I did away with ‘top tens’ a few years ago, and instead I finish the reading year with a recap of the books that are still speaking to me (less about four and five-star ratings, more about what has stuck).
Without question, my reading year has been heavily impacted by COVID. I read less, and what I did read was a little different to my usual choices – lighter novels that didn’t demand full concentration, essay collections, and far less grief-lit.
My seven-month COVID lockdown was book-ended by two titles that reminded me of the importance of our connection to nature. At the beginning of lockdown I read Phosphorescence by Julia Baird, and the sections on swimming, a sense of awe, and the value of friendships resonated deeply. It’s a book I keep going back to. There were similarities between Phosphorescence and Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald, an essay collection examining science, nature and our emotional connections to those things. It was totally absorbing.
Books that provided an antidote to the depths of lockdown and winter – Fleishmann is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner; Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout; My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Each author has a distinct sense of humour.
I read lots of memoirs this year and a handful stood out – My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams was an ideal beach-read to begin 2020 with (little did I know what was ahead); Wham! George and Me by Andrew Ridgeley was surprisingly sweet plus has a winning soundtrack; Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur prompted many conversations with other readers (it’s a crazy story); and This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay because I laughed and laughed (until the last bit when I cried and cried).
Every now and then I pick up a book that I know everyone has read but me… and I read it and think ‘Why did I leave it so long?!’ This year, that honour goes to Stasiland by Anna Funder – it’s gripping, informative and beautifully written.
I read three smart, funny, and emotionally complex stories about women in their thirties that I thoroughly enjoyed – Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth, Writers & Lovers by Lily King and Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Each had a cast of memorable characters and each made me laugh out loud and have a little cry.
Also making me laugh and cry was Ann Patchett’s riff on fairy tales, The Dutch House.
And lastly, a book I read at the beginning of the year and one that I pressed on everyone I could – Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, a book about The Troubles in Northern Ireland – it’s part history, part true-crime and completely enthralling.
If I was pressed to declare my absolute favourite and best books for 2020? Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe – both for the writing, and and the lasting and deep impression they made.
Thanks for your readership and I look forward to sharing more books in 2021.