Buckle in, readers, this is going to be a long one!
I started 2020 with the ambitious goal of reading 52 books throughout the year. but ended up more than doubling that. I read some incredible books – in fact, there’s almost nothing on here that I wouldn’t recommend to someone. There were indeed some stand-outs, and I’ve compiled my top 5 books in a few different categories, as well as a top 5 and top 20 books overall – because it was hard to narrow it down! I’ve really enjoyed challenging myself to read new things this year – I read more non-fiction than I normally do, I got back into reading comics again, and most of my books were written by own voices and/or BIPOC authors, and feature diverse and authentic representation of characters and experiences.
Total books read: 111
New-to-me authors: 68
Books featuring significant diverse content/ characters: 84
Books by diverse authors: 73
Comics/ graphics: 36
Picture books: 13
Main genres: Contemporary (46), Fantasy (31), Sci-fi (27)
Most recommended books: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
Most purchased book: Euphoria Kids.
I focused a lot this year on #diversifyingmybookshelf – consciously reading books by authors of colour, and featuring BIPOC characters that were authentically represented. I’ve always read queer literature pretty extensively, and one of my increasing focuses as the year went on was the representation of mental health and disability in my reading, particularly in YA books. I’ve enjoyed some of these #ownvoices reads most of all, and will be seeking out more fiction that presents these types of issues and characters in authentic and meaningful ways.
2020 was a good reading year for me, and I was surprised to see that I’d read more contemporary than anything else – I think of myself as a sci-fi/fantasy girl! I’m using TheStorygraph to track my #2021readingchallenge, so I’m interested to see how those stats come out at the end of this year – the above info is taken from my highly unscientific excel spreadsheet dump, after I realised that GoodReads wasn’t going to give me the goods.
Top Books Overall
I’ve been debating how to present my top 10 list of reads from 2020, and figured out that whilst I can do a top 5 easily, narrowing the next 5 down was considerably more difficult. So, here are my top 5 reads of last year, along with a top 20.
Every single book in my top 5 I will read again, and have recommended to multiple people. I’ve also purchased multiple copies of them to give as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and “just because” gifts throughout the year.
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
- The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria “V.E.” Schwab
- Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
- The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
The rest of my top 20 are all excellent reads, and all for different reasons. Some made me laugh. Some made me cry. They all made me think, and feel a whole lot of feelz. They all made me proud to be a reader, and inspired me more to strive to be a writer. At least half of them could have made it into my top 5 if one of the aforementioned authors had done a less-than-perfect job on their books. So here are 6-20 on my top 20, in no particular order:
- How it feels to float, by Helena Fox
- Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz
- Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
- The Strangeworlds travel agency by LD Lapinski
- Children of blood and bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Long way down by Jason Reynolds
- The poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Anxious people by Fredrik Backman
- Future Girl by Asphyxia
- They both die at the end by Adam Silvera
- Snow, glass, apples, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
- Wonder Woman rebirth by Greg Rucka
- Catch and kill by Ronan Farrow
- Black enough: stories of being young and black in America, Ed by Ibi Zoboi
- Peta Lyre’s rating normal by Anna Whateley
Top 5 YA reads
I read a lot of YA – most than half the books in my 111 total for the year were young adult, and all of them great, so this was hard to narrow down. I didn’t include Euphoria Kids, which was on my top5 best books overall list, and that gave me room for one more on here, which I desperately needed.
I didn’t realise until taking this photo that this collection has a nice spread of issues and characters – queer, neurodivergence, race, mental health, disability – and it probably more fully captures my reading interests than any of my other top5 lists!
In no particular order (well ok – in the order they appear in the photo, but not in any order to assign preference, because they all freaking rock and you should read them all if you haven’t yet):
- How it feels to float by Helena Fox
- Future girl by Asphyxia
- Peta Lyre’s rating normal by Anna Whateley
- Children of blood and bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Reiterating here – read these books. I will say, though, some/ most of them deal with some heavy content at some point. Trigger warnings particularly for mental health issues in HIFTF and PLRN, suicidal ideation in HIFTF, some extreme violence/torture/ racial discrimination in COBAB, dystopian issues around food insecurity in FG, family abandonment in PLRN. I’m not telling you this to discourage you – I just really believe you need to know what you’re getting into sometimes, and if these issues might be particularly triggering for you right now, wait until you’re feeling more able to cope with their fictional representation before you pick up these books. But please, pick them up. Outstanding novels, all.
