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  • Writer's pictureSteve Haywood

Reading Review of 2020

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Well it has been quite a year. Different to normal in almost every way, and that has impacted on my reading, though in a fairly positive way (there aren't many positives to 2020, so I'll take it!) My Goodreads target was to read 35 books. I actually managed around 50 books, in no small part because I was at home a lot more, and since March, no commuting. It hasn't all been plain sailing, and some of the year I really haven't felt like reading, but still came out on top overall, reading wise. Here's a brief overview of what I read.

By genre

SF/Fantasy - 19 books

Crime/Thriller - 17 books

Non-fiction - 6 books

General fiction/other - 8 books

I'm something of a magpie when it comes to reading, so it isn't often that I manage reading a series in a short space of time, but this year I managed two:

The Shetland Books by Ann Cleeves - these feature detective Jimmy Perez. The author's written 8 books featuring this character, which are grouped very loosely in two quartets - I read the first book, Raven Black, at the end of 2019, and have read three more in 2020. I'm enjoying them, I like the characters (particularly Perez), the setting of Shetland, and also the stories.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin - these comprise The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, and all won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel, three years in a row - an unprecedented achievement. I read all these in quick succession, helped perhaps in that this was early on in lockdown and there wasn't a lot to do! They were good books, with incredibly rich world building in a far-far future post-post apocalypse world in the truest sense (and I do like post-apocalyptic fiction). They're great books but quite bleak with not many likeable characters, so don't feature in my favourite books of the year (more on that later).

Earlier on in the year, I also had a spell of reading Hugo and Nebula Award nominated novels. I didn't get through them all, but I did read some great books, including the Hugo Award Winner, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine.

There was a lot of discussion in the book world about what people were reading during the Pandemic - comfort reads or challenging reads. I didn't swing too far either way, and my reading was quite mixed, but if anything I did sometimes err on the side of comfort. In that way, I returned to a favourite author of bygone years, crime writer Robert Crais who writes books based on the wisecracking detective Elvis Cole.

This was the year I re-discovered crime fiction - it still was just eclipsed in numerical terms by SF & Fantasy, but I still read a substantial amount of crime. It is also the year I got into historical crime fiction - my wife's been encouraging me to read for a while, but I've resisted until now. I read three particularly good historical crime novels. They are:

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry - a historical crime novel set in Edinburgh with a junior doctor as the main character. This was really interesting, and I learned a lot about Victorian Edinburgh and the historical as early anesthetic, which was crucial to the plot.

The Printer's Coffin by M J Carter - Set in London, this is based around a series of killings of small press publishers. Learned a lot about early Fleet Street, the printing and newspaper industries.

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson - This is a brilliant novel set in the 1700s in London's Marshalsea Prison, practically a city in its own right.

All three are the first book in a series (albeit none of them long series, to date anyway).

Top 5 Books of 2020

So what were my top 5 reads of 2020? It's a difficult one, and in no particular order, however I'll go with the following:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann - I came across this quite randomly, but it was an amazing book. It is a non-fiction book about the killing of many members of the Osage tribe of Native Americans over oil money. Also features early beginnings of the FBI.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - This is a quick, easy read, often categorised as YA, but could be enjoyed by anyone. It is a semi-autobiographical novel in diary format (with cartoons - the narrator is a budding cartoonist), about a Native American boy who goes to an all white high school.

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben McIntyre - This is the other amazing non-fiction book I read this year. It is the true story of Soviet/British double agent Oleg Gordievsky, who a KGB colonel who defected to Britain, and was a double agent for 15 years before being discovered and a daring escape attempt.

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson - As previously mentioned, this was the narrow winner in the historical crime fiction category for me this year.

Stoner by John Edward Williams - This is a 'whole of life' campus novel, about a man who comes from a poor farming family. When he goes to university, he discovers the joy of learning and studying, and builds a life for himself at the university, becoming a teacher after graduating. This is ultimately a sad novel of a somewhat disappointing life, but very poignant and thought provoking.

So that's it. Interesting that out of my favourite 5 books, only one of them is from the most read genres of the year. Perhaps that's telling me something...

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