What I read in 2020

December 30th, 2020Posted by Nancy

As with all things, this year’s COVID craziness has affected people differently. Some of my friends have barely managed to read anything. Some people have concentrated on rereads and comfort found in familiar words. Before I did the tally, I thought I’d read a lot more this year than last, but it turns out the total is roughly the same as 2019. (So much for my supposed productivity.)

Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library’s history function, I count up 78 fiction titles and 42 non-fiction, for a total of 120. Throw in some physical reads and rereads on my Kobo, and the final total for the year is around 130.

What did I like best?


True Grit, Charles Portis. The classic 1968 short novel that spawned two film versions. It’s brilliantly written and boasts an incredible first person voice in Matty Ross – sharp, flinty, a bit prudish, a bit prideful, with flashes of the woman she has become showing through the ostensible narration of a 14-year-old girl. This article gives you a taste of the treat you’ll get reading this book.

Exit, Pursued by A Bear, E.K. Johnston. This was on my library “wish list” for several months and by the time I actually borrowed it, I’d forgotten what it was about. It turned out it was a completely unexpected story about a cheerleader who is sexually assaulted at cheerleading camp. And then nothing goes the way you think it will. It’s a story about friendship and family and finding a way to get past the last thing you ever thought would happen to you.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, Elif Shafak. Every bit as moving but far less depressing than you imagine a book narrated by a prostitute dying in a dumpster in Istanbul would be. It covers her life up to her death and then how her chosen family choose to honour her.

Things in Jars, Jess Kidd. A pipe-smoking female detective in Victorian London, a tattooed ghost of a boxer, and an usual child with very sharp teeth. It’s funny and grim and gorgeously written. I also recommend Himself by the same author.

The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel. From the author of Station Eleven, which was also one of my favourites (and about the aftermath of a plague, just for added relevance). An interesting double bill with the Elif Shafak novel.

Other things I liked.

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade and Beach Read by Emily Henry . Entertaining contemporary romances featuring writers and fandom.

The most recent three installments in Martha Wells’ wonderful Murderbot series.

The last two books in Megan Whalen Turner’s rich and marvelous Attolia series.


Owls of the Eastern Ice, Jonathan Slaight. I love good nature writing and it’s even better when it’s combined with a depiction of a human landscape as well. A scientist studies a rare owl (which looks rather comically like a gremlin) and encounters the people who live on Russia’s harsh eastern shore. Much vodka is involved.

Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald. Essays from the writer of the beautiful meditation on birds and grief, H is for Hawk. The writing is so exquisite I kept reading sections to my husband just because I wanted to say the words out loud.

Know my Name, Chanel Miller. A brave and moving book by a young woman who is, first of all, an extremely talented writer and, secondly, the Emily Doe of the Stanford sexual assault trial. Her victim statement went viral but this book is so much more than that. It’s harrowing to read at times but completely worth it.

Nomadland, Jessica Bruder. The story of some of the people who take to the road after the economic shocks of the last decade and cobble together a living of Amazon warehouse jobs, farm work, and creating communities in the deserted places in America. Now a prize-winning film starring Frances McDormand and many of the people featured in the book.

A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit. In a year of unremitting bad news, it was nice to read a book that reminds us that when things fall apart, most people behave decently and the community comes together to care for each other. Too much fiction tries to tell us otherwise – we have to make sure that doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy just because it makes a good story.

Other books I liked:

Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton. Luscious writing by a chef about her unusual childhood and journey towards creating an acclaimed NY restaurant (now shuttered due to COVID).

Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel. The lives of Lee Krasner, Elaine De Koonig, Grace Hartigan and other women of the NY Abstract Expressionist movement. Proving once again that women are often idiots and men are generally bad for female artists’ careers.

My “to read” list is still over 200 books long, I keep adding more, and I’ve got 10 books currently on reserve at the library. I’d better to keep up the pace.

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