Fiction being what I read the most of, I always feel like the Best Fiction category is the best reflection of my favourite books of the year and I would say this year is no exception. So far this year I’ve read 62 novels. I narrowed the least down to sixteen, then down to five, but my top pick was clear to me from very early on.
My Top 5 Novels of 2020 (in this exact order) are:
5. Radicalized by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2019)
I didn’t read enough short story collections this year (or enough that I loved) to warrant a Best Short Story category but if I had, Radicalized would be the clear winner. This collection contains just four stories but each one is so involved and so thoughtful that each one has stuck with me. I still feel I’m committing a radical act each time I make my own bread.
4. Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf Canada, 2020)
I can see how this book isn’t for every reader but I really enjoyed the glimpse into every day life during the plague, I loved the refocusing of Shakespeare’s life by telling the story through his wife’s perspective, and I thought the way O’Farrell explored grief and motherhood and marriage was brilliantly done.
3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Anchor Canada, 2017)
I still can’t believe how much Gyasi packs into this book. It feels like an epic. When I tell people about it, it sounds like a book that must be at least 500 pages long and yet it’s actually relatively brief. It’s immensely readable and intensely heartbreaking. After I finished it, I recommended it to Peter who also read it this year.
2. True Story by Kate Reed Petty (Viking, 2020)
I haven’t seen or read much about Petty’s debut novel but I was blown away by it. The story itself is familiar but compelling but it’s the way Petty plays with style and perspective that really set this novel apart. The story is constantly twisting in on itself, revealing new angles and making the reader question what came before and yet it never felt confusing or withholding. I’d really love to see this one get some more fuss!
And the Winner is….
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Biblioasis, 2019)
This book feels overwhelming – over 500 pages, primarily consisting of one sentence, in a stream of consciousness narration. But it is so, so readable. I didn’t think Ellmann could sustain my interest or create tension over such a long book and one where, really, not that much happens, but she did. More than that though, I felt very recognized by this book. There is a lot that is different between me and the narrator of Ducks but there was so much here that was familiar and it was such a well done capture of motherhood and of life n the early 21st century. This was the book I was reading in mid-March when a pandemic was officially declared and the world shut down and I think that probably also has something to do with the way this book has stuck in my brain throughout 2020, but I know it’s also because of Ellmann’s strength as a storyteller.
These are the rest of the titles on my original Top 16 (in no particular order):
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
The Doctor of Aleppo by Dan Mayland
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Sisters by Daisy Johnson
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
There you have it! My top reads of 2020 and the conclusion of The Third Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards! Thanks for following along. If you like, tell me your top five fiction picks for 2020, or even just your very favourite of the year. Have you read any of mine? Agree? Disagree?