2020: a year in reading

2020: a year in reading by Ruth Dawkins

Despite everything that happened in 2020 – or perhaps even because of everything that happened – I’ve managed to keep up a pretty good pace of reading this year.

There’s still a week or so left in the year, but to date I’ve read 107 books. Ten less than last year, but still not bad.

The split was 48 fiction, 48 non-fiction, 8 poetry and 3 mixed anthologies. Three of them were audiobooks, and four of them were e-books that I was sent as a volunteer reader for the Highland Book Prize. The rest were hardcopy, sourced from a combination of new and second hand bookshops, op shops, loans from friends, and free little libraries.

Additionally, I started three books that I didn’t finish – but I tend not to name and shame when that happens, because reading is such a personal thing. Message me if you really want to know…

I thought I’d share my favourite fiction and non-fiction reads, along with a couple of poetry recommendations, in case you’re looking for some reading inspiration over the holidays. (Or perhaps a last-minute Christmas present!)



Greenwood by Michael Christie: a ripping good yarn with great characters and a little bit of science thrown in. Trees are central to the story, and the novel itself is structured like the rings of a trunk.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld: pure escapism, great fun, and a welcome distraction from real-world politics in 2020.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams: based on the true story of creating the first ever Oxford English Dictionary, this novel is a delightful celebration of language and an important exploration of power.

The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle: the first book I’ve ever read with chapters written from the perspectives of an octopus, a muttonbird and a seal. This novel, set in Tassie, is really beautifully done.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami: a short, sweet and gentle little book about a relationship with a big age gap. Translated from Japanese.

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire: I’ve long been a fan of Emily Maguire’s writing, and this unsettling novel is excellent. The first book I’ve ever read about a woman’s murder that is deeply humanising and free of stereotypes.

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke: a beautiful love story, perfect holiday reading.

This Lovely City by Louise Hare: set in Brixton in the late 40s and early 50s, this follows the story of a Windrush passenger. There’s music, murder, and secret family histories.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: at times very funny, and at times deeply uncomfortable, this is a refreshing take on race and privilege.

The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett: another brilliant writer. This is her most recent novel, wich spans a period from the 50s to the 90s and tells the stories of identical black girls – one who lives in the hometown she tried to escape years earlier, and one who secretly passes for white and shares nothing of her past with her new community.



Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: a beautifully written book, filled with grace and generosity – about Indigenous ways of living, and the importance of plants.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty: one of the most joyful books I can remember reading in a long time. It blows my mind that Dara can write like this – with such honesty, humour and clarity – when he’s only sixteen.

The Electricity of Every Living Thing by Katherine May: a memoir about walking, parenting, and receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult.

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy: I am so deeply envious of Levy’s style of writing, and the fact she can say so much in so few words.

Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem: finally! A book that made history interesting to me! I loved the way this weaves together past and present, with a focus on objects found along the Thames.

The Yellow House by Sarah M Broom: a beautiful portrait of a family, of a specific house, and of the city of New Orleans. I read this for the first time back in February, and loved it so much that I’m about to reread it again already.

A Map is Only One Story edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary: a collection of twenty essays by different writers dealing with the topics of family, immigration, and the meaning of home.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee: it’s a sign of how good this book is that I recommend it even though it gave me actual nightmares for a week as I was reading it. The writing is so excellent – it weaves together the narrative of Lee’s first year as a judge’s associate in Queensland and her personal fight as the complainant in a case. Content warning for violence and sexual assault.

Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison: another brilliant collection from every essayist’s writer crush.

All Who Live on Islands by Rose Lu: the debut memoir/essay collection by New Zealand writer Rose Lu, which tackles family, hiking, growing up, friendship, culture and food. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.



My bonus poetry recommendations are For to See the Elephant by Tammi Truax – a novel in verse that tells the story of the first elephant in America; and Plague Clothes by Robert Alan Jamieson – a collection written during his COVID-like illness earlier in the year, reflecting on the strangeness of lockdown.



I hope 2020 has been a good reading year for you… and that you’ve got a nice tall stash on the bedside table to kick off 2021.

If you’re still looking for inspiration but nothing in my list of favourites takes your fancy, then perhaps check out some of the other bookish blog posts I’ve shared in recent years: books to read when the world feels overwhelming, the best books about Tasmania, women’s nature writing, or the best books about motherhood.


 Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

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