The Biblioracle picks his favorite fiction of 2020

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John Warner, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read
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It’s week two of the Biblioracle Book Awards, and this time I’ll identifyworks of fiction that have re-scrambled my neurons one way or another.

(That’s a good thing.)

Book I Both Want to Recommend, But Am Also Afraid To Recommend

“Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam

There are several moments while reading this book when the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, as if I had been visited by a terrible, alien presence. This makes the reading experience undeniably powerful, but when I’ve recommended it to others and they experience something similar, they come back and say, “Why’d you do that to me?” And then they, in turn, recommend it to someone else. Read this book at your own peril, but also, read this book.

Book That Most Accurately Captures Where We Are Today (tie)

“A Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet

“Want” by Lynn Steger Strong

“The Children’s Bible” is the story of a group of young people fending largely for themselves as their parents while the time away during an unspecified severe climate event. By turns mordantly funny and also scary, Millet has a particular gift for seeing past the surface to the root of our dysfunctions in a way that’s thoughtful and generous, not preachy.

“Want” is the story of a young, educated, working mother who only wants a reasonable life of security and happiness, but is thwarted by a system that is fundamentally hostile to those rather modest goals. As we go through what some are calling a “she-cession,” with women being disproportionately harmed by the pandemic economy, this penetrating, emotionally acute novel helps us experience the human cost underneath the macroeconomic data.

Book Most Likely to Become a Limited Television Series

“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid

I say this not just because this novel was already selected for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, but because it is expertly plotted with a series of forking paths where all directions seem plausible, and it is difficult to decide which eventuality you’d like to see come true. Throw in some scenes that would be indelible if filmed, and rich, complex characters, and you’ve got the goods on the page and screen.

Book by Our Greatest Living Novelist

“Telephone” by Percival Everett

I gave Everett this title in a column a couple of years ago, but each time out he manages to reaffirm my belief. In this case it’s a haunting story of a man whose daughter is slipping away before his eyes and so he pursues something deeply foolish in response.

Crowd Pleasing Book of the Year (tie)

“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King

“The Cold Millions” by Jess Walter

“Writers and Lovers” is the story of a young woman unmoored by loss, seeking to find purchase in the world as she figures out whethershe’s a writer.

“The Cold Millions” is a historical novel set in the Pacific Northwest at the dawn of the labor movement in the early 20th century. It’s reminiscent of the works of E.L. Doctorow as Walter mixes fact and fiction in a story that resonates with today’s world.

I don’t want the name of this specific award to make anyone think these books lack depth, because they don’t. A certain kind of book will take you for a highly engaging ride, while also making sure you are safe and secure along the way, and these are that kind of book.

Can you believe that this is it for 2020? Not a moment too soon. I’ll see you all next year.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 1/4 u2033 by Garrett M Graff

2. “On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey” by Paul Theroux

3. “101 Facts You Didn’t Know About Space” by Mark Thompson

4. “The China Mirage: The Hidden Story of American Disaster in Asia” by James Bradley

5. “Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing” by Jacob Goldstein

— Dilip V., Naperville

I’m going back 25 years for a little gem of nonfiction that defies categorization: “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology” by Lawrence Weschler.

1. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

2. “When No One is Watching” by Alyssa Cole

3. “The Blue Castle” by L.M. Montgomery

4. “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith

5. “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett

— Denise S., Bakersfield, Calif.

Louise Erdrich delivers every time out, and “The Night Watchman” is no exception. I feel confident that Denise from Bakersfield will agree..

1. “Killing Crazy Horse” by Bill O’Reilly

2. “Please See Us” by Caitlin Mullen

3. “The Dirty South” by John Connolly

4. “A Galway Epiphany” by Ken Brien

5. “Summer of Night” by Dan Simmons

— John B., Palatine

I think John will take to the grit and intrigue of Daniel Woodrell’s “Tomato Red.”

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