In 2020 I wanted to get back into reading after 7 straight months of reading exactly ~nothing~ in 2019, and I thought I’d do so by starting with a list of books I’d wanted to read throughout my degree (and before) but didn’t get a chance to. So, I made a list, and started there. In the end I completed 31 books in the year, so here they are, in the order I read them. 📚
- Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup
Admittedly, I started this in December 2019, having decided one day to finally watch the film everyone had raved so much about a few years earlier. I didn’t know much about the story, just the title and that the film had, according to my mother, been ‘quite graphic’. However, I did study various elements of slavery while at university, including a lot of primary sources, so I thought it unlikely anything would come as a particular shock to me, even if it would be uncomfortable to encounter. At the end of the book, Northup comments on how, if anything, his account of time in slavery has been too optimistic, and I’d say I agree. It’s a brilliant, touching, educational, frightening narration of something that ought never be repeated, and to those who know little to nothing of slavery across Europe and America, it would indeed be shocking. As strange as it sounds I enjoyed this book – in that I truly appreciate that Northup was brave enough to share it, especially as such a measured and well written account.
2. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
Again, I took the prompt to read this book from having seen the screen adaptation (remember, I was trying to restart my love for reading, so an easy-in seemed a good start). The TV series Outlander is brilliant, though I appreciate people have differing views on the sex portrayed in it. I was not quite expecting the length of Gabaldon’s works, as each Outlander book is around the 900-page mark. This is one I read on my Kindle, which I do find can help with exceptionally long books like this, because not only do you not have to suffer the actual weight of the books, but you can avoid the rather daunting aspect of a very thick book in which you have made little progress so far. But, as far as the book itself went, I found it as entertaining as the series. I was surprised by how faithful the TV adaptation of the first book had been, as relatively little differed from book to screen, and Gabaldon’s narrative is easy to process – a strong positive for books of such scope.
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
Prisoner of Azkaban has long been my favourite of the HP series, in both book and film form, and the series is so well known there’s little I need to say here. I absolutely adore the relationship between Harry and Sirius, and this is the first book of the series where things really start to turn dark. This book also has one of the best plot twists I’ve ever come across, when we discover Sirius is not the baddie he’s made out to be. I felt I deserved this short, nostalgic read after finishing Outlander!
4. The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon
This was my first venture into Shannon’s works, having followed her on Twitter for quite some time – for most of the time, in fact, that she had been working on this book. So it’s safe to say I was eager to read the book I’d been seeing her work on for so long, and I pre-ordered the book long before it finally arrived in shops, but never got round to actually picking it up. The hardback is a beautiful, impressive, and very heavy thing, and I really like reading lying down in bed, so after a couple of chapters I actually bought it on Kindle as well, and continued from there. I did enjoy the book, but I think it deserves a re-read for me to appreciate it fully as it was quite removed from what I’d been reading for so many years (it’s an epic fantasy with incredibly crafted worldbuilding and impressive dragons, and most of what I’d read for 3 years had been non-fiction/middle English/less fantastic). However I do now also wish to read The Bone Season series of hers, so I’m definitely going to try to get hold of those in future.
5. The Hormone Diaries, Hannah Witton
I’ve been subscribed to Hannah Witton for a while, so when she came out with this book I thought I’d see what she had to say. She actually has many voices in the book from her subscribers who submitted their own experiences with bodily-related issues, including endometriosis and more. I can’t say I found anything particularly new in there, but it was an easy read.
6. Becoming, Michelle Obama
Becoming is an account of Michelle Obama from her Chicago roots to now, post-White House. It was interesting to me to hear her thoughts on the Black American experience and how race and wealth played into her life, and also how she felt she progressed into the person she is now – having gone from complete reluctance to step into the public eye to embracing the opportunity for change that it brings. I admire how she mentions all the people who helped her along the way, and she comes across as quite a genuine person.
