20 Books of Summer 2020 – Wrap up

I read 20 books! . . . with a couple substitutions to my original list . . . and only reviewed nine, but still!

Summer Reviews



Worst Ending

Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. Its final pages are so bad that it inspired this list. I’m working on a So-Bad-I-Read-It-For-You review, which requires me to read the book a second time to pull quotes. I can’t think of another book that craters in such epic fashion at the finish line. It gets a lot of praise, so if you’d like to read the book, don’t read my review.

Most Satisfying Ending

Madeline Miller’s Circe. A strong, well-developed main character and a solid supporting cast to match. Everything is paid off in the final pages, even things I thought might not come up again. It’s such a complete ending that the last chapters tip-toe up to bad-epilogue territory, but don’t cross the line.

Easiest Read

Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. I had a headache one weekend and listened to the audiobook, ha. (If there was a nostalgia award, this one might win there too.)

Of books I actually read, it’s a tie between Andrew Sean Greer’s Less for its humor, and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil for its wry, conversational tone. I’m a little bummed that none of Maugham’s other books have earned the same number of ecstatic reviews. If there’s another stand out, though, let me know.

Most Difficult Read

Eventually, I’ll learn that Bookers and Pulitzers are rarely quick reads. Greer’s Less is funny and reads easily, but Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, though good, is incredibly dense. It’s clever and well-written, but uses 30 words when five might do. I couldn’t find momentum while reading because everything—from life-changing moments down to squid dinners—is given the same level of intense detail.

Runner up: Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. I whined about a lack of quotation marks in Normal People, but Girl, Woman, Other also drops paragraphs, periods, and capital letters (except in names). Like The Sympathizer, this book doesn’t work well with a schedule, but I’ll post a full review at some point.


Greer’s Less. This is an easy choice because I did a bad job of putting funny books on my summer list. Note for next year: more humor.

Most Surprising

Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll. (Review in progress.) This book was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, but lost to The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, which I will now read because it must be a.m.a.z.i.n.g. to have won.

Most Recommended

Tommy Orange’s There There. It’s hard to be effusive in brief, so I’ve just linked my review.

Worst Passage

Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever is an excellent collection of short fiction. It’s a great example of stories written around a single theme without those stories striking the same chord and becoming repetitive (like Lauren Groff’s Florida, for example). Though these stories are amazing, establishing so much with so few words, one story contained the worst, most awful passage of my summer reading. It’s about two people having an affair on a research trip. This happens:

Jonathan, whose fingernails were bitten to the quick, admired the long nail on Ruby’s right little finger and then said, half-seriously, how much he’d love to bite a nail like that. When Ruby held her hand to his mouth he took the nail between his teeth and nibbled through the white tip, which days in the water had softened. (57)

I have more to say about “lit sex” in my review on The Gathering, and this scene miiiiight beat anything listed there.

“Best” of the Summer

Tyll. This book was worth the history recap before, during, and after reading. (I knew nothing about the Thirty Years’ War previously.) I read some chapters multiple times and found new things on each reading. Tyll is a fascinating character and the book’s ability to swing from funny to terrifying in an instant is extraordinary.

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