classics and contemporary books, my 2020 is shaping to be yet another interesting and wonderful reading year. Without further ado, here’s my 2020 Top 20 Reading List.
Title: Ducks, Newburyport
Author: Lucy Ellmann
Publishing Date: September 2019
No. of Pages: 988
Synopsis: “Baking a multitude of tartes tatin for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing.”
Title: Parallel Stories
Author: Péter Nádas
Translator: Imre Goldstein (from Hungarian)
Publishing Date: 2011
No. of Pages: 1133
Synopsis: “In 1989, the year the wall came down, a university student in Berlin on his morning run finds a corpse on a park bench and alerts the authorities. This scene opens a novel of extraordinary scope and depth, a masterwork that traces the fate of myriad European – Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Gypsies – across the treacherous years of the mid twentieth century.
Three unusual men are at the heart of Parallel Stories: Hans Von Wolkenstein, whose German mother is linked to secrets of fascist-Nazi collaboration during the 1940s; Agost Lippay Lehr, whose influential father served Hungary’s different political regimes for decades; and Andras Rott, who has his own dark record of mysterious activities abroad. The web of extended and interconnected dramas reaches from 1989 back to the spring of 1939, when Europe trembled on the edge of war, and extends to the bestial times of 1944-45, when Budapest was besieged the Final Solution devastated Hungary’s Jews, and the war came to an end, and on to the cataclysmic Hungarian Revolution of October 1956. We follow these men from Berlin and Moscow to Switzerland and Holland, from Mediterranean to the North Sea, and of course, from village to city in Hungary. The social and political circumstances of their lives may vary greatly, their sexual and spiritual longings may seem to each of them entirely unique, yet Péter Nádas’s magnificent tapestry unveils uncanny reverberating parallels that link them across time and space.”
Title: Girl, Woman, Other
Author: Bernardine Evaristo
Publisher: Black Cat
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 452
Synopsis: “Bernardine Evaristo is the winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize and the first black woman to receive this highest literary honor in the English language. Gone, Woman, Other is a magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of a group of black British women. Suffused with empathy and vibrant humor, Girl, Woman, Other is populated with unforgettable characters, from a lesbian playwright to a jaded schoolteacher to a nonbinary social media influencer. Sparklingly witty, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative fast-moving form, this is a polyphonic social novel by a masterful British writer who has finally been lauded at the level she has long deserved.”
Title: An Orchestra of Minorities
Author: Chigozie Obioma
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 443
Synopsis: “On the outskirts of Umuahia, Nigera, a young poultry farmer named Chinonso sees a woman about to jump from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of such a fall. The woman, Ndali, is stopped in her tracks.
Bonded by this night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love and begin to imagine a life together. When Ndali’s wealthy family objects to the union because Chinonso is uneducated, he sells most of his possessions to attend a college in Cyprus. But when he arrives, he discovers that there is no place at the school for him: he has been utterly duped by the young Nigerian who made the arrangements. Penniless, homeless, and furious at a world that continues to relegate him to the sidelines, Chinonso gets further away from his dream, from Ndali, and from the farm hi=e called home.”
Title: The Memoirs of a Polar Bear
Author: Yoko Tawada
Translator: Susan Bernofsky
Publisher: Portobello Books
Publishing Date: September 2017
No. of Pages: 252
Synopsis: “Three Bears
The first, a diligent memoirist whose unlikely success means she must flee her life in Soviet Russia and seek refuge in East Germany.
The second, her daughter, a skilled dancer performing in an East Berlin circus.
The third, Knut, a baby born and raised in Berlin Zoo at the beginning of the 21st century.
Delicate and enchanting, Memoirs of a Polar Bear takes the reader into foreign bodies and foreign climes, and through its beguiling portrait of three extraordinary bears, gracefully reflects upon our humanity.”
Title: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
Author: Robert Tressell
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: 2005
No. of Pages: 590
Synopsis: “A group of English working men are joined one day by Owen, a mysterious journeyman-prophet with a strange vision of a just society. Slowly, he wins the trust and hearts of his fellow workers, rousing them from their dour complacency with his spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system.”
