2020 Reading Wrap Up

I keep thinking this year has been a creative slump for me, but it hasn’t been too bad. I managed to self-publish a collection of short stories, as well as complete a horror Christmas story series on Dystopic. So while I haven’t done as much as I had planned, I have done something. A real victory for 2020, I’m sure you’d agree.

But an even bigger victory for me this year has been the number of books I’ve read. As I grew bored of Netflix and didn’t have the brain capacity to write consistently, I found myself wanting to read more, and not just because I told myself I should.

Looking back over 2020, I think it’s been the most ‘un-me’ year for reading – you’ll see very little science fiction in the books catalogued on my Goodreads profile. Instead, there’s been a lot of horror and non-fiction. Also a lot of contemporary novels – most of which were a tad disappointing, but it has encouraged me to expand my reading habits.

Anyway, to wrap up the shittest year on record, here is a wrap up of the books I read in 2020.

Number of books I’ve read

57. That’s an insane number to me. I haven’t read that many books in a year since my pre-teen years, back when I practically lived in the library.

Reading a high number of books is definitely a habit I had to consciously work at. At the beginning of the year, the idea of reading for more than half an hour at a time seemed impossible to me, but something clicked when I actively dedicated time each day to reading instead of flitting about on other things or watching a movie. Now reading is all I think about.

My first book of 2020

The Perils of Perception by Bobby Duffy. This was my 2019 Jólabókaflóð (Christmas Eve) book from my boyfriend. It’s all about statistics – how they can be misused and misread, and how the public’s perceptions of them can be skewed and why. It was a very topical book at the time with all the Brexit stuff kicking off, and now with Brexit upon us and COVID-19 in full swing, it has helped me understand the world’s reactions to current affairs and how to take a step back from it all. It also showed me the role I need to play when it comes to sharing the truth and the meaning behind statistics, not just the figures.

As a result from reading Duffy’s book, I have learned the following things:

  • When Googling, don’t just accept the first result (maybe even look at the second page…!)
  • Read non-fiction books/watch documentaries from reputable sources (or at least understand the agenda behind these sources) and learn about things instead of picking up snippets
  • Talk to actual humans (if possible) and find out why they think the way they do
  • Follow people on social media who don’t have similar views to you

My last book of 2020

Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide by Kate Charlesworth. This is a graphic novel that once again was bought for me by my boyfriend, but this time as a random gift. It combines (mostly British) LQBTQ+ history with Kate Charlesworth’s own history discovering her sexuality, her experiences as a lesbian in and out of her community, the people within her community, her work as an artist and her relationships. It was eye-opening – I’m always shocked by how LGBTQ+ people were treated in the very recent past, and the struggles they still face today. It was also heart-warming to read about the individual and collective victories, the love, the friendships and the camaraderie.

My Favourite book of 2020

It’s a toss up between Before and After by Andrew Shanahan, an incredibly enjoyable post-apocalyptic story about a super morbidly obese man in the middle of a zombie outbreak, and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, a literary fiction novel about a male friendship group and how their relationships evolved throughout their lives.

They’re very different. Before and After is a journey filled with peril, sorrow, heartbreak, joy and triumph following a complex, funny, loveable and believable character. A Little Life is…miserable. But I do love being miserable.

Least favourite book of 2020

There’s quite a few I didn’t like. Real Life by Brandon Taylor, Creed by James Herbert, The Girls by Emma Cline, I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid – all books I didn’t enjoy very much, nor think they had anything particularly valuable to offer the reader. I also didn’t think any of them deserved the hype they received. There’s nothing worse than really looking forward to a book only to discover it’s nowhere near the piece of literary genius everyone has made it out to be (this doesn’t apply so much with Creed, but I had heard it was ‘good fun’. It wasn’t.).

However, by far my least favourite book of 2020 was Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn. It has the most hateful, unlikable narrator of any book I’ve ever read.

The book is an account of Walter Kirn’s strange relationship with Christian Gerhartsreiter, but Kirn somehow made himself more unlikable than the murdering con artist he was writing about. Kirn came across as completely self-obsessed and arrogant, while simultaneously self-loathing and resentful. it really got my back up, and he made himself the central focus of the book instead of Gerhartsreiter, even though he wasn’t in any way interesting. There was also an undertone of misogyny and snobbery that just made me furious.

A book I didn’t finish

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I started off enjoying it, but I lost interest pretty quickly. I think it’s a novel you either love or don’t quite connect with, and it was definitely a connection issue with me – the characters and their lifestyle just didn’t interest me.

2020 is definitely my DNF (Did Not Finish) year. I gave myself permission to put down anything that I didn’t think about other than when I was reading it, and anything that made me avoid reading.

Book I’m currently reading

The Blue Hour, Jean Rhys’ biography by Lilian Pizzichini. I love Jean Rhys, and have done ever since I finished Good Morning, Midnight when I was eighteen. And I only read that because I had misread something else.

For university, I was given a list of books to read for my classes, but I mistakenly bought a few from the additional reading list, thinking it was compulsory (don’t worry, I didn’t make that mistake again during my degree). Good Morning, Midnight was a suggested accompaniment to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, which I read after and didn’t like at all.

I remember the exact moment I finished Good Morning, Midnight in my parents’ living room the summer before university. I sat there, a little stunned, put the book on my lap and stared at it. I had never read anything like that before. She seemed to reveal all the self-conscious secrets in my head.

When I found The Blue Hour in a charity shop, I immediately bought it. I’ve read Rhys’ unfinished autobiography twice, but I’ve always wanted to know more about her as a person. She was beautiful, funny, tragic and way ahead of her time.

2021 reading goals

70 books. That’s how many I want to read. It’s very ambitious, but I have a feeling 2021 is going to be very similar to 2020 – at least for the first half, anyway. Last year I found it difficult to focus at first, but I think I have a handle on it now. I know my limits, and I have certainly learned how to relax with a good book.

But what books am I going to read? That’s the part I’m going to leave open. I’ve read a lot of contemporary novels this year, but next year I want to focus on clearing the unread books I already have on my shelves. Not that I’m going to avoid buying any books in 2021…that would be ridiculous.

Emily created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. Her debut dystopian novel 'These Unnatural Men' was self-published in 2018, and her collection of short stories 'Foreground' was self-published in 2020.

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