Books I have read, 2020

by Lorenzo Piccoli

I start the year with a masterpiece: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoievsky. Truth be said, I started listening to this audiobook in the summer of 2019, riding up the Col du Sanetsch. I put it aside and then I resumed with the snow: first in Lavazé Pass, then in Valais. Perhaps this is a book that needs to be read in the snow. I would recommend it to all those who like reading hundreds of different stories in the same book; and to all prospective psychologists. At some point in the Fall, I randomly recommend this book to Giulia. She claims, with no proof, that she first recommended it to me in 2019.


In early February I spend a day in Milan, and several hours between Hoepli and the Mondadori Megastore. I fondly remember the company of Dani and the three books I bought there, all of which can be read lightly and joyfully: Il Piccolo Libro dei Colori by Dominique Simonnet and Michel Pastoureau, Il Tennis come esperienza religiosa by David Foster Wallace, and Photography by Tom Ang.

In March I went to ski in Leutasch, courtesy of my father, and then in Leysin, courtesy of Yvan. There was some suspicion around Italians, since Covid-19 was spreading quickly in the north-east part of the country. (When I was in Leysin, on Saturday evening, I remember reading in disbelief about a lockdown in Milan). I traveled to Paris the next Friday and on Saturday afternoon I went to the bookshop near our home, L’Odeur du Book. There I bought an elegant photography book, Visions du sport by Jean-Claude Gautrand. It was raining and I read it right away at Le Timbale. On the table next to mine, three men were playing a board game. Next day, a national lockdown began.

Visions du sport

The first book I read in lockdown was Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s Photography after Photography, which I had bought in Berlin‘s b.-books Buchladen. This is an excellent follow-up to Sustan Sontag’s On Photography. I also read three books by Sebastião Salgado: Children, Terres de café, Workers. If you have to pick one, I would go for the latter: it should be a mandatory read for everyone studying sociology.  However, my two quarantine books are: Epitaph of a small winner by the extraordinary Brazilian writer Machado de Assis (recommended by Martina: funky and innovative) and Gli Europei by Orlando Figes (which I bought at Todo Modo in Florence, during the same trip that had brought me to Milan: a historically detailed story of much of period between 1850 and 1900 between Paris and Oryol).

These books were followed by a streak of comics triggered by Ludo’s gift Macerie Prime by Zerocalcare (itself a consequence of the hugely popular series Rebibbia Quarantine, by the same author). This is how I read: Aldobrando (Gipi), Asterix chez les normands and Asterix chez les belges (Goscinny and Uderzo), L’Arabe du futur : Une jeunesse au Moyen-Orient, 1978–1984 (Riad Sattouf), Nerval l’inconsolé (Daniel Casanave), C’est pas ma faute (Mordillo). It must have been May, because I bought all these books as soon as the bookstores re-opened and I read some of them in Bois des Boulogne. From that period I also remember reading  L’Ame du Monde (a gift from Lenard) on the stairs behind the Sacre Coeur, on a sunny Sunday when we were finally allowed to go outside.

In June I listened to two books while riding my bike in Switzerland: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan (as a consequence of this book, I took a hiatus from coffee between September and November) and Sostiene Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi read by Sergio Rubini. If I were to recommend one single book from 2020, it would probably be this one. It is a story with a special aurea, situated in a precise moment of the history of Portugal, and the main hero is a universal character.


My main summer reading, which was highly recommended by Arianna and Iris: Metà di un sole giallo by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Another story told by many different voices. This is another book I suggest to you all. A book I do not recommend is My Turn: The Autobiography by Johann Cruyff. Badly written, pompous. Also rather pontifical and at times racist, but nonetheless worth a read: Il Mediterraneo in barca by Simenon, which I bought in Florence on my way back from Cilento. This falls in the same category of Il Piccolo Libro dei Colori by Dominique Simonnet and Michel Pastoureau, il Tennis come esperienza religiosa by David Foster Wallace: an easy read for an afternoon on the train. The book also contains some remarkable photos.


End of August in Brittany: this is where Arianna and I were recommended In Waves by Craig Thompson. A great comic about surf and illness, with colourful sketches. (The other suggestion: Algues Vertes, a shady story on politics and Brittany, which I save for the next year). Early September in Biarritz with Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz. Perhaps it was the wrong moment, as I wanted to read something happy, colourful, and fast. This sad, grey, slow book did not fit at all.

Between September and November, back in Paris, I read two other books by Gipi (S and Note per una storia di guerra: these are chefs d’oeuvre in the field of comic strips), a unique book in the history of photography (The Frenchman: A Photographic Interview with Fernandel by Philippe Halsman), and a book I waited two years to delve into (4, 3, 2, 1 by Paul Auster. I have not made up my mind on whether I loved this book or not, but I still find myself thinking about it often. This is a great sign. Another good sign is my curiosity for the book’s acute reviews on Goodreads). 

November and December was the ideal time for L’Oeuvre au Noir by Marguerite Yourcenar. Too hard to read it in French and not simple to finish it in Italian. A masterpiece that I would not recommend to everyone. Go for it if you have a weak spot for Flanders, the history of the sixteenth century, lyrical books, complex characters.

L'opera al nero

Four books to finish the year covering my main literary passions: an extraordinary journey through the work of a Geneva-born photographer who fell in love with the Mediterranean and took some astounding pictures on the coasts of Greece, Italy, and Turkey over a century ago (Fred Boissonnas et la Méditerranée), a historic and self-questioning book on lying and on the contemporary history of Spain, a bit à la Carrère (L’impostore by Javier Cercas), a short, simple tale of a small village in Grisons (L’ultima neve by Arno Camenisch), and a complex, colourful, and masterfully drawn comic (Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa: a lot of books about Portugal in the last two years).