There’s a quote by Alice Walker that I love:

“When I was a child, I read books for entertainment and information; I now think of books as lifeboats.”

2020 was a year when I reached for the lifeboats more often than usual, and they didn’t fail me. Sometimes I went searching for context on pressing issues like pandemics, racial oppression and climate change. Other times I was just looking for a good story that would transport me into someone else’s life for a while and let me walk around and take it all in.

Overall, I ended up reading 70 books this year. Here are the highlights:

Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

2020 was a year when I went from travelling full time to staying put in Serbia, waiting for the Covid-19 pandemic to end. One upside of my newfound stability was that I was able to get some of my favourite books out of storage, and rereading this wonderful collection after 11 years was a real treat. One day, I’ll even complete the Borges marathon I started back in 2009…

Borges Collected Fictions

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna is one of those writers who just seems to produce great books every time. I loved Happiness and The Hired Man, but this is my favourite of all. Set in Sierra Leone, it explores PTSD and the aftermath of conflict—a theme Forna returns to often in her fiction. But that makes it sound dry, which it’s not—it’s a wonderful, rich story that wears its themes lightly.

memory of love

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

OK, technically this book doesn’t belong here—I’m listening to it as an audiobook, and I just need one more good long car ride to finish it off. But I already know it’s one of my favourite books of the year, and I don’t want to wait 12 months to write about it. Wilkerson tells the story of America’s Great Migration in incredibly rich detail, drawing on thousands of interviews to make this huge and relatively neglected story really come alive.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

When I hear so many recommendations before reading a book, it usually ends up being a disappointment. Not in this case. Revolutionary Road was a beautifully chilling story of a dissatisfied suburban couple longing for more but not daring to reach for it. I have rarely read a book in which I felt so immersed, and it’s a good reminder that characters don’t have to be likeable to be utterly compelling.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become the Scapegoats by Maya Goodfellow

My relationship with the country of my birth is about as strained these days as that of Frank and April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. Brexit? Xenophobia? The Windrush scandal? Boris Johnson? The UK is becoming like one of those embarrassing Facebook friends who keeps polluting your timeline with hateful fake news. Maya Goodfellow does a great job of tracing the links of Britain’s scapegoating of immigrants back through time, and also of showing how the poison seeps so deeply into the rest of the country’s political landscape.

Hostile Environment

My 2020 Reading Habits

And now, back by popular demand, here are those charts again! Like last year, I’ve looked at my reading in 2020 by country, gender, genre and more. Honestly, this shit is more for my own interest than anyone else’s, but feel free to take a look if you’re curious. Otherwise, just skip to the bottom and leave a comment letting me know your favourite book of 2020!

Gender

I’d like an even split between male and female authors, but it’s not something I really plan out, so I’ve ended up with a slight male bias this year. The “mixed” part of the chart refers to books with multiple authors.

Genre

This is very strange—I didn’t plan it, but I ended up with an exact 50/50 split between fiction and non-fiction, the same as in 2019. Most of the fiction books were novels (mostly literary fiction), and most of the non-fiction stuff was politics and history.

Format

I hate ebooks, but I read a lot of them. Last year it was because I was travelling; this year it’s because Covid-19 has put paid to my dreams of visiting all of Belgrade’s beautiful bookshops and scooping up lots of beautiful hardbacks.

Country

I was disappointed last year to find that most of my reading was from the UK and US, and it’s been the same this year too. On the plus side, I did read books from 18 different countries, but for most countries that was just one or two books.

Publication Year

I generally don’t keep up very well with the latest releases, but this year I read quite a few books published in 2020. The 2010s were the dominant decade.

What Was Your Best Book of 2020?

I always like getting book recommendations, even if I never have time to read all of them. Leave a comment and let me know your reading highlights of 2020!

And if you haven’t already had enough of reading about my reading, you can check out my posts about reading or see all of my book reviews.

5 Comments

  1. Stefanie 3 January 2021 at 4:38 pm

    What a great reading year you had! That’s an awesome accident that you managed a perfect split between fiction and nonfiction! I think you need more poetry in 2021 though 😉 Happy New Year! I hope 2021 is off to a good start!

    Reply
    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 5 January 2021 at 2:19 pm

      Yes! I think the world needs more poetry in 2021, and a lot less of some other stuff I won’t mention so as not to spoil the mood. Happy New Year to you too, Stefanie!!

      Reply
  2. Emma 7 January 2021 at 8:33 pm

    I hope you’ll have a great reading year in 2021 too.

    I’ve done my “best of 2020” billet but if I have to choose two books among them, I pick Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do by Pete Fromm.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 9 January 2021 at 1:55 pm

      They both sound excellent, Emma! I bought Giovanni’s Room on Kindle, and I’ll look for an audiobook version of the Pete Fromm novel. Happy reading in 2021!

      Reply
  3. BuriedInPrint 15 January 2021 at 4:26 pm

    You might need to restart your Borges Marathon; you’re probably a different reader, in many ways, than you were in 2009! (FWIW, I found that assigning dates to specific pieces, and leaving ample time between, has been the key to completing my chronological read-throughs of Munro and Gallant. I’d love to join in with Borges but I had to part with my copy a couple of years ago.)

    Maybe we’ve chatted about it before, that Wilkerson book is one of my all-time faves. Astonishingly good. I really must reread to peer more closely at the craft and construction because I was almost entirely swept away by the narrative itself and could barely stop to see what she was “up to”. The Forna is another that I admire greatly; and I agree that summarizing it doesn’t do it justice, not even the publisher’s blurbs capture the expanse of her story/characters.

    I’ve got quite a lot of reading lined up for this year about immigration/emigration; do you think the Maya Goodfellow would be best appreciated by readers with a specific interest in the UK? Or does she reveal universal truths that would apply/interest readers overseas?

    Of course I enjoyed your stat’s. We had the same decade in common. And also share a disappointment in the emphasis on the same predictable countries (mine being Canada, US, and UK). LOL

    Reply

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