What I Read in 2020

This post is for bibliophiles and book-list lovers.

One of my desires for 2020 was to read more, and to my delight I certainly did. I read around 45 books (25 fiction, the rest non-fiction), and abandoned about 5 – I think it’s very important to abandon books you can’t get into.

I’m sure I was able to read more by watching TV less, and I don’t regret that trade-off at all. Books are like gold to me, I’d favour reading over the screen any time and pretty much abandoned series this year (though I did start getting into Woody Allen films towards the end of the year).

Here’s the complete list, more or less in the order I read them, with some comments. The great joys of the year were discovering Chekhov’s short stories, and the Indian novels of R. K. Narayan. Both provided simple, uncomplicated and un-dramatic transportation to distant places from the past, in a year that really needed it. Perhaps my favourite book was the Roald Dahl short stories collection, aimed at teen kids and above, at the bottom of the list – it took me back to the reading joys of youth.

The books:

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober – Catherine Gray – Audiobook, helped me take a break from wine for 5 months.

The Art Of Noticing – Rob Walker – Often dipped into this year, fun ways to be more observant.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction – Alan Jacobs – Really helped me get back into the joy of reading at whim whatever I feel like.

Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello – Enormous common sense on ways we go madly wrong and can live much better.

Help, Thanks, Wow – Anne Lamott – Fun meditations on easy concepts of prayer.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie – Reading for fun and pleasure and whim.

Good to Great – Jim Collins – Often dipped into business classic.

Echoes of Silence – Thomas Merton – Good old Merton on writing, dipped into.

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse – Charlie Mackesy – Beautiful book of ink drawings.

The Hobbit – J R R Tolkein – Great fun re-read.

Making Comics – Linda Barry – Got me drawing a lot, good fun.

Touching Peace – Thich Nhat Hanh – For doses of peace.

Range – David Epstein – Read most of this, pretty interesting non-fiction on why it’s good not to overspecialise in life. I agree with the premise.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J R R Tolkein – Wow, I couldn’t deal with it when I was 12, but was riveted by this now. Later I watched the films which I found, overall, rather disturbing.

Selected Stories – Chekhov – One of the greatest discoveries of the year, Chekhov’s short stories. Pure joy to be transported back to life in Russia 100+ years ago.

Swami and Friends – R.K. Narayan – The other great discovery of the year, R.K. Narayan, what a joy to be transported to early C20 India on a regular basis. Beautiful, innocent writing that leaves you feeling better.

Cathedral – Raymond Carver – Just this one short story, very powerful. I read a couple more of his, but it wasn’t a year to read too many dark short stories. Light was required!

The Complete Short Fiction – Oscar Wilde – Rereading a few of these wildly imaginative classics.

Malgudi Days – R.K. Narayan – Beautiful, wonderful, lovely, innocent, transporting short stories from one of my favourite authors of the year.

The Bachelor of Arts – R.K. Narayan – You’ll see lots more Narayan in the list below, all lovely, take your pick!

The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa – Nice modern Japanese travel tale – or tail – it’s all about a cat and his owner.

Be Free Where You Are – Thich Nhat Hanh – Transcripts from a talk given to inmates in a US prison. Highly appropriate in lockdown but wisdom for any moment in life.

The Painter of Signs – R.K. Narayan

Leonard and Hungry Paul – Ronan Hession – Curious book about quiet people.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work – Matthew B. Crawford – Very interesting. Why are we stuck in front of these screens when we’d be happier repairing motorcycles for a living or making furniture? Still got lots to think about this months after reading.

Waiting for the Mahatma – R.K. Narayan – Perhaps my favourite of his novels as it has lots of Gandhi in it.

Autobiography – Gandhi – Incredible, wonderful, inspiring, must read book.

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry – Beautiful wake-up call for all men. Highly recommended.

Playing To The Gallery – Grayson Perry – The state of modern art.

The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – Grayson Perry – A big coffee table art book full of his work alongside art from the British museum.

The Untethered Soul – Michael A. Singer – Some chapters of this audiobook saved my sanity and my summer.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl – Grayson Perry and Wendy Jones – Nice short auto-bio on the early life of this artist.

Norwood – Charles Portis – Portis was another fun discovery this year, I read four in a row. I think I liked this one and True Grit the most, though The Dog of the South had some really classic lines and is a fun road trip too.

True Grit – Charles Portis

Gringos – Charles Portis

The Dog of the South – Charles Portis

Little Big Man – Thomas Berger – One of my favourite books of the year. A little more violent than I’d like, but a marevelous bedside companion of a few weeks. Wonderful adventures of the white kid growing up with Indian tribes as they are slowly ousted from their lands in the wild west. Great stuff.

The Guide – R. K. Narayan

The Wisdom of No Escape: How to love yourself and your world – Pema Chödrön – Just a couple of chapters, just what I needed this year when radical acceptance of this crazy year was required.

A Quaker Book Of Wisdom: Life Lessons In Simplicity, Service, And Common Sense – Robert Lawrence Smith – I wanted to find out more about Quakerism and this book was a lovely, personal introduction to a very interesting faith.

A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver – Mark Shriver – Looking for good father-figure examples, I remembered this book I’d heard about a few years ago. Turning out to be more interesting than I’d imagined, as the father in question (a fascinating man in his own right) married into the Kennedy family at the height of their fame.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain – A lovely river adventure reflecting the unthinkable realities of slavery and racism of the time.

The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar – Roald Dahl – Possibly my favourite book of the year. 7 lovely short stories. I read the Henry Sugar story when I was about 12, and have been trying to remember who wrote it for years. Recently I got a feeling it must have been Roald Dahl and a bit of Googling found it for me again – what a joy! It’s a lovley story.

Abandoned: Essays in Idleness: and Hojoki, The Narnian – Adam Jacobs, Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese, Before the Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Breaking Bread with the Dead – Alan Jacobs