My Favourite Reads of 2020

2020 was a dumpster fire but I read some decent books…

Let’s just skip over the fact that 2020 (as well as 2019 for me) was a dumpster fire and that I’m late in publishing this post, okay? Right, so this is where I summarise the top five fiction and non-fiction books I read over the last year. I read some solid books this year so decided to expand it to my top six (lucky you). I guess I should I also mention that I’m a bit behind with my reviews so if there is a review missing from my selection I will add it soon and update this post as soon as I can. So, without further ado I present my favourite reads of 2020.

Non-Fiction


5. Unfree Speech – Joshua Wong

I’ve lived in Hong Kong for five years now and its a place I’ve come to love and adore. There have been some substantial politic shifts and changes since I have been here with the CCP gaining more and more control of Hong Kong since its handover from the British in 1997. This book talks about why you should care about what happens to Hong Kong and the changes that are happening here from a young man who has been actively advocating for his home country’s democracy since he was 14 years old.


4. Why We Swim – Bonnie Tsui

Another fun fact about me, I used to be a competitive swimmer and I love water. When I saw this book about about swimming that merged history, science, and passion I knew I had to read it. The author is a passionate swimmer who travels around the world to look at the science of swimming as well as our history with it and how our love for swimming brings us together even in the worst circumstances.


3. A Life on Our Planet – Sir David Attenborough

I adore this man and I’m absolutely obsessed with the documentaries that he narrates and participates in and will cry many rivers when he inevitably passes away. Attenborough is a remarkable human who has lived a remarkable life. With the time he has spent globetrotting and talk about nature and our planet he has seen some frightening changes. This book is a testament and statement of his experiences what we must do to prevent climate change from destroying our home.
Review to come.


3. The Road Out of Hell – Anthony Flacco

I love true crime, especially documentaries but I actually don’t read that many true crime books surprisingly. I’m trying to change that. This book is one of the most unnerving stories I’ve read to date. It’s about the Wineville Murders and the young boy, Sanford, that endured and survived unimaginable torment at the hands of one of the most sadistic individuals in existence. What makes this a phenomenal story is the that ending has a positive outcome despite the horrors that occured.


2. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? – Caitlin Doughty

While an odd selection for someone in grieving, it was a nice humorous and informative look at death that allowed me to at least think about it in a somewhat healthy manner. Doughty is a mortician and she answers all the gory and interesting questions on death and dying.


1. Solutions and Other Problems – Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh is one of my favourite people off the internet. I read her first book, Hyperbole and Half years ago and it’s a book that stuck with me for it’s humour and immense relatability. Allie disappeared off the internet for about sevens years due to some serious difficulties she faced her in life. This book goes over some of her turmoils and how she coped, with her trademark drawings and humour, as well as revisiting hilarious scenes from her childhood. It was my number one pick for non-fiction this year as it summarised how so many of us felt this last year.
Review to come.


Fiction

6. Fangs – Sarah Andersen

Another artist I discovered from the internet, Sarah Andersen is known for her humorous and relatable comic strips. I often read Andersen’s work online which is how I came across Fangs. Andersen shared a few strips from this book and I was hooked. The story features a relationship between a werewolf and vampire, it begins with their meeting and how their relationship progresses. Fangs has Andersen’s trademark dark humour with a relatable relationship story that transforms the old paranormal romantic tropes.


5. I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

I only picked up this book after a recommendation and I’m glad I did. This story was not at all what I was expecting. Like, at all. I don’t want to give too much away as the surprise story and twists are what really made this book. Review to come.


4. Circe – Madeline Miller

This book was worth the hype. It’s a beautifully written feminist rendition on the story the Greek goddess Circe. The writing is exceptional and the story is engaging while offering and interesting perspective on how women and femininity are often viewed in literature.


3. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Want to read a really good book about a pandemic that wipes out the world while you’re living in the middle of a real pandemic? Look no further. This gripping story takes a unique look at a post apocalyptic world where humans. You follow a troupe of traveling actors who perform Shakespeare while travelling from camp to camp after a virus wiped out 99% of the world’s population. You get to intimately know the characters and how their differing stories connect.


2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It’s a sort of romance that is also a historical fiction with added flares of fantasy thrown in. I was won over by Addie’s character and the dynamics she had with the main antagonist and love interest. The author absolutely nailed the concept she was going for and created a story that I didn’t want to walk away from.
Review to come.


1. Obit – Victoria Chang

I read this book of poems twice this year. It’s rather reflective of the person situation that I managed this last year. The first time I read it I wasn’t very open to its messages but bits and pieces managed to find their way through. The second time I read it was a powerful awakening of buried grief that was both painful and relieving. It’s a phenomenal tribute of love, grief, and regret.



As You Were by David Tromblay

Tromblay takes a no-holds-barred, full-frontal approach to his writing that is immersive and, at times, shocking.

4/5 stars.
ARC ebook, 251 pages.
Read from October 14, 2020 to October 19, 2020.

