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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!