2020: My Year in Books

I try to write one of these every year, mainly because I love reading them back in times to come and remembering what I loved and what I didn’t. In my blog of 2019 books, I said I was going to try to do less comfort reading and read more new books – obviously, with the way 2020 went, that resolution was right out the window. I’ve done a lot of comfort reading and I do not feel guilty about it! I’ve also read a lot of outstanding books – lots of recommendations this year, and very few that I didn’t like – mainly because if I wasn’t getting into a book, I didn’t persevere at all unless it was for my Book Club. This year was painful enough without pushing on with books I found dull, difficult, or tedious.

The Good

Dune by Frank Herbert

I picked this up after seeing the trailer for the new Dune film, which was due to be out at the end of 2020 and has now been pushed back. It’s one of my partner’s favourite books, but for some reason I always thought it would be dull. The beginning is a little difficult to get into, with lots of new words and concepts introduced with little explanation, but after that it quickly became impossible to put down. Probably one of the most gripping books I’ve ever read, it was responsible for several late bedtimes and burnt dinners.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

When this came out in 2018 I had a look at it in Waterstone’s, but was put off by the unusual style of writing. After so many people recommended it, we picked it for a work Book Club read, and I’m so very grateful we did. I got into the writing style by the second chapter, and loved the way all the different women’s lives were interlinked. The inclusion of so many types of women – different ages, different sexualities, different times and places – made it such a stunning novel. My only wish was that it went on longer.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

A tiny book this, very short, but just perfect. The protagonist is very unusual, and her dark sense of humour didn’t go down well with everyone at the work Book Club, but I really enjoyed it. I have her next book, Earthlings, on the shelf ready to be picked up soon.

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

I’m in my early 30s and very much on the fence about whether or not I want children one day. On the whole, I think probably I don’t, but I’m not certain about it one way or the other and that often stresses me out. I wanted to read this book because it addresses this exact feeling, trying to make your mind up on such a pivotal question. Heti’s style of writing is fantastic, so alive and different. I’ll be revisiting this book often.

Breasts and Eggs by Mamiko Kawakami

I picked this up on my way home from an orthodontist appointment, as I waited for my train at St Pancras. I was in a huge amount of pain from having my braces tightened, and for some reason decided that buying some books was the answer. I probably wouldn’t have chosen this if my brain weren’t half dazed, as I’d never heard of it and it was expensive for a paperback. However, something about it drew me in – perhaps the in-your-face absurdity of the title – and wow. What a book. It examines some crucial questions in women’s lives on appearance and child-bearing, and I devoured it. This is Kawakami’s first book to be translated into English – thank you, Sam Bett and David Boyd! – and I’m hoping more will be translated soon.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This is one of the most well-reviewed books I’ve seen come out this year, and it didn’t take me too long to give in and buy it in hardback. Absolutely no regrets on that, the book is sensational. It examines racist microaggressions so cleverly, it really made me question myself and question my own motives in different situations. I’ve heard that some white readers have been very defensive of the white people in it, arguing that ‘they mean well’ – and yes, they do. But I think resisting that defensiveness is key to understanding the book’s message, that white people sometimes really struggle to recognise the individual agency of people of colour, and their attempts to ‘be helpful’ or do what’s best for someone else can often be a hindrance. A very important book, and one I look forward to rereading.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

A sprawling, delicious, epic rollercoaster of a novel. It was quite involved and intricate and my brain was collapsing as I read it – it was the beginning of March 2020 and I was sick with what may in hindsight have been coronavirus – I’ll be going back to this to pick up the large swathes of it I’m sure I missed, but even without a full grasp of the plot, I loved the whole thing so very much. Her first book, The Night Circus, is an absolute favourite of mine, and with the increased queer awareness in The Starless Sea it may even overtake The Night Circus in my affections.

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

I was reading this as the pandemic was kicking off, so I struggled to get to the end of it as my ability to concentrate fizzled and sputtered. I did manage it in the end though, and I really, really enjoyed it – so wild and unusual, mixing fiction and autobiography in a fascinating blend of anecdote and surrealism. Amazing.

The Bad / Unfinished

Not many of these this year – if I couldn’t get into a book, I gave it up and have forgotten it already!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

We read this for our work Book Club, and I really enjoyed a lot of it. The story is pretty strange and sad, but I was enjoying her writing. However, the ending completely changed my opinion. I thought it was lazy and didn’t match the protagonist’s character. Unfortunately that feeling has coloured my perception of the rest of the book.

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Another Book Club read this one. I tried to read it many years ago and gave it up, so I wouldn’t have picked it up again if it hadn’t been for book club. I did manage to finish it this time, but it was not my favourite. His writing is beautiful, the descriptions are incredibly evocative, but the characters killed it for me. I feel I’m meant to find Florentina Ariza romantic or charming, but I just find him creepy and abhorrent. I hear some fans of the author’s other work don’t get on with Cholera, so maybe I’ll try one of those and see if I like it better.

Author of the Year

Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, and PG Wodehouse

An unprecedented triple share of the author of the year prize this year. The works of these three have been my go-to comfort reads throughout lockdown, not quite lockdown, and back to lockdown again. At certain points, my brain has been too exhausted and anxious for me to even cope with a Christie or Wodehouse I hadn’t read yet, so there have been many, many rereads. (Thankfully with the crime novels I tend to forget who did it, so reading them again I still get some of the tension!). Heyer is a particular blessing in that she wrote both hilarious crime novels, which read like a mixture of Christie and Wodehouse, and she wrote a lot of regency romance novels – I just read my first one, The Convenient Marriage, and loved it. I’m very grateful for the books of all three, and that they were all so prolific – I expect to be working my way through even more of their back catalogues in 2021, as the outside world continues to be a raging shitshow that requires us all to indulge in a lot of escapism.

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