For many, 2020 has been a great year for reading, with lots of free time inside and a greater need for escapism. For me, 2020 has been the equivalent, reading-wise, of those small Allen keys you get in IKEA flatpacks: useful at the time, but entirely replaceable.
I have admittedly read some fantastic books, starting from The Idiot by Elif Batuman, which was my faithful companion throughout the many big life changes of the first few months of 2020. I came to consider Selin, the protagonist, a friend I could visit when life became a bit too much. As she navigated her early twenties, University and first love, I was navigating my mid-twenties, a move across the country and moving in together with my until-then-long-distance boyfriend.
I took a completely different approach when reading My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which I devoured in a couple of days. This biting and brilliant novel gave me a source of pure escapism and reminded me why I just bloody love literary fiction!
But 2020 was also the year of memoirs, starting with Educated by Tara Westover. Yes, I know, I am late to the party! I can only say they hype is real and this must be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Hers is not a childhood one can easily identify with, nonetheless she is able to draw a meaningful and universal message from it that I think has resonated with many.
Another memoir that will stay with me for a long time is Becoming, by Michelle Obama. Again, late to the party, but again, an incredibly articulate, powerful and empowering read. Michelle Obama talks very candidly about anything from the ups and down of marriage, to finding your path in life, to grief and hate. Overall, an incredibly refreshing read, especially for me as a woman. Also, quick question, is it normal to feel like Michelle is your bff after finishing this?
Lastly, Why I No Longer Talk To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is a long-form essay about racism and blackness in the UK. Incredibly articulate and clear in its arguments, Why I No Longer is a crucial read if you want to understand the Black Lives Matter movement both in the UK and worldwide. I’d recommend this book especially if you are white, as it explains very clearly how white privilege works and how white people as still responsible for it, even when they are on the receiving end of it.
This year there have also been a handful of okay books, and three books I found deeply disappointing. Starting with The Man in the High Castle by Phillip Dick. The core idea of the book, a future where Germany won World War II and has colonialised the US, is brilliant, but I found the execution quite sloppy and by the end of the book I was oscillating between deeply confused and mildly annoyed.
Another disappointing read for me was Release by Patrick Ness. I should qualify that: I found half of Release disappointing, namely the storyline of the Queen (of the universe?) being reincarnated in the dead girl’s body and her faun trying to free her. Even writing it down now, I just find it absurd and out of place. I did like Adam’s story line and hoped the book just revolved around him.
Finally, maybe the biggest disappointment of the year for me was This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I’d read enthusiastic reviews and knew it won the Hugo and Nebula prizes so the hype was high for me! Again, a very original core idea, with two super soldiers fighting a war through the braid of different timelines, a f/f epistolary love story, the enemies to lovers trope – It just ticked all the boxes. And yet, I swear I’ve never read a more frustrating and fastidious book. The prose is lyrical to the point it just feels forced and snobbish. Despite kind of feeling for the two protagonists a few times, I never really grew fond of them (I could barely distinguish one from the other) and I thought their love story came out of thin air.
All in all I can say I read more good books than bad, nevertheless I still hope 2021 will be a more fruitful and interesting year (both reading-wise and in general, to be honest).
Finally, I would like to reflect back on my reading goals for 2020. For the second year in a row, I tried to make sure at least 50% if the books I read were written by women, and I am proud to say I smashed this goal with a whopping 75% of female authors on my reading list this year.
After my 2020 Mid-Year review, I also introduced a new goal, aiming at least 50% of books written by authors of colour. I managed to improve slightly, from the disheartening 0% back in June, and ended up reading 6 POC authors this year, which is however still only 25% of my total reads.
Both of these goals have informed two of my 2021 reading goals: reading only books by female authors, and at least 50% by authors of colour.
As always, I tried to keep my reading habits cost-free (it was one of the principles on which I opened this blog, it’s not called Marina’s Library Card for nothing!). I have however bought two books, one of them as a present to my boyfriend (which I’ve then also read) and one as a present to myself. These however constituted only 10% of the books I’ve read, with the large majority being either library loans or gifts.
I’m also incredibly happy I discovered audiobooks this year! 7 of the 20 books I read were audiobooks – I’ve always been sceptical about audiobooks as I have the attention span of a 3 year old, and feared I would just get distracted, though actually, I realised I just need to get the book right! I loved listening to relationship fiction, memoirs and short stories. Indeed listening to these stories instead of reading them made them even more authentic and engaging.
I have to say I did struggle with more literary fiction-style books. I had to abandon Anything Is Possible as I realised I just couldn’t give it the attention and care it deserved, but I look forward to reading it in hard copy. In a nutshell, for me the key is knowing what books to listen to and what to read. And if you’re wondering, yes, I absolutely consider audiobooks as part of my reading challenge for the year, I’m not an elitist prick, thank you very much.
This is it, for yet another year! I hope 2021 will bring some smashing reads and maybe also some peace and quiet (and holidays?).
This is M signing out for now!