Top 5 Poetry reads
My top 5 poetry reads for 2020 are all verse novels. I love the verse novel form, and I read quite a few last year. My faves, in no particular order, are:
- Worse things by @sallymurphyauthor
- Long way down by @jasonreynolds83
- The poet X by @acevedowrites
- Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
- The crossover by @kwamealexander
A couple of these could also have made their way onto some of my other Top 5 lists – Worse Things is an excellent middle grade/ lower secondary novel, and The Poet X is one of the best YA books I’ve read this year. They’re all excellent reads. If you have slightly reluctant readers, or those who struggle to find the time to read a full-length traditional novel, I highly recommend the verse novel format as a way to help bridge that gap for them.
One of the features I love about verse novels is how the form seems to allow us to connect with characters on a deep emotional level, and after reading a few of these earlier in the year I started dabbling in writing in verse for my NaNoWriMo project. I’m really loving it, both as a reader and a writer. If you’ve not read a verse novel before, any of these would be great places to start.
Top 5 picture books
My top 5 picture books are all very different. Ranging from sweet easy read-along books suitable for younger children, to something to inspire deeper thought for middle grade readers, to deep and complex examination of capitalism, exploitation of workers, and human rights.
My top 5, in no particular order, are:
- How to make a bird, by @megmckinlay and @mattottleyart
- Migrants, by Issa Watanabe
- Julian at the wedding, by @jesslovedraws
- Diamonds, by Armin Greder
- Alphabetical Tashi by Anna and Barbara Fienberg
I love picture books. I believe that they offer incredible opportunities to engage with stories for readers of all ages and skill levels. And yet, when it came to including them on my #2020readingchallenge
list, I still kind of felt a bit like I was cheating. They don’t take nearly as long as a full-sized prose novel. Could I really justify including a book with no words on a reading list? Turns out, yes. Yes I can. Because the length of time a book takes to consume doesn’t influence its impact. What matters is that you find a world to immerse yourself in that engages you, that entertains, inspires, challenges or comforts you while you read it, and hopefully beyond that. All of these books did that for me, from the nostalgia of Tashi to the inspiration of How to make a bird to the challenge of Diamonds. If you want to read more, but don’t feel like you have time, head into your library and ask them to point you to their collection of picture books for older readers. They aren’t just for little kids until they’re ready to move onto “real” reading. What was your favourite picture book of 2020?
Top 5 Comic/ Graphic reads
2020 was the year of rediscovering my love of comics. I used to read them a bit when I was a kid, but stopped when I was around 12 – I don’t remember why. For the past few years I’ve wanted to get back into reading them, but there always seemed to be such a big barrier to entry and I didn’t know where to start. After a discussion with Jacob, though, I did a bit of research, asked some comic nerd friends for advice, and bit the bullet. I’ve read 36 comics and graphic novels this year, and I’ve loved the diversity of the worlds and characters I’ve discovered. One of Jacob’s friends recommended “anything by Greg Rucka”, and that has proven to be useful advice indeed. My top 5 comic/ graphic reads for 2020 are:
- Ms Marvel, vol1
- Wonder Woman Rebirth, vol1, by @ruckawriter et al
- The old guard, another Rucka masterpiece.
- Heartstopper, by Alice Oseman
- Lumberjanes, by @gingerhazing et al
If you don’t read comics but would like to, here are my tried and true tips for getting started!
Pick a character from pop culture you like and do some googling. Comic fans somewhere will have debated the best entry point to get into their story!
Have you loved a tv show that’s based on a comic or graphic? Get that! You already know you’ll enjoy the story and characters, no matter how weirdly different they may be in comic form (I’m looking at you, Umbrella Academy).
There are plenty of graphic novels adapted from traditional novels – check to see if there are any made of books you like.
If you find the prospect of a whole comic series daunting, try a shorter arc. I’m currently reading Marvel 1602 and I think it’s be a great comic entry point for MCU fans who want to start reading comics (plus, it’s written by @neilhimself!)
