2020: A Reading Review

Last year was a weird year for many reasons, but what I didn’t expect was how much of an negative impact it would have on my reading. In all honesty, the numbers don’t matter a jot, for everyday life will always have an impact on the amount of time each of us have for reading. What did surprise me was that I couldn’t concentrate on reading – being fidgety and unable to settle – as it’s reading which normally calms me. So I re-read a lot of old comfort reads and a bit of non-fiction, which eventually seemed to set me on the reading road again.

The unexpected highlight of 2020’s limited new books haul was that for the first time ever, I rated over half as very good or excellent – unexpected for I’m known for being quite tough with my ratings. It led me to wonder if I’d been so pitifully grateful when the dam broke that I slipped into over-generosity, especially when none received less than the 3 star rating of good. But on reviewing my selections, I appear to have sensibly picked a combination of those authors I know will deliver for me, and books which have been widely well received.

The standout for me was Irish author Sebastian Barry – from whom I read six linked, if standalone tales, of the Dunne/McNulty family – the germ of each story coming from Barry’s own family history. Each individual’s tale is told with such unswerving honesty and yet a loving kindness. While they are very different, I particularly enjoyed the small overlaps, for they provided a new insight into the characters whose stories had gone before. I’ve read this well almost dry, as only two tales remain – one of which is a play. Much of Barry’s output was intended for the stage, so let’s see how I feel when I’ve run out of other options from his pen. Although the personal aspects of the stories are wonderful, I especially commend his books to you for the lyricism of his descriptive prose.

An old school friend (hi Sarah 🙂 ) suggested a Facebook group linked to UK newspapers The Times and The Sunday Times. Membership of this group has provided excellent recommendations, and therefore been hugely dangerous to the size of my TBR – indeed I wonder if this was the route to my discovering the works of Sebastian Barry. Certainly that is where I picked up recommendations for Jane Gardam and William Boyd, whose back catalogues I’m currently mining with pleasure. Both write wonderfully about people and relationships, with the added bonus that Boyd also writes marvellously about Africa. Not in a vast plains and wild life kind of way, rather by understanding the nuances of how it works and its people.

Another online recommendation (thanks Marty 🙂 ) for Pachinko proved fascinating reading – a family story in the sphere of the Korean-Japanese relationship – not an area I knew anything about. As a child of the third world, I love nothing more than a good story played out against the backdrop of a new (to me) country and its history.

Two other recommendations received from bloggers (although I’m afraid that my old brain cannot remember their source now) were Emily St John Mandel and Becky Chambers. Despite neither writing what would be my normal fare – the first being the author of post-apocalyptic tale Station Eleven which I read just as the COVID pandemic was spreading its tentacles, and the second whose genre is space opera – both have been rapidly added to my list of “authors to look out for”.

This is quite a sea change, as my previous go-to source for new works was literary fiction prize-winners – the Booker long & short lists in particular. My last Booker-winner read was Bernadine Evaristo’s co-winner, and while last year’s offering comes highly recommended, I’ve not struggled to find top quality reading material outside of those lists. I’ll probably never wean myself off them completely though…

One final reflection on 2020’s reading – at the beginning of last year, I set myself a target of reading one professional book a month. I didn’t seriously believe I’d achieve this target, but why not aim high? Still, I was surprised by how far I missed that target, for I read the sum total of two during the entire year. Oddly, this month, I’ve already equalled last year’s total. I also bought a fair few magazines – comfort reading at its best for me, but was careful not to return to my days of ‘house porn’ addiction. To be honest, the online sources of interiors to drool over are quite plentiful enough, so it wasn’t a serious concern.

As I also missed my Goodreads annual total of 52 books for the first time in years, this year I’ve decided that rather than setting a firm target in either the professional or fictional fields, I’m simply going to track my reading and see what transpires.

How was your reading last year? Did you notice any new trends? Do you have any recommendations for me?


© Debra Carey, 2021

13 thoughts on “2020: A Reading Review

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  1. So glad that you enjoyed Pachinko! I only read it because an essay writer I admire ( John Podhoretz) mentioned the book in a tweet, so I took a flier on it and am glad I did.

