My 2020 in books: a reading year in review

I’ve read 52 books this year – a classic number, one for every week. It is down from 85 in 2019 and 100 in 2018, though. However, with my average book length being 353 pages (thank you Goodreads), I think I had a lot of longer reads which took a couple of weeks to get through. So I still felt as if I was reading as much as ever – I just wasn’t getting through books quite as quickly.


12 books were read for uni, the other 40 were for fun.

Out of those 40, 9 were rereads and 31 were new reads. 4 were non-fiction and 36 were fiction.

Overall, there were 10 5-star reads, 22 4-star reads, 11 3-star reads, 2 2-star reads and 7 unrated reads (all of which I read for uni).

I only rated 3 new reads 5 stars

Out of the 10 5-star reads this year, 7 were rereads of old favourites. This does make sense, as I only reread the very best! Only 3 new reads impressed me enough to hand out the elusive 5 stars.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

This 900-page epic took me over 6 weeks to work through, but I enjoyed every page. The length of this book is irrelevant. Mantel takes her time describing every aspect of this complex story in luscious detail. It’s as close to time travel as reading can get. And the ending – !

Rivals by Jilly Cooper

Reading Rivals was the only time I’ve felt truly alive this whole year long. I thought reading Jilly Cooper would be a hilarious romp through the 80s – and it was. But what I did not expect was to be rooting heart and soul for a 38-year-old Tory peer’s 700-page pursuit of an 18-year-old girl. But my god was I invested. For the last 400 pages, I could not put it down. I read it all in one delicious gulp. It was a level of enjoyment which reminded me why I even like reading in the first place. Add to this a cast of memorable characters I loved more than my own family, and by the end of the 700 pages I was laughing at in jokes and barely batting an eyelid at infidelity like I’d lived in Rutshire all my life.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

An intriguing location, a tense atmosphere, a vivid cast of characters, a confounding set of circumstances, a murder victim based on one of Christie’s closest friends, and a shocking Poirot denouement in which everything fell into place! I don’t rate every Christie five stars (some of them even get four), but this one – my last read of the year – ticked every box.

An abundance of 4-star ratings

On the other hand, the books I rated 4-stars were almost entirely new fiction reads. Only 1 was a book I read for uni (‘Court Wits of the Restoration’ by J. H. Wilson, a very enjoyable history book from the 50s) and 2 were rereads. The other 19 were new books to me, lots of them published in the last couple of years. Although I enjoyed so many books this year, I found myself holding back from the big 5 stars time and time again.

My average rating for the year was 3.9 stars – pretty high!

My 2020 reads by decade

2020s: 9

2010s: 13

2000s: 13

1990s: 1

1980s: 3

1950s: 3

1940s: 2

1930s: 1

1920s: 2

1890s: 2

1660s: 1

AD 300s: 2

Unsurprisingly lots from recent years, but also a good spread through the 20th century, as well as a few older reads thanks to university reading lists!

I read 9 books in 2020 which were released in 2020

Out of 40 reads-for-pleasure, I think 9 from the current year is a very valiant effort to keep up with the times! Certainly better than two years ago when I only managed 2 2018 books in that year.

This success is partly thanks to the fact that I joined a book club for people hoping to work in the publishing industry, in which we read recent releases. This has been fantastic – we’ve had so many great discussions, not only about the books but about the market and industry too. To keep up with what we’re reading, follow us on Instagram: @hopefulsbookclub

My picks: 2020 releases

Bronze – Summer by Ali Smith

I loved Summer but it hasn’t quite stuck in my mind the way that Winter and How to be both, my two favourites by Smith, have done. Everything she writes is wonderful – clever, playful, thoughtful, interesting – but Summer didn’t quite have the edge. Read my review here.

Silver – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Meanwhile, Hamnet was a beautifully descriptive and emotionally intelligent retelling of a familiar story. I liked how vivid the characters and setting were; even though I read it a couple of months ago now, when I close my eyes, I can still imagine myself back into the world O’Farrell created.

Gold – The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel

Hamnet and TMATL both had very similar aims in what they were attempting. What puts Mantel ahead is the sheer enjoyment I had whilst reading, the atmospheric evocation of another time and place, and the emotional attachment I felt to the central character.

Best New Discovery

Two words: Jilly Cooper. Catch me rootling through charity shops buying up her entire back catalogue.

Two other authors I’m particularly glad I picked up, and I’m keen to read more of, are Bernadine Evaristo and Maggie O’Farrell.

Favourite Reread

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith comes to mind most quickly whenever someone asks me what my favourite book is. I’ve read it 5 times now, most recently on a stormy day at the beach at Robin Hood’s Bay. It feels so special every time – a book I’ll surely return to again and again at intervals throughout my life.

