Erin Stoeckig: The best books of 2020 couldn’t be found

As the long-awaited end of 2020 draws to a close, the retrospective articles where news feeds are crowded to take advantage of the reflections that a New Year brings have felt less meaningful than usual. If this year’s weirdness was noticed by each of its increasingly implausible twists in the plot, these “year in review” pieces only served to kick a few final kicks on the very dead horse that the word “unprecedented” was. It is not all recycled material, however, as these meditations also made the list of the best books of the year for 2020.

I don’t know about you, but once December is over, the lists of the best books of the year for me are more exciting than Advent calendars – and they work just as well, as holidays pop up almost daily in the lead up to the new books. They are great for choosing gifts and creating wish lists. They are fun to compare, and they are often eloquent enough to make interesting readings in and of themselves. But when I went through the lists this time, I realized that almost everything I read this year was recommended.

On our biennial pilgrimage to comic book conventions in our twin cities, my father, my brothers, a few friends and I end the day with what has been affectionately known as the “bookshop group”. As the name suggests, it’s a visit to a couple of the dozen or so second-hand bookstores we frequent in the cities to replenish our reserves before heading home.

On these trips, I usually look for something: the latest book in a row, something a classmate read and enjoyed, a recommendation from an English teacher, or the script for a play I love. But no matter how many books I look for, I usually have twice as many choices that I didn’t know existed before I looked at them – selected for everything from weird titles to creative premises to low prices.

These books, which I found by chance while wandering through libraries or rummaging through unsorted boxes labeled “free”, impressed me the most. I have a hard time telling you exactly why these books are the ones I think about the most – perhaps because they are so obscure that I never got to discuss them with anyone – but I can say that the reading experience is more interesting when you have absolutely no expectations. If a book that was recommended to you or that you did research is bad, the disappointment is a bit more bitter. And if you’re the only person who’s read a particular book, you can be sure that your opinion about it hasn’t been influenced by anyone else’s praise or criticism. It’s a bit easier to grow up to find your own voice and tastes when they’re not filtered through everyone else’s.

This method of unbiased book selection has become all but impossible in our digital world where you have to search for well-known authors or titles. Star ratings are displayed next to each result. It’s not that you can’t find good books that way – just for the past few weeks I’ve read and loved a biography of Margaret Beaufort, The Last Samurai, and The Metamorphoses based on strong recommendations – it’s just who I am not sure if this should be the only way to find reading material.

So I will join forces with every second review of 2020 to wish a speedy departure this year and hope that it brings its many crises with it. To a safer New Year filled with unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar books.

Erin Stoeckig is a junior at Mayo High School. Send comments on youth columns to Jeff Pieters, [email protected]

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