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  • Allie

2020 Reading Year in Review

In 2020 we experienced unexpected challenges, COVID-19 being the most pervasive. While I started this blog and my 2020 reading life with the desire to stretch myself, that desire waned as the pandemic has pushed me to my limits.

My hair has grown longer than it's been in years, and I’ve gotten quite good at cutting Mark’s hair, but we miss our hair stylist Nina and hope her business can survive being closed for so long. We’ve tried new restaurants for takeout, yet we’ve also eaten tons of Chipotle when we're hungry right now, and I can’t stand to cook another meal myself.

At work I've had to embrace tutoring students over Zoom. I’m thankful that I still have students to tutor at all with remote schooling, but I miss out on the most gratifying aspects of my job, seeing my students and coworkers in person, and the work feels more like work than it did before.

Mark and I celebrated a quiet Christmas far from what we consider home (Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Chicago suburbs). It's been a year since I hugged my mom and petted my cats who live with her. Its been a year since I have seen my grandmother’s face.

And how about that presidential election? I didn’t realize how much its outcome weighed on me until Biden was announced the winner, and I felt just a little bit lighter than before. Trump, that clown—sorry, that person—is going to be dragged out of office whether he likes it or not. But it feels like a small victory when it’s juxtaposed with the local Covid stats breaking records day after day.

This year has been tiresome and lonely, and those feelings pervaded my reading life. (I reread the Twilight series for heaven’s sake—a sure sign of these horrific times.) I found myself gravitating more toward fiction, whereas I used to read fiction and nonfiction equally. I was also drawn to books I read in the past but really enjoyed, such as the Hunger Games series and the Cormoran Strike mystery novels. I read for comfort, not for edification or or even entertainment.

Along with the Covid blues, I had to adapt to the libraries being closed without notice. The same dozen borrowed books sat on my shelf for months before they would even accept returns. It was midsummer before they created a system of online reservations and curbside pickup. To get new titles I occasionally purchased books, but mostly I adapted to reading audiobooks (my library cards provide me access to apps like Overdrive and Hoopla), which I had not explored in the past at all. You can read about my foray into audiobooks here and my penchant for easy audio reads in tough times here.

This year I read one hundred books—five more than I read last year. I read twice as much fiction as nonfiction, and thirty of the hundred titles were audiobooks.

Of the 43 reading challenge categories, I completed 38. Though I didn’t read a book in every category, I consider the experience a success. I learned from books I would never have considered reading, such as Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel and The Whale & the Cupcake by Julia O’Malley. I enjoyed the hunt for books that would fulfill the categories, books I might never have discovered otherwise but loved, such as Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words by Malka Marom and The Strays by Emily Bitto. You can read more about the books I read for reading challenges here.

2020 was also the year in which I challenged myself to create this blog. I wrote 65 posts (including this one) featuring 70 books. 25 of those posts were Wordy Wednesdays, in which I shared 76 words from my reading. Even though my verve for blogging fizzled out in the fall, I continued to read books, and I have ideas for how to make 2021 a better book-blogging year all the way through.

While I found new ways to make reading a joy and a comfort this year, in truth I yearn every day to walk the stacks of the library and pluck whatever book strikes my fancy. I yearn to visit a restaurant, to get on a plane and visit my family, to hug a friend, to drive to work, to throw all my face masks in the trash. We’ve all experienced loss this year, and I hope that most of what we have lost will be restored.

In the meantime, here are my top recommendations from my 2020 reading list. I’ve linked each of them to prior blog entries that feature them too.

My Dark Vanessa

Kate Elizabeth Russell

Russell began forming her ideas for this book back when she was in high school, and by using her teenage writing she captures the voice of a teenage girl who is lured into a sexual relationship with her teacher. While Russell shows us the limited perspective of fifteen-year-old Vanessa, I felt both compassion and horror for her as that limited perspective empowered her teacher over her. The audiobook narrated by Grace Gummer is superb.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Jenn Shapland

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers on a quilt with bookmark beside it

This book found me while the libraries were still open because of the puzzling title. How does someone write an autobiography about a person that is not herself? Shapland merges memoir with biography as she offers a new perspective on McCullers’ sexuality and her strokes while interweaving Shapland’s own congruent experiences.

Know My Name

Chanel Miller

Screenshot of the audiobook Know My Name by Chanel Miller read by the author

You probably know the story of Chanel Miller, the unnamed victim of a Stanford swimmer who attacked her at a frat party and received a mere six month jail sentence. Miller wrote a well-structured eloquent memoir about the experience and its aftermath. This is a detailed portrayal of what it means to be a victim of rape and to seek justice. Miller herself narrates the audiobook, which I recommend.

The Knockout Queen

Rufi Thorpe

The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe next to a bookmark with colorful triangles on it

A book about high schoolers that is not teen lit, The Knockout Queen was easily my favorite book of the year. I loved the protagonist’s voice, the writing hooked me, and I will definitely be returning to this book in years to come.

May these books be a salve to your fatigue and isolation, an escape from the pandemic’s effects both temporary and permanent. And may 2021 be both a great year and a great reading year for us all!

What were your favorite books of 2020? Share in the comments!

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