Best and Worst Novels of 2020

Best and Worst Novels of 2020


I read so many novels last year that my initial list of best fiction had two dozen titles. It is thus with a heavy heart that I have winnowed it to just 10. Alas, I read 9 bad ones as well. All of these have been reviewed and can be accessed by clicking on the Books


Read ‘em





1. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins:  This 2,500-mile refugee journey will break your heart. You’ll never again be cavalier about illegal immigrants.


2. Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Zafon died in 2020, so this is the final chapter in the amazing saga of the Sempere family. Opus Dei, assassins, and murderous mayhem in Barcelona near the end of the Franco regime.


3. The Cold Millions by Jess Walter: Spokane in the time of the IWW, free speech fights, and lawless capitalism.


4. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: Who builds a fancy home in Pennsylvania, who lives in it, who desires it, and what if they’re all deluded?


5. Jack by Marilynne Robinson: Simply a beautiful piece of prose. A teacher, a bum, and forbidden love–as in, legally forbidden. The more I though of this book, the more I loved it.


6. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell: Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, psychosurgery, fame, trying to stay sane, and those who failed. A strange book that works.


7. The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali: Iran 1953. Dreams and those who killed them. Multiple paths taken in a Romeo and Juliet twist.


8. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich: This, not Orange, is the best work by a Native American writer in 2020. Attempting to break a Chippewa clan in the 1950s, family pride, and the strong women who resisted.


9. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Crushing black dreams in Florida. A reform school, the perils of optimism, those who survived and those who didn’t.


10. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman: Inept bank robbery, an even more inept hostage crisis, and a totally inept police investigation. Funny and moving. No one does human nature better.


Honorable Mention (alphabetical by author): Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer; Alice Hoffman. Magic Lesson; Alex Landragin, Crossings; James McBride, Deacon King; Elizabeth Mckenzie, The Portable Veblen; Jojo Moyes, The Giver of Stars; V. E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue


Pulp ‘em



1. Just Like You by Nick Hornby: Grow up, Nick!  


2. A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn: Victorian detective sets back modern feminism.


3 The Golden Cage by Camilla Lackberg: A modern novel that sets back modern feminism.


4. Weather by Jenny Offill: Does the last name rhyme with awful? It should.


5. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner: Just flat-out boring.


6. Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan: So you didn’t like your undergrad days. You’re 39. Time to let go.


7. The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin: A take on H. P. Lovecraft that fell flat where it mattered most.


8. Love by Roddy Doyle: Two men drink all day. A story that never concludes and who cares?


9. Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles: Surprising misfire from a good writer.

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