My Two Favorite Books of 2020
by Jude Joseph Lovell
Proving the old adage about time, flight, and having fun, I return again for the third year in a row to share my two favorite books of the year. While neither of these titles were published recently, both are well worth the investment of time and attention. Besides, I’m not sure anyone would disparage the idea of engaging with anything that is not a product of this particular year.
And so, on to the books:
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (Knopf, 1988)
There are so many fine reasons to read literature from other cultures, for not only does it expose us to what is fascinating about people and places we may not be familiar with, it also has a way of revealing those things that all humankind shares. Surely Love in the Time of Cholera, written by the great Colombian fiction writer and journalist Gabriel García Márquez (1927–2014), is a shining example. This rich and colorful novel, passionate in every sense, tells a love story that lasts over half a century, yet the two individuals involved spend nearly the entire book apart. A young man in an unnamed South American country meets and immediately falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur. He pursues the woman with great determination, but in the end she rejects him, in favor of a young doctor with stronger prospects. The man then doggedly carries the flame of his love for the woman for more than fifty years, while laboring to make something of himself, in the hopes that life will eventually afford him another chance at love. In chronicling the joys, losses, sacrifices, and betrayals of both characters, Márquez writes with great wisdom and humor, and concludes his novel with a moving examination of how love can endure and blossom again, even among older people. This is an engrossing and ultimately powerful story, brilliantly told.
The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton, 2011)
This unique narrative by Greenblatt, a Harvard professor, felt like something I had never experienced before. Part history, part literary analysis, part Indiana Jones–style adventure thriller, and part philosophical inquiry, this fascinating book recounts the incredible story of one of history’s most momentous accidents. In the 15th century, an Italian named Poggio Bracciolini, employed as a papal administrator but also a self-proclaimed “book hunter,” discovered an old manuscript wedged between two other books in the library of a remote German monastery. It turned out to be a “lost” copy of a poem by the 1st century Roman writer Lucretius called De rerum natura, or On the Nature of Things, that had fallen out of circulation. The poem is stuffed full of subversive ideas that flew in the face of most the “truths” commonly held by civilization in either century, such as the idea that all matter is composed of tiny particles (now known to be atoms). After delivering a masterful account of most of the poem’s extraordinarily daring and highly advanced suppositions, The Swerve then relates the equally riveting story of how this accidental discovery ended up changing the entire course of human history. Simply, it’s one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read.
Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a safe, happy 2021—hopefully filled with lots of great books!
Photo credit by author.
Jude Joseph Lovell writes on books and popular culture for Silver Sage and is the author of four novels, three short story collections, and four works of nonfiction. His newest book is Door In The Air: New and Selected Stories, 1999-2020. He lives with his wife and four growing children in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. For more information visit his website at judejosephlovell.com.