Strong and powerfully written works were abundant
The pandemic may have hit most of the arts hard this year, but books have emerged relatively unscathed, aside from the difficulty of in-person author visits.
Here are six of The Dispatch book reviewers’ favorite titles from a year brimming with serious contenders.
Four of the books have strong Ohio ties, though they would deserve a spot on any national list.
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Three of the favorites are novels that range from experimental to solid old-fashioned. The other three include a memoir, a set of interwoven essays, and a collection of poetry.
Anyone looking to explore the list of books this year will find something to enjoy in the list.
• “Land of the Cloudy Cuckoos” (Scribner) by Anthony Doerr – The ambitious and brilliant new novel (from the Cleveland native author of ‘All The Light We Cannot See’) blends the stories of characters from five different time periods spanning the centuries. The characters are united by an ancient Greek text that, in different ways, impacts their entire lives. —Nancy Gilson
• “Klara and the Sun” (Knopf) by Kazuo Ishiguro – Narrated by robotic, artificial friend Klara, the novel explores the concepts of friendship and identity – specifically what it means to be human – in a pandemic world. Ishiguro’s previous works include “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go”. —NG
• “The Lincoln Highway” (Viking) by Amor Towles — Three teenagers and an 8-year-old travel the Lincoln Highway from Nebraska to New York in 1954 in this crazy adventure. Filled with indelible and haunting characters, the novel (from the author of “A Gentleman in Moscow”) is by turns humorous and heartbreaking. —NG
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• “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance” (Random House) by Hanif Abdurraqib – Columbus native Abdurraqib’s latest collection interweaves historical scholarship and deeply personal memories as he connects the dots between, among many other subjects, “Soul Train”, the magic niggers, the black magicians, the dancer Josephine Baker and the socks he attended at Beechwold High School. Abdurraqib won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” for his work this fall. —Margaret Quamme
• “Playlist for the Apocalypse” (WW Norton) by Rita Dove – The former American Poet Laureate and Akron native has returned with her first book of new poetry since 2010. The richly enriching volume plays deeply disturbing poems about history and contemporary issues against delightful on lighter topics, and includes a personal set of poems reflecting her experience with multiple sclerosis. — QM
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• “Kick Me to the Gods” (Houghton Mifflin) by Brian Broome – This powerful and cutting memoir, both horrifying and sadly funny, focuses on key points in the life of a writer who grew up gay, black and poor in Warren, Ohio, in the 1980s. It is framed by the harrowing story of a bus ride in which Broome observed the interaction between a young black father and his infant son. Broome won a Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction for the book. — QM