My reading trends of 2020

I usually do a ‘spite list’ or something similar, a list of the books I didn’t enjoy in 2020, but considering the year, and the fact I mostly found a lot of books just okay rather than actively bad, I’ve decided to go for something more like a list of general observations (some complaints) about books I read this year. Not really based on what came out this year, just what I happened to read.

  • Disappointing sequels – I should’ve expected this one, as I started the year reading The Testaments when I’m not a huge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale. After that, however, I had sequels to books I did enjoy that were a let down, most notably Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light (which I read a lot of on a transatlantic flight and whilst jetlagged, desperately trying to get through it) and Ali Smith’s Summer (I loved Spring most of the quartet so it was a shame, though a friend reread the other three before reading Summer and said it worked better that way, ready for all the references to the others).
  • Just not that interesting – In-keeping with the general ‘meh’ vibe of a fair few books I read this year, I found that I kept finding books that just didn’t really grip me in any way: not the plot, or the characters, or the writing. There were a good few let down endings, or books that sounded good but turned out to be hard to be bothered to finish.
  • A return to horror – This is very much just what I decided to read, but from October onwards I made a concerted effort to read more horror, both some old Point Horror books and a few more recent ones from a library app. As a teenager I’d progressed from Goosebumps to Point Horror to Stephen King, but I’d fallen off reading anything in recent years  The Point Horror ones in particular were a joy of how enjoyably trash they are, and it’s been nice to get back into horror even if I’m yet to find new stuff that’s really gripped me.
  • Really needing to read some less recent books – Thanks to the year there’s been a lot of books to review this year, and it’s been great in a lot of ways (I don’t normally get much poetry or drama to review at all, and I did get some this year), but I’ve had a backlog to review for much of the year. That meant I couldn’t catch up on my other ‘to read’ books and in particular couldn’t read much that wasn’t from this year or next year, except the odd library ebook that otherwise would’ve been returned unread.
  • Not much that was actively ‘bad’ – I mean, a good thing, but I only gave two books 2 stars this year. One was a naff technology book about digital minimalism and the other was a book about a working class Oxford student befriending an old woman that combined an info dump with some slightly dodgy depictions of class that felt like weird stereotypes. Otherwise, most books were decent, if not mind blowing (the main book in the mind blowing category was Boy Parts, not very original, but as I love the cult American Psycho vibe and the trashy yet pretentious art school vibe, it was wonderful).

What will 2021 bring? A load of pandemic novels? Me buying more secondhand Point Horrors and remembering how little 11-year-old me understood American culture? We’ll just have to see.

Fave non-2020 books of 2020

As ever, I’m balancing out my top books of 2020 with some books I read in 2020 but didn’t come out then. It was a random year for picking what to read and accidentally this lot is half non-fiction and half fiction (and only that if you stretch the definition of ‘fiction’ to include poetry). Not sure what that says – possibly that I’m catching up with recentish non-fiction after not tending to read much of it.

Shoutout to the Heady Mix book subscription I had as a gift for some of the year, as that introduced me to some amazing books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, and for library borrowing apps giving me the chance to borrow books without going out.

  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – Unforgettable YA about fighting all-too-real monsters when adults are in denial.
  • Flèche by Mary Jean Chan – Poetry about identity, history, and self.
  • Girl at War by Sara Nović – One from Heady Mix book subscription, that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. The horror of war, as a woman returns to Croatia after years in America, to face what happened to her and her family during the civil war.
  • Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch – A book about internet language that is particularly enjoyable if you grew up using different internet sites with different linguistic conventions and are interested in thinking about that.
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – Another from Heady Mix, this was a breathtaking multi-generational look at Korean life in Japan and I was gripped in spite of the length and the fact I don’t normally enjoy multi-generational novels.
  • Superior by Angela Saini – Thorough and interesting debunking of race science.
  • Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher – Hard to know what to say about this classic on the inconstancies and glitches in capitalism.
  • Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch – A powerful look at race and identity in modern Britain.

My favourite books of 2020

I guess here’s where I’m meant to write that it’s been a strange year and all. Anyway, passing over that, here’s my usual list of my favourite books that came out this year. I’ve been quite picky with what I’ve included (and split into fiction, poetry and drama, and non-fiction) as I’ve read a lot of ‘good’ books this year, but I really wanted to highlight the best ones.

Books not published in 2020 are going to come separately, so my top books I’ve read this year are basically split into ‘stuff I’ve reviewed’ (this post) and ‘other things’ (the non-2020 publication lot). Links are to full reviews if you’re interested.

Fiction

  • The Magnificent Sons by Justin Myers – Biting look at what happens when two brothers with a big age gap both come out.
  • Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed – YA mystery through the streets of Paris as teenage Khayyam tries to solve an art history puzzle (with bonus Byron as my real selling point).
  • Homes and Experiences by Liam Williams – Email epistolary novel satirising gentrification and millennial culture and guilt, with a bittersweet narrative.
  • Wonderland by Juno Dawson – The final of her three books in a loose trilogy (following Clean and Meat Market), this one is Alice in Wonderland retold as a fall into an elite world of ‘old money’ teenage parties. Dark, thrilling, and hard hitting, it’s my favourite of the three.
  • Loveless by Alice Oseman – Working out asexuality whilst adjusting to weird university life and realising there’s not ‘one’ experience for everyone – just the sort of book I’m glad teenagers now have.
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeki Emezi – An entrancing novel about whether parents really know their child.
  • Boy Parts by Eliza Clark – Perhaps very predictable of me to love this, an artsy Northern female take on the aesthetic antihero, but it was thrilling, very dark, and brilliant.

Poetry and Drama

  • Tongues of Fire by Sean Hewitt – Lyric poems combining nature and modern, like moving from a walk to a Berlin club and back again, and beautifully describing tiny moments.
  • My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long – Short, storytelling poetry with vivid images and messages.
  • Underground, Monroe, & The Mamalogues by Lisa B. Thompson – Three very different plays looking at the black middle class and elements of race, gender, and respectability.
  • Poor by Caleb Femi – Witty and cutting poetry and photography about growing up on a Peckham estate and the reality of geography and gentrification with class and race.
  • The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill – A novel in verse about a girl growing up in India, discovering herself, and interacting with gods and goddesses, whilst considering the power of storytelling.

Non Fiction

  • The Reality Game by Samuel Woolley – Good primer on online disinformation and technology.
  • Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein – How to think about data science from an intersectional perspective.
  • So Hormonal from Monstrous Regiment – Collection of essays about how hormones impact people’s lives, full of a vast range of eye-opening experiences.
  • White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad – A look at how white feminism affects women of colour and how important intersectionality is (technically this first came out in 2019, but I read an edition out in 2020 so I’m saying it counts here).