7. When the Curtain Falls, Carrie Hope Fletcher
To be honest, this book could easily have ended up on the DNF list. I thought the premise was great, but the delivery lacked. There wasn’t much depth to any of the characters, it felt rushed in places, and I felt it lacked eloquence. I gave it a go as I like Carrie Hope Fletcher as a person, influencer, performer, but here I felt she let herself down.
8. Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (& Other Lies), Scarlett Curtis
A book everyone should read! This book came out in 2018 while I was in my third year of university and I lacked the time to read it then, but a copy ended up in my hands at the end of February 2020 so I was eager to get started. I listened to the podcast of the same name Curtis released shortly after the book, on which a variety of guests who had contributed to the book came on to discuss their essays, so I did it in a bit of a backwards order, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Some contributions were short, some long, but I liked reading about various women’s experiences with feminism and womanhood. I’m a firm, lifelong feminist, so this was definitely up my alley.
9. Doing It!, Hannah Witton
I had this on my Kindle, though I don’t particularly remember buying it, so I gave it a quick read – I say ‘quick’ because I don’t think I was the target audience for this one, but I appreciate what Whitton was aiming for, and for the right audience it probably is a valuable book to have.
10. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
Whatever you may think about the series, this was a comfort reread, pure and simple. I wasn’t on the initial Twilight bandwagon until the last book came out, and I was never a fanatic, but I like the story. No, I don’t think the relationship is healthy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the narrative.
11. Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion, Emma Marriott
A friend gave me this book as a present in 2019, knowing both my love for Downton Abbey and my interest in filmmaking. It’s full of interviews with the cast and little facts and tidbits, many photos, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
12. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, Greta Thunberg
Short and sweet, this is Thunberg’s plea for change to save the planet. It consists of a variety of her speeches, including her address to the United Nations. I listened to this on Audible, so it was narrated by Thunberg herself. I can’t say I was persuaded by it, because I already agree with her, but I have great respect for Thunberg and for using the platform she’s managed to obtain, while retaining a sense of humour for those who seem remarkably determined to criticise her.
13. New Moon, Stephenie Meyer
Yup, another comfort reread. Trying to stave off the return of the reading slump.
14. Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag
This was an essay on how the depictions of pain affect people, whether it deters, incites, or desensitises us. I’ll admit I got a little lost by it and I think Sontag could have kept a more linear narrative.
15. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
I saw this film loads growing up; it’s one of the best films ever made, if you ask me. I thought it was high time I read the book, and it did not disappoint. It’s funny, it’s easy to read, it’s clever – everything you could ask of a light-hearted piece of fiction. The premise is rather confusing to explain, but Goldman claims to be retelling a ‘highlights only’ version of a tale his father used to read him, cutting out long and arduous passages. It’s utterly ridiculous and I couldn’t wish for more.
16. The Pale Dreamer, Samantha Shannon
I believe this is sort of a ‘0.5’ in the Shannon’s The Bone Season which I purchased while it was on offer. Shannon says it’s the best introduction to the world the series takes place in, and it served its purpose – I’ll be purchasing the series in time to come.
17. Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer
Are you getting the gist yet?
18. Skincare, Caroline Hirons
I’ve followed various UK beauty bloggers for a long time now, and all seem united in their respect for Hirons and her advice. She’s a qualified beautician with a bunch of certifications, and this book is the holy grail of ‘what on earth is my skin doing?’ I read this very quickly, made many a note, and have since implemented things she recommends in the book. And lo and behold, they actually work!
19. Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon
At this point in the year it felt like time for Book Two of the Outlander series. This one differed from what I remembered of the TV series a little more than the first, but was still highly enjoyable. If you’re interested in historical fiction, or Scottish highlander culture, or romance, or any combination thereof, this is a series you should check out. Just don’t be put off by the length!
20. Mumlife, Louise Pentland
I’m not a mum, but I have loosely followed Louise online for a number of years, and I knew this book included some detail of her life, including her rather difficult childhood. I have great sympathy for what Louise went through, and even greater respect for her support for child services now; all profits from this book went to the NSPCC.
