John Micek of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star recently editorialized about a favorite book, music recording, and show that he felt had helped him best keep his sanity through the pandemic.

I decided to rise to the occasion and examine what I read during the last calendar year, selecting fiction and nonfiction and one mixed breed.

I enter a quick-and-dirty review on my computer for future use and to help my old brain remember what I read three weeks ago. This year until Christmas I had only read 34 books which seems like a lot. I know it isn’t that many for some folks. There are hard-core readers and hard-core musicians and hard-core jigsaw puzzlers all who would put me to shame. I’m glad you are that devoted!

My nonfiction choices are “The Ageless Soul” by Thomas Moore and “The Federalist Papers” by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

I have only read two of Moore’s books, the first being the often quoted and highly regarded “Care of the Soul.” Moore is a psychiatrist of some age and standing. I like his attitude towards physical aging as opposed to the non-aging of our soul. And if your soul is in danger, although I wasn’t sure if mine was or wasn’t, he offers some ideas of what to do about it. In this day and age of endless (and ageless?) self-help books and free advice, I was glad to see someone speak from experience and wisdom.

“The Federalist Papers” are basically a sales pitch for accepting the new Constitution, without the amendments, without the hype, without social media, without a bunch of know-it-alls polluting the airwaves. In an election year, with endless (and ageless) authorities on every channel, clogging up my mind, I figured I should attempt a more complete understanding of the argument to accept the new form of government. I’m still reading these. The writing is flowery, long, and eloquent like wading through “Common Sense” all over again. It seemed important to read the original source and steer away from modern political shouting.

Honorable mention to “The Order of the Day,” by Eric Vuillard. Writing about World War II history will never be the same.

My science magazine indicated there was some research which suggested reading fiction helped with developing empathy. Didn’t say how much fiction. Didn’t say how much empathy. There is a lot of excellent fiction and a lot of not-so-excellent fiction. Finding the good stuff is hard to do. I suppose empathy follows along.

By far my most interesting fiction for 2020 was “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie. Very strange. Very original. Very interesting. I can see why Rushdie got into so much trouble and I can’t help wonder why he didn’t get in further trouble. Seeing the world through another lens (Gabriel Marquez, for instance, or Isabel Allende) can perform the necessary end-run around our provincialism.

I sense that many people would agree that their lives were opened, if just a tad, if just for a moment, by the great literature and maybe even sometimes by the not-so-great literature.

The reason I liked Greg Iles’ “Natchez Burning” was it struck a nerve during the summer’s unrest. This is not great literature but more like modern, historical fiction. It is brutal. It will assault your senses. It might even wrench a gut or two. And open your eyes, perhaps. Not for the faint of heart but progress in this country seems never to be for the faint of heart. Keep in mind that Iles lives in Natchez and is writing about local history.

I had to add a “most weird” category because I don’t know how to think about Hunter Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels.” Thompson, we all know, was a bit nutty. But his nuttiness earned him a place in the hearts of journalists to this day.

There you have it. Keep safe. Be well. Love and virtual hugs and fist-bumps to everyone as we celebrate finally (!) making it to 2021.