2020 was not my best year for reading. When the lockdowns first hit in March here in Toronto, I found myself dealing with so much uncertainty as a self-employed person. I was pretty stressed and not sleeping well, and another side effect was that I couldn’t really focus on anything besides the necessities: my business and my mental health. Reading, as much as I love it, fell by the wayside.
So for big chunks of the year I wasn’t reading much, or at least not anything remotely challenging. I read a lot of romance novels. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance novel! I just normally like to diversify my reading life a little bit more than I ended up being able to this year. Challenging materials were harder to get into until the initial few months of the pandemic had passed, and by then I was very behind on my reading goal.
All in all, I still read a lot of books this year! I’m not actually disappointed in my reading this year by any means. It was just very different, as so much of 2020 was. Slower, harder, more fractured, more sporadic. Which is kind of a metaphor for the year in general, don’t you think? 😂
When I started 2020 I set a goal to read 111 books. It sounds like a lot, but at the pace I had been reading, it was right on track with how much I’d read the year before. I didn’t think it would be too hard to meet my goal, while still reading a wide variety of subjects and authors.
I was wrong, lol. As I mentioned above, I quickly fell behind on my reading goal when the pandemic hit, and I’m still having trouble getting back to the pace that I love and that makes me feel good. A lot of my evening reading time shifted to become time for learning and studying, anti-racism and business skills, primarily.
As I approached the end of the year, I decided to make my goal more realistic for where I was at. I changed it to 70 books, which is actually less than I’ve read in the past seven years. Still, 70 books is absolutely nothing to scoff at and I’m proud that I was able to prioritize this beloved habit of mine despite all the madness swirling around me.
What I Learned
1. pull, don’t push
I’ve been saying this for years, but 2020 was the year when it really hit home. If I really want to read more, I need to make sure I have really good things to read. When I’m reading a great book that I can’t put down, I read more! I make time for it, no matter what else I might be doing. If you’re trying to read more books this year, make sure you’re choosing ones that pull you in, not ones you have to push yourself to read.
2. Read fiction at night
Reading non-fiction often feels like work, no matter how important or meaningful the topic might be. I always find myself wanting to take notes or pay rapt attention to soak up the wisdom, and I don’t always have the energy for that at bedtime! So I’ve moved to reading great stories before I go to bed, as they’re often more compelling and don’t put me to sleep instantly. I save the non-fiction for daytime reading, even sometimes building it into my work day if I have a quieter day of work.
3. books are better shared
2020 was a tough year, and I found myself more than ever feeling grateful for the bookish conversations I was able to share with my loved ones. I’m part of a great book club, and our discussions of the books we read always help me process more of my own thoughts and get more out of each reading experience. I also love talking about books with my partner more informally, sharing our thoughts is always so fun and meaningful. And of course, nothing is better than recommending a great book to a close friend, my sisters, or my mom (who has been reading up a storm this year!) and then getting to connect about what we’ve both read. I love it and want to remember to do more of it.
1. Know My Name by Chanel Miller: A truly heartbreaking but beautifully written account of one woman’s experience of rape, the fallout, the justice system, and her life afterwards. Chanel is an incredible writer and this whole book felt so important and poignant for me.
2. Burnout by Amelia & Emily Nagoski: I love the Nagoski sisters (did you know Emily also writes super hot romance?!) and this joint effort about stress is an important read for anyone feeling chronically stressed and tired. The concept of completing the stress cycle is simple but crucial. This podcast interview is a great summary if you want to learn more before reading!
3. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I took so many notes while reading this book, it just felt so refreshing and empowering. The central message is that we all need to learn to disappoint every single person around us before we disappoint ourselves. How powerful is that? So many great stories and teaching concepts inside, I think it’s a must-read.
4. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I loved this fun, sexy book about love between the First Son of the USA and the Prince of England. Such a delightful read! It reminded me a lot of The Royal We.
5. Severance by Ling Ma: I read this book (about a deadly pandemic that sweeps the globe) pretty early on in the pandemic, and yet it was surprisingly less depressing than I thought it might be. I actually enjoyed reading about a similar situation to what we were going through, and the stresses therein, while enjoying a story that was different enough to not heap on the fear. Very compelling. It reminded me of Station Eleven!
6. Attached by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller: This book just casually changed my life. I learned a lot about attachment theory in school, but only about how it impacts kids. Reading about how the theory persists into our adult romantic relationships and close friendships was fascinating and provided me so much clarity and insight as I entered into a serious relationship. I’m anxiously attached, and let’s just say: it shows sometimes. Super helpful if you find yourself dealing with the same relationship issues in every relationship you’re in.
7. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert: Another POSITIVELY DELIGHTFUL romance with a Black, chronically ill protagonist – identities that aren’t typically represented in romance. I actually listened to this one on audio and adored the accents and voices. Very sexy too, I am now a huge fan of Hibbert’s writing.
8. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: This was my favourite book of 2020, and the one I have recommended most often since reading it. It’s a powerful, emotional, vibrant story about the (fictional, but possible) wife of Jesus of Nazareth. She is given a personality that resonated so deeply with elements of my own, a backstory, a passion, a vocation..it is beautiful and an incredible piece of writing. I loved it with all my heart. This interview with Sue Monk Kidd about it was also very good.
9. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: I still think about this novel more often than I expected to. It’s a (slightly) futuristic story about settlers harvesting the bone marrow of Indigenous people in order to dream, and the Indigenous fight to survive under the intense colonial violence they’re subjected to. It is not all that far removed from our current reality, not to mention the history of violence this country has already inflicted upon Indigenous people. It’s a powerful book: adventurous, exciting, heartbreaking, heart-lifting. I loved it.
Gosh, I love to read. Reflecting on my year in reading is always such a joy. I love looking back and seeing what stood out to me out of everything I read, what persists in my mind and in my heart. Reading is an axe for the frozen sea within us, as Kafka said, and all of the books on this list have made me a better person in what has been a particularly challenging year. I am so grateful for this habit and for the stories that change me.
PS. For even more bookish blog content, click here.