Looking back at 2020 is quite a chore in itself – a year filled with unknown, ambiguity and anxiety, in which the expectations were as low as just surviving it. When the pandemic hit, I, like many others, set some goals for myself and remarkably enough, I actually met them – every single one of them, indeed. I divided them in a couple of categories: emotional goals (closely related to my family and friends), intellectual ones (related to my career, the blog and my self development), financial ones (related to my savings and debts) and physical ones (related to my eating and working out habits). My reading goal falls in the intellectual realm and is a thing that I have been setting for myself every year for the last couple of years, if not decade. This year I aimed to read 40 books – a goal I achieved a couple of days before 2020 ended, but what made this year special is the fact that all year long I stuck to monthly themes and every month I came to the blog with an article reviewing what I had read. This was most fun and will culminate into this article showcasing my absolute favourite books of 2020. As for next year, I plan to set a more ambitious goal as well as have some goals related to reading both classics but also contemporary writers more frequently, as well as poetry and plays. And now, let´s look back on the books I most loved during this most hated year and the reviews I wrote upon finishing them.
Best of Non Fiction
Ruth Bader Ginsburg´s My Own Words
I know, I know, how truly tragic it is that I, as probably many others, only picked up this book upon the loss of the fantastic RBG. I am not proud of it, but here we are. Once I picked up On My Way though, I could barely put it down. One thing you should know though: my Own Words is not exactly a memoir in its truest sense. The book is mostly a compilation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg´s various speeches, particularly from her period serving on the Supreme Court. So if you´re expecting to learn about RBG´s life from her young years until her death, it´s perhaps better to read her Wikipedia article. If however, you´re interested in learning about the inner mechanisms of RBG´s brain, her unlikely friendship with the conservative judge Scalia, her love for opera or how the American judiciary system works – then you´ll love this book as much as I did. Interestingly enough, it´s not a light reading, but I personally read it in almost a heartbeat.
Michelle Obama´s Becoming
Wow – what a book, how I loved it and how I wished it would never end. Michelle Obama´s book was such a breath of fresh air and so utterly fascinating. Split into three parts – Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More – this book follows Michelle from her modest roots in Chicago´s Southside all the way to the White House and in the final pages, a couple of blocks away. I initially naively thought the period of her life as FLOTUS and perhaps starting with the time she started dating Barack would be the most fascinating, but I loved the period leading up to it just as much! Michelle´s stories of her family, her education, career and eventually wife of who was to become the USA´s 44th president are all told with humility, candor and compassion. I absolutely loved both how the book was written as well as the subject of it. I´m pretty sure I´ll come back to it soon. But in the meantime, I can´t wait for Barack Obama´s book to arrive in the mail.
Dave Eggers´ The Monk of Mokha
A fascinating adventure based on a true story. I loved Eggers´ Circle so I immediately bought this book when I saw it, despite knowing nothing about it. And boy, what a surprise. The story is so gripping, I had to google twice whether it really was true. Dave Eggers tells the tale of a young Yemeni´s quest for his roots in an effort to bring Yemeni coffee to the States. If you know me, you´ll know that I´m really not a coffee lover, but upon finishing the book I went straight to Mokhtar´s website to see if I can order it. Back to the book, young Mokhtar´s adventure starts in San Francisco and goes all the way to Yemen where he tries to unravel the country´s coffee culture. I had no idea coffee is originally from Yemen so the whole narrative around that was super interesting to read. As Mokhtar tries to mobilise the coffee farmers, civil war erupts. Trapped behind enemy lines, he struggles to stay alive and bring his beans back to the States. The story is so extraordinary and thrilling, I read late into the night and couldn´t give it anything but 5 stars.
Maya Angelou´s entire autobiography
This year I finished Maya Angelou´s autobiography and it has been impossible to pick one book as my favourite. While they will make sense read in isolation, when you read them all together the story flows like a mermaid´s song – bewitching and beautiful. Maya has not only lived a truly extraordinary and phenomenal life, but she is extremely gifted in putting said life on paper. Her books will captivate and activate you to get out and make a change, and especially this year, which has sucked all energy out of most of us, I think we all need this. If I was to describe Maya Angelou´s biography in one word, that word would be “powerful”.
Hans Rosling´s Factfulness
This has got to be one of my favourite non-fiction books since Yuval Noah Harrari´s masterpieces. Hans Rosling was a Swedish doctor and researcher whom you might have heard a Ted talk of here. Hans is an optimist, and boy, do we all need a highly qualified optimist to give us some good news these days. His book is about understanding the world, and as such it starts off with a little survey. Questions like “In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has … a.) almost doubled; b.) remained more or less the same or c.) almost halved” make you take a step back and think about how the world has evolved or involved. Hint: it´s evolved. Like, a lot. The correct answer is c.) . Hans writes about how wrong we are about the world and how much better things are than we think, or than the media often makes us believe. There´s no conspiracy behind it, just some marketing and human nature. The world is doing so much better than you think and especially in these crazy pandemic times, this book is a good reminder of that.
Best of Fiction
Isabel Allende´s House of the Spirits
I can already foresee how difficult it´ll be to switch to next month´s topic after this book since all that I want to read for the rest of my life are Isabel Allende´s books. The woman is a genius and you cannot start reading her books soon enough. The House of the Spirits is a wonderful tale of family, magic, imagination and relentlessness – good and bad. Isabel Allende started writing it as a letter to her dying grandfather and despite it being her first novel it ended up being a huge success. The book centers around Clara, an imaginative and powerful clairvoyant girl and Esteban, a cruel and volatile man that you´ll love and hate as you read on. While I am only about halfway through, I am absolutely enamoured with how Allende combines stories of post-colonial social and political upheavals of Chile (though the country´s name is never revealed) with magical elements of moving objects and seeing the future.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez´ One Hundred Years of Solitude
Magical realism is deeply rooted in Latin American culture and Marquez truly is the godfather of it. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that transcends time, telling a century long story of the Buendía family. Living in Macondo, in a house that stubbornly rejects all the repairs that desperate family members keep succumbing it to, the Buendía family is cursed to relive history. Plagues of insomnia and never ending rains come and go. Family members get born and die, often at the exact moment they decide to. Children are obsessively named Aureliano and José Arcadio as their grandfathers. War comes and goes and so does industry. And yet, the town remains unchanged, slowly fulfilling a gipsy prophecy that is only revealed to the reader in the final pages, which coincide with the final moments of the Buendía family saga. One Hundred Years of Solitude is the most magic example of magical realism there is, and if you won´t love it with all your heart and soul, then this genre might just not be for you.
JK Rowling´s Harry Potter – The Philosopher´s Stone
People are often surprised to hear that the Harry Potter books are amongst my all time favourite books. Perhaps they expect the classics, which in truthfulness I also love (hello Dickens and the Russians!), perhaps they associate Harry Potter most with the movies and they just don´t think much of the books. But I personally got acquainted with the HP universe through the books, and I find them quite different (not saying neither better nor worse) than the movies, that I often think of them as two completely separate endeavours. It was the books, and particularly the Philosopher´s Stone that instilled in me a deep sense of magic – a sense that I luckily never lost – as you can see in the title of this blog too. I regard The Philosopher´s Stone a fantastic book for both children who are beginning to learn about the value of friendship, loyalty and humility or standing up for oneself as well as for adults who need reminding that love conquers hate. The book is full of wisdom packed into a fantastic universe and I think that is just what we all need right now.