In Praise Of 2020 #4 My Favourite Reads Of The Year

The more I read, the more I enjoy reading

My clumsy attempt to explain how I feel about books.

With my beautiful lady wife Nicky being such a book fanatic (and her having rejuvenated my own love of both reading and writing) it is hardly surprising that the conversation regularly turns to books.

I’m currently deep into the 750 ish pages of Barak Obama’s A Promised Land. This is my 41st book of the year and I’m quite proud of the diverse range of titles I’ve challenged myself to tackle. Nicky has gone further and currently has the ‘do not disturb’ sign up as she laps up Emma Donoghue’s The Pull Of The Stars, her 52nd book of 2020.

See here for a list of the 40 I’ve read.

BEST FICTION BOOKS I’VE READ THIS YEAR

When it comes to fiction, I’m struggling to look beyond Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize winning Shuggie Bain when choosing my favourite read of the year. Nicky read it earlier in the year and was periodically overwhelmed the power, the lyricism and brutal truth of Shuggie’s upbringing at the hand’s of his damaged mother in an alcohol soaked 80’s Glasgow. I also found myself having to lower the book and take a breather from the emotions the book recalls. Loved it.

There’s some hot competition here, of the fiction I’ve read, there’s probably only one which makes me ‘meh’ as I scan the whole list.

But, I can’t get past how much I enjoyed and was moved by Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole (which I reviewed here). And this would narrowly beat the most beautiful dementia novel I’ve had the heart-breaking pleasure to read, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

BEST NON FICTION BOOKS I’VE READ THIS YEAR

Lemn Sissay’s My Name Is Why is a book that will probably never leave me. A memoir of his growing up in an ever more brutal and cruel care system. Having been born in Wigan to an Ethiopian mother, Sissay went into foster care. The slow deterioration of his placement there, and the subsequent placements, make reading almost unbearably painful at times. Shocking, honest and a labour of love for Sissay – it took him 34 years to get the records of his care from the authorities. What he discovered hidden in these documents was as damaging (and damning) as any of his memories which were already haunting him. Stunning .

I’ve delved more into creative non fiction and memoir this year. Choosing just two more as runners up is tough. The great combination of being characters whose work entertains me, who I greatly admire and who then turn out to be great writers too has led me to Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson (reviewed here) and 26.2 Miles To Happiness by Paul Tonkinson.

It is none of my business where you buy your books from but consider using HIVE which runs a scheme to support a local independent book shop (you get to choose who you support with your purchase). Lots of book shops are doing mail order or click and collect schemes. I used one to get a surprise book package to Nicky during the first lockdown.

Foyles and Waterstones are much more highly regarded in the world of writers and readers than Amazon and so maybe consider them and only use Amazon if you really can’t find the books you want elsewhere. Similarly, the supermarkets are naughtily undercutting the more traditional book retailers by displaying popular titles at a massive discount. Again, none of my business and we’re all in need of a bargain, but this punishes the publisher and the author who are on a small enough percentage of royalties at full price. A bit like with music streaming, any sale is better than no sale I guess. The independent sector is in a fragile state, despite an increase in popularity of reading, small shops and independent publishers are clinging on at the moment.

Anyway, here’s to a 2021 full of good news and great reads.

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