What You Have to Know Right now

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After the editors of The Times Book Review close their large year-end editions, they turn immediately to the following year in November of each year. You begin by creating a working list of nominees for the next iteration of 100 notable books – which will be published almost a year later.

In the months that follow, the editors add to the list, knowing all the time that they will end up with a ruthless win, up to 50 fiction and 50 non-fiction books covering all genres. “It’s a lot of triage and tough choices,” Pamela Paul, the book review editor, told me.

Today Pamela and her colleagues published the new list. The Times has published a version of this every year since 1968 (although the first were longer), and publishers say this often has a big impact on a book’s sales.

[The Best Books of 2020: View our full list.]

The 2020 list has both timeless and contemporary features. It includes novels that could come out any year – by Hilary Mantel, JM Coetzee, Megha Majumdar, and Lily King – as well as non-fiction books about Winston Churchill, Newt Gingrich, Malcolm X, and Ronald Reagan.

But the list also reflects the biggest issues of 2020: “Racial justice, immigration, ideological divisions, identity and economic differences permeate both the fictional and the non-fictional side of our list,” says Pamela. There are books on violence against black Americans, the political alienation of white working-class Americans, and more.

There are even some books that manage to speak to life, albeit indirectly, during the pandemic – like Ben Ehrenreich’s memoir on lonely life in the American West. (And yes, a more famous treatise, Barack Obama’s, was also on the list.)

I will offer my own endorsement from the 100: “Deaths of Desperation and the Future of Capitalism” by Anne Case and Angus Deaton. It covers what is arguably the most alarming development in American life that explains the frustration across the country: In many communities, people do not live as long as their parents.

Next up on Monday morning is the publication of the 10 best books of the year. Readers can see the announcement here.

  • In an extraordinary move, President Trump called Republican members of the Michigan legislature to the White House to undermine the electoral college process. President-elect Joe Biden leads Michigan with 158,000 votes.

  • Business leaders in Washington, DC and Wall Street are increasingly urging the Trump administration to begin the transition.

  • Other Republicans have fought against Trump. Fred Upton, a senior Michigan Republican in the house, said Trump should admit. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, described the allegations made by Trump’s attorneys as “offensive” and “absolutely outrageous”.

  • And Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, condemned the president’s attempts to undo his defeat. “It’s hard to imagine a sitting American president doing worse, more undemocratic,” said Romney.

  • Senator David Perdue, a Republican facing a runoff election in Georgia in January, made a profit on a Navy contractor’s inventory while he oversaw the Navy fleet.

  • In the United States, the rate of HIV-related deaths fell by about half from 2010 to 2018. The declines were smaller among women and black Americans.

  • US prosecutors have declined to pursue cases against thousands of people arrested during demonstrations against police brutality this summer, and have concluded that protesters are exercising their civil rights.

  • Two fraud investigations – one criminal and one civil – against Trump and his companies are now looking at tax deductions for advisory fees, some of which appear to have gone to Ivanka Trump.

  • The Justice Department carried out the first of three executions scheduled before the end of Trump’s term in office. Biden has announced that the federal government will end the use of the death penalty.

  • General Motors announced that it would introduce more electric vehicles by 2025. The company hopes to challenge Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicles.

  • One of the NBA’s top shooters, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors is set to miss out on the upcoming season after tearing his Achilles tendon in a pickup game.

  • And one more book news: Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his autobiographical novel “Shuggie Bain”, the story of the lonely gay son of an alcoholic mother in Scotland in the 1980s.

Modern love: A grandmother’s love fills the void for a writer who lost her mother at a young age.

Notable birds: A worker who set up the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan this week saw a tiny owl that accidentally got stuck in the branches. (The owl was thirsty and hungry, but mostly fine.) Now that we’re on the subject, Central Park has a new celebrity bird.

Lived life: Drew S. Days III was the United States Attorney General and the first black American to head the Department of Justice’s civil rights division. Born in the southern United States, he attended and taught at Yale Law School. He died at the age of 79.

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At a Thanksgiving dinner over a decade ago, a magazine editor named Larry Smith made a suggestion to his table relatives: They should each tell a story about themselves in just six words. It was a twist on a challenge that someone had apparently once posed to Ernest Hemingway.

Smith’s family enjoyed the idea that night and soon turned it into a bestselling book series. More recently he wrote a Times Op-Ed entitled “The Pandemic in Six Words Memoirs”.

For Thanksgiving Day, I’d like to invite the readers of this newsletter to do a version of the exercise. This year of the pandemic, politics and more, tell us in just six words what makes you grateful.

“The six-word constraint helps us get what we need,” says Smith, “and I can’t think of a time when gratitude was more important.”

He advises you to go in whichever direction you want: “You can say thank you for the great things in life (‘Cancer-free after five long years’) or for seasonal joys (‘Daughter is now doing family harvest festival’). Perhaps you are grateful for current events (‘Vaccines are coming – thank you, science!’) Or a longer life journey (‘We all lived through son’s teenagers’). “

You can leave your six words here and we’ll have a selection printed out in a newsletter next week.

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