A big thank you to Dzanc Books who offered me an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When the author learns that his father is dying he decides to write a memoir of sorts, a testament to the brutality that was inflicted on him as a child and as a young man. Tromblay is part Native American, on his father’s side, and after being abandoned by his mother, his grandmother raises him the only way she knew how. Tromblay’s grandmother lived through the reservation boarding schools that Native Americans were forced into, meaning that anything she knew about punishment came in the form of fear and physical abuse. To make matters worse, Tromblay’s father lived with them as well and not only is he an alcoholic but he suffers brain damage from a previous car accident making him extremely volatile and aggressive. Tromblay’s father always said to him, that the day that he could “take him” was the day he had no place under his roof. Tromblay eventually escapes his tormenters and finds himself in the Armed Forces as a young man. While his capacities for violence were put to good use, his experiences inevitably led to further trauma. 

Tromblay takes a no-holds-barred, full-frontal approach to his writing that is immersive and, at times, shocking. The book moves back and forth in time to parts of Tromblay’s childhood to pieces of his adult life and his time in the Armed Forces, often half a world away. Tromblay’s story is a unique coming of age story that discloses so much pain and humiliation and yet it is still an engaging read as the book’s tone is not one of pity. You get the idea that the author has accepted that this is just the way things are, just like a straight-faced soldier who has compartmentalizes his pain.  The story is written in the second person, as the author addresses himself giving the story a poetic and poignant feel, despite its raw content. As a reader you’re drawn to Tromblay’s torment through its honest and direct structure as well as the poetic style that comforts you, as you somehow already surmise the strength behind the author’s words, anticipating a positive outcome. 

“He does die, but it takes you another half-dozen drafts to say what you need to say. With his last breath, the last bit of angst drips out of your pen.”

p.250

Tromblay’s story is less about pain and more about overcoming it by confronting it head-on. It’s about a grieving process unique to those who have experienced traumas by people who were supposed to care for them as well as those affected by war and death. While there are many graphic details in the story that some might find triggering or disturbing, it was all part of a necessary process for Tromblay. His father’s death is an opportunity to release, maybe not forgive, but to let go and move on. 

With his father’s death, Tromblay finds some healing from his past and a future in writing to look forward to. After a decade in the Army, Tromblay went on to pursue his MA in Creative Writing having since published two books, of which this is his second. This book covers so many dynamic themes that it is an approachable story for those that are willing to follow in the author’s disturbing past and hopeful future. I would highly recommend it.

This novel is expected to be available for purchase in February 2021. 

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

“He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 216 pages.
Read from September 2, 2020 to September 7, 2020.

1992; I was six years old when Christopher Johnson McCandless set out on his grand adventure to embody his own philosophical belief in the existence of man. 

McCandless, who dubbed himself as Alexander Supertramp gave away everything and partook on an ‘adventure’ all over the country that eventually led him to Alaska, of which he deemed to be the ultimate frontier, challenge, and goal to live in and conquer. With next to no provisions, his wit, and determination, McCandless was a man who wanted to live by his own rules and ideals, even if that meant abandoning his family and friends. Little did McCandless know, that the spot he settled on in Alaska wasn’t all that far into the wild but that it would also become his resting place.  This is an immensely shallow summary for what is undoubtedly an intricate a read on a man with many intrigues and intelligence. 

This isn’t my first book by Krakauer. I read Into Thin Air and was immediately captivated with his detail, frank, and highly engaging non-fiction writing style. I actually wish Krakauer was a runner as I think he could write some amazing running related books. For example, Born to Run , written by journalist Christopher McDougall, while I really enjoyed the book it had structural and format issues and as well as a very  matter-of-fact and journalistic-writing approach. Both men are journalists but I feel like Krakauer really knows and understands how to deliver a good story. 

Krakauer’s take on McCandless, as well as his own exploits are what made this book for me. Krakauer’s personal intrigue and connection to McCandless, it’s what gave this book that special edge as he too felt some of the same urges, determination, and arguably recklessness as the young man. I imagine if Krakauer and McCandless had been given a chance to talk that they would have gotten on well and McCandless would have felt a little less alone in his ideas.  Krakauer’s in-depth retelling and interpretation of McCandless is what I really felt more connected with in this book rather than McCandless himself. That isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate aspects of McCandless, I mean the guy had some very valid points about modern society but in the same breath, took his views so seriously that he became selfish and dangerously fanatical at times. Krakauer did such a good job in giving a balanced perspective on McCandless that you feel like you’ve been given a good grasp of the whole situation as well as the fallout following McCandless’ death.

This book might not be everyone’s cup of tea however, you need to have some interested in adventure exploits and risk-taking or the choices that McCandless, and even Krakauer, make won’t resonate with you making which might make it it easier to brush these men off as ‘crazy’. However, even with a mild interest, the writing  of the book itself should be able to engage most readers on some level. This book was definitely a good read and I’m glad I finally got to it.