• Kaveh Jalinous

2020 Year-In-Review: On Books

I didn't end up reading too many new books this year, but here are four that I really enjoyed.

I'll just preface this saying that I'm not the biggest reader, and I am certainly not as big of a reader as I wish I was. While I've read some great books this year, upon shortlisting the titles for this this list, I realized that I haven't actually read a lot of books that have been released this year. The ones I have read, though, I found to be very well-written and insightful. So why not? Here are four books from 2020 that I read that I think are truly worth a read if you're looking for a book to curl up with this Holiday Season. The titles are in no particular order, so there is no rating system at large here.


Anxious People, Fredrick Backman


I had absolutely no idea that the hit Swedish author was releasing another novel until I saw it's product page on Amazon, and from that point on, I was very confident that it would be something I'd enjoy. Backman's newest follows a group of hostages, a bank robber, and the two cops trying to figure out what exactly happened earlier in this very strange hostage situation. It's a simple premise, but Backman uses his signature writing skills, fourth wall breaks, and effortless humor to create a story that will always pique your interest, while reminding you about the simplicities of being human, going with the flow, and just living your life like every day's your last. Sure, it may not reach the heights of my favorite work of his, the novel Beartown and its stellar sequel Us Against You, but Backman is once again able to get readers to speed through all 330-ish pages of the book, and take away a lot from it as well. I, for one, am very excited to see what the author has in store next.


Anxious People is available to purchase on Strand Bookstore's website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at most other bookstores (or their websites). It is also available to rent, including in e-book form, using Libby, Hoopla, or other rental services through your local library.


Intimations, Zadie Smith,


Written in quarantine and released soon after, Zadie Smith's Intimations is a quick read that packs a powerful punch. Just over one hundred pages, and a collection of essays, Smith explores the various events of 2020 while linking them to broader themes on the human condition in expert fashion. It is one of those books, which I really love, that doesn't take a lot of effort to read but rewards those who read it closely, with hidden subliminal messaging that will stay with you for months after you read it. But even if you're on a time budget and zoom through it, there is still so much to take away from this and Smith yet again marks herself as the writer to watch, showcasing a style of writing that we usually don't see in her critically acclaimed novels. The book is not just an analysis of the year itself, but rather, of where we are at this point in time, of where we need to be, and the disappeared hopes that we'll ever actually get there. It's deeply meditative, and one of the most powerful pieces of work I've encountered this year.


Intimations is available to purchase on Strand Bookstore's website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at most other bookstores (or their websites). It is also available to rent, including in e-book form, using Libby, Hoopla, or other rental services through your local library.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins


I, for one, was not expecting there to be another Hunger Games novel after the initial trilogy ended (and on an odd note, at that). Yet, here we are. I'm not the biggest fan of the new prequel, and there are definitely parts of it that didn't grab my attention at all. But, in terms of what Collins is doing, and how she approaches telling this story, the idea itself is pretty fantastic, and well-done enough to make it worth a recommendation. Instead of banking on one of the main prominent characters from the trilogy, she instead makes the protagonist of the prequel the villain of the original books, Cornelius (or President) Snow. While that premise initially sounds iffy, and did spark up some conversation before the book was even released in May, it is actually pulled of in an incredibly impactful, and truly thought-provoking way. While I'll keep the rest of this short as to avoid spoilers, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes rarely ever feels like a cash-grab prequel. It is an insightful character study with twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages in haste, awaiting (and even dreading sometimes) to see exactly what happens next.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is available to purchase on Strand Bookstore's website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at most other bookstores (or their websites). It is also available to rent, including in e-book form, using Libby, Hoopla, or other rental services through your local library.


The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life, Alex Trebek


It's still so hard to believe that we lost the iconic Jeopardy host this year, and just over a month ago at that. Back in July, Trebek released his autobiography, a simple, quick book where he talks about his childhood and young adulthood, how he made it to his position of host on Jeopardy, his trials and tribulations as a game-show host, and his fight with stage four pancreatic cancer (while hosting the show at the same time). While doing all of this, Trebek offers insight on the things he learned throughout his life, and how life is too short to not be living to the fullest. It's a deeply touching book, and is incredibly sad to read, or even think about, now. But Trebek's messages are timeless, and the story of his life is one that is so unique, interesting, and filled with soul and emotion. Separated into quick chapters of certain experiences of his life (with each chapter creatively titled with "What Is... [Subject]"), The Answer Is... doesn't take too long to read, but will stick with you long after you close the book. May Alex Trebek Rest in Peace, his legacy will live on forever.


The Answer Is...:Reflections on My Life is available to purchase on Strand Bookstore's website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at most other bookstores (or their websites). It is also available to rent, including in e-book form, using Libby, Hoopla, or other rental services through your local library.



That's all for today! Make sure to stay tuned for more Year-In-Review content, including my favorite albums, television shows, movies, documentaries, and the one-and-only KavehJAwards!

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