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The books I read in 2020

I set out, as I always do, to read 20 books in the year. I have never yet achieved it in the four years I’ve had this goal. I came close the first year, with 19 books, but this year, only 16. That seems to be my sweet spot. You’d think I’d have cracked 20 books, given the kind of year we’ve had – lots of time for reading, right? Not. The pandemic cracked open the careful veneer that held together our society, and in so doing, required energies and attentions focused on what came to be known as “pivoting.” We all did it as individuals.

Congratulations to you on making it through the year. You did it. I did it. As we sit in lockdown for the second time in several months, we’ll keep doing it.

We’re a very screen-driven household, so some of the only times we spend together now as a family involve shared TV shows or movies. Even those are becoming fewer, because we have two teenagers in the house, but the number of hours watching is not. So often, my own priority of family togetherness trumps my priority to read 20 books in the year.

One goal regarding my literary reading list that didn’t get trumped this year was to make a concerted effort to read more books by authors who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. This is a conscious choice to educate myself about racism and its roots in all its forms, its effects, to understand the context of current news cycles, and how I relate to these through my lens of white privilege. Here’s my list for this year:

  1. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared: Jonas Jonasson – Kind of a quirky literary Forrest Gump, where the main character manages to appear as a key player in several world-changing events.

  2. The Life of Pi: Yann Martel – I’m late to this one, but I loved this novel, which is nested in a real-life story. Honestly, amazing.

  3. A Flame in Goshen: RK Livingston (who happens to be my sister-in-law, and author of three books; I’m really proud of her!) – The biblical story of the exodus of the Israelites under Moses, and the young man, Hoshea, who followed his destiny and by doing so, learned to lead.

  4. Becoming: Michelle Obama – I enjoy a good memoir, and hers is a well-written, sensitive, tale of a reluctant but confident First Lady, and First Family, who broke the glass ceiling of the presidency.

  5. Crooked: Louisa Luna – A dark, hopeless tale of poverty, crime driven by addiction and poverty, and broken family units.

  6. Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Joyce Rupp – A nod to my cancelled Camino this year. This book is full of things learned on that 800+ journey through France and Spain.

  7. Amina’s Voice: Hena Khan – A YA novel about a young immigrant girl who finds her voice in more ways than one.

  8. From the Ashes: Jesse Thistle – I love Jesse Thistle’s storytelling; I’ve seen him live twice and was enthralled by his ability to rise above his circumstances to not just survive, but to thrive. His memoir simply must be read.

  9. Black Leopard Red Wolf: Marlon James – I admittedly struggled to get through this one. It is so outside my genre that I nearly gave up on it. It’s a fantastical mixture of African myth and storytelling tradition, violent and transformative characters and little satisfying resolution.

  10. Normal People: Sally Rooney – Meh. It was okay. I was not captured by the nuance and beauty of the written words in this book, because it lacked it. It felt like it was written in plain language, which actually is kind of a cool concept, but it didn’t enthrall me. Perhaps the TV series was better . . .

  11. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground: Alicia Elliott – An insightful exploration of racism in Canada, particularly systemic and institutional (specifically Ontario) racism, and the effects on Indigenous people. It’s heartbreaking, yet also joyful and transformational.

  12. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou – This one is on so many lists, and I had it in my personal library but had never read it. I don’t know why I haven’t. Angelou’s story catches in your throat, and I couldn’t stop reading until I was done.

  13. Moon of the Crusted Snow: Waubgeshig Rice – Imagine an apocalyptic world. This story is set there, on an Indigenous reserve, and although resilience is part of the community’s fabric, it becomes unravelled with the arrival of strangers. Underlying the main plot are threads that weave an exploration of self-preservation, survival, racism and addiction.

  14. Black Berry, Sweet Juice: Lawrence Hill – An exploration of what it means to be mixed-race in Canada. Hill tells his own story through the lens of his privileged family background, and questions the nature of mixed relationships close to him, and through his own research with people who had a Black parent and a white parent.

  15. The Twentieth Wife: Indi Sundaresan – A colourfully descriptive retelling of ancient Indian myth of a star-crossed and then aligned relationship between Mehrunisa and Prince Salim.

  16. Irma Voth: Miram Toews – A redemptive story about two Mexican Mennonite girls who struggle to reconcile their strict religious upbringing with their choice to explore the wider world. The main character, Irma, is frank, practical and unfailingly responsible. Her younger sister, Aggie, is a wild card, and along for the ride, just hours after her birth, is their infant sister, Ximena.

What was on your reading list for 2020? What do you want to read next year?

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