The Millions

A Year in Reading: Martha Anne Toll

Pandemic, Uprisings, Election. 300,000 senseless deaths and untold senseless misery, Black America demanding to be heard and honored, The Election. I got COVID, was sick for a couple of months, recovered, and leaned into audiobooks—blessedly available from our shuttered libraries—as I tried to regain stamina. In 2020, as in all other years, books were tonic and balm, escape, and lifeblood. I tend to group them in categories, even as categories are both useless and limiting.

OBITUARY READS. I find gems reading writers’ obits, which I see as carrying on their legacy rather than a morbid fascination with death. A standout this year was Tunisian-French-Jewish-Arab writer , who died at age 99. (translated by ) is a rich mélange of growing up poor and Jewish in the heart of a thriving polyglot city, the smells and tastes of Tunisian cooking, a young man’s thirst for education, and an interrogation of colonial oppression. I read my first (I’d been avoiding him for years)——a fascinating exploration of cultural appropriation (Christianity appropriating Judaism). And while these do not qualify as Obit Reads, I’ll lump them here: by (translated by ), a weird and wonderful dreamlike visit to childhood, and by (uncomfortably prescient).

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