This year has highlighted the particularities of that thing called reading. Some found books impossible to pick up; sustained attention to text on a page is hard when the world is in so much pain. Others turned to literature anew, rediscovering the ways it can refresh and inspire. Below are some of the titles we were most drawn to in 2020: a wide-ranging list that includes new spins on epic poems, stories about the interior lives of women, memoirs that eloquently challenged industries, and, yes, essays that made us laugh.
You can read the Culture team’s full selections here.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.
This is our final Books Briefing of the year. See you in 2021.
What We’re Reading
Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd)
The workaday lives and thoughts of women may not seem revolutionary, but Mieko Kawakami manages to make them so in Breasts and Eggs. Each of the central characters struggles, in her own way, with the effects of misogyny and poverty. Makiko, a hostess worn down by decades of grueling service work, is considering breast-enhancement surgery. Her 12-year-old daughter Midoriko, deeply affected by her mother’s difficulties, hates the idea of becoming an adult woman; her apprehension manifests as a refusal to speak out loud to her family. Makiko’s sister Natsuko, a writer who lives alone, mulls using a sperm bank to have a child. Kawakami makes blunt but dignified space for this trio. At one point, Midoriko, full of rage and grief and anxiety, finally breaks her silence in a breathtaking kitchen confrontation with her mother that involves dozens of smashed eggs. The electric moment channels the ethos of the book: raw, funny, mundane, heartbreaking. — Jane Yong Kim