The bells are ringing. 2020 is over.
It was, to be polite, not a great year. But in nearly nine months at home, we sure did consume some great (and not-so-great content). To celebrate the new year, I’m doing some fast and dirty recaps of my favorite books and films from the past year.
In this piece, we’re focused on books.
No. 3: Inherent Vice
Doc Sportello is a mad, and I mean that as a compliment. The main character of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel, Doc, is a dope-headed private eye living in a part of southern California that the 1960s had left behind when a case comes across his desk: a wealthy real estate developer–said to be dating Doc’s ex–goes missing. Following the trail takes Doc into all sorts of sun-baked, weed-caked dens of, ya know, vice, where the biggest reveal isn’t what happens to the developer. But instead what happened to the 60s. It’s far out, man.
Hanif Abdurraquib is hilarious. Hanif is a cultural critic living in Columbus, Ohio, with an emo/pop taste in music and a keen sense for what that music means, and in this book of essays he does a crushable job relating what on the surface seems like candy-coated subject matter to deep, personal insight about growing up Black in America. The touch of the pen is light, even when the memoir is not; an essayist’s trick that might seem under-baked if done by a lesser writer. Hanif, of course, is better than that.
No. 1: The Overstory
There were several weeks in May when all I wanted to do was to have conversations about trees. That’s because I spent nearly the entire month taking down the elephantine The Overstory, by Richard Powers. The 2018 novel (and winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction) tells interlocking and concentric stories about trees and the people who are fighting to save them. This is a work of fiction, yet its themes resonate loudly in our current moment. You’ll leave this novel truly believing that trees are smarter than us, and hopeful that their ability to weather the coming storm will offer lessons for us, too.