With just a few days left of 2020 I’m taking a look at my favourite books of the year.
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!
I adored this polyphonic novel set within the Native American community of Oakland. It was moving, terrifying and educating with a devestating ending.
This was not what I was expecting at all, but was an incredibly smart and funny look at race relations in America today.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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 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.
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…
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.
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.
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 features an unforgettable narrator and is a powerful celebration of female friendship. Beautifully structured and perfectly paced, this is a must read.
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!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!