My Favourite Books of 2020

Twenty twenty will go down in history for a lot of reasons.

For many, in a year of multiple lockdowns and restricted social contact, it was a year when TV reigned supreme.

But while CoVid brain and doom-scrolling certainly took its toll on me and I watched A LOT more TV than usual (related: why did I watch The Tiger King?), I still longed for and sought out the solitary escapism that reading provides and, on average, I somehow managed to read three to four books each month (a bumper haul in the January holidays always helps).

In total I read forty two books this year and below, I’m sharing my favourite thirty books of the year. Usually I’d only include my top twenty or twenty five but I decided to include all of the books I rated four or five stars out of five. Yes, I’m living on the edge!

Before I launch in, to give you some context, I approach reading as I do with most things: I look for variety. Sure I’m up for literary fiction and a compelling bio but I also like to dip in to pop fiction, crime fiction and the odd book of short stories or essays to mix things up.

I seek out Australian stories by Australian authors and try to support and promote emerging local talent too.

I also like quirky characters, witty dialogue and exotic locations as well as novels that explore contemporary and political issues or resonate in some other way. I also love a laugh, a good cry and am always here for a great saga.

Generally speaking, I find that by mixing things up, I can appreciate all genres which increases my overall reading pleasure. Does that make sense?

So here they are – my favourite books of the year, in order:

1. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

2. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

3. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

4. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

5. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

 6. Group by Christie Tate

7. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

8. Honeybee by Craig Silvey

9. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

10. Things I Don’t Want to Know and it’s sequel, The Cost of Living, both by Deborah Levy

11. Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

12. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

13. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

14. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

15. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

16. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

17. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

18. Melting Moments by Anna Goldsworthy

19. Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

20. The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

21. Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch

22. The Spill by Imbi Neeme

23. The Loudness of Unsaid Things by Hilde Hinton

24. Damascus by Christos Tsiliokas

25. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

26. There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

27. Fourteen by Shannon Molloy

28. Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

29. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

30. Actress by Anne Enright

In a shocker of a year, one of my highlights was the incredible variety and quality of books that I read. From literary fiction from some of my favourite authors (I’m looking at you Curtis Sittenfeld, Deborah Levy, Elizabeth Strout and Ann Patchett) through to some excellent home grown novels including some astonishing debuts, several compelling memoirs and some gritty historical fiction.

My favourite book this year was the brilliant Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld which I read in the lead up to the US election. This incredible book explores what might have happened if Hillary Clinton hadn’t married Bill and, with a cast of characters all featuring heavily in 2020, it really was the book that captured my imagination. I could not put it down and would thoroughly recommend it. This then lead me to Sittenfeld’s book of short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It  which I also loved – it came in at #4.

I also adored Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, the sequel to the fab Olive Kitteridge which I read back in 2017. It is even better than the first instalment and follows our original protagonist Olive in her old age. It is full of humour, heart, insightful observations and subtle nuances that are a delight to discover. Read the first book first though so you can fully enjoy Strout’s brilliance.

Like Rodham, I thought Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was a book for our times. This clever, contemporary book is an easy read but also a provocative one, with its unflinching observations of the dynamics of race, white privilege and class and how they play out in contemporary America. I really enjoyed this book and appreciated its many layers.

I continue to be amazed and impressed by the number and quality of authors locally. I was astonished by Jessie Tu’s unsettling but compelling debut novel A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing and I can’t wait to read her next offering. I loved Craig Silvey’s Honeybee and enjoyed every word of Anna Goldsworthy’s restrained but insightful Melting Moments. Julia Baird’s reflective (and non fiction) book Phosphorescence was the perfect balm for 2020 and I took pleasure in gifting it to girlfriends to read during this dreadful year.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Kokomo, The Spill and The Loudness of Unsaid Things, all of which were excellent debut contemporary fiction from Australian authors. They would all make for excellent holiday reading too.

There are several contemporary American authors whose books I thoroughly enjoyed this year and rated highly, particularly Claire Lombardo’s excellent contemporary family saga, The Most Fun We Ever Had and Anne Patchett’s The Dutch House. I also enjoyed the latest books by revered authors Anne Tyler and Anne Enright. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was great too although I didn’t enjoy it as much as her first book, The Mothers.

I also really enjoyed mysterious Italian author Elena Ferrante’s latest offering The Lying Life of Adults.

My favourite books in the non fiction stakes were the candid and compelling Group by Christie Tate which I inhaled in 36 hours earlier this week and the mini memoirs and insightful musings by British novelist Deborah Levy –Things I Don’t Want to Know and it’s sequel, The Cost of Living. Levy’s writing is so evocative and brilliant and I savour every word of her books. I also loved her most recent novel, The Man Who Saw Everything.

Also in memoirs, I can heartily recommend two local offerings – Clare Bowditch’s memoir, Your Own Kind of Girl and Fourteen by Shannon Molloy.

The most disturbing book I read besides A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing was the strange but brilliant The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, which won the 2020 International Booker Prize. Set in the dead of Winter in the Netherlands, reading this book was an almost visceral experience. The writing is incredible but the subject matter may polarise.

The funniest book I read this year was the original and slightly magical Nothing to See Here. The driest wit belonged to the dialogue in Exciting Times by Irish writer Naoise Dolan. I also loved the quirkiness and staccato prose of The Dept. of Speculation.

If you enjoy historical fiction, definitely check out The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, Damascus by Christos Tsiliokas and There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett.

If you’ve dipped in to this post to find a seriously page turning holiday read, along with the Australian books I’ve mentioned above, I’d recommend Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, Group by Christie Tate, Honeybee, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing and The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo.

To read more detailed reviews of all of the above books, head to my monthly reviews posts which you’ll find here.

Also Highly Recommended

To read my ‘best of’ posts for the last couple of years, head to:

Love a great bio?

As well as the titles listed above, you might like to check out this post with 21 Awesome Biographies and Memoirs.

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So over to you, what was your favourite book this year? Have you read many or any of the books listed above?