My Favourite Books of 2020!

With just a few days left of 2020 I’m taking a look at my favourite books of the year.

I had a great reading year, with a successful Reading Ireland Month, a completed 20 Books of Summer and a new Novellas in November challenge.

Because of Covid I had a bit more free time this year, so my reading was really consistent. I had set a target of 100 books on Goodreads and have, up to today, read 128, which I am really pleased with. This is the second year running that I have read over 100 books so I’ll set that as my target again for the coming year.

As I don’t read just newly published books, I’ve broken my end of year list down into three sections: best newly published books (or new to me), best from the 746 and best books by Irish authors.

Which is really just a cheeky way of having a Top 15 Books of the Year, rather than a Top 10!

So, here are the books I’ve enjoyed most this year, with links in the titles to either my reviews or their Goodreads descriptions.

Top Five Books Published in 2020 (or new to me in 2020!)

I had this Top 5 all planned out at the start of the month and then in quick sucession I read two books for Diverse December which changed all my plans! There There by Tommy Orange and Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid both went straight into my top reads of the year!

There There by Tommy Orange

I adored this polyphonic novel set within the Native American community of Oakland. It was moving, terrifying and educating with a devestating ending.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This was not what I was expecting at all, but was an incredibly smart and funny look at race relations in America today.

The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner

I was very moved by this fictional retelling of the life of Valerie Solanas, author of SCUM manifesto and shooter of Andy Warhol. It is dream-like, poetic and above all compassionate.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

I really loved this tale of Tyll Ulenspiegel, the prankster of German folklore, whose escapades are played out against the backdrop of the Thirty Years War. A joyous mix of real life historical fact and bawdy fiction.

Vertigo and Ghost by Fiona Benson

This was the first book I read in 2020 and has stayed with me ever since. This collection is stunning and it made me rage, gasp and cry in recognition and in awe of the beauty and visceral impact of Benson’s words.

Special Mention: My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley

I read an advance copy of this through Netgalley just last week and was bowled over by this seeming simple story of a fractuous relationship between a mother and daughter. It’s out in April 2021 and is sure to be everywhere.

TOP FIVE BOOKS FROM THE 746

I was pretty pleased with myself for clearing almost 50 books from the 746 this year and hope I can continue at that pace!

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

The moment I finished this heartbreaking and beautifully written novella, I went straight back to the start and read it again. My book of the year, without a doubt.

One by One in the Darkness by Deirdre Madden

One by One in the Darkness is, quite simply, one of the best books written about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Deirdre Madden once again harnesses her quiet power to devestating effect. I wish she got more attention.

Swann by Carol Shields

I am very partial to a Carol Shields book and read this, and Larry’s Party this year. I know Larry’s Party is probably the better known, but I thought Swann was an incredibly clever exploration of the world of literary reputations.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love is a gorgeous ode to the transformative power of literature and the tenacity of the human spirit, beautifully structured and assuredly written. I have another of Krauss’s books in the 746 and am now very much looking forward to it.

Horses by Keith Ridgway

I love Keith Ridgway’s writing. His books are fundamentally conventional stories, but he subverts them just enough to defy any expectations. Horses is a striking little novella, packing a lot into its few pages.

Special Mention: You Are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslett

I didn’t include this in my Top 5 mainly because I read it a few months back and have yet to review it! I plan to post my thoughts on it in the New Year, but safe to say that I found this collection of short stories to be incredibly accomplished.

TOP FIVE BOOKS BY IRISH AUTHORS

I may be cheating slightly with this as I’ve included an author who lives in Canada and a book by an American but about Northern Ireland, but let’s move swiftly on…

As You Were by Elaine Feeney

Elaine Feeney’s debut novel was a sharp and arresting look at mental illness, modern Irish society and its treatment of women which was a funny as it was moving.

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually by Helen Cullen

Helen Cullen’s beautifully moving story of family, love and identity set on a small island off the coast of Ireland is very emotional and beautifully written.

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes

Caoilinn Hughes follows up the wonderful Orchid & Wasp, with a novel about family, property and money set during the Celtic Tiger. Featuring fabulous dialogue,The Wild Laughter was both personal and political.

