My best reads of 2020

With my daily commute gone from my life since March, my reading this year took a hit. However my book buying did not. I’ve bought many more books than I’ve read this year.

The plus side of not reading more is that I’ve been writing more, and probably part of my longing to read more is because I want to avoid writing.

But I did manage to read 30+ books this year, and here are the ones I recommend, in no particular order.

  1. Girl to City – Amy Rigby

Of the three music autobiographies I read this year, this was the best. The description of the New York punk and post-punk scene were so detailed, you could almost imagine you were there, with the smell of the sweat of the crowd and feel of your shoes sticking to the beer-slicked floor. Amy mixes honest descriptions of bad relationships, with the grime and excitement of being in a band on the road, and balancing adult life against parental expectations. It’s a fly in the wall look into someone else’s life told with honesty and detail. It’s like having a chat with an old friend you haven’t seen since school, and asked, “So what have you been up to?”

2. Queenie – Candice CartyWilliams

Oh no Queenie, don’t do that! I was so anxious for the central character of this book while reading it. Listen to your friends! Queenie’s life is zigzagging into disaster. She and her boyfriend split up, and suddenly she is careening into a series of poor relationship choices, to the point she is referred for counselling. Although she knows that her family motto is we don’t talk about our problems. Another great book where you engage so much with the character you want to reach through the pages and shake her out of her bad behaviour and give her a hug. And that is the sign of great writing.

3. Will and Testament – Vigdis Hjorth

This book was memorable in a different way. It actually made Norway in winter sound really appealing. The central story – the sister whose family refuse to believe her accusations of abuse by their father, and who is cut out of the will – is spun out against a snowy, wintry background, and oddly for me, that’s the bit that is most memorable. You can picture Bergljot is her apartment, or at her boyfriend’s cottage in the woods. The snow and the weather almost like another character. But the cold reflects Bergljot’s family’s attitude towards her – the crazy one, the self-centred one, the one who will do anything to get attention. This was a surprisingly good read.

4. I am I am I am: Seventeen Brushes with Death – Maggie O’Farrell

Some spine chilling, some casual, these stories from Maggie O’Farrell’s life describe the moments she caught Death’s eye, exchanged glances, but carried on waking past him. From an encounter in a remote path, to an NHS hospital, to a plane journey, these stories are told in a way that makes you think about your own life. Did Death just slip me a wink there?

5. My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

Dark, but funny, this book is for anyone who feels their pretty sister always gets the better deal. In fact, she is so pretty she could probably get away with murder! The main character, Korede, only wants one thing from life, and that is for her boss to notice her. She’s been working towards this slowly, and she’s almost there, until her sister Ayoola steps in and turns his head. And that’s where trouble lies, for where her sister walks, corpses tend to follow, and who else but her big sister Korede with her medical training and XL bottles of bleach could help her deal with the disposal of those annoyingly recently deceased boyfriends?

6. I’ll Never Write My Memoirs – Grace Jones, Pail Morley

As a kind of flip side to Girl to City is this book. While Amy Rigby was in the dive bars and clubs, Grace Jones was hanging out at Studio 54 amongst the glittering and golden. This book is a breathless whip through Grace’s life (it’s told at a fast pace and not necessarily in neat chronological order – Grace doesn’t remember things in a linear way – so keep your wits about you, keep up, keep up) from her strict religious upbringing in Jamaica, to life in suburban USA to modelling in Paris and the international lifestyle that followed – singer, model, actress… I particularly liked her statement that her boyfriends are surprised to find she likes to hang out at home and watch tennis and do jigsaws.

7. Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

A late entry as I started and finished this book in the days after Christmas. This book talks about the nature of women’s desire, through the stories of three women: Lina, the woman whose husband won’t even kiss her, so she enters into an affair with her high school boyfriend; Sloane, the woman who has sex with other men and women because it turns her husband on; and Maggie, the high school girl who was seduced by her teacher. Although the book was supposed to be about female desire, I found that Lina was the only one who was acting on her own desire. Maggie and Sloane were re-acting to someone else’s desire. The stories are all true, based on interviews with the women involved. And because of that there is no real ending, no real closure, so you leave the book still thinking about what happened next. I think it’s that lack of closure that’s going to leave this book open in my mind for some time.

We’re there any books you read this year that were particular favourites for you? Any you would recommend?

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