My 2020 in Books

Despite the title, this year’s list isn’t comprised solely of books. At the start of the year I made the conscious effort to read more short stories. In fact, with the exception of non-fiction and audiobooks, I read just one novel in the first five months. The rest of my reading time was focused on collections of short stories, literary magazines or, in some cases, individual stories—as indicated by the funny little squiggly symbols.

This decision was a reflection of my writing ambitions: to submit to The Writers of the Future contest, with the hope of getting a novelette-length short story published. By reading more of the form I was writing in, I hoped to better understand the “rules” of writing short sorties (especially on how to structure them), the differences to novels and how the best stories were crafted, and to see what authors were achieving within a much shorter word count.

As much as I enjoyed reading short stories and learning more about the form, I started to miss reading novels—particularly the sense of staying with characters over longer journeys. This led to me alternating my reading between the two and it wasn’t until October that I started to read short stories less frequently.

In total I read 52 “books” in 2020. That’s 30 fewer than 2019, but then I didn’t continue my challenge of reading 50 pages per day. I also read some books more slowly in order to better absorb them or, in the case of The Song Of Achilles, to better appreciate them.

January

  1. Downward To The Earth by Robert Silverberg (254 pages) Science Fiction
  2. Stories Of Your Life And Others by Ted Chiang (338 pages) Science Fiction
  3. Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2012^ (112 pages) Science Fiction
  4. At The Mountains of Madness* by H.P. Lovecraft (81 pages) Horror
  5. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (306 pages) Fiction

February

  1. L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34 (459 pages) Fantasy
  2. Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood (311 pages) Fiction

March

  1. Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois (909 pages) Fantasy
  2. The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr (231 pages) Non-fiction
  3. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (437 pages) Fantasy
  4. The Hero by Lee Child (77 pages) Non-fiction

April

  1. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (213 pages) Fiction
  2. His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (141 pages) Mystery
  3. How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin (397 pages) Fantasy 
  4. Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King (459 pages) Horror
  5. The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (402 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction

May

  1. The Road to Levinshir+ by Patrick Rothfuss (39 pages, re-read) Fantasy
  2. Wool+ by Hugh Howey (42 pages, re-read) Science Fiction
  3. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (433 pages) Fantasy
  4. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (280 pages, re-read) Fantasy
  5. Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (290 pages) Non-fiction
  6. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (280 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
  7. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (436 pages, re-read) Fiction

June

  1. The Death of Grass by John Christopher (195 pages, re-read) Science Fiction
  2. The Complete Western Stories by Elmore Leonard (527 pages) Westerns
  3. The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham (215 pages) Science Fiction
  4. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (305 pages) Science Fiction
  5. The Black Company by Glen Cook (319 pages, audiobook) Fantasy

July

  1. World War Z by Max Brooks (342 pages) Horror
  2. Looking For Jake And Other Stories by China Miéville (301 pages) Fantasy
  3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (384 pages, audiobook) Fantasy

August

  1. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (648 pages) Fantasy
  2. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (327 pages) Fiction
  3. The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller (352 pages) Historical Fiction

September

  1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Shwab (384 pages) Fantasy
  2. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (312 pages, re-read via audiobook) Science Fiction
  3. Night Shift by Stephen King (488 pages) Horror

October

  1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (299 pages) Mystery
  2. A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson (336 pages, audiobook) Non-fiction
  3. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (527 pages) Fantasy
  4. How To Stop Time by Matt Haig (336 pages, audiobook) Fiction
  5. Legend by David Gemmell (337 pages) Fantasy

November

  1. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (426 pages) Fantasy
  2. The Power by Naomi Alderman (352 pages, audiobook) Science Fiction
  3. The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (610 pages) Fantasy

December

  1. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (480 pages, audiobook) Historical Fiction
  2. Full Throttle by Joe Hill (480 pages) Horror
  3. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (206 pages) Fiction
  4. Dissolution by C.J. Sansom (480 pages, audiobook) Historical Fiction
  5. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft (389 pages) Fantasy
  6. Shadows Linger by Glen Cook (319 pages, audiobook) Fantasy
  7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (251 pages, re-re-re-re-read) Fantasy

*novella
^magazine
+short story

Total: 17,854 pages, which is an average of 49 pages a day.

Overall I read 49 different authors*. 21 were authors I hadn’t read previously.

*In reality this number is much larger, since I read several collections of short stories.

I read a total of 8 genres, including my first ever Western. (Since many of the books could be classed under multiple genres, I referred to Goodreads for the most popular choice.) Unsurprisingly, Fantasy and Science Fiction remained the most dominant.

19Fantasy
11Science Fiction
7Fiction
5Horror
4Non-fiction
3Historical Fiction
2Mystery
1Westerns

I can’t claim to have read any authors the most this year, since Stephen King and Glen Cook were the only authors I read more than one book by, with a grand total of two apiece.

There are some noticeable absences from the list. I didn’t read a single thriller**, not even a Jack Reacher, despite having read at least one a year for the last seven years and there being two waiting patiently on my bookshelf. The same goes for the next instalment in The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, which I started over four years and five books ago. There was no Brandon Sanderson either, even though I read four books of his last year and he remains one of my most inspirational authors. I also didn’t re-read The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore on Christmas Eve, a tradition upheld for umpteen years and broken by the last-minute Covid restrictions.

**However, I read two mysteries and some of the other novels would have been classed as a thriller had they not been assigned a different genre.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t uncover some real gems.

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34 not only gave me a sense of the quality of writing and the audience of the competition I hope to enter, but was an enjoyable and inspirational read. Although I’m a HUGE fan of Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual was the first of his short story collections I have read—fun and entertaining, they were bitesize samples of his masterful storytelling. The Complete Western Stories by Elmore Leonard was a cool collection of tales—high on adventure and trouble—written in a delightfully precise and poetic prose. I discovered one the most clever prose writer’s I’ve had the pleasure of reading (up there with the likes of Peter S. Beagle, David Mitchell and Cormac McCarthy) in The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury—hooked by the opening paragraph, I now wish to devour everything he has written. A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson was as interesting as it was hilarious, while Full Throttle by Joe Hill was a solid collection of thoroughly entertaining short stories.

I can never decide on a clear winner, but there was a closely contested top four.

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Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois was a fantastic collection of short stories, introducing me to many new authors (such as Connie Willis), reminding me to read more works by others (Gillian Flynn in particular), and reconnecting me with a few of my favourite and most inspirational authors—Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman and Scott Lynch among them. A Year and a Day In Old Theradane by Scott Lynch was possibly the best short story I read all year.

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Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb continued and strengthened my love for the series: enviously beautiful writing, characters crafted to a real world likeness and expertly layered storytelling. Hobb is fast becoming another favourite author and one I can’t wait to read more of, both inside and outside of the Realm of the Elderlings.

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The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller was beautifully written—to the extent each sentence seemed meticulously sculpted and the book took me three times longer to finish in order for me to properly appreciate the writing style. While I can’t praise the style enough, I found it frequently detached me from the story, raising an interesting debate and consideration I must make with my own writing: what’s more important, the story or the way it is told?

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The Power by Naomi Alderman was a fun, thought-provoking story dressed in modern Science Fiction. I can understand why this book exploded onto the literary scene in 2017. It is also one of the best narrated audiobooks I have listened to, which may account for why I enjoyed the book so much.

So that’s my 2020 in books. But what about yours? What were the best books you read in the last year? Share them in the comments below!

I wish you all the Happiest New Year!

Meet Pip, my newest reading companion, standing between some of the books I’ll be reading in 2021.

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