On National Read A Book Day I re-shared my Lockdown Library blog post on Facebook and Twitter. (Haven’t read it yet? Then you can find it right here!) “Surely you’ve read more since then?” my adoring fans asked. Damn tootin’ right I have. So here are some more of my thumbs up, thumbs down and “meh” 2020 Reading Recommendations.
In all honesty, I’ve read a lot of books this summer that I barely remember five minutes after turning the last page. I’ve skim read some. Some I’ve given up on altogether. In fact the best three books I read were re-reads of some old favourites – Life After Life, The Night Circus and The Snow Child.
Like many people, after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to have the tools at my disposal to educate and inform others, so that I could become a good ally, and a better anti-racist. This meant embracing both factual and fiction books by BAME writers.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This is the book that struck me the most, with carefully considered studies and investigation into racism and intersectionality. Ironically, Eddo-Lodge does want to talk to white people about race, by giving us the tools to hold our own conversations, to consider white privilege and to allay fears of a “black planet”. It explores a history of hatred, hostility and police brutality, and structural racism examined. Eddo-Lodge encourages the reader to listen, to learn, to intervene and to address inequality.
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. Saad holds up a mirror to the reader and asks them to carefully consider their own opinions and behaviour when it comes to race. She believes that awareness and ownership of racist behaviour, however small, can lead to action and change. Its an eye-opening but uncomfortable read at times.
Black and British by David Olusoga. I’m still ploughing my way through this hefty tome, mainly because it’s a history that deserves digesting carefully. It charts Black history, interwoven with British history, as they are indeed, one and the same. From Roman soldiers to slavery, throughout Georgian and Victorian Britain to both World Wars, there has been an important Black presence. The book is well researched, informative and engaging, ensuring there is a human element amongst the facts and figures.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardino Evaristo. This engaging novel follows the lives of 12 diverse women spanning different generations, decades, backgrounds and experiences. Evaristo’s writing style occasionally jars, but the narratives are interesting enough to persevere, and the characters are complex and flawed, but also realistic and relatable.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Another fiction book by a woman of colour, Queenie is a young black woman teetering on the edge of a breakdown. In denial about a break-up with her boyfriend, Queenie embarks on a series of unsuitable encounters, whilst also trying to understand the abandonment by her mother at a young age. Serious issues are dealt with relatively lightly in an attempt to keep the book bright and breezy; Carty-Williams could certainly have delved a little deeper and created a much more tormented Queenie.
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. If racism doesn’t get you worked up, how about gender equality? There’s a mind-blowing blizzard of stats and research which explore how the world is largely designed assuming the default human to be male. From air-conditioning and fire doors in offices, to PPE for our emergency services. From the safe dosage of prescription drugs to so-called safety measures in cars. Criado Perez calls out the data bias which makes women invisible. Did you know that it took a man with small hands to complain before a 7/8 piano was introduced, suitable for a typical female handspan?
Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. Exquisitely crafted, this is a series of vignettes which link together, woven around myth, legend and folklore. It is a story about story-telling, about the mystery of a young girl seemingly returned from the dead and how she touches the lives of many that dwell along the Thames. The river becomes a character in its own right.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I never bought into the whole “Eat Pray Love” thing but I loved this story of Vivian, a wide-eyed ingenue finding herself in the seedy world of New York showgirls and theatre folk. Celebrates women, freedom and sexuality against the backdrop of 1940’s America.
Find Layla by Meg Elison. This one was a bit of a hidden gem, recommended on the Amazon First Reads. I usually wouldn’t purchase such a short book (less than 200 pages) but it’s brevity makes it completely readable. Layla goes to great lengths to keep her family together after a video of her living conditions goes viral. It’s a story of poverty, abuse and neglect, played out in the age of social media.
The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary. I almost overlooked this one as EVERYONE seemed to be reading it, but I’m glad I didn’t. Told from two perspectives, it is the tale of Tiffy and Leon, who share a flat and a bed, even though they’ve never met. It’s charming, if more than a little predictable, and will make a wonderful romcom one day. I’ve since read O’Leary’s second novel ‘The Switch’ which follows in a very similar vein.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Dear Edward is a simple but touching story of a young boy coming to terms with being the sole survivor of an air crash which killed his family. Edward’s story is interspersed with those of the victims, and with the letters that their families send to him. It’s a coming of age story, which deals with guilt and grief beautifully.
Q by Christina Dalcher. Like her earlier novel ‘Vox’, Q is based in a dystopian future where the privileged hold all the power. Children are regularly tested so that schools can focus on the gifted, and the intellectually weak are weeded out. The parallels with the Holocaust and eugenics are strong as a mother battles to investigate the truth when one of her daughters fails to make the grade.
Ok, just because I found them distinctly average doesn’t mean you will too. But those on my “can’t remember the storyline five minutes after the end” include:
As well as ploughing through the aforementioned Black and British, I have two books on the go. Q&A by Vikas Swarup is the 2005 book on which the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was based. It tells the story of Ram Mohammed Thomas, a young man who is accused of cheating after winning a televised quiz show. I’m also currently reading The Five: The Untold Lives Of The Women Killed by Jack The Ripper, by Hollie Rubenhold.
There’s lots of books on my radar at the moment. Next on my list is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, but other books I’m hoping to read by the end of year include Olive by Emma Gannon, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, and The Pull Of The Stars by Emma Donoghue.
What else should I be reading? Let me know your 2020 Reading Recommendations in the comments! You can find all these books (and more) on Amazon, or even better, seek them out at your local independent bookstore or charity shop!