2020 Round Up: Best Books of the (Worst) Year

I won’t spend too long on what a truly terrible year this was for many of us. My heart goes out to the global reader community and I’m hoping for a brighter, happier new year for us all.

There are, of course, no silver linings to a pandemic. But one advantage of being stuck indoors with little else to do was that I read more this year than I have in a very, very long time. I doubled my reading goal by May to 50, and at the time of writing, I’m on 49 – so I very nearly made it!

Books, for many of us, represent comfort, solace, and escape – and this has been a year when we’ve needed that more than ever. I know not everyone has felt in the right headspace to read this year, which is totally understandable. But if you have been able to lose yourself in a good book or two, I hope it has brought you comfort.

So, onto the best books I read this year, in no particular order:

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

This is a stunning, harrowing and incredibly powerful real-life account of Chanel Miller, once known only as ‘Emily Doe,’ who goes to a party on the Stanford University campus and wakes up hours later in a hospital bed, having blacked out and been raped. I’ll never be able to do justice to what is an incredibly brave and riveting account of survival.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

This novel – the deserving joint winner of the Booker Prize last year, is sweeping, lyrical and all-encompassing. It’s about black British womanhood, but it’s also about womanhood, and Britishness, and otherness, and our identity and histories and the ties that bind.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This immersive, expansive and moving story begins in a coastal town in early nineteenth-century Korea, shortly after the Japanese annexation of the country, and charts the following decades through the lives of one family in a dazzling way suffused with historical detail, yet written in accessible and sparing prose.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa is enthralling, dark, devastating, nuanced – and difficult to write about. Vanessa is 15 years old and Jacob Strane is her English teacher, in his forties. And the two, Vanessa insists, embark on a romantic relationship. What follows are the years where Vanessa grapples with what happened and what it meant.

Severance by Ling Ma

In Ling Ma’s America, a deadly pandemic – termed Shen Fever – has spread throughout the country, with a 100% fatality rate. In this world of horror meets satire, Ma’s understated and pitch-perfect prose masterfully balances the narrative threads of past and present. Her debut is an impressive exploration of millennial angst and our fractious modern world.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

In this sprawling and epic novel, Yaa Gyasi transports us from 18th century Ghana to just before the turn of the millennium in the United States. Gyasi explores the human condition, the violence of colonialist and racist systems, the ripple effects of history, and the strength in survival in a moving and devastating way.

Thin Girls by Diana Clarke

Lily and Rose are identical twins and have always been identical. But when they turn fourteen, Rose, desperate to ingratiate herself with the popular clique and win the affection of its ring leader, begins to starve herself. And the less Rose consumes, the more Lily fills in the gaps. Clarke deftly explores the complex psychology behind Rose’s eating disorder, and it’s a story told with startling insight and skill.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino 

In Trick Mirror is an impressive, expansive and rigorously academic collection of essays on the modern condition, exploring topics from our culture’s obsession with efficiency and self-interest, to the power of social media and the election of Donald Trump and infamous Fyre Festival. This collection throws into sharp relief the many ways we are shaping, and being shaped by, the modern world.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy new year, and good things (and books) on the horizon.

9 thoughts on “2020 Round Up: Best Books of the (Worst) Year

  1. I loved most of the books on your list! Especially Know My Name, Homegoing, and My Dark Vanessa. Girl, Woman, Other was also excellent. I’ll be looking up Thin Girls, that sounds really intense. Here’s to a happier 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, that’s great! You have excellent taste 😉 Thin Girls was a real surprise for me, I had an advanced copy but hadn’t heard anything about it – it made such an impression and was quite different to anything else I’d read this year. Have a happy 2021!


  2. Great post. There a few here you have reminded me I would still like to read and some I hadn’t considered but sound really good. I have just bought Girl Woman Other. Still want to read Know My Name and My Dark Vanessa. Reading definitely is the silver lining to the cloud that has been this year. It is a great way to escape it all, as you say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Laura! I hope you enjoy Girl, Woman, Other – it was my first book of 2020 so it started off strong (reading-wise if nothing else!) Know My Name and My Dark Vanessa go to some very dark places but it’s done with real finesse and they stayed with me for a long time. Here’s to a better new year!


      • I hope so too. I am looking forward to reading it. I am reading The Foundling by Stacey Hall at the moment . You know a book is really good when it stays with you. Yes, a better new year would be what we all need!


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