2020: A Year in Books

It has been a hell of a year, 2020! Nationally we have seen pandemics and lockdowns, panic buying and food shortages – not to mention Brexit – and we have grappled with tiers, bubbles and Zoom chic. On top of that, personally, I have said farewell to my grandmother and my stepson (barely) survived a genuinely horrific motorbike accident. Whilst I don’t see much changing as we enter 2021, to have survived 2020 feels like an achievement!

And let’s take a moment to consider the oh so many who did not survive, and the families whose Christmases and New Years contain empty places.

I am not one to generally create a to-be-read lists, preferring to be swayed by my feelings and moods on a day by day basis – not to mention those unexpected finds and ARCs that you come across! I did, however, nominally at least, gave myself a target of 40 books to read which I almost reached.

It’s interesting isn’t it… you can see exactly where the lockdown happened: just in March as the blue line crossed above the black; and the return to work in September as the blue line dropped back down. So, 39 books in a year, most of which were pretty damned good.

Coming in at a slight 160 pages, including illustrations, we have And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness – an inversion of Moby-Dick and a novel which packs far more meaning and power into its 160 pages than it should be able to!

And at the other end, a hefty 1,232 pages, Brandon Sanderson’s Rhythm of War – a total indulgent escapist tome.

I blogged earlier this week about my favourite books of the year, so please feel free to check that out but as a quick summary, here is a slideshow!

There is another book I’d add, which I finished between completing that list and this review of the year: Pine by Francine Toon. So, in the same style with which I completed that list:

Pine, Francine Toon

Three reasons to love this book:

  • wonderfully atmospheric description of the environment
  • a genuinely chilling gothic story focussed on Lauren, a wonderfully vivid ten year old character
  • “’My mum.’ The images of death are involuntary and relentless: crushed snail shells, veins in meat, vampire teeth, soil filling a mouth.”

On one hand, this should be a really difficult choice: there were so many good books I read this year that met so many different needs… But actually there is only one choice.

Gorgeous, mythic, fairytale, lyrical, human and humane and heart wrenching… On one hand this is a fictionalised account of Shakespeare’s son’s death but that is so reductive! This is a paean to love, to love that is as tender as it is fierce, to wildness and to language. It is gut wrenchingly gorgeous and my favourite line…?

At the edge of a forest, a girl.

There is a promise, from teller to listener, concealed in that opening, like a note tucked into a pocket, a hint that something is about to happen. Anyone in the vicinity would turn their head and prick their ears, their mind already forming a picture of the girl, perhaps picking her way through trees, or standing beside the green wall of a forest.

And what a forest it was.

Back in January, I blogged about my most anticipated releases for 2020. It feels like a long time ago now! Let’s have a quick review of that list and a one line comment.

  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Deepa Anappara
    • Interesting, glad I read it but did not love it
  • The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • Still lurking on my TBR list
  • Strange Hotel, Eimear McBride
    • Also, still lurking
  • The Mirror and The Light, Hilary Mantel
    • Began this and loved it, but other things came along and it got put to one side
  • The City We Became, N. K. Jemisin
    • On my TBR – didn’t quite feel like I had the energy somehow…
  • Death in Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh
    • Read it as an ARC from NetGalley and loved the slow burn and unreliable narrator here
  • Burn, Patrick Ness
    • Read this on the release date and it is wonderful and fun, thoughtful and thought provoking
  • Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell
  • Summer, Ali Smith
    • Received as an ARC direct from the publisher, this was wonderful – lyrical and moving and hopeful
  • Sisters, Daisy Johnson
    • Towards the top of the nominal TBR at the moment, a book I really do want to read, but there are so many books I really do want to read…
  • The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi
    • Another book that I really really do want to read!

There have been a lot of familiar faces in my author list this year – perhaps the chaos of 2020 pushed me someway into the comfort of the familiar? But I am going to go for Francine Toon, author of Pine

Francine Toon spent two years of her childhood in the Scottish Highlands, near a town called Dornoch – “the last place in the UK to execute someone for witchcraft,” she says with a shiver.

Toon and other kids played in nearby Clashmore forest, frightening each other with stories about ghosts, or serial killers, or babysitters who meet horrible ends. “They made a big impression, those stories,” she says. “When it came to telling them myself I enjoyed embellishing them, and this gave me a sense of control over the thing that was scaring me. Writing Pine, I realised I was doing the same thing.”

The Guardian

My reading interests are fairly wide but there is one genre I have never really spent much time reading, which is romance. But this year, I did read several – and loved the ones I did. My favourite? I am caught between two: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

Interesting that the romance in both of these is between two men: representation is so important!

And on the theme of representation, there is one clear novel that represented the LGBTQIA+ community in its complex, contradictory, conflicted, challenging and real honesty is Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – a rightful winner of the Booker in 2019!

There are two books I am in the middle of and nearly managed to finish before New Year, so look forward to the following reviews early in January: My Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – which has a wonderful front cover – and Shuggie Bain, the Booker Prize winner by Douglas Stuart.

This year for all its horrors has generated a little more time, which I invested into the blog – and perhaps other people had more time to read posts. But 2020 saw a huge spike in my statistics!

And my top three most viewed posts were:

But the most amazing thing this year has been not the numbers – they are irrelevant and meaningless in so many ways. What is amazing is the friendships and the connections that these numbers represent: every comment, every view, every conversation is so important. In a year like this more than any other!

So, as the new year approaches, I wish you all a wonderful 2021!

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