I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 31, 2020
I’m sorry to be AWOL for so long, but 2020, man. It’s been such a kick in the gut… and while I thought it would at least give me plenty to write about, it turned out EVERYONE felt the same way and with so many opinions and arguments and noise spilling out of the Internets like an overflowing toilet bowl, I REALLY had no desire to add to the chaos. I’m hoping to write more in 2021, but I think we’re in for a rough next few months and I’m currently in Atlanta helping my parents clean out their home of 30 years and move to an
assisted living community retirement community with an assisted living COMPONENT, (thanks, ‘rents, for the edit!), in a few weeks and I’m just going to be kind to myself until we’re all through this COVID thing, and do the best I can. I hope you’ll be kind to yourselves, too. Honestly, my real New Year will begin the day we all take our masks off.
BUT I couldn’t let this year end without sharing my favorite books of 2020. As you probably know if you’re reading this post, I am a lifelong bookworm and typically read 60-70 books a year (and — full disclosure — it was only about 20-30 a year until I discovered I could download audiobooks from the library onto my iPhone — Audiobooks and library ebooks have made my annual count skyrocket), and when the pandemic began, I thought I’d devour books like never before.
For several months, I couldn’t read much at all. Between all the fear and panic and Lester Holt looking like he was going to cry every night reading the news, I simply didn’t have the emotional bandwidth necessary to savor a really good read. But as time passed and I slowly learned how to exist in a COVID world without feeling like I was on the verge of a panic attack at every moment, books slowly became my refuge again. By the time summer was easing to an end and election bickering was ramping up, books once again had become a most welcome escape — I finished the year having read 69 books… and most of them were wonderful, so compiling a top ten list is difficult. It may well end up being more than ten. And why not? After the year we’ve had, WE DESERVE IT.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb
Bess Kalb tells the story of her dead grandmother’s life, in her dead grandmother’s voice, and it is funny and poignant and charming and nostalgic and ugly cry-inducing.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me hit me hard because like Bess, I had a grandmother whom I absolutely adored and her death in 2014 at the age of 90 hit me very, very hard. Although my grandmother and Bess’s grandmother had very different circumstances and personalities, the big love between Bess and Grandma Bobby was exactly the same and listening to this audiobook felt like getting a big hug from my own grandmother.
Crazily, Bess’s experience getting the news that her grandmother had died was almost identical to mine, right down to both of our mother’s reacting the exact same unexpected way to OUR reactions. Reliving that moment as I listened to Bess’s experience, I cried almost as hard as I did in that moment six years ago. Luckily, I was alone at the time! However, Bess managed to end the book beautifully, so the whole experience felt incredibly cathartic, and I felt more connected to my grandmother than I have in a long time.
Loved it. Read it. You won’t regret it.
The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Dare
I could not have loved this book more.
All the cards are stacked against 14-year-old Adunni, a Nigerian girl mired in poverty who seems destined for failure in a cold and unfriendly world, if it weren’t for one thing: her irrepressible, indomitable spirit. Her story epitomizes the phrase, “She believed she could and so she did.”
Abi Dare’s descriptive narration made me feel as if Adunni were a living, breathing person whom I came to adore and want to succeed, despite her many challenges. Not only could I vividly picture each of the characters in this book, but I also feel now like I’ve spent time in Nigeria, a country about which I previously knew very little. The book left me feeling hopeful and encouraged and excited to spend time in someone else’s world and understand their perspective just a little bit more.
I enthusiastically recommend this book to pretty much any woman or teenage girl. We can all benefit from reading Adunni’s story.
Harry’s Trees, by Jon Cohen
Feeling anxious? Depressed? Unsettled? This is the book you need to read right now.
