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My Favourite Reads of 2020

12/01/2021

Prompted by round ups I’d seen elsewhere, alongside an enjoyable 12 months of reading, last year I put together what ended up being an extensive list of the best books I’d read in 2019. I finished that post aiming to diversify my reading in 2020, and wanting to read more short story collections, YA and historical fiction; seeing how my top reads of this year turned out I think I’m still having a hard time with the short story collections and YA.

I made the mistake of ranking my favourite books of 2019; this not only took me a long time to nail down, but I also changed my mind immediately once I’d published the post. So in this round up for 2020, I’m presenting my choices in no particular order: take it as read that I love them all.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

This book is fucking great. I will always pick up a campus novel, especially one with an outsider narrator, but I’ve wanted to read a campus novel like Real Life for a long time: a perfect look at the mess that is student life and the clash of privilege, prejudice, cowardice and self absorption.

My Spirit Burns Through This Body by Akwaeke Emezi

Beautifully written, painfully accurate and crammed with phrases which ring out as clear as a bell. There’s no denying that this short story grabbed me as in it I recognised some of my own experiences of coming to terms with an acquired disability. However this is also something that is uniquely theirs. I’m so glad I read this.

Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg

In my round up last year I wrote about my love of books that circle a main character or event and allow the reader to follow the side characters, such as Daisy Jones & The Six or A Visit From The Goon Squad. This book does that very thing in a compellingly human way.

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Seemingly marketed as a romance, I approached this book with caution – as although TJR is easily one of my favourite authors, straight up romance novels are not my thing. And whilst it is a love story, it is also an examination of the bonds formed between women who find themselves (and eachother) in impossible circumstances.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I love Ng’s characters, and how clear it is that there was no other place and time she could have dropped them into. Although we begin this story knowing what happened, care for those involved and a gripping narrative kept me turning the pages.

Bunny by Mona Awad

What was that I saying abut campus novels? Yes, I *will* read them all. This one has spooky, witchy vibes and put me in mind of such seminal 90’s cultural touchstones like The Craft or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A great read but an easy read, with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

In turns claustrophobic, isolating, creepy and cruel, Wakenhyrst is a perfect gothic mystery. Spanning five decades and covering all angles of the tale, it is tightly plotted, multi layered and completely satisfying.

Night Theatre by Vikram Paralkar

Like an episode of the Twilight Zone in book form. It has a dash of the supernatural, a sprinkling of bureaucratic frustrations and a lot of descriptions of surgery. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, and although it’s a small story, it deals with some interesting themes.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Look, I know I said I wasn’t playing favourites this year but this was without a doubt the best book I read in 2020. It was one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a love story, it’s a life story; a comedy and a tragedy; the dark and the light is here. I loved this book.

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

Set in Prohibition-era New York, Attenberg takes us through the Great Depression years and into the 1930’s, telling the story of real figure of this era via fictionalised diaries, newspaper articles and interviews. I’ve never read historical fiction like this before and enjoyed every moment spent with ‘local celebrity’ and friend to the friendless, Mazie.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

The scope of Girl, Woman, Other is huge, the overlapping tales which culminating in an extremely gratifying final set piece where all the characters are finally placed in the same room. I was desperate to follow the thread through to the end and find out what became of everyone. A fabulous book; the characters stick with you long after you’ve put it down.

Evidence of the Affair by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’m such a sucker for a narrative gimmick; this book is written as a series of letters back and forth between two people whose spouses are having an affair with each other. It felt voyeuristic, like finding old love letters in the attic, but it was a delightfully juicy read that I boxed off in one sitting. Short, free and compelling – god bless TJR.

Although I will (hopefully) be up to my neck in reading lists for university towards the tail end of 2021, I’m keeping much of my 2020 reading energy for the coming year; I’ve even set the usual 50 book goal on Goodreads. Something I’d like to do though is to catch up on the back catalogue of authors I really like, and to make sure I’m making good on my aim to read more short story collections – especially since I love writing them so much.

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