She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live– Annie Dillard
There are many things I didn’t do enough of this year, some for reasons of lockdown and pandemic-induced depression, and some because I was simply too busy. One thing I didn’t do anywhere near enough this year was read. I know, I know – bad writer!
Still, despite long swathes of time where I just couldn’t focus (or tear my eyes away from doomscrolling social media), I still read some gems this year. I’ve picked 5 stand-outs from this year’s reads to share with you. Why 5? No special reason, that’s just the number that I happen to feel strongly enough about to want to talk about.
My Top 5 Reads of 2020
(These are approximately listed in the order in which I read them, though things get a little fuzzy around the beginning of the year. I’ve slept since then, okay?)
Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn (Alison Weir)
I was intending to read this entire series this year. As it is, I read the first one (Catherine of Aragon) last December when I was recovering from surgery, read this one in January, and still haven’t got to reading the rest of the series!
Alison Weir is a wonderful writer of historical fiction. The fact that she’s a historian who has also published 20+ non-fiction historical books means that her work is richly researched and immersive. In this second book of the series, she paints a vivid portrait of a complex woman in an impossible situation. Anne is neither put on a pedestal or demonised, and the resulting story is compelling and highly readable (despite being around 600 pages long.)
You Know You Want This (Kristen Roupenian)
I knew that this collection from the author of the viral sensation Cat Person would be something special and memorable, and it is. It’s also dark as hell. Roupenian tackles subjects of sex, dating, consent, narcissism… she shines a light squarely on the places many writers are scared to go.
The result is shocking, brutal, sometimes even violent. And unforgettable.
Unfollow (Megan Phelps-Roper)
If the name Phelps-Roper sounds familiar to you, it’s because Megan Phelps-Roper is the daughter of Shirley Phelps and Brent Roper, and the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, all of Westboro Baptist Church infamy.
This memoir isn’t easy reading. It’s the story of how people, including children, were indoctrinated into a cult and the terrible things they did in its name. Phelps-Roper doesn’t shy away from the things she did when she was a member of the church. Instead, she faces them head-on. She clearly still loves her family, yet she knows she cannot have them in her life. Her compassion is extraordinary.
If this book is anything, it’s a redemption story – a testimony to the change that people can create when they change their minds.
The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One (Amanda Lovelace)
This poetry collection was a birthday present from my friend Jamie. It’s the second book in Lovelace’s “Women Are Some Kind of Magic” series.
This is the kind of book where I can open it at any random page and I know that I will find something powerful inside. The underlying theme is of resilience – fighting back against oppression and marginalisation. Some of the poems are angry, some are tender. Some make me want to cry, others make me want to punch the air and say “yes! This!” The odd passage is even funny.
It’s equally heartbreaking and uplifting, and I want to gift copies to all my female friends.
A Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder (Nichi Hodgson)
This is a late entry into the “best reads of 2020” as I only finished reading it a few days ago. From the 1700s to the present day, Hodgson walks us through Western dating, courtship, and marriage rituals through time. It’s fascinating, thorough and well-researched and yet also highly accessible. Obviously, gender and sexual orientation issues feature prominently, but Hodgson also touches on issues of class and race, and how they have impacted romantic relationships through the years.
Whether you’re partnered up, looking for love, or happily single, you’ll probably find yourself grateful that you don’t have to go through some of the (to modern sensibilities) bizarre customs of yesteryear.
What were your top reads of 2020?
Share your favourites – I’m looking for some new literary goodness for 2021!