We have finally waved goodbye to 2020. After filling in 366 pages, a fresh set of 365 days has been given to us. With the conclusion of a year is the commencement of a new one. 2020 has been eventful and filled with uncertainty. The future is also filled with uncertainty but hope still springs eternal. Staying true to what has become my annual tradition, I am kicking off the new year by looking back to the previous year, its hits, and of course, its mishits. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse on how the coming year is going to shape up.
This book wrap up is a part of a mini-series which will feature the following:
- 2020 Top Ten Not-So Favorite Reads
- 2020 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2020 Book Wrap Up
- 2020 20 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2020 20 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2020 New Favorite Authors
- 2021 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2021 Top 21 Reading List
Because of the pandemic, 2020 is my best year in terms of reading. I managed to complete 93 books, the third time I ended a reading year with at least 90 books (or maybe second, LOL). It was also one of my most diverse as I have read the works of various nationalities, from Japanese, Korean, Russian, Nigerian, Egyptian, Turkish to a couple more. In fact, nearly 30 of the books I have read are translations. Another thing that characterized 2020 is the number of “new books” I have read. As you might already know, I am the backlist type of reader but I ended 2020 with 26 “new books”, a personal best. It was, to say the least, a groundbreaking year on many fronts.
I have already provided my list of underwhelming books I have read during the past year. Now it is time to look back at my best reads. Without further ado, here they are. This is no particular order.
With nearly a hundred books completed, I had several outstanding reads in 2020 that it was a challenge choosing which ones made the biggest impact. Before giving you my 2020 Top Ten Books, here are the deserving runner ups which made it difficult for me to choose which ones are my best reads.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett
- Around the World in Eighty Days by Ismail Kadare
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
- My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
- Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Apeirogon, Colum McCann
Prior to this year, I have heard neither of Colum McCann or any of his works. I was surprised to learn that he was quite an accomplished and established writer (I guess I was missing a lot). I came to know of him through the 2020 Man Booker Prize, of which his latest novel, Apeirogon, was longlisted. Unfortunately, it missed the cut but it didn’t miss creating a deep impression on me. Apeirogon is as multifaceted as the titular shape. It is the story of conflict between Palestine and Israel seen through the eyes of two grieving fathers. However, it wasn’t revenge they are after but peace. The novel can be quite challenging, but once I reached the middle part, all the pieces started coming together and what unfolded is a moving narrative that needs to be told and read.
Stay With Me, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
Even before the year started, I was keen on having an African literature month as I have (nearly) read it all – Asian, European, American, and even Japanese Literature. Whilst I knew that it was going to be a grand experience, what I wasn’t prepared for was how emotionally moved I was going to be reading the African voice. One of the reasons for this is the emotionally moving story of Yejide, a Nigerian bride who only had one thing in mind – bear a son – because that was what society had etched into her (and every women’s) mind. What I initially thought was a light read turned out to be a heart-wrenching narrative about different kinds of love and, ultimately, motherhood. I’ll keep on singing songs of praise for days but I know it will never be enough to describe the elation and the awe it inspired in me.
A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
You know that thing when you avoid some thing because everyone has that? That was what I felt apropos Swedish writer Fredrik Backman who has become a household name these past few years. His meteoric rise to international literary stardom, however, made me ambivalent. At one time, I resolved not to be pulled into the Backman hole. Things changed after seeing a KPop idol (NCT’s Johnny) showing his copy of the book. I am glad I overcame my reluctance for what unfolded before me is a moving story about the people we meet in our quotidian existence and how they impact our lives. We are quick to judge without knowing their story. The novel has earned Backman a fan in me. His brand of storytelling was equally witty, entertaining and powerful. I can’t wait to read more of his works.
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
It has been years since I have purchased my copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. However, something was holding me up from reading the novel. For nearly three years, it was left to gather dust in my bookshelf until positive reviews and recommendations have convinced me to give it a try. And so I did, which me made me feel a bit sad because the novel made me realize what I have been missing out for so long. The Shadow of the Wind, with its imaginative storytelling, its interesting set of characters, and its atmospheric narrative, captivated me from the onset. Ruiz Zafón transported me to Barcelona and made me explore its every nook and cranny. I knew the moment I closed the last few pages of the book that this would remain with me for a long time, constantly reminding me of the joys of reading.
