My 10 favourite books of 2020

Not many great things came out of 2020, but there were a few. A Covid-19 vaccine was developed, Trump was voted out (not that he’s going away anytime soon) and the environment was finally given a bit of break thanks to less international travel and carbon emissions.

On a personal level, some of the positives for me included slowing down my pace, enjoying more time at home, appreciating my loved ones even more and reading lots and lots of books. Last year, I completed the ‘52 books a year challenge’ for the first (and hopefully not last) time. In the mix were a blend of classic and contemporary novels, as well as some memoirs and non-fiction.

In no particular order, here are my 10 favourites reads of 2020.

These Lovers Fled Away by Howard Spring (1955)

This brilliant novel by Howard Spring is my mum’s all-time favourite book. I first became aware of the multiple copies in our house when I was around 10 and mum picked it up to read for the umpteenth time. As a result, it’s always been on my bucket list (I purposely chose not to spell this ‘booket list’—the jury is still out on that one). During the first lockdown, I finally sat down to read the hardback copy gifted to my mum by my dad years before and… Wow. Despite all the hype from my mother over the years, the book completely blew me away with its beautiful story and poetic language. 

Rating: 5 stars.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (2019)

I read this brilliant non-fiction debut from Lisa Taddeo in January last year, after hearing the writer interviewed on a few podcasts I listen to. Exploring female sexuality and desire, the book follows the emotional lives of three different women in the USA, taking an honest and non-judgemental approach to themes including loneliness and longing. Written over 8 years and now out in paperback, Three Women is gripping from start to finish. Highly recommended. 

Rating: 5 stars

Why I No Longer Talk To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

Wow. I’m a little ashamed to say that it took me so long to read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s debut book, as it had been recommended numerous times and I’d attended a Q&A session with the British writer at the inaugural Words Weekend festival at Sage Gateshead in 2019. Reni came across brilliantly as she was interviewed by Elizabeth Day, but it took me another 8 months before I picked up my paperback copy to read it in August 2020. It was not long after the brutal George Floyd killing, and I felt like I needed to educate myself more on police brutality and racial injustice. It was enlightening and essential reading. Straight after, I devoured Reni’s podcast miniseries, About Race, which I highly recommend too.

Rating: 5 stars

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

I’ll try my best to be diplomatic again here, but in the midst of 2020’s political upheaval, I was spurred to finally pick up this dystopian classic by my cousin and good friend. It was one that I’d always intended to read, and I’d developed a new-found appreciation for Animal Farm in recent years after studying it for my English Literature GCSE almost 15 years ago. When I picked up 1984, I was completely stopped in my tracks, both amazed and unsettled by the amount of similarities and predictions to what was actually going on in the present day. Beyond its dystopian themes, political nods and thought-provoking language, there’s also a gripping love story. It’s a phenomenal read, and probably now one of my all-time favourites.

Rating: 5 stars

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)

I was drawn to this collection of formidable essays for many reasons. Mainly, because it was the work of Joan Didion and that it explored the complex subcultures of 1960s California, which I’ve always been fascinated by. Beautifully written, the essays are underpinned by Didion’s journalistic know-how and intense curiosity, with the American writer travelling to San Francisco for an intimate close-up of lost adolescents, who drift in and out of Haight Ashbury, getting washed up with political movements and in some cases, being recruited by members of The Manson Family. The book also features personal essays, with the essay, Self Respect being my all-time favourite.

Rating: 5 stars

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid (2019)

Kiley Reid’s debut novel tells the story of a young black babysitter, who’s wrongfully accused in a supermarket of kidnapping the white child she’s babysitting. It’s an authentic and engaging page-turner, exploring the connections between race and privilege, the complexity of transactional relationships and the nuances of growing up and the meaning of family. I found it hard to put down, and highly recommend it as a holiday read with added depth.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Intimations by Zadie Smith (2020)

Despite having struggled with some of her novels (I enjoyed White Teeth, but couldn’t keep going with On Beauty), I am in absolute awe of Zadie Smith. Hearing her being interviewed is jaw-droppingly impressive; she’s so wise, intelligent and inspiring. This collection of essays, which she penned during lockdown last year as she relocated back to London from New York with her family, is hugely engrossing, with Contempt as a Virus and Suffering Like Mel Gibson being two of the standouts.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (2020)

Small Pleasures is like a warm hug in a book; despite sad circumstances and events within the book, it’s so utterly charming and enjoyable to read. It follows the story of Jean, a lonely features writer assigned to investigate Gretchen, a young Swiss woman and her claims of a virgin birth. Jean quickly makes friends with Gretchen, becomes infatuated by her daughter Margaret and falls in love with her husband Howard. And while this shouldn’t matter, the book’s cover is also wallpaper-worthy beautiful.  

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Educated by Tara Westover (2018)

Tara Westover’s memoir tells the story of her escape from a Mormon fundamentalist family, her pursuit of education and her battles for reinvention. Growing up in rural Idaho, Tara and her six siblings grew up without any proper home-schooling; instead working on the junkyard run by her violent father and stewing herbs for her midwife mother. The story of Tara’s breakaway is unbelievably inspiring, with her quest for self-study taking her to Harvard, before going onto Cambridge and acquiring a Ph.D. Some parts of the book are hard to read thanks to the violence and mind games, but it’s very difficult to put down.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)

A book that needs no introduction (but one I’ll give anyway), Angela’s Ashes is the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, documenting the McCourt family’s struggles with poverty and alcoholism as they relocate from Brooklyn, New York to Limerick in Ireland in the 1930s. Told from the point of view of Frank as a child, it’s painfully honest and beautifully written, with many parts of the book quite harrowing to read. McCourt’s childhood optimism brings innocence and humour to the heartbreaking story, making it a page-turner that stays with you.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Special shout-outs also go to Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Purity and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, Ghosts by Dolly Alderton, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, How Do We Know We’re Doing it Right? by Pandora Sykes, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.


Thanks for reading. I’d love to know what your favourite reads of 2020 were—I’m always up for a recommendation! See you next time x