Reading 2020

For the past few years, I’ve reflected on my previous year’s reading using Reading Bingo as a framework. But 2020 being the year it was, I’ve decided to go rogue.

I was surprised to find I’d read 13 fewer books in 2020 (total of 45) than I did in 2019, because I feel like I was constantly reading during the year. That said, I suspect I missed recording a few books, my powers of concentration not up to normal standards, given all that was going on.

As usual, I read more fiction than anything else (33 novels, six novellas and one short story collection), mostly by Australian women writers (29); of the 30 Australian authors whose books I read in 2020, 22 of them were known to me personally (which is why I’ve largely stopped reviewing books).

The novels I read fall into roughly two categories: books that resonated with the times, and books that took me away from those times. The books that resonated included The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean Mckay, The Trespassers by Meg Mundell, The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar and The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall. All excellent reads.

And I made #LiteraryCritters inspired by Laura and Meg’s books.

Of the books that helped me escape at times from what was one of my toughest years on record, my stand out reads were: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy (also a contender for a resonate novel with its themes of climate change and mass extinction), Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe, The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen, The Crying Place by Lia Hills, The White Girl by Tony Birch and The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. The funniest book I read was Mammoth by Chris Flynn. And before the year went to hell, I read Tara June Winch’s two novels, Swallow the Air and The Yield, which led me to conclude that she is one of the finest writers Australia has ever produced.

A number of these books inspired #LiteraryCritters, too.

I also confess to reading a couple of books in order to make #LiteraryCritters to go with them, notably The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers (couldn’t resist the cute little Tasmanian Devil pattern by Paw Paw’s Studio). And then of course there was the whole Animals Make Us Human project (soon the subject of another post).

I read three books by American writers, an eclectic mix of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, all of which were excellent.

And I read one poetry collection, Turbulence by Thuy On, which inspired a crocheted koi fish.

I read more non-fiction than usual in 2020, nine books, compared with six in 2019. Included among these was A Better Death by Doctor Ranjana Srivastava, which I found incredibly helpful when my mother was dying.

Towards the end of the year, I felt strong enough to start reading about grief. My first of these books, and my last read of the year, was Melbourne Circle by my friend Nick Gadd. The book documents the ‘psychojogging’ that Nick and his late wife Lynne did of inner city Melbourne over two years, combining history, travelogue, pyschogeography and memoir. The book is a beautiful tribute to Lynne, a poignant reflection on loss, and a wonderful account of Melbourne’s more hidden history. It has also inspired a #LiteraryCritter (a work in progress).

Nick writes: ‘In grief, we act for reasons we don’t understand.’ I took up two practices in the wake of my mother’s death last year, which I continued through Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown and the death of my father: crafting #LiteraryCritters and birdwatching. For months I have not been able to make sense of this. But I’m starting to see how these activities, which occupy my mind and commandeer my attention, have provided a buffer against an immense sadness that might otherwise overwhelm me. Helen Macdonald trains a goshawk when her beloved father dies, which she documents with great poetry and poignancy in H Is For Hawk (my first read for 2021). She writes, ‘I had no use for history, no use for time at all. I was training the hawk to make it all disappear.’ Perhaps I read and craft (and go birdwatching) to make it all disappear, too.

That said, I am encouraged when Nick writes, ‘Change and loss are everywhere, but so are survival and regeneration.’ And for Helen, ‘There was no patience in my waiting, but time had passed all the same, and worked its careful magic. And now…the grief had turned into something different. It was simply love.’

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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11 Responses to Reading 2020

  1. Well, I read significantly fewer books last year too Angela, so I’m not surprised.

    I wish I had turned my grief into something creative like Literary Critters. Instead I turned mine into Monday Morning clean-up/decluttering day! That has made me feel fruitful and as though I am getting my life under control again.

