It’s time to begin to put this strange old year to rest by having a look back to see which books made the greatest impression upon me in 2020. This was a year when more of us turned to reading as a means to escape from what was going on in our everyday lives. My Top 10 is not just based upon books published this year. (3 out of the 10 were, which is the same proportion as last year), if I read it during 2020 it is up for inclusion.
This year I read 68 books which is certainly up on last year where I slumped down to 56 but mid 60’s is generally the figure so it is not up considerably especially considering the length of lockdown and the time I had to spend working from home this year. Some of that time I was too pre-occupied to really get into my reading, which is something we have also heard time and time again this year. I have read more 5* reads this year, 13, in fact, which means that some of my five star reads will miss out on a Top 10 placing, with 36 4* and 19 3*. Gender-wise, my Top 10 is showing a win for the women as last year’s 60-40 split is reversed. There are 2 non-fiction titles (both autobiographical) amongst the list and two of the authors have featured in previous year Top 10’s.
Right, here is the first part of the list, numbers 10-6. If you would like to read the full review (and I hope you do as these are the books I’m really prompting you to find out more about) just click on the title.
10. Such A Fun Age- Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury Circus 2020) (Read and reviewed in December)
I did say about this book ” I would be hard pushed to come up with a suggestion for a better debut novel this year” and here is the proof with this being the only 2020 debut novel in the list. It is a book which deals with big issues with warmth and humanity and great characterisation. It has just been issued in paperback in the UK and is currently hovering outside the Top 100 in Amazon’s chart. I’m still expecting it to be a big seller going into 2021 in this format. It feels contemporary, commercial and literary which seems to me to be a winning combination.
9. Truth Be Told – Kia Abdullah (HQ 2020) – Read and reviewed in August.
The best new thriller I read this year. This novel, which has issues of consent at its centre had me finding places to read away from everyone at work during lunchtimes, so can be seen as a perfect book for self-isolation! I found I was using my hand to cover up text I hadn’t read on the page in case it gave something away too soon! This is Kia Abdullah’s second novel. In 2021 I will certainly seek out her 2019 debut “Take It Back”.
8. The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles (Vintage 1969) – Read and reviewed in July
I treated myself to a new copy of this book which I first read aged 18 and which had a place on my bookshelves ever since when I spent a day in Lyme Regis in the summer of 2019. Knowing I wasn’t going anywhere in 2020 I treated myself to a re-read just to put myself back into Fowles’ depiction of this Devon town in the nineteenth century. This was one of those books which I encountered at just the right time of my life for it to make a huge impression. I have read it a number of times since my teenage years but probably not for a couple of decades. I said of it this time “It is a very intelligent work which does make demands of the reader and on this re-reading I must admit it does occasionally seem a little too clever for its own good (perhaps that was also true of the me who read this many years ago!) and occasionally a little inaccessible.” It still very much deserves its place in my Top 10 but not right towards the top which I might have expected when I started to re-read it this summer.
7. Mama’s Boy – Dustin Lance Black (John Murray 2019) (Read in August, reviewed in September)
Screenwriter, Oscar-winner, Activist and husband to Olympic Diver Tom Daley revisits his past focusing on his relationship with his extraordinary mother. She survived through sheer determination never letting disability and pain from a childhood bout of polio grind her down. She sought support through the Mormon Church which caused conflict in the young Dustin Lance Black who knew from an early age he would never be accepted by the Church and perhaps by his family because of his sexuality. I said of it “at times I felt tearful, angry, baffled, delighted the list goes on and this is why this book ticks every box for how a memoir should be written. Relationships are complex and this illustrates that perfectly.”
6. Hungry – Grace Dent (Mudlark 2020) – Read and reviewed in November
This was the pick of the 2020 published books I read. It works brilliantly as a memoir on two levels -firstly, it catalogues the author’s relationship with food growing up and to read about food seems to transport me back there more successfully than a time machine would and like the previous title it’s a beautifully conveyed record of a family relationship, here especially with her father who begins to slip away with dementia. It is also laugh-out-loud funny throughout. I said of it “I haven’t enjoyed a food-based memoir as much since Nigel Slater’s “Toast” (which has made #3 on my Top 10 list on two occasions) and like that book it is the people fuelled by the food who really are memorable.”
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