Author: Rudyard Kipling
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics
Publishing Date: 2003
No. of Pages: 278
Synopsis: “Rudyard Kipling has been attacked for championing British imperialism and celebrated for satirizing it. In fact, he did both. Nowhere does he express his own ambivalence more strongly than in Kim, his rousing adventure novel of a young man of many allegiances.
Kimball O’Hara grows up an orphan in the walled city of Lahore, India. Deeply devoted to an old Tibetan lama, but involved in a secret mission for the British, Kim struggles to weave the strands of his life into a single pattern. Charged with action and suspense, yet profoundly spiritual, Kim vividly expresses the sounds and smells, colors and characters, and opulence and squalor of complex, contradictory India under British rule.”
Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2005
No. of Pages: 487 pages
Synopsis: “Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other words, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets-an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.” (Source:Goodreads)
Title: A Brief History Of Seven Killings
Author: Marlon James
Publisher: Riverhead Books, October 2015
No. of Pages: 686
Synopsis: “On December 3, 1976, two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped, and sung in the streets of West Kingston. In A Brief History of Seven Killings, novelist Marlon James re-creates that dangerous and unstable time as he deftly explores the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, ond-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years. The result is a gripping and irresistible novel of power, mystery, and insight.”
Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Translator: Henning Koch
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publishing Date: 2012
No. of Pages: 337
Synopsis: “At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People think him bitter, and he thinks himself surrounded by idiots.
Ove’s well-ordered, solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors – a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters – who announce their arrival by accidentally flattening Ove’s mailbox with their U-Haul. What follows is a heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and community’s unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.”
Author: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publishing Date: 1991
No. of Pages: 296
Synopsis: “At last! Here is the definitive edition of the book acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker). It now appears as it was originally envisioned by the author: The Complete Maus.
It is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody paw prints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.”
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publishing Date: April 2017
No. of Pages: 300
Synopsis: “Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captures in a raid of her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem, Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed – and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
Title: Gravity’s Rainbow
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2006
No. of Pages: 776
Synopsis: “Winner of the 1973 National Book Award, Gravity’s Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the 20th century as Joyce’s Ulysses was to the first. Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative, and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force.” (Source: Goodreads)
Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 1999
No. of Pages: 455
Synopsis: “First published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath is a landmark of American literature. This Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads – driven from their homestead by the “land companies” and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. A portrait of conflict between the powerful and the powerless, the novel captures the horrors of the Depression and probes the very nature of equality in America.”
Title: The Satanic Verses
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publishing Date: 1989
No. of Pages: 547
Synopsis: “Just before dawn one winter’s morning, a hijacked jumbo jet blows apart high above the English Channel. Through the debris of limbs, drinks trolleys, memories, blankets, and oxygen masks, two figures fall toward the sea: Gibreel Farishta, India’s legendary movie star, and Saladin Chamcha, the man of a thousand voices, self-made self and Anglophile supreme. Clinging to each other, singing rival songs, they plunge downward, and are finally washed up, alive, on the snow-covered sands of an English beach.
Their survival is a miracle, but an ambiguous one, as Gibreel acquires a halo, while, to Saladin’s dismay, his own legs grow hairier, his feet turn into hooves, and hornlike appendages appear at his temples.
Gibreel and Saladin have been chosen (by whom?) as opponents in the eternal wrestling match between Good and Evil. But which is which? Can demons be angelic? Can angels be devils in disguise? As the two men tumble through time and space toward their final confrontation, we are witness to a cycle of tales of love and passion, of betrayal and faith: the story of Ayesha, the butterfly-shrouded visionary who leads an Indian village on an impossible pilgrimage; of Allelluia Cone, the mountain climber haunted by a ghost who urges her to attempt the ultimate feat – a solo ascent of Everest; and, centrally, the story of Mahounds, the Prophet of Jahilia, the city of sand – Mahound, the recipient of the revelation in which satanic verses mingle with the divine.”
Title: A Wild Sheep Chase
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: April 2002
No. of Pages: 353
Synopsis: “Quirky and utterly captivating, A Wild Sheep Chase is Murakami at his astounding best.
