2020 was a banner reading year for me. I recorded 47 titles in my book journal, although I’m sure I missed a couple along the way. Thanks to Covid, our library is partially closed again. Luckily you can still request books online and pick them up by appointment. For this I am grateful.
One of the books I requested this past December turned out to be my favorite book of 2020, although it could also be called, The Best Book I Almost Didn’t Read.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith
I like to be drawn into a book right away. When the author told me on the first page that Anxious People is “about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots” my interest was piqued. But then for the first couple of chapters, I had some difficulty getting into the book and almost put it aside. That would have been a huge mistake. As soon as I allowed myself to relax into Backman’s amazing storytelling, I didn’t want to stop reading.
It’s almost New Year’s Eve in a small Swedish town. A distraught parent short on rent money and afraid of losing custody of their child, makes a feeble attempt to rob a bank. Unfortunately – or fortunately – for them, they chose a cashless bank. From that failed bank robbery, the story quickly develops into a hostage situation in a most unlikely way. Eight hostages, each with their own lifetime of grievances, hurts and secrets, who had simply gone to attend an apartment open house.
Backman’s ability to submarine your expectations of each hostage, slowly exposing their histories, finally getting to the root of their anxieties is ingenious. A friend of mine who was also reading Anxious Peopleshared that she loved, “the ordinariness of the characters”.
The relationship of the father-son police team was one of the many highlights of the book for me. Trying to decide how to handle the matter at hand and Googling “hostage situation” is one of their finer moments. When they started arguing over who should enter the building first, I choked up and had tears running down my face.
When reviewing books, I never want to give away too much and I particularly feel that way with this book. I can share that I found it humorous, compassionate and wise. And it is poignant. In my old book group, The Book Babes, poignant became one of our signature words to describe books. This book is Poignant with a capital P.
Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger turned superstar. I searched for his blog and succeeded in finding an entry from July 2, 2018. I have only read one other of his novels, A Man Called Ove, but have already requested My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.
Looking over my book journal, there were a couple of other titles I wanted to share with you.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
This is a memoir. When Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Anne, is diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment, the two of them spent hours sitting in waiting rooms. He often sits with her during her chemotherapy treatments. They pass the time talking about the books they are reading. When by chance they read the same book at the same time, their book club of two is born. Gracefully written, The End of Your Life Book Club is a beautiful testament to his mother.
Monogamy by Sue Miller
This is the story of a marriage and what it means to be faithful over the course of a long marriage. Annie, the wife, is shy and private. The husband, Graham, is a gregarious Cambridge bookstore owner, a classic extrovert. He dies early on in the book, but he is not gone. Graham remains very vivid in the memory of his wife, his children and his first wife. Annie loved her husband, but she is left wondering was he as good for her as she was for him. A very interesting read. I wanted to give this 3-1/2 grandmas, but just couldn’t bring myself to chop a head in half!
C’est la vie.