Comprehensive booklist

2020 Booklist


January 15, 2020  The Mask of Apollo Mary Renault (366 pages) Lori’s house

Set in the 4th century BC in Greece, it is the story of the actor of Nikeratos, whose life intersects with events in Syracuse, where Plato attempted to mentor Dionysios the Younger after the death of his tyrant father and put into effect in the real world his political philosophy. This is one of my favorite novels by Renault, who can take real and significant historical events and weave a compelling narrative using them to bring the era alive and show how historical fiction can be serious literature. KP

February 19, 2020  Silence of the Girls Pat Barker (336 pages) Al's House

Pat Barker turns her fascination with behavior in war to the events of the Illiad—seen from the vantage point of the women in the camp—especially Brisies, taken as a war prize by Achilles. In the Guardian, Ellen Wilson, translator of the Norton Odyssey and the Modern Library Euripides, says that it is “an important, powerful, memorable book that invites us to look differently not only at The Iliad but at our own ways of telling stories about the past and the present, and at how anger and hatred play out in our societies." Gail

March 25, 2020 There,There Tommy Orange (288 page) Zoom meeting

Pulitzer Prize finalist. This debut novel follows twelve characters from Native communities traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. These are urban Indians, who know, "the sound of the freeway better than [they] do rivers ... the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than [they] do the smell of cedar or sage..." Joyce Carol Oates found this book “one of the most deeply moving and illuminating works of fiction in recent memory." Al

April 23, 2020 A Journal of the Plague Year Daniel Defoe Zoom meeting
Fictional but painstakingly researched novel about the London plague of 1685.


May 20, 2020 A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway Zoom meeting
Hemingway on life in Paris in the 20s. Perhaps his most fun book. OK - he’s not under oath, but nobody who wrote of those days was. Keith


June 17, 2020 The Good Soldier Ford Maddox Ford Zoom meeting
Encore reading of a book we first discussed in March 1997. At that time Gail wrote: The novel is about a small group of people in the early part of the century. The narrator is one of the principles, who has his own reasons, generally hidden from himself as well as from the reader, for telling his story the way he does.  That story is a tangle of infidelity, death, and melodramatic flights into madness, and as it progresses the readers perceptions of events and the characters continually shift.  It is, however, all miraculously controlled by the author.  Against all odds, he doesn't make ONE wrong move. Gail

July 22, 2020 Silver Sparrow Tayari Jones (340 pages) 

The author’s recent book, An American Marriage, seems to have gotten a lot of attention, but I wasn’t that impressed. However, I did love this book that she wrote earlier. In full disclosure, it’s a little YA (Judy Blume does one of the blurbs). It’s about a girl who is an “outside child” (her father is a bigamist) and lives in the shadow of her sister, who doesn’t know about her, but I agree with the Slate review calling it “the most immersive novel I read in 2011.” Lori

September 2, 2020 Among the Ten Thousand Things Julia Pierpont (352 pages) 

Jack Shanley is a well-known New York artist, charming and vain. But then an anonymously sent package arrives in the mail: a cardboard box containing sheaves of printed emails chronicling Jack’s secret life. The package is addressed to his wife, but it’s delivered into the wrong hands: her children’s. With this vertiginous opening begins a debut that is by turns funny, wise, and indescribably moving. One of 2015’s “Best of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle and Huffington Post. LT


October 14, 2020 Circe Madeline Miller (400 pages) 

Winner of a number of prizes. The life of the sorceress/ demigoddess Circe from her point of view. Harriet thought it was an enchanting read. From the NYT: "Circe,' [is] a bold and subversive retelling of the goddess's story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right." Gail

November 23, 2020 The Mere Wife Maria Dahvana Headley (320 pages) 

Modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf, told through the eyes of Grendel's mother. “The most surprising novel I've read this year. It's a bloody parody of suburban sanctimony and a feminist revision of macho heroism. In this brash appropriation of the Anglo-Saxon epic, Headley swoops from comedy to tragedy, from the drama of brunch to the horrors of war." óRon Charles, The Washington Post Al

December 28, 2020 Flights Olga Tokarczuk (403 pages)
Winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize. I could say that I want to read this philosophical novel about a character who is continually traveling because it won the Man Booker International Prize, but really this combines a style I like – novels largely comprised of overlapping shorter stories, and a preoccupation of mine – fiction by or about clinical psychologists. Tokarczuk once worked as a clinical psychologist. She quit when she realized that she was “much more neurotic than my clients.” LO





November 24, 2020