And finally, do some research to find your most helpful local comic store. I’ve loved the service at @kingscomics, and they’ve really helped me develop my comics collection this year. I tend to do most of my inquiries online, because whilst they all seem great in person, I still have some “middle aged woman in a comic store” hang ups when it comes to asking for advice in store. The staff are great, though, and know their stuff.
Top 5 middle grade reads
One more top5 for today- my fave middle grade reads of my #2020readingchallenge
. Some are solid middle grade books, others are transitional middle grade/ YA – all are excellent reads.
- George, by @alexginoofficial
- The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, by @ldlapinski
- Ghost, by @jasonreynolds83
- Bindi, by @kirli.saunders and @dubleffler
- Hollowpox: the hunt for Morrigan Crow, by @digressica
There’s some diversity here. An illustrated verse novel about Indigenous family and community. A black kid finding his place on a track team. A trans girl dealing with coming out to her family and friends. And a couple of cracker middle grade/ YAish fantasy books with fantastic complex characters. I think Hollowpox is the pick of the Morrigan Crow series, for what it’s worth, and I have high hopes for what comes next in the Strangeworlds series. Younger readers can deal with deeper and more complex issues than we give them credit for, especially when those issues are presented with such beautiful, sensitive and thoughtful writing as it is by these authors.
Have you read any of these? What do you think?
Top 5 Non-fiction reads
My top 5 non-fiction for 2020 is an eclectic bunch. I don’t tend to read a lot of non-fiction, so the fact that I had enough for a top 5 was a surprise to me – in fact, 10% of my #2020readingchallenge
was non-fiction books.
The best of them for me were:
- Stamped from the beginning: a history of racist ideas in America, by @ibramxk (YA version pictured – I listened to the audiobook on Spotify)
- Dragon Hoops, by @geneluenyang
- Astronauts: Women on the final frontier, by @gtlabsrat and @mariswicks
- Living on stolen land, by Ambelin Kwaymullina
- Catch and Kill: lies, spies, and a conspiracy to protect predators, by @ronanfarrow
It’s an eclectic mix. A detailed historical examination of racist ideas in the US. A graphic novel memoir of the author’s life in parallel with his portrayal of the championship basketball team at his school. A graphic novel history of women’s involvement in the space program. A verse novel manifesto about the importance of acknowledging Indigenous custodianship of the land. And, finally, and expose on one of the key cases of the #metoo
movement. I’ve enjoyed consciously reading a bit more non-fiction this year, and will be looking for more, particularly those in non-prose form. I’ve enjoyed the graphic novel format for non-fiction, and it allows for some deeper reflections on the nature of memory and recreating history on the page.
So, that’s my 2020 in books. At the time of posting this, I’m already about 8 books into my 2021 reading challenge – I’ve not set myself a number target this year, but I am hoping read a similar amount of diverse and interesting stories. I’m starting a reread of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which I’m really looking forward to, and I’m going to read more middle grade books – it’s an area that I don’t read widely from. I hope you read something great last year – if you didn’t that’s ok too. Start now! If you want any recommendations, hit me up – it’d be an honour to help you find your next favourite read.
Love is not enough, by Mark Manson
Title: Love is not enough
Author: Mark Manson
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Romance. Relationships. Self-help.
Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, you can find this book on Booktopia, or support your local independent bookstore. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.
When I do housework I tend to listen to non-fiction audiobooks, and yesterday whilst mowing the lawns I started on this one, mostly because it was relatively short (the other option in my audible library was Barrack Obama’s new book at 29 hours long!)
I’ve not read Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and I’m not quite sure why I had this in my library – maybe it was one of those free options one month? I also don’t think this was necessarily the book I needed to listen to right now, as I deal with some sadness over my long distance relationship (the distance part, not the relationship part) and have been reflecting on previous relationships and how they have impacted my almost non-existent social circle right now. This was a slightly challenging read on that score, examining some of the areas that people get trapped in as they try to establish positive relationships. I recognised areas that I struggled with in the past. I identified some aspects of my personality that I deal with currently, and am cognisant of the impact of them on the people around me.
