The downside of bedtime reading is dozing off midway through a chapter, paragraph or sentence. And when combined with my habit of juggling several books at once, it takes me a long time to read a book. But I love reading. And although it wasn’t a favourite year, I thought I’d share my favourite books of 2020.
As I posted in My Year of Books (January 2019) and My Bedside Books (January 2020), I read sixteen books in 2018 and the same number in 2019. And proving my consistency, I also read sixteen books in 2020.
Please note: I’m still “juggling” my way through a couple of the books listed below, one I started last year (the keen-eyed reader will spot it in my 2019 blog post), and another was an Audible audiobook. And please click on a cover photo to learn more about a book or buy it on Amazon.com.au — doing so helps support my blog.
A Couple of Things Before the End by Sean O’Beirne
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Deep Time Dreaming by Billy Griffiths
Deep Time Dreaming was a gift from my son for Father’s Day 2019. I commented on social media at the time, “My teenage son may have stopped being a regular reader, but he still knows his dad loves books.” It’s a book I enjoyed dipping in and out of in 2019 and 2020. And one that sets out to shift our view of the past, as signalled in Billy Griffiths’ introduction: Australia’s human history began over 60,000 years ago. The continent was discovered by a group of voyagers who travelled across a vast passage of water to a land where no hominid had roamed before.
Five Go Absolutely Nowhere by Bruno Vincent
My son also gave me this “Enid Blyton” spoof for Father’s Day 2020. He knew I’d written a short story inspired by The Famous Five for a writing competition in May, Five Go On Zoom, and narrated it as my launch episode for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. And the book brought back fond boyhood memories of reading Blyton’s Famous Five. But, as the spoof-Five also meet on Zoom while going absolutely nowhere during COVID lockdown, I was glad I hadn’t read it before writing and narrating my Zoom short story!
Five Go Downunder by Sophie Hamley
I bought another “Enid Blyton” spoof for an English friend and his family for Xmas 2020. And I read the book and made chapter notes and this general comment before mailing it to them: “I hope you enjoy the book. There are a few laughs, and it does touch on some stereotypical Aussie-Sydney themes. But, IMHO, the Five could have done with an adventure. Perhaps they could have solved the mystery of our PM who went missing swimming off a beach back in 1967, Harold Holt?”
The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely by Mungo MacCallum
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
How to be Australian by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
The Sea by John Banville
The Spill by Imbi Neeme
I bought Imbi Neeme’s debut novel after doing a short story workshop with her via Zoom during lockdown. I’ve blogged about the #bookcovers and #firstsentences homage series I post to Instagram (as @tallandtruebooks). In my opinion, The Spill scores highly for both and sets the scene for an enjoyable read: The two girls waited for their mother on the verandah of the Bruce Rock pub, which offered shade but little relief from the heat of the late afternoon. They swung their legs while they waited, slowly stirring the hot air and red dust, while the dogs around their feet lay panting, waiting patiently for their owners inside.
Taboo by Kim Scott
We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know by Sophie McNeill
I heard a Late Night Live interview in March 2020 with former Middle East correspondent, Sophie McNeill, talking about her new book on Syria. McNeill was passionate in her despair at the world’s muted response to atrocities committed in Syria and elsewhere, lamenting we seem to be living in an age of impunity for those who wage war. My wife and I spent ten days in Syria on a backpacking adventure in 1995. McNeill’s interview inspired me to read her book. And write a blog post about it and my experiences travelling in Syria.
With The Beatles by Alistair Taylor
As I commented about The Beatles 1962-1969 From Liverpool to Abbey Road by Ernesto Assante in my Bedside Books blog post, you can never have too many Beatles books. Alistair Taylor’s memoir provides unique insights for fans of the Fab Four from the man who witnessed their signatures on the Brian Epstein contracts at the start of their stellar careers. And who Allen Klein sacked at the end. Another perfect book to dip in and out of while I juggled other books.
Did I have a favourite book for 2020? Well, among the sixteen I juggled, dipped in and out of, and read from cover to cover in 2020, two were my standout favourite books.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
I knew I’d enjoy reading Pip Williams’ debut novel after hearing an interview with her on The Book Show in April 2020. It follows the life of Esme, a curious and intelligent girl raised by her widowed father. And the history of the first Oxford English Dictionary, compiled by her father and fellow lexicographers in a backyard Scriptorium at the turn of the twentieth century. As a child, Esme sits under the sorting table in the Scriptorium and one day finds a slip containing the word “bondmaid“. Esme collects other lost and discarded words. And as she grows into adulthood and meets suffragettes, Esme realises definitions relating to women’s experiences have gone unrecorded in the male-biased dictionary. I’ve blogged about books that made me cry, and The Dictionary of Lost Words is one to add to my list. It’s so much more than the story of the Oxford Dictionary. I didn’t want to reach the end, and when I did, I wanted to know how the lives of her characters had played out beyond the book.
Tell Me Why by Archie Roach
Another thoughtful gift from my son, Archie Roach’s memoir is an emotional tale of discrimination, redemption and love by one of Australia’s most respected and beloved Indigenous musicians. Archie’s story is typical of the Stolen Generation, forcibly removed from his parents and community and fostered separately from his siblings as a four-year-old. Archie grew up thinking he was Archie Cox. And then, one day at high school, Archibald William Roach was summoned to the principal’s office to receive a letter from the sister he didn’t know he had with news the mother he couldn’t remember had passed away. Drink and drugs almost ruined Archie’s life, but family and music saved him. Archie’s could be a bitter tale. However, he recounts it matter-of-factly and with love. Tell My Why was one book I did not juggle and which I looked forward to reading every night.
As I commented last year, books bring so much joy to my life. I love giving them as gifts, I love receiving them, and I love reading them. Unfortunately, 2020 wasn’t a good year for the wider world. But I read sixteen good books and was gifted a fine selection of new ones in my Santa sack and under the Xmas tree.
Perhaps it’s time to make that long-promised New Year’s resolution to go to bed earlier at night and read more books!
© 2021 Robert Fairhead
Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website.
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.