Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord

A writer's fictional joyride, a rock & roll memoir, and jazz fairy tales are books that sang this year

Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord

What a year, huh? At least the lockdown gave me time to enjoy a few classics on my lengthy to-read list: Toni Morrison's exquisite BELOVED, John Steinbeck's heartbreaking THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and George Orwell's frighteningly relevant 1984.

Pre-lockdown, I wrestled with Argentine writer Rodrigo Fresán's THE DREAMED PART (Open Letter Press, translated by Will Vanderhyden), the second in a trilogy. Like its predecessor, The Invented Part, this massive, challenging, nonlinear tome about an unnamed writer takes you on a freewheeling, literary joyride.

Probably not surprisingly, much of my year's reading concerned music. An utter delight was Austin native Kathy Valentine's heartfelt ALL I EVER WANTED: A ROCK 'N' ROLL MEMOIR (UT Press), which traces her life growing up locally, playing in Austin punk bands, and following her dreams to L.A. to find R&R stardom with the Go-Go's. She really makes you feel it all: the ups, the downs, the parties, the drugs, the heartbreaks, the thrill of being family in a groundbreaking, hugely successful band.

The debut of jazz maven Mark Ruffin, BEBOP FAIRY TALES: AN HISTORICAL FICTION TRILOGY ON JAZZ, INTOLERANCE, AND BASEBALL (Rough in Creative Works) is a trio of long short stories, based on true events, that address, as the title implies, an array of American ideals. I just love the way Ruffin deftly incorporates Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry," Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," and a thinly disguised James Baldwin into his uplifting tales.

SITTIN’ IN: JAZZ CLUBS OF THE 1940S AND 1950s by Jeff Gold (Harper Design) would make a treasured gift for any jazz enthusiast. This amazing collection of rare B&W photographs of jazz fans, club memorabilia, and musicians, in that order, with interviews of Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, and Jason Moran, serves as a fascinating time capsule from jazz’s Golden Age.

I’m ending this crazy, stressful year with a wonderfully escapist balm of a novel, David Mitchell’s UTOPIA AVENUE (Random House). It’s the hilarious story, set in 1967 London, of a four-piece bar band as it falteringly navigates its way to pop stardom. The unruly cast of characters, spot-on cameos, and hip cultural references help make for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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More Top 10s
Rosalind Faires' Top 10 Fiction Books of 2019
Rosalind Faires' Top 10 Fiction Books of 2019
Here’s to a year of rollicking adventures, laughing, weeping, and rooting for those crazy kids to wind up together in the end

Rosalind Faires, Dec. 20, 2019

Elizabeth Cobbe's Top 10 Arts Entrances of 2019
Elizabeth Cobbe's Top 10 Arts Entrances of 2019
It was the onstage arrivals – some creepy, some hilarious, all welcome – that made this year distinctive

Elizabeth Cobbe, Dec. 20, 2019

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Future Gladiators and Fantastical Stories Mark the Literary Year in Review
Future Gladiators and Fantastical Stories Mark the Literary Year in Review
Pulled from the shelves

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Review: Denny Freeman, <i>The Amazing Denny Freeman</i>
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CD set compiles two long-out-of-print albums by the late guitarist

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Top 10s, Top 10s 2020, Rodrigo Fresan, Kathy Valentine, Mark Ruffin, Jeff Gold, David Mitchell

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