I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a long, long year… and it’s only nearly half-way done! Really, one of the (very) few upsides is that we’ve had the chance to pick up some great new books, and catch up on some older ones we missed the first time around. So, in that spirit, I thought I’d do a little interim round-up of the best books I’ve read in 2020 so far. Here’s to getting back on track in the second half!
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Arthur Less finds himself suddenly single, when his long-time booty-buddy dumps him to marry a far more eligible (and age appropriate) bachelor. He can’t RSVP “no” to the nuptials and admit defeat, but he couldn’t possibly attend either, especially with his own 50th birthday looming… so, he proceeds to accept every half-baked invitation he’s received to literary events around the world, and sends his ex his regrets, citing “unfortunate” prior engagements. I highly recommend this heartwarming Pulitzer Prize-winning adventure of self-discovery to anyone in need of a chuckle. Read my full review of Less here.
In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
A blurb that promises a book “revolutionises” a genre, especially one as popular as memoir, seems quite literally unbelievable. But I’m here to tell you the truth: Carmen Maria Machado has done it with In The Dream House. It is an intimate, horrifying, beautiful, defiant, heartfelt, multi-dimensional account of her formative – and abusive – love affair with a partner she calls only “the woman in the Dream House”. It’s a must-read memoir, and destined to become a pillar of the queer literary canon. (If you loved her short story collection, Her Body And Other Parties, it’s an absolutely-must-can’t-miss-read!)
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans
I suppose The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is technically a young-adult novel, but I would really resent it being pigeon-holed as such. Riley, a Manic Pixie Dream Boy living in Trope Town, has been acting out and upsetting the authors of the books in which he plays a purely-supporting role. He’s sent to therapy with all the other defective Manic Pixies, and that’s when things start to go really awry. This literary send-up would be a wonderful read for book lovers of all ages, guaranteed to delight, entertain, and provoke indiscriminately. Read my full review of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project here.
Throat by Ellen Van Neerven
Van Neerven’s new poetry collection, Throat, is at times sarcastic, at others simply searing, but always in the most deeply satisfying way. They never shy away from the political (“This country is a haunted house, governments still playing cat chasing marsupial mouse”) or the personal (The Only Blak Queer In The World is a heart-wrenching insight into the isolation of existing at the margins, and the search for community and solace). The cities that ate Australia is particular perfection, as is Politicians having long showers on stolen land, and all of the poems in this collection are incredibly timely with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining traction around the world. I devoured Throat in a single sitting, and I’m sure I will savour it again over many more.
Rabbits For Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum
When I first read Rabbits For Food back in January, I was worried that I’d peaked too soon, that I’d already found my favourite book of the year. Six months on, I’m still worried! The main character, Bunny, lives in New York. She’s 43 years old. She’s a writer. She’s a middle child. She’s married to a zoologist named Albie. She has a cat named Jeffery. She also has depression. The book is split into two parts: the events that lead up to her breakdown on New Year’s Eve 2008, and her experiences in the psych ward of a prestigious hospital after the fact. If you have a dark sense of humour, and love to poke at the ridiculousness of social niceties, this is the book for you.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
A Man Called Ove is an enchanting tale of unlikely friendships, and it will pull on heartstrings you didn’t know you had. Plus, it’s a timeless reminder that you can almost never guess someone’s story just by looking at them – and I think we could all do with a few more of those. I’d love to recommend it as a book club read, but I think I’m late to the party; everyone seems to have read it and loved it already! I’m glad I finally got around to it in 2020, and I’m definitely planning on reading more of Backman’s work soon. Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.
Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
That’s right: Carmen Maria Machado is a double-header in my round-up of the best books of 2020 so far! Her Body And Other Parties is a collection of eight short stories, all wildly different. Machado ricochets from magical realism to horror to science fiction to comedy to fantasy to epistolary, so fast that the genres and tropes are pureed together into a very delicious pulp. As much as the stories vary, they make sense next to each other, forming a complete and cohesive collection that somehow leaves you (selfishly) wanting more. Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.
Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
I’m not too big to admit when I’m wrong (it’s rare, but it does happen). I took one look at Big Lies In A Small Town and thought “ugh, another domestic thriller pot boiler, snooze”. But, once again, there’s something to that whole not-judging-a-book-by-its-cover thing. This is a story about a Depression-era mural: the woman commissioned to paint it (who disappeared under mysterious circumstances), and the woman charged with restoring it for installation, nearly eight decades later. Don’t sleep on this one, folks!
the lactic acid in the calves of your despair by Ali Whitelock
Alright, cards on the table: Ali Whitelock is a dear friend of mine… BUT I keep my objectivity hat on at all times for you, Keeper Upperers! Besides, I fell in love with her poetry long before she and I fell in together, and I read and reviewed the lactic acid in the calves of your despair all of my own accord. I never cease to be amazed by Whitelock’s incredible talent to tickle, tantalise, delight, and devastate. My personal favourite poem from this collection has to be NOTES from the six week course entitled: ‘a beginner’s guide to writing poetry’, but an honourable mention must go to if you have no eyes where do the tears go?, and (of course) the poem that became a viral sensation during the Australian bush fires earlier this year, this is coal don’t be afraid. Ali Whitelock continues to give ’em hell, and it’s an honour to watch her do it.
The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean Mckay
Few authors would consider themselves lucky to be releasing a book in the midst of a global pandemic. Laura Jean McKay might be the only exception. Her new novel The Animals In That Country revolves around the outbreak of a highly infections sub-type of influenza that threatens the very fabric of society – sound familiar? It’s an eerily prescient premise, right down to the conspiracy theories that proliferate on Facebook and the government ads that encourage people to “keep calm and stay indoors”. McKay is a masterful storyteller, and her talent truly shines in this story of family and belonging. Read my full review of The Animals In That Country on Primer here.
What have been your best reads of 2020 so far? Let me know in the comments below!