Can you believe we’re now halfway through the year? It doesn’t seem like two minutes since lockdown was announced in March and I hastily moved out of my student house to return home. Nevertheless, if there ever were a silver lining of the pandemic, I’ve had more time to lose myself in a book.
Given that I’m close to surpassing my Goodreads goal of 75 books, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the 66 titles I’ve read so far in 2020. As ever, I found it near impossible to give a single answer to each question. I put that down to how many incredible books I’ve already discovered in six months. So, for those of you who are curious about the highs and the lows of my 2020 reading so far, here’s the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag.
1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2020
I’ve already discovered so many new favourites this year that to list them all would be an entire post in itself. So, I managed to narrow them down to three unforgettable titles: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcíá Márquez, and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. All three of these novels, each set against the backdrop of true historical events, blew me away with their stunning prose and sweeping narratives.
2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020
I am remarkably terrible when it comes to finishing book series. However, in May I read the final instalment of The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, The Winter of the Witch, and it left me utterly speechless. In the finale, Arden masterfully blends Russian history and folklore, walking the line between reality and dark fantasy. For me, this is the best book in the trilogy: a brutal, fantastical finale brimming with terrifying demons and haunting imagery. The Winter of the Witch is a beautiful and bittersweet ending to an unforgettable yet extremely underrated series.
3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to
My list of must-read new releases grows by the day, but there are a few titles that I’ve seen flutter around bookstagram that I’m itching to get to. Rainbow Milk, an intersectional coming-of-age story by Paul Mendez; Women’s Prize longlisted Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan which received glowing praise from Dolly and Pandora on The High-Low podcast — aka the number one spot for book recommendations.
4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year
While I’m focused on getting through my backlist for the rest of 2020, I’m excited to read two upcoming sequels. First, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour is Hank Green’s sequel to his bizarre and utterly unique debut An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. You need to suspend your disbelief to enjoy this bizarre tale. Essentially, Green’s first book observes the mystery of the 64 giant, 10 feet tall robotic statues named ‘Carls’ that randomly appeared around the world. It’s also notable for its biting social commentary on culture, fame and fortune. Green ended the bizarre book on a rather vague note, so you can believe my excitement when I heard there was a sequel coming out to clear up some unanswered questions.
Another title I’m itching to get to is the finale of R. F. Kaung’s The Poppy War, The Burning God, set for release in November. This is an epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect. The Dragon Republic ended on a monumental cliff-hanger, laying out the pieces for what I can only anticipate will be an unforgettable conclusion of the series.
5. Biggest disappointment
Two disappointments for me this year happen to be a couple of much-loved classics: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and Dune by Frank Herbert.
Sometimes, I can’t help feeling slightly ashamed for not adoring such beloved classics like these. But who’s to say a little bit of criticism is off-limits for classics? For me, both of these books lacked charm, dragged in certain places, and I struggled to connect with the characters.
6. Biggest surprise
One surprise for me this year was Bernadine Evaristo’s literary sensation, Girl, Woman, Other. Now, I’d already seen heaps of glowing praise for this book and knew most readers loved it. However, I wasn’t sure how I would get on with the lack of punctuation; an approach dissimilar to anything I have ever read before. Despite my initial apprehension, after just a couple of pages, I seamlessly slipped into the heads of her unique characters. The book’s fluidity enabled Evaristo to inhabit her character snapshots, across separate timelines and stories, with so much life, nuance and intersectionality. Complex, intertwining, and simply, stunning: you can read my full review for Girl, Woman, Other here.
7. Favourite new author (debut or new to you)
An author I regret not having read sooner is definitely Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon was the first book of hers that I read and I was instantly swept up by the rich tapestry of stories comprising glorious magical realism. This marvel of a book introduced me to Morrison’s poetic language that packs so meaning into a mere few words.
Another author who has taken the literary world by a storm recently is Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half. This book that follows the journeys of two estranged twin sisters captured me from the beginning. What struck me most was the breath-taking detail and delicacy that Bennett aired in every sentence. I can’t wait to get my hands on the gorgeous new paperback edition of The Mothers coming out in the UK in August. Read more full review for The Vanishing Half here.
8. Newest fictional crush
Mr Augustus Everett, ladies and gentlemen. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Beach Read yet, then let me tell you, you are in for a treat. Gus is a writer of literary fiction who loves a dark ending. He’s mysterious, isn’t afraid to throw out a subtle compliment or ten and I just loved the snarky banter between him and January.
Also, Mr Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma – gallant, sensible, intelligent – might have stolen the top spot for my favourite Austen love interest (sorry, Mr Darcy) back in February. If anything, Autumn de Wilde’s film adaptation only intensified my fictional crush.
9. Newest favourite character
A new favourite character of mine is Ellen Olenska from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Following descriptions of Countess Olenska’s quirky outfits and dreams of female emancipation, it’s hard not to fall in love with her. And fall in love the novel’s main protagonist, Archer, does; she symbolizes to him a form of artistic freedom and escapism outside the reaches of society.
Another favourite is Eileen Cotton from Beth O’Leary’s The Switch. Eileen is nearly 80 years old but that by no means encumbers her joie de vivre. Rather, she tackles London’s hustle and bustle with a pep in her step, quickly befriends her granddaughter’s flatmates and neighbours, and even gives online dating a shot. What’s more, she is so brutally honest that she had me laughing out loud. If I can bear semblance to her when I’m in my late seventies, I’ll be thrilled.
10. Book that made you cry
Although you will find me crying at everything from Christmas adverts to a sloppy ending in a rom-com, it’s not often I will shed a tear at a book. Nontheless, One Moment by Linda Green made me reach for the tissues. This is an uplifting yet heart-breaking novel about the unconventional friendship between Finn, a quirky ten-year-old boy, and Kaz, a 59-year-old café worker. They have each grappled with their fair share of problems, but it was an absolute joy to witness Finn and Kaz’s new-fangled friendship blossom. Read my full review for One Moment here!
11. Book that made you happy
Scrolling through the books I’ve read this year, I seemed to have picked up a fair share of gloomy titles. However, The Switch deserves another mention here because it was so uplifting and exactly the kind of wholesome content I needed. Also, Jonathan Van Ness’s narration of his raw, unflinching memoir, Over the Top, was such a joy to listen to. Despite having met so much trauma, JVN radiates fierce positivity and offers his readers a wealth of amazing advice without coming across as preachy. I remember laughing out loud while walking to the gym at 6 am when usually I can just about crack a smile at that time.
12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)
Beautiful books are always hard to resist, and Hamnet, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and The Starless Sea are three books which take pride of place on my bookshelves. The latter has been giving me evils ever since buying it way back in New Year.
13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
If you’ve read my Summer Reading List, you’ll know that I’m feeling a tad optimistic with how many books I want to read over the next few months. Nevertheless, out of the stack, I’m most excited to read John Steinbeck’s renowned classic, East of Eden.
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?