Most Unforgettable

Bronze – I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek

This book was required reading for the ‘Contemporary Writing in English’ module I took during my final year. It’s very postmodern and weird, the narrative skipping around Silicon Valley, delighting in its own weirdness. But it made some fantastic, terrifying and depressing points about the way the internet functions to make money for a small group of people. Definitely one of those perspective-changing books.

Silver – Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Read over Christmas. It’s about a 24-year-old woman who hates herself, her life, and other people. Moshfegh is utterly fearless when it comes to depicting all the ugliest parts of life. It’s narrated by the older Eileen, so it’s full of foreshadowing to pull you onwards.

Gold – The New Me by Halle Butler

I read this in January and it still stands out so clearly in my mind, more clearly than many I’ve read in recent months. Like Eileen, it’s a detailed psychological portrayal of a self-hating young woman, full of misery and pointlessness, by an American author. It has a thoroughly depressing ending. Just my cup of tea.

Most Forgettable

I haven’t had nearly as many forgettable reads as some years. It’s certainly a very unfortunate, almost cruel, label to brand a book with. As I look back over this year’s reads, I can remember some element – stories, characters, moods, moments – from almost every single one. Having said that, there are so many which, though I enjoyed reading them at the time, really didn’t leave a lasting impression. However, the title has to go to…

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter

I enjoyed reading it well enough, but this book stands out the most as the one that stands out the least, if that makes any sense.

Honourable mention: Lanny by Max Porter

I had an odd experience with this book. I thought it was wonderful – so unique, so visceral, engaging and a bit terrifying. I read it across two evenings in front of the fire, racing through the pages. But once it was finished, I felt as though it had just washed over me and I’d come through the other side unscathed. It’s not ‘forgettable’ by any means, but for whatever reason, reading it felt like streaking down the street in the night and then coming back inside and putting your clothes on and no one being any the wiser. It was over as soon as it had begun.

Biggest Disappointment

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Undoubtably. Even thinking about this book makes me irritated. The sense of superiority, the other-women-hating, the pettiness, the dense prose, the uneasy ending, the lack of clarity in the mood and tone. This book has to take the crown for Biggest Disappointment because of how good it could have been if it had been written with more self-awareness, more consideration. Read my full review here.

Also, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given

There isn’t enough space to go into it here (I’ve linked an article below), but it’s disappointing how much hype this book is getting – huge displays of it in bookshops, 22-year-old Given labelled the face of Gen Z feminism – given that A) this book does not really say anything new, but rather repackages things in an appealing way, B) the black-and-white tone of the book, the way in which messages are doled out like gospel despite being drawn from a very young person’s limited experience, and most importantly C) the fact that this book is extremely similar to another (What a Time to Be Alone by Chidera Eggerue) represented by the same management (Diving Bell) yet was promoted a vast amount more.

This is a disappointing indication of the differing treatment authors of different races receive in the publishing industry and the willingness of the reading public to buy into these patterns.

Here’s a great article from gal-dem on this issue.

My reading plans for 2021

This is what my to-read pile currently looks like. It is organised in chronological order because I am a massive nerd.

Yes, it’s a little ridiculous (it doesn’t live like that, it lives under my bed in smaller piles). I think there’s about 50 books on there.

Here are my reading resolutions for 2021:

  • Read 60 books – up from this year without being too much of a daunting challenge.
  • Do not buy any new books, except those for book club which cannot be procured by other means (eg borrowing from the library or a friend).
  • Use the library as much as possible, including audiobooks which I have discovered you can also borrow from the library!
  • Read at least one book from each decade from the 1870s to the 2020s.

Reading hopes for 2021

As you can guess by my second resolution, I’m keen to read as much of my to-read pile as possible. I’m particularly excited to read more Bernadine Evaristo and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I have two books from each of them on there. I’m also really keen to work through my collection of unread Victorian novels, starting with The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, which I’ve heard is a wild ride.

There are so many great authors working at the moment, so I’m excited to find out what book news and new releases will roll in in the year ahead. What do Ali Smith, Hilary Mantel, Bernadine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney and Zadie Smith have up their sleeves for us? And will we finally get a release date for The Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin? I really hope so.

To keep up with my reading, follow my blog, either with your email below or by following me on twitter, where I share my posts. You can also follow my goodreads account.

Let me know in the comments how your reading has gone in 2020, and what your plans are for 2021!

If you enjoyed this blog post, please consider buying me a coffee. Thank you!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. joanhistonauthor says:

    Like your selection of books!!!


    1. Thank you Joan! 🙂


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