21. How Do You Like Me Now? Holly Bourne
Not the best book I’ve ever read, but I recall the ending being better than the beginning. It’s the type of relatively relatable, relatively predictable, easy to digest book you’d read in a couple of days on holiday somewhere.
22. Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer
… You know the drill. But at this point I was also in possession of Midnight Sun, so I felt I may as well finish what I’d started before diving in.
23. Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer
Surprise! Bet you never guessed this book was next in line. This is the ‘Edward’ version of the Twilight series, though I did think it would cover the entire span of the series – that was just the impression I got from the publicity around it, so I was somewhat surprised that it only covers the first instalment of the series. Is she releasing more? I don’t actually know. I know it got a lot of mixed reviews, but I thought it was kind of fun.
24. Pretending, Holly Bourne
I spent a lot of time thinking the first half of this book was essentially the same as How Do You Like Me Now?. The characters could have been the same exact people and I wouldn’t have been surprised. It picked up towards the second half, but if there had been more character development and depth I would have enjoyed it more.
25. The Constitution of the United States, Founding Fathers
As a person with half a degree in history, this isn’t a surprising choice of reading. I was also eager to read this after seeing Hamilton on Disney+ (thank goodness the performance was recorded), because I recognised that some of the lyrics were directly lifted from the Constitution. Another reason I wanted to read this is because of my interest in the general American political landscape – you know, the whole second amendment dramatics and the modern argument that the Constitution can’t be changed (I have no idea what those particular Americans think the word ‘amendment’ means but they certainly can’t realise its actual definition).
26. A Life on Our Planet, David Attenborough
If I could make any person I meet read one book on the whole of this list, it’s this one. It says everything we’re doing wrong for the planet, but most importantly – and this is the bit I want to scream from the rooftops, broadcast on every TV and radio channel, make into pop-ups on every website available, brand onto clothing, and paint across the roads – it also lists all the solutions. Attenborough seems like this is his final plea, his “this is everything I have” speech, and he’s asking us all to listen. Nothing that is done on an individual level to combat climate change will matter unless the majority of those with influence, in power, with the wealth and say-so to make large alterations, actually make the necessary choices. And they’re all listed right here!
27. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins
I felt like we were all taking a trip back to 2012 when I realised both Midnight Sun and this book were being released in 2020, both revisiting worlds that absolutely dominated pop culture in my teen years. There was a fair bit of dismissal online when people realised this book was about the formative years of the life of President Snow, enemy #1 of the Hunger Games trilogy, but I can’t say I was deterred. There’s something tantalisingly interesting about a villain backstory – it doesn’t need to make you agree with them, doesn’t mean anything is justified, but it does provide a fascinating insight. And that’s what I felt this book provided. I enjoyed how the song The Hanging Tree became a part of this book, how we see President Snow and his early moral dilemmas. I do actually hope we get a follow up to this book, though I’m not sure we will.
28. The Magpie Society, Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch
I first subscribed to Zoe Sugg’s YouTube channels back around the time she first reached 1 million subscribers, which was some considerable time ago now. She of course is the author/part-author (she used a ghostwriter) for the Girl Online series, but when she announced this shared project, exploring a thriller-type teen narrative with a darker side, my interest was piqued. Girl Online wasn’t really for me, and while I would typically now choose something a little more mature than The Magpie Society turned out to be, it was still a good read. Nothing exceptional, but a solid choice.
29. The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates
I chose to purchase this book after watching her interview on David Letterman’s ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction’ show on Netflix. I’ve never known too much about the Gates’ philanthropic enterprises but I was impressed by what I heard on the interview and she mentioned her book, so here we are. I don’t know quite what I wanted out of it, but I think I expected more than I got. She focuses a little too much for my taste on spirituality and her own experience, where I was hoping for more statistics and philanthropic narrative.
30. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
What can I say, it was December and the film was on TV.
31. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
So there it is, all 31 books I completed in 2020, together with my thoughts on them. This post has been quite long enough so I think I’ll leave it there!