An advertising executive receives a postcard from a friend and casually appropriates the image for an advertisement. What he doesn’t realize is that included in the scene is a mutant sheep with a star on its back, and in using this photo he has unwittingly captured the attention of a man who offers a menacing ultimatum: find the sheep or face dire consequences. Thus begins a surreal and elaborate quest that takes readers from Tokyo to the remote mountains of northern Japan, where the unnamed protagonist has a surprising confrontation with his demons.”
Author: Carlo Collodi
Translator: Geoffrey Brock
Publisher: New York Review of Books
Publishing Date: 2009
No. of Pages: 160
Synopsis: “ Though one of the best-known books in the world, Pinocchio at the same time remains unknown – linked in many minds to the Walt Disney movie that bears little relation to Carlo Collodi’s splendid original. That story is of course about a puppet who, after many trials, succeeds in becoming a “real boy.” Yet it is hardly a sentimental or morally improving tale. To the contrary, Pinocchio is one of the great subversives of the written page, a madcap genius hurtled along at the pleasure and mercy of his desires, a renegade who in many ways resembles his near contemporary Huck Finn.
Pinocchio the novel, no less than Pinocchio the character, is one of the great inventions of modern literature. A sublime anomaly, the book merges the traditions of the picaresque, of street theater, and of folk and fairy tales into a work that is at once adventure, satire, and a powerful enchantment that anticipates surrealism and magical realism. Thronged with memorable characters and composed with the fluid but inevitable logic of a dream, Pinocchio is an endlessly fascinating work that is essential equipment for life.”
Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Suskind
Translator: John E. Woods
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: February 2001
No. of Pages: 255
Synopsis: “In the slums of 18th-century Paris a baby is born, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille clings to life with an iron will, growing into a dark and sinister young man who, although he has no scent of his own, possesses an incomparable sense of smell. He apprentices himself to a perfumer and quickly masters the ancient art of mixing flowers, herbs, and oils. But his quest to create the “ultimate perfume” leads him to commit a series of brutal murders until no woman can feel safe as his final horrifying secret is revealed.”
Title: The Silmarillion
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd
Publishing Date: 1977
No. of Pages: 304
Synopsis: “Tolkien considered The Silmarillion his most important work, and though published last and posthumously, this great collection of tales and legends clearly sets the stage for all his other works. For this is the story of the creation of the world and the happenings of the First Age. This is the ancient drama to which characters in The Lord of The Rings look back, and in whose events some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel =, took part. The three Silmarils were jewels created by Feanor, most gifted of the Elves. Within them was imprisoned the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor before the Trees themselves were destroyed by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord. Thereafter the unsullied Light of Valinor lived on only in the Silmarils; but they were seized by Morgoth and set in his crown, guarded in the impenetrable fortress of Angband in the north of Middle-earth. The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Feanor and his kindred against the gods, their exile from Valinor and return to Middle-earth, and their war, hopeless despite all their heroism, against the great Enemy.”
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Publishing Date: 2006
No. of Pages: 338
Synopsis: “By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française—the first two parts of a planned five-part novel—she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France—where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazis—she’d begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into freedom. Sixty-four years later, at long last, we can read Némirovsky’s literary masterpiece
The first part, “A Storm in June,” opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but the harsh demands of survival—some trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives—but soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful exigencies of physical and emotional displacement, and the annihilation of the world they know. In the second part, “Dolce,” we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers—from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants—cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration, and as their community is transformed by these acts, the lives of these these men and women reveal nothing less than the very essence of humanity.“
And thus ends my 2020 Top 20 Reading List. Whew. Looking at it right now makes me intimidated as some of the books are well-renowned whilst some are just outright daunting (hello Thomas Pynchon and Lucy Ellmann).
Beyond my intimidation, I am quite proud of the list I came up with. It has variety and diversity. Most of these books are books I have been looking forward to for a very long time but never got around to reading them because of my perpetually growing book pile. I hope that in 2020 I’ll manage to read all of them.