📚Top Ten Books of 2020📚
I read quite a lot of books, so it wasn’t at all easy to narrow this list down to ten. I have also discovered the joys of audiobooks this year which has significantly bumped up my book intake. I spent some time writing out my long list, crossing several off, adding a few back on and then shuffling them around. But finally, I got there. I keep a list at the back of my diary of what I’m reading, so it was easy to remember what I’d read.
It was really interesting to reflect a little on this list once I’d made it and notice that there are a number of YA (Young Adult) and Children’s Books here. Is this due to the pandemic, perhaps, that I’ve been craving for the comfort that literature for younger readers can bring? I am also rather horrified at how uniformly these books are set in the developed northern hemisphere and how eight of the ten are written by white authors. Not to detract from the brilliance of these books, but I feel a challenge coming on for my 2021 reading life.
Have you read any of these books on my list? If so, I’d love to know what you thought of them (and that includes if you hated them!). I’d also be really interested to hear about your favourite reads of 2020. Hit reply and let me know.
LANNY by Max Porter
(Fiction – 2019)
I read this for my zoom book club and I must confess that after the first few pages, I though there wasn’t a chance I’d get through it. The writing style (and layout) is unusual, to say the least. But I was completely won over by this modern-day fable of village life and one enchanting little boy, the likes of whom has never been seen before. I ended up drinking this book in great, greedy gulps over a couple of days.
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
(YA Fiction – 2005)
I know, I know, people have been talking about The Book Thief for years and years. But somehow (don’t ask me how), I never got round to reading it. But then both of my daughters read it this year and looked at me rather scathingly when I admitted I didn’t know it (this seems to he happening increasingly). Zusak’s narrator, Death, is surely one of the most original in literature. I both laughed heartily and sobbed as I turned the pages, discovering the fate of orphan Liesel and those she comes to love in war-torn Germany.
POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
(YA Fiction in Verse – 2018)
I’m always a sucker for a novel in verse. Amongst my top books of all time (one that I re-read every year) is The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a fabulous novel in verse. Elizabeth Acevedo’s book centres around a teenager, Xiomara, who discovers slam poetry in her Harlem neighbourhood, the perfect balm for her troubled home life. Her mother wants her to go to confirmation class, not poetry club, but as the call to poetry becomes stronger, Xiomara knows she must follow her heart. A wonderful, passionate book that will leave you longing for more.
THE POETRY PHARMACY – Tried and true prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul by William Sieghart
(Poetry – 2017)
This is a wonderful bedside table book to dip in and out of. I read it over the course of several weeks, each poem accompanied by a page of analysis and wisdom by the book’s creator. William Sieghart really has used poetry in a pharmacy, dispensing tried and tested poetry to patients in place of medicine. Whether you are feeling lonely, heartbroken, disillusioned or hopeless, there is a poem within the pages of this beautiful hardback book to whisper, take heart. You are not alone.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by LM Montgomery
(Children’s Fiction – 1908)
I really did not expect to find myself reading this book again for the first time in roughly thirty-five years. But after watching Netflix’s wonderful series Anne with an E, I decided to give it a whirl and I haven’t looked back (I am currently romping through the entire series again). Honestly, this book is like wrapping a warm blanket around yourself and eating a double chocolate brownie in front of the fire. If books could hug, this one would do exactly that. It is the ultimate comfort book and has lost none of its delight since the 112 years it was first published.
PEOPLE LIKE US – What it takes to make it in Modern Britain by Hashi Mohamed
(Non Fiction – 2020)
I’m going to borrow the words from the official description of the book: ‘We live in a society where the single greatest indicator of what your job will be is the job of your parents. Where power and privilege are concentrated among the 7 per cent of the population who were privately educated. Where, if your name sounds black or Asian, you’ll need to send out twice as many job applications as your white neighbour.’
Sobering, right? Hashi Mohamed is a Kenyan-Somali immigrant to Britain. His brilliant book charting his journey from London’s most deprived boroughs to barrister, specifically looking at social mobility, made me look at the society I inhabit with a completely new set of eyes. It also, significantly, helped me to reflect on some of my own unconscious biases.
OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck
(Fiction – 1937)
The other English class at my school studied this book. I didn’t, and somehow it slipped off my radar until this year when I picked it up in a second-hand London bookshop. It’s a slim little book and won’t take long to read and I’d hugely recommend it to anybody out there who hasn’t yet discovered it. The plot centres around two Californian labourers, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie who want nothing more than to buy some land of their own. But their hopes are dashed; Lennie becomes the victim of misunderstanding and cruelty and the consequences for both him and George are devastating. I found this book so poignant – not to be missed.
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith
(YA Fiction – 1948)
I don’t very often use the word ‘charming’ to describe a book, or to describe anything at all for that matter. But I Capture the Castle is charming through and through – there really is no better word for it. Possibly better known for her 101 Dalmatians, Dodie Smith’s narrator is the plucky, hugely entertaining Cassandra who lives in genteel poverty in a crumbling Suffolk castle with her father and her sister. I can’t say the most enormous amount happens in this book, but Cassandra’s diary entries are so warm and witty and the characters are so quirky and loveable (especially Cassandra’s eccentric father), that I completely forgive the book for that. Joyous and warm-hearted, this is another one my daughters’ pressed into my hands.
The HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON’S SURVIVAL GUIDE by Ted Zeff
(Non fiction – 2004)
One in four of us are what can be described as ‘Highly Sensitive’. Who knew? Certainly not me before this year. But reading this book left me amazed that this was new to me, as a person who so clearly claims such a character trait. I’ll give you a few examples: If I am talking to somebody and there are others talking in the background (or even some music playing), I find it very difficult to focus on the person I’m speaking to / Going on a simple trip to a supermarket or a shopping mall leaves me feeling as though I’ve just been through a war / The slightest light or sound at night can disturb my entire night.
If any of this sounds familiar for yourself or any of your loved ones, I’d urge you to read this book. Recognising this trait in myself and being equipped with coping strategies has nothing short of changed my life.
HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN POEM by Kate Clanchy
(Non-fiction / Poetry – 2020)
Have you ever wanted to write a poem but not known where or how to start? Welcome Kate Clanchy, poetry teacher extraordinaire. By using existing poems as frames for creating new work, she demystifies the entire process by guiding us, step by engaging step, from start to finished poem. I have used this book extensively with a twelve year old girl I provide with writing support. This is a girl who struggles with her confidence in writing and the results have been nothing short of astonishing.
(NB it has been a Kate Clanchy year for me, because another of her books, the altogether fabulous Some kids I taught, and what they taught me, made it to my 2020 longlist.)
And there we have it! As I said, drop a note in the comments to let me know which books you’ve enjoyed this year. I’d love to hear about them.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, complement it with six book recommendations for a compassionate Christmas; my top reads of 2019 & my favourite five books from the first half of 2018.
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