“… we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds. We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy.”Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
What is a book, but a snowflake frozen for all eternity? It’s a unique imprint of a memory, a dream, words that run together to form a story. Unlike the untenable ether of dreams, a book can be picked up at any time of the day or night, and suddenly you’re there, standing inside the writer’s mind, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling. It’s magic. The best kind, because it is so willingly given and so generously shared, with so little being asked in return.
If the year that’s gone by has given you nothing but more time to yourself, a book would’ve been one of the surest ways to stay sane. Here, I list all my reads of 2020. As always, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason, although I do think I read a lot more memoirs this time around. When one’s life becomes rote, reading about other lives just seems that much more interesting! The following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next. About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, through the generous auspices of the Toronto Public Library.
I also list my top five unforgettable books of the year. To get to them, scroll down to the standouts section, and feel free to share your own in the comments below.
Memoirs, Memories and Me
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah
The Most Beautiful – Mayte Garcia
Full Service – Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg
The Outsider – Jimmy Connors
Home / Home Work – Julie Andrews
Inside Out – Demi Moore
Me – Elton John
Permanent Record – Edward Snowden
Open Book – Jessica Simpson
How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale – Jenna Jameson
Baby It’s Real (So, So Real)
Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi
Catch and Kill – Ronan Farrow
Bachelor Nation – Amy Kaufman
Uncanny Valley – Anna Weiner
No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram – Sarah Frier
Books for Grown-Ups and Shit
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Normal People – Sally Rooney
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
Less – Andrew Sean Greer
Bring Up the Bodies / The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel
Royal Pains and Other Reimaginings
The Last Empress / Becoming Madame Mao – Anchee Min
Daughters of the Winter Queen – Nancy Goldstone
The Queen’s Secret – Karen Harper
The Other Windsor Girl – Georgie Blalock
The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
Myths and Monsters
The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
The Children of Jocasta – Natalie Haynes
The Dragon Waiting – John M. Ford
The Library of Legends – Janie Chang
Gone Girls and Gone Boys
The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
Woman on the Edge – Samantha M. Bailey
The Butterfly Girl – Rene Denfield
The Marsh King’s Daughter – Karen Dionne
The Missing Millionaire – Katie Daubs
The Collected Stories of Jessica Zafra – Jessica Zafra
All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews
Tidelands – Philippa Gregory
Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
The 2020 Standouts
The Child Finder – Rene Denfield
Starts off slow and a little predictable. One can sense the twist from far away, but by the end all the tragic threads have been pulled together so tightly, it sings like a tightly corseted nightingale. Read this if you want something in the tradition of The Lovely Bones and Room.
The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
Ugh I hate her so much. Chloe Benjamin writes so bloody well it makes me want to claw my eyes out. The Immortalists tackles the bonds between siblings, and their ways of coping with the loss of each other, which got me right in the feels. Read this if you love your siblings.
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
I don’t obsessively follow best of, or must-read book lists; part of the fun is finding books that turn out to be amazing reads without giving in to the hype So when. Pachinko came out, to great fanfare in 2017, it sailed completely over my head. Mr. King’s analogy of writing as telepathy is wonderfully apt – you can pick up a good book and a good story at any particular time, and it will still speak to you. Pachinko is a multi-generational story of stoic strength in the face of exile and discrimination in a land that refuses to acknowledge the humanity of those they deem foreign-born. Clean, straightforward and neat of prose, Pachinko still manages to hit you in the solar plexus with a devastatingly effective one-two punch. What a read.
Starlight Tour: The Last Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild – Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud
Structured more like a screenplay than a novel, this is bound to get optioned if it hasn’t been already. Starlight Tour is a chilling, heartbreaking account of the abuses indigenous people of Canada endure. Compelling, bleak, an indictment of callousness and police brutality, it is a reminder that the mistreatment of a proud people – whose original claim to this land has been cruelly shoved into the recesses of Canadian memory – perpetuates to this day. A must read, though the inclusion of a number of graphic police photos are not for the faint of heart.
The Once and Future King – T.H. White
How have I passed on this for so long? I really shouldn’t have. Guinevere is a lying, cheating harlot, Lancelot is a whiny little bitch, Mordred is truly the scum of the earth and a kingly, world-weary Arthur smiles benignly throughout the whole mess. T.H. White’s re-imagining of the Arthurian legend has more than earned its place as a modern classic. I love this book and hate myself for only reading it now, but better late than never is my ninja way!