The Mountains Sing, Phan Qué̂ Mai Nguyẽ̂n
I can’t remember what made me buy Phan Qué̂ Mai Nguyẽ̂n’s novel, The Mountains Sing. I knew from seeing the author’s name that it is a Vietnamese narrative; Vietnamese writers are slowly growing on me these past few years. Even though I am not a “new books” fan, I made an exception (many in 2020 actually, LOL). The Mountains Sing is the story of Tran Dieu Lan juxtaposed on the rich and colorful history of Vietnam. It is the poignant story of a mother and a survivor who fought hard and sacrificed a lot to ensure that her children remains intact despite the tumult going around. It is the story of how wars and discord defined a nation and its people. However, it is also a positive voice that resonated with everyone’s clamor for peace.
The Girl With the Louding Voice, Abi Dare
African writers have definitely defined my 2020 reading year. They are making me discover a whole new territory of literature that I have rarely ventured into before. Riding on this wave, I have actually listed Abi Dare’s debut novel The Girl With the Louding Voice as one of the 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To. The titular “girl with the louding voice” is Adunni, a Nigerian teenager who was sold by her father to marriage, a reality that is prevalent in contemporary Nigerian society. With her mother gone, she knew that she had no one to rely on but herself so she roared back against the odds and worked hard to make a name for herself. The Girl With the Louding Voice is an inspiring story drawn on a vivid background of the challenges young women face.
Human Acts, Han Kang
I was aghast with my first reading journey with Korean writer Han Kang. The Vegetarian did impress me on some levels but also left a bitter aftertaste that made me shy away from her other works. It took a trusted book lover to change my mind and give her prose another chance. And so I did, with Human Acts. Human Acts relates the story of one of the grim phases and defining moments of modern South Korean history: the Gwangju Uprising of 1980. More than the violence, the novel digs deeper into the subterranean world of our humanity. It is a seminal and timely exploration of who we are and where we are headed to. Human Acts is a potent local story which reverberated to a universal message.
Anxious People, Fredrik Backman
I guess it is no surprising to find a second Backman novel in this list. As I have mentioned, I have been apprehensive with Backman and his works. I felt that he and his works were just a product of hype. However, A Man Called Ove changed that perspective but I was still reluctant to pick up his latest work, Anxious People. I might as well go with the flow. Anxious People started slower than I have expected and I was about to conclude that it was an underwhelming read. But the more I read through it, the more that the story gets better, and more entertaining. The entertainment and wit, however, belie the depth of the message that it has in store. Backman has definitely soared to one of my new favorite writers.
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
I opened my 2020 reading journey with the co-winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. I actually thought that it would take me along time to find a copy of the book but thankfully, one of the local bookstores had some copies in stock. Girl, Woman, Other is a finely textured prose that resonated with a profound yet powerful message about identities, preferences, and feminism. Despite the familiar territories, Evaristo’s unorthodox structure gave the novel a distinct complexion. It is a book that defines “unputdownable”. Girl, Woman, Other is worthy of its accolades, an excellent piece of literature that is befitting of the 2019 Man Booker Prize award.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Rounding up my best reads of 2020 is a literary classic written by Nobel Laureate in Literature John Steinbeck. I have been a fan of Steinbeck because of his concise yet evocative storytelling. However, The Grapes of Wrath is anything but concise; it is uncharacteristically longer than any of the other Steinbecks I have read before. On a brighter side, it will give me more insight into Steinbeck’s brand of writing, which it did. The Grapes of Wrath drew inspiration from the Dust Bowl Migration that happened during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is also an examination of the conditions of humanity. Despite the prevalence and the cruelties of capitalism, kindness reigns supreme.
And thus ends my list of ten best reads of 2019. How about you fellow reader, what books made your favorites list in 2019? Do share it in the comment box.