2020: round up of the year

We made it! The end of this crazy mixed up anxiety inducing, stir crazy making, mess of a year is in sight. Well done to all of you who made it through – you’re allowed to feel like just getting here was an achievement.

This year, we have needed books more than ever and yet I cannot remember seeing more comments about how hard it has been to concentrate properly – on them or on much else. My mind, and possibly your mind too, has been all over the place. But here is how I got through the year – in reading and a few other things too.

This year my reading challenge was to finally read all the books that have been sitting for years on my bookshelf. I had a list of books that had made it through various clearouts with the words, “yes I still want to read that,” but years later were still sitting unread. It was time to deal with them head on.

So how did it go? Well, some books I really should have read years ago and I now regret leaving it so long. The English Patient was the first book to tackle as it had been on the shelves the longest (15-16 years) and I loved it. I also loved Wolf Hall, and the challenge got put on one side as I read Bringing Up the Bodies immediately afterwards in order to make way for the March publication of The Mirror and the Light. If only Covid hadn’t shot my concentration to shreds, I would have finished reading that a lot quicker than I did.

Other reads were not so successful and I found that they had been taking up space on the shelves for no good reason. I couldn’t get on with the flowery nothing-much-happens of A Suitable Boy, I found Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy very hard going and dated, and I struggled with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna much more than any of her other books.

But I’m so glad I did the challenge as it has appealed to my inner Marie Kondo in finally clearing out a few of these tomes and making space for things that did indeed spark joy.

Aside from the challenge, my reading this year is a little muddled. I track my reading using Goodreads, a new app this year called Storygraph (a rival to Goodreads – review coming in the New Year) and in a notebook where I also track what books I’ve bought and read month by month.

The numbers are different in all of these. According to Goodreads I’ve read 90 books, but it’s counted one of them twice and I’ve missed a couple off here that I recorded in my notebook. My notebook records 92 books. When I do a breakdown of the genders I’ve read this year, I get a total of 95 books. So it’s anyone’s guess how many books I’ve actually read this year but let’s say around 90 ish.

Once again, there are loads more women (67) than men (19) and two books by non-binary authors. I also read more non-fiction this year than I’ve read for years and I think this must have something to do with the pandemic though I don’t really know what or why. Finally, I read two graphic novels this year and have bought a third – this is a big step for me.

I still have four books on the go at once so the reading for the year isn’t quite done yet.

In no particular order my books of the year are:

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

The Wolf Hall Trilogy by Hilary Mantel

Some Kinds I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy

Negative Capability by Michele Roberts

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Flake by Matthew Dooley

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (a re-read but it felt like bathing in sparkling water)

What else has got me through this year?

Simple things like hot showers, going for a run along the same route and seeing it change, discovering the huge range of wild flowers in the park, coffee bean deliveries and a lot of toast with Bovril on. Our Chromecast device, allowing me to watch a lot of theatre and independent films, thanks to the magic of streaming from theatres directly, YouTube and Curzon Home Cinema. Subscription boxes of stationery and craft projects – not affordable for everyone but all of them run by women, small British businesses sharing mindful skills. Lego. Jigsaws. Yoga with Adriene. Dancing and singing along to my daughter’s playlist – making sure she appreciates Abba. My journal.

I miss coffee shops and touching things you have no intention of buying, just to know what they feel like. I miss reading on the tram and nosing at other people’s books or screens to see what they’re reading or looking at. I miss my local barista’s cheery call of “the usual?” when I walk in. I miss chip shop chips. I miss my family and the familiar ways we laugh. I miss our annual trip with my best friend and her family to Herne Bay to eat lunch and climb on Amy Johnson’s wooden plane statue and walk along the pier and play in the arcades. I miss nipping out to buy an impromptu snack and impulse buys and seeing faces. I miss festivals and communal singing experiences.

This will all pass and hopefully we will emerge better equipped to go on. In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, relaxing Covid-free festive season and here’s to whatever we can make of 2021.

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