    I can definitely relate to having a problem motivating last year in getting through books. In hindsight it seems counter-intuitive that it would be a problem, given that we all mostly had nothing else to do. But I suppose the anxieties spawned from the pandemic are probably more invasive than we think. Still, we muddle on. I think your total output is still very impressive. Thanks for the recommendation of Sebastian Barry; I will definitely add him to my list. – Marty

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  2. I set a goal last year of 125 books on GoodReads, and I did meet it. Just. I’m a very fast reader but still…it was ambitious for a year in which I had to sort, downsize and pack up my house, and move from Eastern Canada to the westernmost part of the country. I decided “never again!”, and set a goal this year for 50 books. Which I should meet by around June, I figure 😆. I’ve recently “gotten used to” audiobooks – I struggled with these for a long time – and they are wonderful to listen to while doing mindless tasks or walking to the grocery store. I’m a very eclectic reader, and usually pick from whatever is currently available on my digital library app, Libby. To keep me busy until the books I have on hold arrive in my inbox. I enjoyed Pachinko and Station Eleven. I appreciate learning of new authors to look up, so thanks!

    Deb

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  3. Marty, I had no idea what to expect of Pachinko – I took a leap of faith with your recommendation also. Most unlike me, but I’m glad I did. My total reading number was higher – if still low for me – as I re-read a lot of old comfort reads in the early stages of lockdown, what with having to get up & pace about so frequently for my knee that it was hard to get into reading anything new. It was only once I was past that when I realised how much anxiety had taken hold. I’m used to depression rearing its head from time-to-time, but reading is usually a wonderful solace for depression, whereas anxiety was just a pain. I recently deleted a number of game apps from my phone, which I’d taken to fiddling with and which were undoubtedly useful for the anxious unable to concentrate me, but ended up taking away time from my usual reading self.

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  4. Deb, 125 books in a year? Wow, that is some total! I usually aim for 52 (an average of a book a week) and easily go beyond, but don’t think I’ve reached the heady heights of 100+ for quite some time now. Time I’d have spent reading previously now gets diverted into writing – both blogging and fiction – which I enjoy too much to give up.

    I hope you find my recommendations enjoyable.

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  5. I barely read a book last year. My focus became scattered. I only read books, don’t listen to them on audio, or read reviews then say I’d read them [🤨], so with a frazzled mind my reading of books plummeted. As for a suggestion, I’m currently reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and enjoying it. A different story, with a timeline that spans centuries, oddly relatable characters, and a fascinating plot.

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  6. I read only half of the number of books I set as my goal for last year. This year I am again using the PopSugar challenge to help me find books to read. Currently I am reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. I am also trying to go through the scratch off poster I got for Christmas a couple years ago. Most of those are classics that surprisingly I haven’t read!

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  7. Ally, I feel your scattered focus – it was a real challenge. Like you, I don’t tend to listen to books. I don’t dislike the process, but if I have the time for a book, I’ll sit down with it by preference. Thank you for your book suggestion – it’s not one I’ve heard of and it’s an interesting premise. I shall add it to the overflowing list! 😉

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  8. Hi Janet, I started listening to Becoming on Audible as I was interested to hear the lady herself narrate it. She does an excellent job but I found I was struggling for time to listen as well as read and the Audible subscription was going out of my account like clockwork without being used, so I cancelled. I intend to get a copy of it for my kindle but, having paid for it once already, I’m looking out for a deal! 😉 Good luck with those classics. I’m not a great fan – too much good new stuff for me to look backwards I’m afraid.

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  9. I usually aim for 50 to 60 books a year, but last year I fell way short. My goal for this year is the same as yours. I’m just keeping track, and I’m promising not to judge myself too harshly if my reading numbers are low.

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  10. Yes James, I’m in about the same ballpark as you with my aim. I am trying to read some of the actual books I have on my bookshelf, as well as the oddles on my Kindle. I make progress every now & again, but get my head turned far too easily when buying books 😉 I don’t think judgement on low reading numbers counts when the writing (and art in your case) are good.

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  11. Thanks! I have to admit, though, my writing and art numbers weren’t so great at the end of 2020 either. So those are other areas where I’m just going to track my progress for a while without setting any specific goals.

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