This is a thoughtful and conversational book, which presents almost more like a collection of podcasts, featuring interviews with a number of people with a range of relationship issues and dynamics. It’s an interesting read, and I’m glad I finished it – partly so I can stop dwelling on it for my own sanity, but partly also because it did help provide me with some context and reassurance that decisions I’ve made in relationships have been the right ones … eventually, if not initially. It was gratifying to hear Manson identify so many elements that I value about my relationship with Jacob as being as being key markers in healthy and successful relationships. If you’re into practical, positive and realistic self-help books, and want to do a check-in on your own relationship status, this might be a good option for you.
#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 107/100
Cassandra speaks, by Elizabeth Lesser
Title: Cassandra speaks: When women are the storytellers, the human story changes
Author: Elizabeth Lesser
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Gender. Women’s role in storytelling and history.
I grabbed this audiobook after this book was announced as the first pick for book club running along with the Amanda Palmer podcast
. Cassandra Speaks looks at the history of storytelling by and about women – the narratives that are shaped by history, and how they impact how women see themselves in their own and other people’s stories. I’ve been listening to it on and off over the past couple of weeks, and today’s final chapters dealt, appropriately, with imposter syndrome.
I enjoyed what I remember of this book, but I’m coming to realise that when I’m listening to non-fiction I tend to disconnect sometimes in ways that I don’t do when listening to fiction audiobooks. I don’t think my review of this book does it justice – if you’re interested in feminism, the role of women in shaping the narrative of history, and how women and re-evaluate and revalue their own position in the story of life, this might be a good read for you.
#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 74/100
Stamped from the beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
Title: Stamped from the beginning
Author: Ibram X Kendi
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Race. Racism. History.
Shop local where you can: For Australian readers, search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia. US readers, check out Bookshop.org.
I started this book by Ibram X Kendi months ago – I had ordered the YA version but it’s still not arrived, and in the meantime I found the audiobook available for free on Spotify. I highly recommend it – a thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the history of racist ideas in America, and how and why anti-racist actions and sentiments often fail. It’s taken me a long time to get through it because I found it really thought-provoking, and oftentimes wanted to just let some ideas sit for a bit before I moved on.
Hot tip for listening to the Spotify audiobook version- pay attention to where you’re up to. If you don’t, and then go off and listen to something else, you won’t be able to find your place when you come back to it. Even bigger hot tip – do NOT accidentally bump the shuffle button. It makes things VERY hard to follow.
#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 54/100
Living on Stolen Land, by Ambelin Kwaymullina
Title: Living on Stolen Land
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Indigenous culture. Settler-colonialism. Race.
Shop local where you can: search Indies to locate your closest independent bookstore, or find it on Booktopia.
I love Ambelin Kwaymullina’s work, and this little book is punching well above its weight. It’s 60 pages of prose about the stolen land we live on, the impact of settler colonialism on indigenous people, and the ways in which we as non-indigenous people interact with the traditional owners of this land. A timely and important book which examines what we need to do if we are serious about decolonising this country. Magabala Books publish some excellent indigenous work, so if you’re after something to read which provides a solid foundation on which to build your understanding of Indigenous culture, or want to read some fab fiction by Indigenous authors and illustrators, check them out.
#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 32/52
On hope, by Daisy Jeffrey
Title: On hope
Author: Daisy Jeffrey
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Memoir. Environmental issues. Youth activism.
Non-fiction is not really a genre I delve into very often, but in the interests of picking up the pace in my 2020 Reading Challenge I decided to give this one a go. Written by Daisy Jeffrey as part of the Hachette Australia Little Books, Big Ideas series, it’s a compelling discursive piece on the power of hope, believing you can make a difference, and putting that belief into action. Daisy is 17 years old, and is one of the key leaders of the Students for Climate Change actions that have been gaining prominence over the past year or so. It’s a fascinating insight into how you balance everyday concerns (family, friends, school) with a desire to change the world for the better – or at least, call on those with the power to do so to step up and do their jobs. I particularly love Daisy’s thoughts on the dangers of only hearing the voices of people who think like you, but balancing this with the need to recognise that at some point, truth matters. A powerful piece of writing from a writer who is dealing with her HSC right now – it’s just been added to the #nswprc booklists as well, so if you’ve got students taking part in that pick this up for them to read, then have a read yourself!
#TamaraReads #2020readingchallenge 18/52