Best Reads of the Rest in 2020

I read 52 books this year, that’s one for every week of the year. While my thoughts on some have appeared on these pages, most have not. Many were classics, more were palate-cleansers after hefty reads, a few were titles I’d been waiting to get around to.

Here is the best of the rest that I’ve read in 2020 that I’d recommend for some Christmas reading. They can mostly be found in local bookstores, the library and for download on to that e-reader your daughter got you for Christmas that you don’t yet know what to do, or what to fill it up with.

The First Time Lauren Paling Died by Alyson Rudd

With echoes of Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, The First Time Lauren Paling died is not only a study on what could have been, but a family saga that examines the effect that grief can have on us, combined with how other circumstances can alter consequences. It’s a soulful read not without bite, perfect for quiet time beside the fire.

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

From the writer of About a Boy and High Fidelity comes this story of an inter-racial age-gap relationship between an about to be divorced white middle-class mother and a young Black butcher, with dreams of a music career, set against the impending Brexit referendum. Opposites can’t help but attract, but the class, race and age divides throw up some obstacles that prove difficult to overcome.

Kindred by Octavia E. Bennet

Kindred was written in 1979 by science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, becoming a critically acclaimed best-seller, and probably her most enduring work outside of sci-fi circles to this day. A recently married African-American woman who inexplicably finds herself on an antebellum plantation, must grapple with the dynamics of her place there as a 20th century woman. It covers a multitude of issues while also being a dynamic, intelligent page-turner.

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate is probably best known as a comedic actress, having appeared in sitcoms like Parks and Recreation as well as darker fare like her breakout role in Obvious Child. In this non-fiction book of prose and poetry she unpicks every day life and re-weaves it from a creative, artistic and wholly off-kilter perspective.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

The ambush of a progressive school somewhere in England during a freak snowstorm takes centre stage in this thoughtful and clever thriller. Told from multiple perspectives, from some of the children and teenagers caught up in the situation, worried parents and teachers to the woman in charge of unearthing the identities of the perpetrators, the story is both nerve-wracking and thought-provoking.

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Three women make a pilgrimage to their recently deceased friend’s seaside home during the grips of a boiling Australian Christmas. They are there to pack up her belongings before the house is sold, and inevitably get under each others’ feet, to boil up past grievances and current irritations. It’s a great story of female friendship enduring over the years, and what happens when the dynamic shifts when one of a solid group of four is removed from the equation.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Inept lecturer James “Jim” Dixon is invited to his head of department’s house for the weekend, where he encounters various characters more self-serving than himself. Over the course of a few days, multiple lives are upended thanks to a series of events largely fuelled by alcohol and distain. Amis’s first novel, published in 1954, is a master of comic writing, taking aim at pretention, snobbery and generally terrible people.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 23 12 20

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