Harry’s Trees is a delightful modern-day fairytale that will likely resonate with the part of you harboring mistrust and disillusionment (2020, anyone?) — yet this book will also leave you filled with hope and just a little bit of magic. I’m struggling with this year emotionally just like everyone else I know, and this book felt like a dose of the best kind of medicine. Give it a read and believe in goodness and kindness again. 🙂
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
I’m not sure how I missed this book when it was published, but I’m so glad I found it in 2020 — It just might be the best book I read all year.
Written for teenagers and loosely based on the author’s own life growing up, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows a gifted teen cartoonist named Junior growing up on a Spokane Indian Reservation. The book contains ample illustrations of his experiences — cartoons (illustrated by Ellen Forney) drawn by Junior about his experiences.
Sherman Alexie is an incredibly talented writer, deftly making me laugh and cry at Junior’s escapades, sometimes at the same time! I’m so glad I took friends’ recommendations and listened to the audiobook, because Sherman’s narration really added to the whole experience. I came to love Junior and didn’t want his story to end — and I thought more about what life is truly like on ‘The Rez’ for Native Americans than I have in a long, long time.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a must-read for teenagers — It will make them really think about racism and prejudice and privilege, while at the same time identifying with Juniors thoughts and desires, even though his life is undoubtedly different from their own It’s also a must-read for adults — This book is absolutely a masterpiece and a modern-day classic.
American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
After seeing all the negative publicity about this book, I wasn’t planning on reading it — and then my stepdaughter gave me a copy for my birthday. I gave it a shot, and you know what? I’m glad I did. It was extraordinary. Taken solely as fiction, it is riveting and emotional and incredibly well-written and a TOTAL pageturner, and if it’s over the top, well, I mean, it’s fiction and on that level, I’m okay with it simply because I’ve always assumed much of the fiction I read will be bigger and more dramatic than life, even if it’s loosely based on actual events.
Another positive is that the book inspired me to actually look up and read TRUE stories of La Bestia and the plight of migrants, really for the first time ever. I also visited Jeanine Cummins’ Facebook page, wondering how she’s handling the criticism, and saw that she has raised more than $50,000 recently for migrant aid. If this book convinces more people like me to read about and help migrants and to really see them not as a faceless mass of humanity but instead as individuals with stories and families and hopes and dreams, I think that’s a good thing.
THAT SAID, I completely agree with those who’ve written that it’s problematic that big money and major publicity and celebrity endorsements all went to a white woman writing about Mexican immigrants while so many amazing Latinx writers continue to be underrepresented, underpaid, and underpublicized in the publishing world today. That seems really, really unfair. And so with that said, if you liked this book, here are some books by Latinx authors I think you’d LOVE:
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (This book is tied with the Lord of the Rings trilogy as my favorite book of all time.)
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (Honestly, I think everything by Allende is varying degrees of fantastic; she’s one of my very favorite authors. These are just two good novels to start with.)
Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Santa Evita, Tomas Eloy Martinez
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
All of these books are AMAZING.
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Meyer
This book was an utter delight. I’ve always wanted to try Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance novels and The Grand Sophy was a wonderful place to start.
If you love Jane Austen’s books, you will be thrilled to find this read — Some say it’s actually better than Austen! Young Sophy Stanton-Lacy is taken in by her elegant aunt Lady Ombersley while her father is away, and she exuberantly turns the family and London society upside down. She match-makes and inserts herself into intrigues and causes all kinds of mayhem, but her charm and wit make her beloved by all.
If you’re looking for lighthearted escape (and who isn’t right now?) and you enjoy the Austen era, this is definitely the book for you. I didn’t want it to end!
Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid
I really enjoyed this one! Kiley Reid is an excellent writer, and while her characters are all deeply flawed and often unlikeable or at the very least, ‘problematic,’ I always just HAD to know what was going to happen next. Excellent pacing, great descriptions that allowed me to see the characters and feel as if I knew them personally, and a great depiction of life right now — This book will one day provide a very good example of people, trends, interests, and relationships at this particular moment in time.
Recommended if you’re looking for a solidly written, fast-paced read that will often surprise you and keep you guessing right to the end.
City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
I absolutely loved this book, written about a 19-year-old well-heeled Vassar dropout living it up in 1940s New York theater culture.
Gilbert nails the dialect and mannerisms of the era; I felt as I read it like I was watching a snappy, cleverly written 1940s movie. And as Gilbert readers would expect, she takes an entertaining story and elevates it with deep thoughts about femininity, sexuality, homophobia, and a woman’s place and how it’s evolved from WWII to now. While the first half sparkled, the second half of the book dragged a tiny bit as Vivian Morris grows up and leaves the fun and froth of NYC nightlife behind — but overall, it was a strong, entertaining, and thought-provoking novel.
The Things We Cannot Say, Kelly Rimmer
There are a lot of Holocaust-based historical fiction reads out there — Some are really well done. Some… Not so much. I honestly thought The Things We Cannot Say was going to fall in the latter category, but since so many people had read and loved it, I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did.
Written from the dual perspectives of a young woman living in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II and her granddaughter in the present time, The Things We Cannot Say is a beautiful and heartbreaking love story you won’t soon forget. I appreciated the fact that it was written from the perspective of people we typically don’t hear about in Holocaust-era fiction — non-Jews living in Poland who helped their Jewish neighbors. Although they didn’t suffer as badly as the Jews in their town, they still endured far more deprivation and horror than I had ever realized, and millions of them died under the Nazi regime as well.
A big part of the message of The Things We Cannot Say is that minor atrocities tend to snowball out of control if we don’t take action and work to prevent them whenever we see them happening — Any time we allow hate to gain a foothold, we put ourselves at risk of ultimately allowing another Hitler or Putin to come to power. In these times, this reminder is especially relevant and chilling.
The Only Plane in the Sky, Garrett M. Graff
This oral history recounting the events of 9/11 is told from many, many different perspectives, and will take you right back to that time as you read. The audiobook is a full-cast recording and it is amazing. I was on the edge of my seat and often in tears the whole time I listened to the book. In addition to it being one of my top 2020 reads, I also believe it’s required reading for every teen and young adult who can’t remember 9/11 and doesn’t really understand the impact it has had on every American who lived through it and remembers. Highly recommended.
My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
I had so many thoughts about this book that I found myself unable to write a review about it after reading it back in July. But now that it has ended up in my top reads for the year, it has to be done. Deep breaths.
Brief summary: Vanessa had a relationship with her 42-year-old teacher when she was 15 that continued off and on into her twenties. As a teenager, she believed her teacher was in love with her. But when she’s confronted by another of his victims as an adult, she’s forced to revisit her past and realize that her relationship wasn’t love at all, but abuse.
In short, I loved this book. I thought it was incredibly well written and unputdownable. At the same time, reading this book made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, both in reading Vanessa’s story and in recalling moments from my own teenage years from an adult perspective. I realized as I read that I had put certain memories behind me and never thought about them again — What a difference a couple of decades can make.
I was surprised when I looked back at the number of times that grown men, sometimes twice my age, found ways to meet me, spend time with me, and attempt to forge an emotional connection. At the time, I was flattered. Teenage me thought the attention was because I was becoming such an impressive and interesting adult woman — Looking back, that was definitely not my appeal. Ew.
This is a difficult realization to write about and it was difficult to revisit and reframe these memories as I read the book. However, I believe that the more we can speak openly about the ways young women are victimized and preyed upon even in places where they’re believed to be ‘safe,’ the less it’s going to happen. This book has the potential to help young women recognize the difference between love and abuse and hopefully prevent it and to gently prod those who’ve been victimized to seek help — and for these reasons I’m so glad it’s out there in the world.
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
I love Ann Patchett’s novels and I tend to want to actually read my favorite authors’ books rather than listening to them on audiobook — but when Tom Hanks is the narrator, you opt for the audiobook version, period, and that’s exactly what I did in the case of The Dutch House.
And friends, it was wonderful.
Tom Hanks is the perfect voice for the story’s narrator, Danny Conroy, and his familiar cadence lulled me into the tale as if I were settling back to enjoy an Oscar-nominated film. Although Danny is the novel’s protagonist, the real main character in this story is the Dutch house — a historic and architecturally significant home that dominates the lives of three generations of Conroys and provides an almost living, breathing setting for their obsession and dysfunction. Like all truly good literary fiction, The Dutch House is enjoyable both purely as a story with compelling characters and pitch-perfect pacing, and for its symbols and deeper meaning that invite pondering afterward, if one is so inclined.
I’m giving The Dutch House four stars instead of five because it wasn’t absolute perfection — Patchett has yet to top Bel Canto, which is one of my all-time favorite books — and because I could never quite picture the house or the characters as crisply in my mind as I would have liked. With that said, I think this book is definitely, definitely worth reading if you enjoy literary fiction that explores family drama and dysfunction.
And if you really want a treat, listen to the audiobook.
Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano
This coming-of-age story about a boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash will definitely be among my favorite reads of the year. It’s fast paced, thought provoking, and really well written. I also appreciated that Napolitano managed to write a book about a plane crash that didn’t intensify my tiny fear of flying. That’s not an easy thing to do! Recommended.
Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow
I absolutely loved this important work exposing Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment and assault, NBC’s role in the cover-up, Matt Lauer’s downfall, and — just for kicks — an international espionage ring devoted to following and intimidating anyone who talked. I particularly recommend the audiobook version of the story — Ronan Farrow is warm and engaging and you’ll feel like you’re sitting at a table over drinks with him as he recounts the whole crazy, sad, almost unbelievable story. Better yet, he does all the voices! He has a knack for mimicry and gave each character their own accent and ‘voice.’ It really added to the story!
So many of these kinds of books get bogged down in the details because the writer has to go to great lengths to prove and source all the important information. This one did not. It moved along fairly briskly, but at the same time there was no doubt Farrow and others involved in the investigation exhaustively researched and fact-checked every last detail. I really enjoyed listening and knowing Farrow’s perseverance in getting the story out there, not to mention the courage of the woman who came forward, has made a real difference in workplaces across the country.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a purely delightful piece of historical fiction about the Appalachian librarians who used to ride mules and horses through the mountains to bring books to their desperately poor patrons. Add to that the fact that protagonist Cussy Carter is a ‘Blue,’ one of Kentucky’s rare genetically blue-skinned people, and you have one hell of an interesting storyline right off the bat.
Richardson satisfyingly hits every note in this novel with rich descriptions of Appalachia, a plucky heroine with many hardships to overcome, an unlikely romance, and the sobering topic of harsh racism, which ran rampant in the 1930s. Book Woman is a fast, easy, and satisfying read, making it a great one to get you out of a reading slump.
Save Me the Plums, Ruth Reichl
I have never read an issue of Gourmet magazine. I had never heard of Ruth Reichl. But since I heard the audiobook version of Save Me the Plums was wonderful — and since I love listening to a good memoir — I decided to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did.
Ruth Reichl is such a good writer that she could pen an essay on reorganizing her closet and I have no doubt I’d find it riveting. She told the story of her years as editor of Gourmet with honesty, vulnerability, and candor and held little back. And she wrote beautifully about the lessons she learned while she was there, and, of course, about THE FOOD. Reichl turns the preparation and consumption of food into an art form in her writing, yet she does so with an ease that never seems forced.
How much did I love this book? Well, I finished the audiobook from the library on June 13th. Four days later, I’ve already received a hard copy of the book as well as two behemoth out-of-print volumes of the Best of Gourmet from Amazon! Now that I’ve heard about all the work that went into developing and testing the magazine’s recipes, I can’t rest until I try some of them for myself.
If you liked Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, you will love this book. And as for the audiobook version, Reichl’s narration is pitch perfect.