Disclosure: some of the titles within this post were previously sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I’m an affiliate for Blackwell’s so this post contains affiliate links to their sites. If you buy a book via my links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you – thank you!
What a year it’s been. While it might have been terrible in many respects, I did manage to read an astonishing number of excellent books. 263 of them in fact. I discovered audiobooks this year, so that’s an extra 46 books I wouldn’t have read otherwise.
In terms of print books, I read 113 translated books and 102 books originally published in English. Therefore, I’ve allowed myself to choose a top ten from those three categories! So here we have a top 30 essentially. I’d recommend all of these books in a heartbeat. These are just books I read this year by the way, not necessarily 2020 releases.
Without further ado, let’s jump into my favourite books of 2020! These are in no particular order. I’d say Girl, Woman, Other, The Eighth Life and Cantoras are my ultimate top three, but I can’t go any further than that. I love all these books equally.
The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, tr. Ruth Martin & Charlotte Collins
This comes as no surprise to anybody. I’ve been raving about this book since March and have coerced a fair number of people into buying a copy. I’m just a sucker for a sprawling family saga with a historical backdrop. Please don’t let the 900 plus pages intimidate you. They’ll fly by.
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, tr. Stephen Snyder
I read this on the 2nd of January and it’s held onto a position in my favourites all year long. A haunting yet quiet dystopian narrative delving into memory and loss with imagery that remains burned into your brain long after you turn the last page.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, tr. Anonymous
A book that gives off House of the Spirits and One Hundred Years of Solitude vibes is sure to make it into my top ten. But this book stands on its own legs too, Azar proving herself a force to be reckoned with. Also I have insane respect for the translator of this book, who has had to remain anonymous for their own safety.
Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, tr. Jordan Stump
Okay, I know I said I’d recommend all these books in a heartbeat but maybe this is one I’d recommend knowing your own tastes beforehand. It will either work for you and blow you away or frustrate you, as NDiaye’s style is very dense, but mesmerising. A haunting exploration of the way trauma is passed down through generations, with slight The Vanishing Half vibes.
Learning to Talk to Plants by Marta Orriols, tr. Mara Faye Lethem
This book is such a unique exploration of grief, the premise left me speechless. The prose is hypnotising so although the pace of the novel is slow, the prose keeps you turning the pages. If you enjoyed Here Is the Beehive then you’ll definitely enjoy this one.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, tr. Megan McDowell
This is an almost perfect short story collection. Enríquez blends pure horror with cutting social commentary to outstanding effect. I am literally on the edge of my seat waiting for her full length novel to be released in English next year!
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci, tr. David Hackston
Dual narratives that intertwine is one of my favourite ways of telling a story! And it’s rare that you get so attached to both storylines, but Statovci pulls it off with aplomb here. It’s definitely one I need to reread to appreciate the finer details and catch more of the symbolism.
Dead Girls by Selva Almada, tr. Annie McDermott
2020 was a great year for my reading because I discovered Charco Press! Selva Almada is one of their gems, and Dead Girls is a harrowing yet pertinent book which blends creative writing with journalism, exploring three unsolved femicides in Argentina. Don’t miss it.
Loop by Brenda Lozano, tr. Annie McDermott
This is another book I’d recommend more carefully (sorry for lying in the intro lol), mainly to others who love quiet, introspective narratives. I got totally lost (in the best way) in the narrator’s thoughts, meandering from one topic to the next. I think fellow Ali Smith lovers will be a fan of Brenda Lozano.
Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, tr. Elisabeth Jaquette
At only 112 pages, you know this one had to be powerful to make my favourites list. Shibli makes excellent use of those few pages, splitting the novel into two distinct sections which are very different yet harmonise perfectly. Dark and thought-provoking, you need to squeeze this one into your TBR.
BOOKS PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This was another book I read in January and which stuck with me all year long. The twelve people in this book felt like real people to me, their stories and characters so alive and vivid. I’ll certainly be delving into Evaristo’s backlist in 2021.
Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis
This book ripped out my heart, stomped on it, sewed it back up and stuffed it back in again. Once I finished it, I just wanted to flip right back to the first page and start it all over again. The women of this book and their stories will stay with you forever.
Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash
If you’d told me a non-fiction book about a Cornish fishing village and the fishing industry would be on my list of favourites for 2020, I’d have laughed in your face. But this book is utterly immersive and so fascinating. I read it during the very first month of lockdown and it was the perfect escape from real life.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
I endured months and months of glowing reviews from US bookstagrammers before this book was finally released in the UK. Needless to say it was more than worth the wait. It’s such a gorgeous yet heart-breaking story about family, love and grief.
Lanny by Max Porter
I absolutely loved this kooky, fable-esque tale for adults, especially the incredible character of Dead Papa Toothwort! If you love experimental fiction along the lines of Ali Smith then you’ll surely love Lanny.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
It’s almost a given that I’ll love a book when it addresses some aspect of motherhood and Patsy was no different. But Patsy is definitely an unconventional mother, and I adored reading about her journey to finding her true self. Plus, we always love a queer love story featuring slightly older characters.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Every time I remember this book is a debut I’m blown away all over again. I don’t usually have much of an opinion on Booker winners (the International Booker is another story), but I believe this one is a worthy winner! Utterly bleak and heart-breaking, yet with a glimmer of hope that is Shuggie.
Sula by Toni Morrison
Every time I read a new Toni Morrison, I’m convinced it’s somehow even better than the last one I read and loved. Sula is extraordinary and I could have read another 300 pages about the friendship between Sula and Nel.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Since finishing Robin Hobb’s series, I needed something to fill the fantasy void and The Broken Earth trilogy was PERFECT. The whole trilogy is epic, complex, clever, brutal, just brilliant. The first book is my favourite though. Jemisin blew my tiny mind.
Saltwater by Jessica Andrews
Any book set in the North East was always going to have my heart, but Saltwater completely mesmerised me. Andrews has said that when she was growing up in the North East, she didn’t feel like her life was ‘worth much’. She hoped this book would show other young folk from up here that there is poetry in everyone’s life. I think she succeeded.
As a bonus, I’ll leave a list of my favourite audiobooks I listened to this year. Believe me, this was difficult to narrow down. The top two are my two favourites, but after that they’re in no particular order again.
- The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, narrated by Quyen Ngo
- Becoming by Michelle Obama, narrated by the author
- Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth, narrated by the author
- Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen, narrated by Natalie Naudus
- Afterlife by Julia Alvarez, narrated by Alma Cuervo
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, narrated by Daniel Henning
- Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri, narrated by the author
- The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, narrated by the author
- Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, narrated by Adjoa Andoh
- The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar, narrated by Priya Ayyar
If LitHub can do this, so can I. Here are 15 more titles that I truly loved.
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
- There but for the by Ali Smith
- Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
- Pew by Catherine Lacey
- Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta
- Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
- The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah
- Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
- Bright by Duanwad Pimwana
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami