It’s been a funny year for reading for me. It started well, with Christmas books from 2019 and two weeks on holiday in South Africa to read. I then stopped reading altogether in the first lockdown, before making up for lost time by reading more than usual in the long months that followed. My list of 2020 books that will stay with me is here – with links to the blogs I wrote as I went along. I hope it provides some inspiration for last-minute Christmas shopping.
Most likely to change the world - I read Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, when like many others, I vowed to read more this year about racism and how to tackle it. This is a brilliant book and should make the white people who read it think differently about their role in combating structural racism.
Learned most from - Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo took me deep into the worlds of a wonderful array of mainly black, female characters and gave me a richer sense of the experience of black people in Britain (albeit through fiction) than I had had before. It’s an exceptional book that rightly won the Booker prize.
Most captivating - Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a beautiful book which takes you into a world ruled by nature where time slows down and characters exist on the edge of things. It is beautifully written and was a wonderful escape from a Covid-19 filled UK.
Most changed my everyday life - I spent most of this year reading fiction and less time reading non-fiction designed to get me to think differently about how to live my life. The book that should have most changed my everyday life is You’re not Listening: What you’re missing and why it matters by Kate Murphy, but, to be honest, I have slipped back into bad habits. It’s a much-needed book to teach us all to shut up and start listening.
Most enjoyment from - The Dutch House by Ann Patchett was my second book out of lockdown and it reminded me why I love reading. Great characters, a great setting and a chance to noisily get involved in someone else’s life.
Most able to make a complex subject easy to understand - The Person You Mean To Be by Dolly Chugh is an excellent guide to what we can all do to be an ally in the fight against racism. It uses an evidence-based approach to show what we can do as individuals to fight bias against marginalised groups (although let’s not forget it takes policy change to tackle structural racism too).
Most un-put-downable - Grown Ups by Marian Keyes was completely and utterly addictive from start to finish and it’s just as well I read it in the summer, when I had time to cancel all plans to devote to it.
Least enjoyment from - The Perfect Spy by John Le Carre was on my list as my grandfather also served in Austria immediately after the end of the second world war, as the protagonist in this classic spy thriller does, but I just couldn’t get into it and fought on until the end against my better judgement. I love Le Carre’s writing, but this one just wasn’t for me.
Most surprised by, in a good way - I picked up Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams in a bookshop in my first trip to a city since lockdown as I thought it would be a fun read. It was an excellent read, but not in the ‘Bridget Jones’ way that I was expecting.
Would most recommend for holidays - Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls is surely the perfect escapism, back to a simpler time and a simpler life. It transported me back to my late teens growing up in Hampshire and is a book to take with you on holiday and relish. Just to cheat in this category, I would also highly recommend Normal People by Sally Rooney and A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabelle Allende as great holiday reads. If you are dreaming about when holidays become possible again at some point in 2021, I would put these three on your list.
Talked most obsessively about - I talked obsessively about Middle England by Jonathan Coe and then extended the obsession to buying it for a number of family and friend’s birthdays this year. If you want to understand Brexit, this is the best novel I’ve read that explains why it happened.