Dear readers, here is a friendly preliminary message to inform you that this post was to be a scheduled post. Shocking, I know, but don’t take it too personally. This post was written late in the night from an airport December 31, 2020 while waiting for a plane to take her from one state to another as well as one year to another quite literally. Thus, originally, it was going to be posted when the grand authoress was sleeping in, happily situated in her own bed. However, the night progressed and she did not have time to finish the entire post before boarding the plane. This is merely a fun fact. You’re very welcome. But now, she has finally finished it, so Happy New Year!
2020 has come to a close, so in a newfound tradition I’m looking back through the books I’ve read this year and making a list of my favorites. Last year was my first year to do this as inspired by a friend. You can read my favorites from 2019 here.
This year I read 105* books, which is honestly shocking. I had no idea I had read that much, but I guess the lack of the usual activities throughout the year may heavily contribute to the extra books read.
*yes, quick fun fact again: technically the final tally was 105 and 1/2 books due to the fact this authoress was on page 157 of a 106th book when midnight struck and the pilot wished all the sparse bleary eyed passengers a happy new year over the plane intercom, but officially, the count is 105
The rule set for this list is as follows: only books first read this year can be included. So in other words, I reread a lot of amazing books but those won’t be on this list.
Also, while I enjoyed these books, I would not necessarily suggest them for everyone. Make sure to check content warnings before reading any of them.
Finally, understand these books are not listed in any particular order or ranking. Merely in the order I read them this year.
- Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
I really enjoyed this book assigned for last school year/this year. It was surprisingly one of the few school books I hadn’t already read for the British literature lineup. (Though it is one I’ve been meaning to get to after hearing so much about it over the years.)
The Screwtape Letters is an epistolary novel, aka a collection of letters, (surprise!) collected of the imagined correspondence of a mentor demon, Screwtape, to his understudy, Woodworm, offering advice and tips about their vocation, while walking the young demon through tempting his first “patient,” a young man who had just converted to Christianity. It covers many topics including different types of relationships, worship, and gluttony (of both the extreme and delicate kind), and is insightful.
- Animal Farm, George Orwell
Simply put, I adored this book. It’s such a clever sharp little thing and gleefully hilarious. Also have I used the word “brilliant” yet? Another school book, I got to write a paper on propaganda, so that was fun.
For those who aren’t familiar with this novel, Animal Farm a satire about a group of animals on an average-stereotypical-quaint-British-farm, who overthrow the human farmer (Mr. Jones) and set up their own structure of society. (AKA about the Russian Revolution of 1917.) It has the feel of strange fairytale and is filled with iconic characters that are direct caricatures of historic people and real organizations. I absolutely loved it.
(also as a side note there are so many fascinating covers for Animal Farm out there how cool is that? who knew communist pigs could be drawn in so many different ways?? but also how are you supposed to pick between them?)
- Dune, Frank Herbert
After years of hype for this sci-fi book, I finally read it and have a lot of opinions on it. I really like the worldbuilding (though at a couple small points it was distracting with the things Star Wars was clearly inspired by from it). I also really liked how it never stopped to explain things but talked from page one as if you knew what things were, for me it made it more interesting, and I’ve always liked that presentation of world building. Also some insanely fascinating scenes, including the funeral and water ceremony in the desert (if you have read it you know what I’m talking about). I think the main idea to part to potential readers of this book, is don’t expect a hero, and especially not a noble one.
- Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
I am so glad I read this book. It is such solid storytelling and my first time exposure to urban fantasy. Essentially your average nobody with a dreary desk job life stumbles upon a bleeding girl on a sidewalk and decides to help her only to be pulled down (literally) into an entire world beneath London where everything works differently. The characters are fantastic (personal favorite of course the Marquis De Carabas), the world building stunning, and the main character’s arc satisfying. Finally, the ending was so perfect I couldn’t have been happier. Also the short story at the end about Marquis De Carabas and his coat is brilliant. Must read right there.
Foot note: I also read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gainman this year and it was good as well.
Further foot note: shoutout to friend who suggested both of these.
Further foot note the sequel: I want to steal the character of Marquis De Carabas so. badly.
