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Well, 2020 has been a year I think most of us would rather forget! I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and well. In the midst of the chaos, we’ve all come to appreciate books even more, with their reassuring constancy and the opportunity they provide to escape reality for a bit.
So without further ado, in no particular order (because I am extremely indecisive!) here are the top 10 books that helped me survive 2020:
1) Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
In Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo intertwines twelve lives – mostly black, British women. Their voices range from Hattie, an ancient mixed-race grandma struggling to keep her family farm and her pride along with it, to Amma, a black lesbian playwright whose radical work is showing at the National Theatre for the first time.
Through this lively spectrum of characters, Evaristo explores the nuances of identity, connection, and what it means to be proud of who you are.
Read if: You want to enjoy a vibrant novel about the black British female experience, which acknowledges that one voice is never enough.
Full review here.
2) The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Lydia is one of the most feared Aunts in Gilead – but she’s about to go rogue with a secret manuscript.
Agnes and Daisy are both navigating the trials of coming-of-age – but with one raised inside and one outside Gilead, they might as well come from different planets.
These three unlikely women will be brought together to unite against the powerful Gileadean theocracy – challenging every single one of their assumptions about reality in the process.
Read if: You want to become immersed in a searingly realistic dystopian novel with a powerful feminist message.
Full review here.
3) Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
Isabella is a woman of deep religious belief, who is soon to enter a convent where she will begin her devout life as a nun. Shortly before she embarks, Isabella is informed that her beloved brother Claudio has been arrested by Lord Angelo. His sentence is death.
Isabella meets with Lord Angelo to plead for her brother’s life and he strikes a deal: her virginity in return for a pardon. Torn between a sister’s love and her unwavering religious faith, Isabella’s struggle dramatises the public and private battles for power that have raged for centuries…
Read if: You’re intrigued by the sound of a Shakespeare play that actually seems relevant to the modern world.
Theatre review here.
4) Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Racism isn’t just about overtly bigoted white nationalist groups – it’s everyone’s problem. In Me and White Supremacy Layla F. Saad generously provides a structured guide for people with white privilege to interrogate our relationship to racism. By the end, you’ll have a solid foundation to help you embark on genuine anti-racism work.
Read if: Every person with white privilege should read this book and take up the challenge of immersing themselves in an anti-racism journey.
Magazine article here.
5) The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Theo has just started a new job at The Grove, a psychiatric unit for violent female criminals. Top of the list of new patients he must take on is Alicia. Alicia seemed to have it all – a flourishing career as an artist and a loving husband – until the night she shot him in the head. Since that fateful night, Alicia has refused to speak a word.
Disentangling Alicia’s past and the motives for her crime is not going to be easy – especially when The Grove is hiding secrets of its own.
Read if: You want to be kept guessing by a stand-out thriller that deserves the hype.
Full review here.
6) A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
“Sing, Muse, he said, and I have sung … I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold.”
The names of the Trojan war heroes echo down the centuries – Achilles, Odysseus, Agamemnon – while the women drawn into its devastation remain a footnote in all these songs and stories.
In A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes attempts to imagine, not one, but many voices for these women. From the most powerful goddess to the lowliest priest girl that serves her, each is irrevocably changed by the men’s war, each has a story. And that story deserves to be told.
Read if: You’re in the mood for a rich and ambitious feminist retelling.
Full review here.
7) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Synopsis: Pecola Breedlove has only one wish: blue eyes. Growing up as a black girl in the structurally racist society of 1940s Ohio, it seems the only way to guarantee her survival.
Written in Toni Morrison’s characteristic no-holds-barred style, The Bluest Eye chronicles the effect that multiple burdens of oppression can have on one child’s small, fragile life.
Read if: You’re ready to be drawn into a deeply disturbing psychological depiction of internalised racism.
8) The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
The Shock of the Fall begins with nine-year-old Matthew experiencing a tragedy which he cannot tell us about. It’s just too painful. For the rest of the story, we follow him through the years of childhood, adolescence and into his first grimy flat and minimum-wage job.
All the while, Matthew’s grasp of reality fragments as he struggles to come to terms with what happened that fateful night on the coast.
Read if: You’re willing to be turned into an emotional wreck by this achingly poignant portrayal of mental illness.
Full review here.
9) Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Synopsis: Following a sort-of breakup with her boyfriend, Queenie enters full rebound mode. But as she trawls dating apps, she soon realises that hooking up is hard enough without the added problem of racial fetishisation. To make things even worse her old-fashioned relatives view therapy as shameful and her boss at the magazine isn’t letting her write about anything she genuinely cares about.
As she bounces haplessly from one poor decision to another, Queenie realises that there’s nothing like hitting rock bottom to give you a whole new set of priorities.
Read if: You’re looking for an incisive, darkly funny and character-centric exploration of a whole spectrum of social issues.
10) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Synopsis: Achilles may be one of the most feared warriors of the Trojan War, but after every battle he returns to his lover Patroclus, a man more suited to the medical tent than the heat of battle.
Focussing on a romance that defies the gods themselves, Madeline Miller takes a unique perspective on the Trojan war to illuminate one of the most epic love stories of all time.
Read if: You want to get your retelling fix with an ancient and deeply moving love story.
Have you read any of these books? What was your favourite read of 2020? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you! Wishing you lots of love and positivity for 2021 X x x