It’s Christmas Day, and for the first time in my life, I’m not at my parents’ home eating mince pies and playing the antediluvian board games we break out every Christmas period. The last 3 seasons have been very queer, and for once it’s a sort of “queer” that just doesn’t tickle my pickle.
Like most of the people I know, during lockdown I’ve bounced between bouts of listlessness where even getting out of bed to shower and brush my teeth has taken a Herculean effort, and periods where I’ve spent time luxuriating in doing things that I’ve never had time to do wholeheartedly before. (Think Chloe Ting workouts, learning how to code using JS, and knitting blankets). Strangely this year hasn’t really been one for reading. I’ve only read 69 books so far this year, of which one has been a textbook. I don’t think I’ve read this few books since 2017 when I only just squeezed in 63 books around my degree.
Top 5 Books I read in 2020
5) Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes
Greek Myths have never really spoken to me before: there’s a lot of war brides, and very bloody killings. In short it’s never been my jam. Natalie Haynes (who I’m going to very lazily describe as being to Greek mythology what Mary Beard is to Roman history) absolutely blasted my perceptions on women in Greek mythology by cutting through the twee retellings and translations from the Victorian era, and returning to the meat of the “original” Greek stories and plays.
My partner and I had a fantastic time as he read the whole darn book out loud to me while I knitted (over the course of several months, I should add. I’m not that cruel a taskmaster!).
4) The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham
If you’re looking at that title and thinking, “Huh, that title looks awfully familiar…” then you are clearly a cultured person who knows about Midsomer Murders. My wholly unbiased opinion is that it’s still one of the best TV crime series to have come out of this Sceptred Isle. I’ve watched all 21 series apart from the last 2 episodes because they’ve not yet released them in the UK, the cruel cruel people.
Well anyway. The Killings at Badger’s Drift is the first book in the series that inspired the Midsomer Murders TV show. How did it compare? Oh gosh it was beautiful. The TV series is full of chocolate box images of rural life in the South but the books have the sort of casual social observations and idioms tossed in there that makes the writing punchy, and the characters believable. Barnaby is so wonderfully understated that he reminds me of those tiny touches of colour that painters add to their paintings that you don’t really notice, but that lift the colours and transform them from flat to richly variegated.
I really hope to read the rest of the series over the next couple of years.
3) Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
I came across this one by chance when I wanted to borrow a short audiobook from the library to kill a rainy evening. This was a rich reward! Owls Do Cry was incredibly poetic, and moving in a way that the middle section from To The Lighthouse is. Based on Frame’s time in mental health units, this book is full of the horror of her experiences wrapped up in lyrical text. I spent a good part of this book in tears in spite of the humour threaded through it.
2) My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
I’m very late to this party. We’re going to pretend that I’m fashionably late, OK?
I was startled into gales of laughter by things that really would not have made me laugh had they not been written so punchily. The nuances of the main female characters made the dark humour and satire especially mordant.
1) The Spoken Mage series by Melanie Cellier.
First up, it’s set in a world where writing words literally creates magic. Secondly, the main character is a woman (OK, teenager but she’s female). Thirdly, the writing is so incredibly magical that I blazed through the first 4 books in the series (of 5) in 3 days. This is practically unheard of from me nowadays and really is the best testament to the quality of the stories. (And also a little bit to the amount of free time I have at the minute, but let’s not dwell on this too much).
Bonus points for touching on classism and having a few BAME characters that didn’t feel like token presences.
BONUS mention: HSK 1 Standard Course Book by Jiang Liping
Although this is a course book, and not my usual fare, it deserves a mention as it played a large part in my first steps on my Chinese learning journey. It’s the first time in an age that I’ve worked through a text book with so much pleasure, and that was in part due to this exceptional resource, and in part due to the amazing teachers I had at the CI.
So there you have it! Those were my top 6 books of 2020. If you celebrate Christmas, then Merry Christmas! If you don’t then please accept my best wishes to you and your loved ones at this dark time of year.
What were your favourite reads of 2020?