At this time of year, what easier blog post is there to write than a ‘best of’ book listicle?
However, this is not your typical ‘best of’ article as I am listing my personal favourite reads from 2020, consequently, not all of the books mentioned below were published this year.
Beneath each book mentioned, I’ve included a single sentence synopsis followed by a mini -review.
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
Premise: A mother takes her sick daughter to live in ‘the wilderness state,’ the last bit of wilderness left in the world.
Review: At the time of writing this review, The New Wilderness was shortlisted for the 2020 Man Booker Prize, and little wonder why. What I loved about this book is its complexity, the dynamics between the characters, their motivation, and the way they relate to the environment is far from black and white.
At times, the interactions between characters verges on satire, which brings levity to this often dark tale while also showing how very small humans can be.
The blurring between humans and animals was a highlight, as were the gorgeous descriptions of the landscape, though Cook did well to hold back from romanticising this place.
The wilderness may be a better place to live than the dangerous and polluted city that members of this community have escaped from, but there is nothing romantic about survival.
In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Premise: A memoir that documents Machado’s experience in an abusive domestic relationship.
Review: I, along with everyone else, loved Machado’s debut collection, Her Bodies and Other Parties. The quality of Machado’s writing is astounding.
In this genre bending book, Machado carries us through her courtship and abusive relationship with her ex-partner via short, snappy, chapters presented in the second person.
She uses literary techniques by presenting some scenes as fiction (a more effective way for Machado to conjure certain emotions in her reader than she could have achieved with non-fiction techniques), presenting herself as an unreliable narrator, pathetic fallacy, and a choose your own adventure section.
The book is a decisively quick read, but don’t let that fool you. This one goes a mile deep and is worthy of multiple re-reads.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Premise: A mother worries how her daughter will adapt and survive climate change.
Review: Offill’s narratives unravel through a series of philosophical and darkly humorous vignettes (like her first novel, The Department of Speculation).
The protagonist, Lizzie Benson, former librarian for a university takes a job with a futurist podcaster.
Here, Lizzie is confronted with the reality of climate change, and like us she feels totally ill-equipped to 1. Make meaningful change and 2.Survive (if/when disaster hits).
This is not a dystopian or apocalyptic novel. Lizzie isn’t ‘fighting’ climate change, instead this is a story simply about a woman learning to accept that this is a reality while also tending to the minutia of everyday life. You’ll read it in one sitting.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Premise: Eight characters, who are all strangers, are brought together in one way or another by trees.
Review: This book is EPIC and not just because of its page length.
Powers is a generous and meticulous writer and I honestly cannot recall the last time I read something so very close to perfect.
Warning, the first eight ‘chapters’ of this book may be challenging for some readers as we meet each view point character, learn their backstory, and their connections to trees. Personally, I was amazed that Powers was able to keep me amazed as the first eight chapters are essentially short stories where you’re starting from the beginning again, and again, and again, and again…
From there it’s game on as these various characters meet, fight, love, earn acclaim, make bulk cash, break the law, and find their purpose all because of — and with the help from — trees.
Five gold stars.
Milkman by Anna Burns
Premise: A nameless women, living in a nameless town, at an unspecified time in Ireland recounts her long ago encounter with ‘the milkman’.
Review: There’s a reason this spooling, cyclic narrative won the 2018 Man Booker Prize.
This novel is visceral, deeply internal, hilarious and disturbing … it doesn’t read like someone’s diary, but as if you’re standing nose to nose with the protagonist as she deals with the gossiping and speculating residents of her small town and the ‘milkman’ (a senior paramilitary figure) whose presence haunts her physically and psychologically throughout the duration of the narrative.
The book has been described as no more difficult to read and comprehend then The Journal of Philosophy … If that sales pitch fails to move you, might recommend the brilliant (and much more digestible) audio book version (which is read by Brid Brennan)
Now I’d love to hear from you. Have you read any of the above books? What did you think? What are your top five reads of 2020? (Including books that weren’t published this year!).
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