    Anyhow, I enjoyed reading your list of books, some of which I’ve read, and some of which I really want to read. I agree that Tara June Winch is a wonderful Aussie writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I’m glad your decluttering is bringing you comfort, Sue. I think the grief stricken must take our comfort where we find it. For me, that is also coming from books. I haven’t quite had the strength to tackle Joan Didion yet, but The Year of Magical Thinking is on the list. Also Max Porter’s The Thing With Feathers, which has been highly recommended to me.

      Thanks for reading and for your blog posts, which I love to read.


      • Joan Didion is great. I read her long before blogging, but after my last really terrible grief. I found myself often realising I was engaging in magical thinking, not the same as hers but my own version. I read a lot of bookd dealing with grief back then but didn’t turn to such books this time. That said, I’d like to read the Porter.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    That’s the thing, Angela. It was that sort of year, and I think most of us read less than we usually do, and found it harder to concentrate than we usually do. We need to be kind to ourselves and remember what a difficult year we went through, especially in your case given the losses you suffered. As it is, I think you did really well with your reading, and I admire the variety in what you read. And those literary critters are brilliant! Let’s all hope that 2021 is a better year for us, and that we start to heal from the year that was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margot, as always your comments are so thoughtful and appreciated. Thank you for being such a loyal friend. I wish you a happy new year in 2021. You face great challenges in the USA. I’m keeping you in my thought, hoping for a brighter future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have not been a big reader. But as I develop my writing skills, I appreciate the benefit of reading a lot. I set myself a goal of 30 books for 2020 and managed to read 35 – a big improvement on the 19 I read in 2019.
    I also like the idea of an audit of the books you have read which you have given us in this post. I think I will do a similar thing.
    I also read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks recently. I really enjoyed the writing style. Her choice of language really transported the reader back in time – not an easy thing to do whilst still maintaining engagement. Wonderful book.
    Thanks for your thought provoking post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pauline. Yes, I loved Year of Wonders and it was incredibly relevant reading it while Melbourne was in hard lockdown.

      Your writing will certainly benefit from your reading. When I teach creative writing, I always emphasise this point.

      FYI, I use my blog to keep a record of the books I read, but others swear by Goodreads.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. nickgadd says:

    Hi Angela, I’m so glad that Melbourne Circle was a book that you felt you could turn to and gain something from after such a horrible year. I’m excited to see what Literary Critter results! All of these activities, I think, that we take up are in some ways an attempt to fill the hole .. which of course they can never do, but they do give us some kind of comfort. You didn’t mention in the post the lovely pieces about your parents you wrote for Stereo Stories, which perhaps were another way that you responded to the sadness? (And thanks for reminding me of H is for Hawk – what a great book.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kathy D. says:

    Very nice blog post. I will note your fiction read. It is so hard to deal with the loss of a parent. I missed my father every day for three years. With my mother it was just a type of loss and deep feeling, but not the same. It was ponderous. Glad you have found crafts and birdwatching. I think the birdwatching also gives one a feeling of nature, of life going on despite our losses. Like the sun coming up every day. I also read fewer books than the year before. I blame the pandemic. I watched TV news for days in the first few months. And the library was closed. Then I purchased books and found Overdrive, where I can read books in the library’s website. That was a life-saver.
    Hope you are OK. Grief is unpredictable. It goes at its own pace and in its own way. I lost a close friend of 45 years in September and that has been a tough loss. On to a better year, with hopefully, successful vaccines and a Covid-free world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Kathy, I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. I hope you were able to see them before they died. This past year has been so humbling, reminding us of what really matters in life.
      You are right about the unpredictability of grief. I can be fine for long stretches of time, and then the strangest thing can set me off. I let myself feel the feels when it happens (‘better out than in’, as a friend said) and I am finding consolation in books, birds and craft.
      I’m glad you discovered Overdrive; libraries in my home state report that ebook borrowing went up 200% during our COVID-19 lockdown.
      Here’s to a better year for all of us in 2021. Having a new US President is a good start 🙂


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