Monday 4 January 2021

Favourite Reads of 2020

At the end of 2020, we asked readers to nominate a favourite read of the year, and write a micro-review of their chosen book. The book could be from any time or genre - the only qualification was that it had to be a book the reader found particularly memorable, striking or enjoyable during the last twelve months. 2020 was a year in which, for many, reading was of life-changing, maybe even near-life-saving importance. Here below are the responses we received from readers. Everybody's Reviewing wishes all its readers a happy and hopeful new year of reading in 2021!

Andrew Dix

David Peace, Nineteen Seventy-Four: "An odd choice of book for such a difficult year, given that it centres on violence and corruption, but this compelling crime novel was like a time machine in carrying me away from lockdown and back to the police stations and saloon bars of West Yorkshire in the 1970s (a stink of cigarette smoke, cheap aftershave and bad chips hanging in the air)."

Colin Gardiner

Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy: "A funny and affecting memoir. As a struggling 30-year-old poet in crisis, Lockwood has no choice but to return home to live with her father, a gun loving, guitarist worshipping father (who has been ordained as a Catholic Priest) and mother, who sees danger everywhere (especially the internet). Lockwood describes her formative years in an eccentric family with wit, empathy and vivid detail. Highly recommended." 

Katherine Hetzel

Paul Biegel, The King of the Copper Mountains: "In this year particularly, the story of a community of animals who tell fabulous tales to keep the old king alive, until such time as the Good Doctor can bring back the miracle cure, seems to be a reflection of current times. A firm favourite of mine when I was 7 or 8, I've seen new meaning and much hope in this book during 2020."

Rhiannon Jenkins

Mary Seacole, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands: "A fantastic read that took me by surprise because I had low hopes for a Victorian autobiography. However, Mrs Seacole is a dynamic narrator who led a captivating life, and is deserving of much more attention."

Ellie Fleur Johnson

Stephenie Meyer, Midnight Sun: "A controversial pick but let me explain ... The year is 2008: block colours are in fashion, with pearly necklaces and Manic Panic hair dyes are flying off of the shelves. You are an awkward fourteen year-old girl, and you are in love. With a vampire named Edward. You find solace and a release in the Twilight world, it is YOUR world. And you never want to leave. Then BOOM, 2020 hits. You’re now 26, furloughed from both of your jobs, struggling to find any inspiration or imitative to do anything ... Alas, it’s not all doom and gloom, Stephenie Meyer finally had enough free time to complete Midnight Sun. It is a retelling of Twilight from Edward’s perspective. It reads like a personal love letter, you get to know all of his thoughts and feelings ... You are fourteen again, with your first love. Life is good."

Robert Richardson

Don DeLillo, Underworld: "This novel’s many digressions dynamically engage with aspects of American culture in the second half of the twentieth century. Ambition is important in art, and DeLillo’s voluminous tour de force proves the point."

Karen Rust

Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140: "Genius cli-fi thriller set in a submerged New York. Sharp, smart and unputdownable, it follows the narratives of multiple city dwellers to weave an exciting tale that makes you think."

Janette Jenkins, Little Bones: "Historical fiction is not my bag, but this tale of a deformed young women abandoned in the harsh streets of Victorian London is engaging and vivid."

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred: "Written in 1979, this book has aged well. A black American woman finds herself dragged back in time to help her white ancestor, a plantation owner's son. A great read, it raises many questions about race and is, sadly, as relevant today as ever."

Benardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other: "Once I got used to the lack of punctuation, I adored this novel of inter-linked stories about the lives of twelve black women living in Britain and their search for identity. The characters fizz off the pages."

Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends: "A challenging but interesting look at the complexities of relationships when friendship and lust overlap. Steered just the right side of navel gazing."

Sophie Mackintosh, The Water Cure: "A feminist dystopia that is drip fed the reader, so much of the time you are in the dark. Leaves many questions unanswered, so won't be everyone's cup of tea, but hauntingly good."

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give: "Essential reading. Gives a terrifying insight into the life of a black teenage girl in America. Starr lives between two worlds, the black neighbourhood where she lives and the 99% white private school she attends. Wonderful writing but expect to get angry!"

Lisa Heathfield, Seed: "The dark tale of life in a cult through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old girl. The children rarely leave the grounds of Seed, but when an outside family join them, a new perspective makes Pearl question the unquestionables of her life."

Jenny Valentin, Finding Violet Park: "A beautiful coming of age story that won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Sixteen-year-old Lucas Swain jumps off the page in all his unconventionality. You'll laugh and cry as you follow his journey to discover who Violet Park is after he's drawn to steal her ashes from a mini-cab office."

Sally Green, Half Bad: "Brilliant world building by Sally Green as we follow the trials of Nathan Byrn, who had the misfortune to be born half white witch and half black. The only witch of his kind in society. A pacy, dark fantasy. Can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy."

Deborah Scott-Paul

Richard Powers, The Overstory: "An incredible read which I loved so much. The characters were so beautiful and real, and the underlying story throughout about the trees was wonderful. I get a warm glow when I think about it. It's now one of my favourite books of all time."

Jonathan Taylor

Barry Hines, A Kestrel for a Knave: "Compacting poetry, comedy, tragedy, beauty, politics into one diamond-sharp story, A Kestrel for a Knave cut through my consciousness this year, making it feel as if I'd always known it, always read it - and, above all, always loved it."

Maria Taylor

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World Is Forest: "This was the first novel I read after the pandemic had taken hold. Le Guinn's sci-fi novel seemed an echo of our own world and dealt with the difficult issue of colonialism and power set against nature and alternative forms of inner knowledge. It was stunning!"

Miranda Taylor (aged 12)

Reiji Miyajima, Kanojo, Okarishimasu: "I liked the story and art and characters. The style of the art fitted well with the story."

Rosalind Taylor (aged 12)

Nanashi, Don't Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro: "I thought the story was really good and funny, and the characters had very strong personalities. The characters' expressions were drawn well."

Paul Taylor-McCartney

Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet: "An intensely lyrical study of infant mortality as witnessed by the Shakespeare household and a remarkable feat of storytelling."

Charlotte Watts

Robert Macfarlane, Underland: "The language Macfarlane uses to describe the natural world is astonishing, allowing you to be there with him as he delves down, not just through the earth but through time. I smelt the cold stone and felt the harsh sun as if I were him. Joyous!"

Catherine West

John Haskell, American Purgatorio: "You know the feeling that something’s not quite right? The book I read and can’t forget in 2020 is American Purgatorio. It starts on an ordinary day at an gas station, and turns into a mind-clouded, troubled quest where the reader is carried along in empathetic perplexity with the first person narrator, who navigates his journey in search of his missing wife in as much perplexity as we routinely live our lives. ‘I … was in the middle of living happily after when something happened.’ A pacier, grittier The Unconsoled, this novel, ahead of its time, hit entirely the right note for a year that was to hold uncharted routes for all of us."

Harry Whitehead

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life: "for its profound characterisation and masterly structuring, the protagonist’s life constantly starting over as she struggles to chart a path through the perils of World War 2."

Lee Wright

Richard Ford, Sorry for Your Trouble: "Ford's latest book consists of nine short stories about things salvaged from the wreckage of relationships and the dissection of love in America. It looks long and hard at great moments in small town lives."   

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