2020 Reading: summary

  • The novel most enjoyed: New Writers: 

Eliza Clark: “Boy Parts”; Marieke Lucas Rijneveld: “The Discomfort of Evening”; Bernadine Evaristo: “Girl, Woman, Other”; Olga Tokarczuk: “Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead” – are all wonderful, but Jessica Andrews’ “Saltwater” left the strongest impression

  • The novels most enjoyed: Older Writers: 

“Germinal”, “The Rainbow”, “How Late it was, How Late”

  • The most enjoyable non-fiction work

The most enjoyable was Lanegan’s sort of biography – which was just insane. The most notable thing about was that he is still alive. 

The ‘best’ in a broader sense of informative-ness, research, brilliance and writerly qualities would be a 3-way tie between: “Three Women”, “Men We Reaped” and “Men Who Hate Women”. 

  • Any novel that disappointed, or simply didn’t like

“The Testaments” Margaret Atwood – just shouldn’t have…

  • The year’s most striking fictional character

Irina (Boy Parts) who “obsessively takes explicit photographs of average-looking men …scouted from the streets of Newcastle.” …and who is hiding a secret…

  • …and the most-dastardly villain(s)

The authority figures in “The Nickel Boys”

  • The best authors encountered for the first time this year

Eliza Clark, Jessica Andrews, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, Emile Zola

  • The most beautifully written novel

“Saltwater” – at times it flew like poetry can. 

  • Poetry most enjoyed: Roger Robinson’s “A Portable Paradise” has rightly taken plaudit after plaudit. I was fortunate enough to see him read in Leeds back in March just before lockdown when he read as part of a Peepal Tree Press evening and it was inspirational.

Diaz’s “Postcolonial Love Poem” can stand shoulder to shoulder with Robinson’s book, both in terms of the quality of writing and in terms of importance.

I never tire of reading Heaney or Oswald, and ‘local’ mentions to John Mills and David Wilson for their terrific collections.

Memorable passages or quotes from books read this year – all from Diaz poems:

Firstly, she has 3 stunning ‘prose poems / pieces’ in her collection about childhood basketball and the release found therein, this is from “The Mustangs” when she is watching her older brother’s school team:

“…They circled the court twice before crossing it and moving into a layup drill while ‘Thunderstruck’ filled the gymnasium. They were all the things they could never be – they were young kings and conquerors.

To that song, they made layup after layup, passed the ball like a planet between them, pulled it back and forth from the floor to their hands like Mars…” 

And she writes love, with an urgency that speaks of enviable desire – from “Ode to the Beloved’s Hips”:

I never tire / to shake this wild hive, split with thumb the sweet- / dripped comb…Maenad tongue – / come-drunk hum-tranced honey puller – for her hips / I am – strummed-song and succubus.

…Imparadise me. Because, God, / I am guilty. I am sin-frenzied and full of teeth / for pear upon apple upon fig.”

Books 2020: Fiction:

Andrews, Jessica: Saltwater

Atwood, Margaret: The Handmaid’s Tale; The Testaments

Barnes, Djuna: Nightwood

Barnes, Julian: The Sense of an Ending (x2)

Braithwaite, Oyinkan: My Sister, the Serial Killer

Burroughs, William: Ghost of Chance

Camus, Albert: The Plague (x3)

Carty-Williams, Candice: Queenie

Cather, Willa: The Song of the Lark

Clark, Eliza; Boy Parts

Dunmore, Helen: The Siege

Enright, Anne: The Green Road

Evaristo, Bernadine: Girl, Woman, Other 

Ferrante, Elena: The Days of Abandonment (x2)

Flanagan, Richard: Narrow Road to the Deep North

Fortes, Susana: Waiting for Robert Capa

Hemingway, Ernest: The Old Man and The Sea

Hurley, Andrew Michael: The Loney

Jian, Ma: China Dream

Johnson, Denis: The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

Kay, Jackie: Trumpet

Kawabata, Yasunari: House of the Sleeping Beauties

Kawakami, Mieko: Breasts and Eggs

Kelman, James: How Late it was How Late (x2)

Kerouac, Jack: Maggie Cassidy (x3)

Lawrence, DH: The Rainbow

Le Carre, John: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Levy, Deborah: The Man Who Saw it All

MacFarlane, Robert & Donwood, Stanley: Ness (x2)

Mankell, Henning: Depths; An Event in Autum

Modiano, Patrick: The Black Notebook

Moore, Alison: The Lighthouse

Murakami, Haruki: After Dark (x3)

Murakami, Ryi: Almost Transparent Blu

Myers, Benjamin: The Gallows Pole; The Offing; Pig Iron 

Porter, Max: Lanny

Rijneveld, Marieke Lucas: The Discomfort of Evening

Seethaler, Robert: A Whole Life

Tokarczuk, Olga: Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Ward, Jesmyn: Salvage the Bones

Welch, James: Winter in the Blood

Whitehead, Colson: The Nickel Boys

Zola, Emile: Germinal

Poetry:

Simon Armitage: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Matsuo Basho: The Narrow Road to the deep North and Other Travel Sketches

Jay Bernard: Surge

Anne Caldwell: Alice in the North

Ciaran Carson: Belfast Confetti

Natalie Diaz: Postcolonial Love Poem 

Tony Harrison: Newcastle is Peru; Polygons

Seamus Heaney: District and Circle (x2); Aeneid (book VI) (x3)

Juan Felipe Herrera: Every Day We Get More Illegal

Edward Hirsch: Gabriel: a poem

Derek Mahon: New Selected Poems

Martin Malone: The Unreturning 

John Mills: No Guiding Star

Matt Nicholson: Small Havocs

Alice Oswald: Nobody (x3)

Roger Robinson: A Portable Paradise

Richard Skelton: The Look Away

Genevieve L Walsh: Dance of a Thousand Losers

Joe Williams: This is Virus

David Wilson: The Equilibrium Line

Non-Fiction:

Baldwin, James: The Fire Next Time

Bates, Laura: Men Who Hate Women

Hirsch, Afua: Brit(ish)

Lanegan, Mark: Sing Backwards and Weep

Macfarlane, Robert: Mountains of the Mind

Shafak, Elif: How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

Taddeo, Lisa: Three Women

Tzu, Sun: The Art of War

Ward, Jesmyn: Men We Reaped

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