Bina: A Novel in Warnings by Anakana Schofield

Bina features an unforgettable narrator and is a powerful celebration of female friendship. Beautifully structured and perfectly paced, this is a must read.

Say Nothing by Patrick Raden Keaffe

A fascinating and clear-eyed examination of the Troubles, Say Nothing is partisan and informative while reading like areads like a thriller.

Special Mention: We Are Not in the World by Conor O’Callaghan

Conor O’Callaghan’s follow up to his stunning debut Nothing On Earth was due out in March 2020 but thanks to Covid, has been put back and will now be released in March of this year. I was lucky to receive a review copy earlier this year and thought this was an absolute triumph of a novel. You don’t want to miss this one, it’s a beauty


So, overall, 2020 has been a pretty horrible year, but in terms of books and reading, it has been a rich one. Books and blogging have been keeping me sane these last ten months, and I’ve loved sharing and chatting about books with all of you.

Let’s hope that 2021 is a better year for us all.

Happy New Year!

Irish Literature The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

56 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m glad your reading year has been a good one, Cathy. Delighted to see Tyll and The History of Love on your list and looking forward to reading The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually. Here’s to a more great reading in 2021!

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  2. I’ve read two from your list – Johnson and Orange – loved them both. I would like to read many of the others you’ve chosen, so plenty to add to my wishlist, especially Tyll – I didn’t realise it was about Til Eugenspiegel, I think I’d love it.

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  3. I’ve read four of your books and especially loved There There. I didn’t get a chance to finish Tyll this month but I’ll be going back to it in the New Year, and trying again with The Wild Laughter. Swann is one I’d like to reread.

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  4. Congratulations on an impressive year of reading. I can’t imagine coming close to consuming o many titles. There There is in my queue to read soon. Vertigo and Ghost intrigues me. I’m not usually interested in this genre but your comment about the writing style has me curious.

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  5. Swann is one of my favourite Shields’ novels. It might even be the one that I’ve reread most often. If you ever have a chance to see the film (which is probably easier to find online than it was when it was a new release, a couple of decades ago. it’s faithful and true to the story and has its own charms). Hope you have plenty of amazing reads ahead of you yet!

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  6. Well done on all your reading for the year, and for completing challenges.
    ‘ll be adding all your Irish picks to my TBR list, except Say Nothing which I’ve read (it will make my top books of the year, an extraordinary book).
    We’ll agree to disagree on Faculty of Dreams (I didn’t get on with it at all!). Thanks for the alert on My Phantoms – have only read First Love by Riley and thought it was excellent. Will look forward to Phantoms.

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  7. What a great selection! I loved Such a Fun Age, I am allowing myself 15 this year because I’ve read 156 (and a few might get finished yet) so that seems fair. I’m not sure if it will make it into the 15 but if not, it will get an honourable mention.

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  8. Great list! There There and Tyll were a couple of my favorite this year too. I picked up “You Are Not a Stranger Here” a while ago because I loved the title, but never got around to reading it. Your list is a good push to finally pick it up.

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  9. How are you going to cope when we all get vaccinated and you have to go back to work full-time? You’ll have to explain to them that you need reading time built into your schedule. 😉 Well done on a successful 2020, and here’s hoping for some normality in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A lot of good ones on here I have yet to read. Such a Fun Age was interesting to me but fell flat in the like department.
    There There was so good for discussion. Loved how the paced picked up as the ending drew closer.

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  11. Only a few minutes before I read your post I did an update of my TBR spreadsheet and was horrified to find it’s gone down by just 5 books. So the first part of 2021 has to be one of more restraint but I couldn’t resist adding a few of your titles to my wishlist.
    One by One in the Darkness is calling particularly strongly

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a fabulous list, Cathy! And your reading total of 128 is amazing! I still have yet to crack 100… have never done it. I once got close at 94.
    I’m thrilled to see Bina on your list (I’m pretty sure it was on mine last year). I have loved all her books! And there’s no reason on earth why Canada and Ireland can’t share her. 🙂

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