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.


  • 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).

Underground, Monroe, & The Mamalogues: Three Plays by Lisa B. Thompson

Underground, Monroe, & The Mamalogues is a collection of three plays by playwright and scholar Lisa B. Thompson that cover a range of topics and themes, including protest, motherhood, migration, trauma, and the black middle class. Underground features two old friends discussing politics and protest in the post-Obama era, with a tension lying underneath. Monroe is a 20th century period play that looks at the impact of a lynching on a family and dreams of leaving 1940s Louisiana. And The Mamalogues features three black middle class single mothers sharing stories at a support group, thinking about their children’s lives from birth to leaving home.

This is an engrossing selection of plays that are quite different, but all look at the black middle class (which is what Thompson works on) and different elements of race, gender, and respectability. Underground is the most gripping, a play that draws you into one evening when two old friends find themselves back together in a snowstorm discussing the best methods for bringing about change and their thoughts on radical politics. Kyle and Mason are complex characters and their viewpoints become particularly charged and important given current Black Lives Matter protests and action. The Mamalogues also focuses on a single discussion in a single point in time, and really considers the intersection of race and class, but is also funny and frank. Even reading both of these plays gives a real sense of the dialogues happening, but it would be great to see them performed.

Monroe is different again, a play that spans a period of time just after the lynching of Cherry’s brother, and looks at the dream of migrating away from Louisiana to somewhere that might be better. The historical setting and greater number of characters onstage makes it feel more traditional, but it also has a lot of ambiguity. All three plays have detailed notes on performance, including suggested playlists, so this copy would be useful for those studying theatre, but the plays are accessible and enjoyable so this text shouldn’t be confined only to academic reading. All three plays are relevant to current discussions, but in particular Underground is vital reading for thinking about radical politics and race, as well as being a great, tense play.