- The Martian, Andy Weir
I read The Martian this summer at the beach (a very particular copy – my younger brother’s copy – which has it’s copious amounts of swearing taken out with white-out*). It’s pretty easy to summarize. A man gets stuck on Mars while his crew is in route flying back to earth and has to survive long enough to try to get a message to his crew or to earth. I had watched the movie a couple years ago but the book was just as fun if not more. I’ll probably reread it for fun in 2021.
(*well most of it. there is so much swearing in it overall that my dad missed a couple instances but about one fifth of the book was gone anyways haha)
- Pay Attention, Carter Jones, Gary Schmidt & Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (also Gary Schmidt)
I’m not very surprised to end the year with another Gary Schmidt book (or two) in my top favorites. I reread all his books I read last year (which I found at a book fair and bought) and then checked out more from the library at the beginning off summer. British butler, purple car, adorable little sisters, comedy, mending of a broken family, cricket games, what’s not to love about Pay Attention, Carter Jones??
Then Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy… I enjoyed this book and then despised this book, but overall loved it. (It’s one of those books). This one deals with darker themes than Pay Attention, Carter Jones but is just as good. I hope to continue building my collection of Gary Schmidt books.
Read more of my thoughts on these two books here. I also read First Boy by Gary Schmidt for the first time, and while it’s not my favorite of his, it is still a very good book and worth your time.
- The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
I love this book so much and will probably often read it in the fall from now on. It’s about some strange hauntings at an opera house and the singers that are caught up in the drama when a new pair of managers refuse to obey the phantom’s demands around the opera house. I love the story, the characters, and the emotional exploration it offers about human nature. Also: wonderfully followed up by the movie. Or the musical. Or both.
Read more thoughts of mine on it here.
- The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid, Colin Meloy
First off, the art is so. good. I adore Carson’s whimsical style and the book is utterly stuffed with it. On that note, the story, written by her husband, is very similar: whimsical, quirky, adventurous, and sometimes a bit witty. They say, think Oliver Twist mixed with The Invention of Hugo Cabret but I’ve never read that one only watched the movie based off of it? Either way, it was a delight to read this story.
(If you feel like you’ve seen Carson Ellis’ art before, it’s probably because you read The Mysterious Benedict Society… she illustrated that one too)
Shoutout to my sister in law who let me borrow this one. ❤
- Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
Last year, I found the first eight paperbacks of A Series of Unfortunate Events in great condition at a thrift store, and so finally read them after so many friends recommending them. I scarfed them down a couple weeks ago as a last hurrah before school started, then slowly borrowed the last couple over the next month. Main thoughts:
- Sunny is one of my new favorite characters
- Why hadn’t I come up with such brilliance??
- These books are very enjoyable and witty
- Also utterly frustrating, as everything does go wrong
“This is brilliant” and “I could rip this book in half with my bare hands, why does everything go wrong” were the pattern my mind circled through during that series. Entirely witty, but entirely frustrating, it was a strange balance that formed my relationship with this series as another adore-but-it-drives-me-crazy one.
- My Lady Jane, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
I was pleasantly surprised about this one (I’m always very skeptical about YA). It’s a really fun concept turned into an engaging story narrated very comically. It’s the “real story” of Lady Jane Grey of England who was queen for nine days. In this fantastical twist on a historical story, the two religious groups which were at each others throats are translated into the group of people that can turn into animals vs. the group that can not and believe it is inherently evil.
- Holes, Louis Sachar
A middle grade classic I have finally gotten around to, this book is quite fun to read. It reminds me in some ways of a N.D. Wilson book. It’s style is frank and clever, (and some times the narrator’s observations quirky like a Gary Schmidt novel?) its characters are down to earth and very realistic, while the plot feels unique and fresh. I adore Zero’s character.
- Boys of Blur, N.D. Wilson
I almost got my brother Holes for Christmas, but instead I gave him Boys of Blur and a book he has been wanting to add to his personal library. He finished it in two days and offered it for me to read. This book is really best described for those you are familiar with N.D. Wilson as “If N.D. Wilson decided to write a zombie story” because, well, that’s the essence of what it is, and it makes perfect sense. The story happens over very little time, yet the plot goes at dizzying speeds. It’s a very strange vibe for a Zombie story but 100% a N.D. Wilson vibe. There’s a quaint small town, comical policemen, references to ancient literature, and I adore Charlie’s family.
What were your favorite books you read for the first time this year? Any suggestions for my 2021 tbr list?
*all cover art credit of amazon (not the river)*