Favorite backlist reads of 2020

I read mostly brand new books, which is an occupational hazard of constantly reading pre-pub reviews for my job and seeing all the new books when they come in to the library. I do sometimes make time for classics and older books, and probably should try to do so more often because two of them were among my favorite reads this past year.

The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman probably isn’t technically a “backlist” book because I think it is out of print, which is ridiculous because I should be a well-known classic. I had never heard of it before I saw an essay about it on CrimeReads earlier this year. It was published in 1962, and is the story of Lydia McQueen, a resilient woman striving to take care of her family in post-Civil War Appalachia amid personal hardships and the tensions of the Reconstruction era. I loved following this deeply developed character over a lifetime, and all of the details of the challenges women of this particular time and place faced in just keeping themselves and their families alive. (If you are looking to read this one, interlibrary loan is probably your friend, as I could not find it at any local libraries here.)

Most everyone is already familiar with Lonesome Dove, and I have had a copy of it sitting around in my house for awhile. I kept putting off reading it because it is LONG (the paperback copy I read was almost 1000 pages, and I alternated with the audiobook which is about 37 hours). I’m glad I finally made time for it because it is a deeply enjoyable story with some unforgettable characters (I particularly enjoyed the parts that focuses on Clara, and it is hard not to fall a little in love with Gus). Be prepared, though… McMurtry is an incredibly wordy dude. It takes something like 200 pages before they even set out on the cattle drive, and he is forever adding additional characters and switching to their point of view. But, if you happen to need a distraction from the current state of the world, the troubles of a band of charming and difficult men on a rather misbegotten cattle drive might be just what you need!

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