Favourite reads of 2020

Question: So, how was your 2020?

RIP John le Carré

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Continuing the tradition of naming favourite reads of the year, here is my baker’s dozen of books that inspired, entertained and informed me. It’s been a strange year for everything and what with my local library being closed for months, I’ve been buying more books online. None of my selection was published this year.

1) Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.


I resisted reading this novel for a couple of years but was immediately drawn in by writing that skilfully blends unsentimentality, a love of wild things and passion. A tale of murder is cleverly interwoven leading to a surprise ending. Soon to be made into a film.

2) Miss Jane, by Brad Watson.


Based on the life of the author’s great aunt its protagonist suffers from a gentitourinary condition that dictates the course of her life. This sounds like an unprepossessing subject for a story, but, believe me, the lyrical power of the writing, great characterisation and inspiring behaviour made me marvel at the skills of Brad Watson, who tragically died too young. This tale is so good, I’d choose it to be in my favourite reads of my lifetime.

3) Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor.

There aren’t many books that change the way we think about things, but this is one of them. It’s altered how I breathe. Worth reading if you or someone you know has breathing problems.

4) Squeeze Me, by Carl Hiaasen.

Carl Hiaasen writes funny crime caper novels featuring terrifying criminals and which make earnest points about the environment. This title’s villain is a strangely orange President with an unfaithful wife.

5) The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse, by Charles Mackesy.


A beautiful book for all ages. Wonderful drawings and profound thinking.

6) Successful self-publishing: how to self-publish and market your book, by Joanna Penn.


The best book I’ve found on how to do things yourself as an Indie author. I’ll be using it to kickstart my eBook and audiobook titles in 2021.

7) Dear stranger: letters on the subject of happiness, compiled by Martha Roberts.


Inspirational thoughts from the famous and the worthy. Unexpectedly moving in its tenderness and pragmatism.

8) Arias, by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds writes with courage, honesty and humour about the human condition and the state of the world.

9) The Hidden Life of Trees: what they feel, how they communicate - discoveries from a secret world, by Peter Wohlleben


Think you know trees? You probably don’t. This is a startling and revealing read that had me marvelling at recent discoveries about how trees communicate with each other.

10) Salt on your tongue: women and the sea, by Charlotte Runcie.


Joyful, contemplative and life-affirming, the author considers the sea and our relationship with it, while pregnant with her first child.

11) The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin.


A great book to read if you like reading or writing historical crime stories, as you’re plunged into 1919 New Orleans where a serial killer prowls slaying victims with an axe. Highly atmospheric with great characterisation, it’s the first in a series of stories.

12) The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman


An indispensable guide to the realities of being a writer. You’ve written your story, now the real work begins — how do you sell it?

13) Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side, by Julia Shaw


All of us have some evil within us, but how similar are we to murderers and terrorists? How close are we to being a psychopath? The author reveals our dark side in a warm and witty way.

Previous years:



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The tree book is currently a great deal at a highly reduced price ($2.99 AUD) for the Kindle!
I've put a few of these on my list for 2021.
I will have to update my reading list. Thanks! Have you read The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan? The characterization is great and the story makes you reflect on just how dangerous the desire to be famous can be.

As always, @Paul Whybrow, your book choices are inspiring. Now I've got even more on my TBR list. LOL! I've unfortunately spent much of 2020 reading uninspired stuff and books on local history (research for a book that's coalescing in my head at the moment). I rather love reading the local history books (no matter where I live)--they're invariably horribly written and unedited, but they have such gems in them. Things that would certainly be lost if they employed an editor. Like the account of the local settler who, upon finding himself without a proper shearing shed his first year in the community, took the rug out of the parlour and sheared 200 sheep on it. (There was a special note that he'd turned the rug upside down, presumably to protect the visible surface from damage). I can just imagine the conversation when he brought the rug back home!
This year was 'literary' weird. I struggled to find books I actually wanted to finish. I started so many and DNF-ed. Others I battled through and only just about made it to the end.

I'm finding the more I write, the more critical I get.

But there was one novel I devoured at top speed all the way to the end: The Chain, by Adrian Mckinty. Not the most sophisticated, maybe, nor the highest of all highbrow books, but when it comes to story telling, I found it totally gripping and learnt a lot.
I started re-reading The Plague by A. Camus. And no, it has nothing to do with the current epidemic. I have been meaning to re-read it for a long time. I first read it years ago while in my late teens and liked it very much. I wanted to revisit it, now that I am older and my French is finally good enough to tackle the original text. My second impression of this book is just as strong as the first one which, I guess, is as good a recommendation for a classical novel as it can be. Camus is a true expert in human nature. His language is beautiful and subtle.
Some of my favourites this year.

Another vote for The Chain by Adrian McKinty (think I've readly nearly all of his stuff - a lot of which is set in Northern Ireland)
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Fifty-Fifty by Steve Cavenagh.
Thirteen by Steve Cavenagh.
The Hobbit & Lord of The Rings on Audible.
Pendulum by Adam Hamby.
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.
Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie
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Question: So, how was your 2020?

RIP John le Carré