We asked BAPL staff members the question: “What was the best book you read this year?” and are happy to share the answers here. Maybe you’ll find your next great read! Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021.
Ellie and Dawn both chose Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. It is full of drama, humor, surprises and a look at eight very different people who are thrust into a life and death hostage situation by the world’s worst bank robber. A true work of art with wonderful humor, completely unexpected plot twists, and meaningful encouragement for people who are struggling — all in one book!
Stef recommends Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz, the follow up to Magpie Murders. It isn’t necessary to have read the first novel to understand the second, but it does give a rabid mystery fan that sense of satisfaction to know little details from book one that appear in book two. The present-day English murder mystery is one of the most creative and cleverest I have read in quite a while. As with the first installment, there is actually a traditional mystery novel embedded into this contemporary one! Not to pat myself on the back too strenuously, but I did figure out the killer. However, getting there was a wonderful and page-turning ride! I can’t wait for the next one!
Matthew R. recommends City of Glass by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. In this experimental graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s 1985 book of the same name, protagonist Quinn descends into metaphysical, literary gumshoe. Set in a beautifully illustrated, grungy 1980s Manhattan, City of Glass is worthy of a read for any who love delving deep into discussions of inner psyche and language.
Surprising no one, Josh chose a baseball book: Sixty Feet, Six Inches by Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson. The great Bob Gibson was one of many giants we lost in 2020 and I’m glad I spent some of the year with this 2009 book he co-authored with Reggie Jackson. Reggie was a hitter and Bob a pitcher so readers get two distinct views of baseball from two towering personalities and all-time greats.
David recommends The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single classic in possession of a passionate following must be in want of a sequel. And to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice there have been many sequels and spin-offs, most of them not terribly noteworthy. But The Other Bennet Sister is the genuine article: a continuation of the story without being a slavish imitation or a pallid replica. The novel focuses on bookish Mary Bennet and her attempts to find her way in life apart from her disapproving mother and her glamorous elder sisters with their glittering marriages. Author Hadlow does a brilliant job in capturing Austenesque cadences in speech and style and is faithful to what we know of the characters from ‘P&P’ without allowing them to take center stage and usurp Mary’s spotlight. Highly recommended, especially to lovers of Jane Austen!
Janine chose The Poetry Remedy: Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind, and Soul by William Sieghart. If you are one of those people that seek out poems that adequately portray your whole spectrum of moods and lived experiences, this book is for you! Organized by overarching categories such as “Love and Loss” and “Mental and Emotional Well-Being,” this short collection of poems also comes with an empathetic preface for each one from Sieghart that leaves the reader feeling like they have been seen and heard.
Brad R. says: My most enjoyable read this past year was Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, which was published back in 1926. Warner is one of those writers whose prose reads like poetry, where every minute description resonates with your own recognition. A quiet book for a (sometimes) quiet year.
Julia recommends: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso. An epic fantasy focusing on a daughter trying to follow in her late (dictator) father’s footsteps. She must navigate the political field as well as keeping her son safe. Queen Talyien suddenly receives a message from her husband who mysteriously vanished five years earlier, on the eve of their wedding, asking for an opportunity to reconcile… Is this a genuine attempt or a trap? This is a very character-driven fantasy novel that I found in 2020. It’s a fantastic read, especially for those who love the political minefield in books such as Game of Thrones.
Valerie chose Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat by Edward McPherson. An essential read for the Keaton lover and for anyone just plain curious about the man The Orlando Sentinel has called, “that most American of the silent clowns.” I love Keaton and so does McPherson, yet the stories are too well-researched and the films too well-defined to charge dilettantism. Times Book Review calls it “captivating.”
Catherine recommends two picture books that celebrate the power of story and imagination:
- Just a Story by Jeff Mack. When a boy opens a library book, he unleashes a menagerie of mayhem: pirates, elephants, aliens, and more spill into the scene. But it’s okay because . . . (see title!).
- Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez. Grandma is planning to make pulpo guisado (octopus stew), but the pulpo has other ideas. A fun celebration of family and storytelling as grandson Ramsey, aka Super Ram, tells the tale.
Bethany says: I couldn’t narrow it down to just one so here two of my favorite books this year (honestly it was even difficult just picking two).
Fiction- Normal People by Sally Rooney. Call me basic but this book definitely lived up to the hype. A story set in Ireland about the relationship over time between two people, complicated by their social and socio-economic divisions. The TV series was also amazing but as usual, the book was better!
Nonfiction- Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees, A Practical Guide to Being Happy, Confident, and You in a Looks-Obsessed World. Empowering and insightful, definitely a book to keep on your shelf and revisit often.
Mary Jane chose: Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals by Ken Follett. For the lover of cathedrals – world-renowned, best-selling author Ken Follett takes us on a fascinating journey through time on the history of Notre Dame Cathedral and its impact on the building of other cathedrals. Follett has been a frequent visitor to Notre-Dame and discusses his emotional trauma when discovering the cathedral was ablaze in 2019. The author has been making visits to Notre-Dame while it undergoes restoration, and I’m guessing he will follow-up this tome with one regarding the restoration and rebuilding of Notre-Dame. Can’t wait!.
Rayah has five recommendations to share:
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. This book is for those who honestly want to do something about racism’s insidious infectious disease and face their demons. It is also for those who no longer want to turn a blind-eye by remaining silent to a cancerous issue that continues to eat away at our souls – the time has come for us to say enough. The book is designed to guide and force us to engage in difficult conversations.
- Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America & Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. If you know nothing about James Baldwin, by the end of this book, you will. I read and listened to it a hundred times – I’m exaggerating. Still, I read it a few times because I liked how the author intertwined his personal journey to unravel and understand Baldwin’s passion for making a difference during the Civil Rights Movement. The book also shows how unrest in the 60s is so prevalent in the 21st century. The author painted a tapestry of words that shows how the unrest in the United States continues.
- Something Happened in Our Town: Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins & Ann Hazzard; Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin I love, love this book! There are two families, one Black and the other White, converse with their elementary children about the shooting of a Black man. The authors and illustrator crafted a difficult story on the bias, prejudiced attitudes, and discriminatory actions, which will help ease parents’ and educators’ ambivalence to discussing such topics. All three authors are psychologists, and it shines through in their storytelling.
- Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh is an informative and excellent children’s book. This book gave me goosebumps from the first page because the text and illustration show a sad and distorted child being treated differently. It was the first time learning about Sylvia Mendez, a non-fictional character. Imagine being a child in a new elementary school and being treated as if you don’t belong. “Go back to the Mexican School.” The author writes about a non-fictional character that teaches us about the difficulty of a family fighting for the right to a decent education for their children.
- My son and I read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart over the summer, and my, oh my, were we surprised at the unexpected ending. There were mystery and unpredictability, and who would have thought that the author would have pulled such a thing on her readers. The book is about a family and their annual trips to their summer beach house. The author weaved a well-written and clever story about the dynamics of a privileged family falling apart because of jealousy and bonded with each other through the power of love.
Dana recommends: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. The story of Pippa Fitz-Amobi, a 17 year old who chooses the disappearance of a local teen, Andie Bell eight years ago, as the topic for her Capstone project. Given local prejudices and gossip, fingers point towards Andie’s boyfriend Sal as the culprit. An “obvious” target, Sal took his own life in the days following Andie’s disappearance. The community feels that Sal’s death speaks to his guilt – case closed. Pippa thinks otherwise and sets out to find what really happened. New evidence comes to light, multiple suspects surface, and danger follows Pip as she persists in her search for the truth.
Sarah recommends Me, by Elton John. Fascinating, fantastic and some funny stories give a good glimpse into the life of a legend. The audiobook is very well read by Sir Elton and Taron Egerton, the actor who portrayed him in the movie biopic, Rocketman.