Favorite Reads of 2020…So Far

It’s hard to believe we are over halfway through the year already. It has been a challenging year in many ways, so this week I have been trying to focus on the good. That includes the good books I have read so far this year.

Here are my stand-out reads for 2020 so far.

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

“A Visit From the Goon Squad” is a difficult book to describe. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. The story primarily centers around aging rock star Bernie Salazar and a woman named Sasha, who works for him. Although these are the central characters, we learn about them through the eyes of others whose lives intersect theirs. I tend to like that sort of thing – each chapter is almost more like a short story than a chapter in a book. It’s a quirky book that kept my attention from page one.

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel

“This Is How It Always Is” is about a family with a transgender daughter. The reader is brought along every step of the way as Claude becomes Poppy. Each family member deals with the transition differently. They end up moving to a new city and keeping the fact that Poppy was really born Claude a secret. Of course the secret comes out eventually, and the family has to deal with the repercussions. “This Is How It Always Is” is a family drama with lots of heart.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary

It’s no secret that I love the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. My daughter and I have been working through them for a few years now. In “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” there are some major changes taking place in Ramona’s life. Her father has gone back to college, and her mother is working full-time. Ramona has to go Mrs. Kemp’s after school with her friend Howie every day, and has to deal with his little sister Willa Jean. On top of it, Ramona feels like her third grade teacher at her new school doesn’t really like her. I vividly remember reading this book when I was a kid, and was surprised at how much of it I remembered. Something about this book made me feel every bit of it as if I were a third-grader again.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Michael Eric Dyson

“Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America” is a short, yet powerful book on race – which is at the forefront of our minds this year. Like many people, I am making an effort to read more about this difficult topic, and am trying to improve myself in the process. That’s exactly what Dyson argues that we need to do in this book – face difficult truths in order to make significant and lasting change. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and would highly recommend it.

Loving Frank, Nancy Horan

I have developed a Frank Lloyd Wright obsession this year. Wanting to know more about the man behind the architecture, I have delved into both fictional and non-fiction accounts of his life. “Loving Frank” is historical fiction about Wright, his relationship with Mamah Borthwick, and the shocking crime that took place at their home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre, and “Loving Frank” is a great book that seamlessly weaves fiction and the truth together.

Will these books make it to my “favorites” list at the end of the year? It’s hard to say, but I do know that they are the ones that have affected me the most so far.

Until next time, happy reading!

~Val

Favorite Book Club Picks

The Tracy Public Library’s book club has not met since February, and I am really missing it! I have been a part of the book club since it started in 2013. That was before I started working at the library.

We’ve covered about 80 books throughout the years, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. This week, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite book club picks.

Watership Down, Richard Adams

“Watership Down” was the first book our book club read, so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s a new classic, but other than its name, I had no idea what this book was about. Like many book club books, this book about rabbits who face the destruction of their home due to the invasion of humans is likely not one I would have picked up on my own. It’s a very compelling story, although some in our club were a bit overwhelmed by the amount of description.

Sutton, J.R. Moehringer

“Sutton” by J.R. Moehringer is based on a true story about America’s most successful bank robber, Willie Sutton. At a time when banks were unpopular, the public cheered on this unlikely hero over a three-decade bank-robbing career. In Moehringer’s fictionalized account of Sutton’s life, he explores the motivations that made the man into a myth.

Plainsong, Kent Haruf

I knew the minute I read this book that it would be a great book club selection. “Plainsong” is a quiet book, a character study of a small town in Colorado. Haruf captures small-town life, the relationships within it, and the landscape surrounding it perfectly. If you haven’t read anything by Haruf, I highly recommend giving him a try.

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather

I read Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers!” in college, and revisited it along with our book club years later. Along the way, I somehow forgot just how beautiful this little book is. The main character is Alexandra Bergson, a strong-willed Swedish immigrant who inherits her family’s farm. A lot happens in this book, so don’t let its short length fool you. It’s perfect for book clubs who want to read a classic, but are looking for something that’s not too overwhelming.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is one of my favorite book club books, but I have a confession to make. I almost didn’t finish it. It’s written using dialect, meaning the author writes how the characters sound. I struggle with this a lot, for some reason, and sometimes it can make a book downright unreadable for me. Because this book was for book club, I had to finish whether I wanted to or not, so I found the audiobook version. It completely blew me away. It’s read by actress Ruby Dee, and she brings the story of free-spirit Janie Crawford alive.

The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls

Jeanette Walls’ memoir, “The Glass Castle,” is unforgettable. In it, the author recounts her nomadic childhood with parents who were anything but ordinary. The romance of this lifestyle faded for Walls and her siblings as they grew, and each began to plot his or her way out. It’s a story of unconditional love in an unconventional family.

All of these books provide plenty to discuss, which, to me, is the mark of a great book club book. I always say that it doesn’t matter if everyone likes the book or not. What matters is that we have something to talk about. These books are also great for reading on your own.

Happy reading!

~Val