Day #13429 – The Very Best Things I Read In 2020

On the second of January (2020) we went to town and bought some spoons, having noticed we never quite had enough.  Then we took the cat to the vets for her yearly check-up.  We felt so organised and on top of things, surely this would be an efficient, orderly year.  In February we went to Manchester and there was a man at the airport dressed in full hazmat suit, as a joke.  Ha ha.  Ha.  Um, ha?  From there, things went downhill, didn’t they?  Here on the small island we were very lucky and got away with it lightly. Since the summer, life here has been weirdly normal.  Apart from not being able to leave, we can get on with life as normal – walking around, doing things. 

Still, 2020 – with its insistence that we spend more time alone, its crackdown on things going on, its constant events that you wanted to block out with fiction – was a good year for reading.  Lots of reading. Good books (Boy Parts, the debut by Eliza Clark; White Tears by Hari Kunzru, the excellent Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy), more good books (Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, Paul Takes The Form Of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor), bad books (I read a James Paterson novel for a library reading challenge), confounding books (Jaws by Peter Benchley – 50 pages left and they hadn’t even got in the boat?!).  Books by authors I really like (the new Juan Pablo Villalobos was good but didn’t hit the heights of his others).  Books that I’d read before (both of Jon McGregor’s last two novels – Even The Dogs, Reservoir 13 – were rewarding to revisit).  Books that won prizes (I really liked Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and Milkman by Anna Burns).  Books, books, books, books, eh?

There was Clyde Fans by Seth – a beautifully, quietly drawn story about two brothers running a shop that sells electric fans.  In places it flirts with being almost deliciously boring before it yields and offers up its awkward charms.  I read this right at the start of the year (it was a present last Christmas) and writing about it now makes me want to re-visit it.

Cathy Sweeney’s Modern Times was my favourite collection of short stories.  These are stories that exist right in the space where I like them – short, weird, funny.  Over the course of this collection, Sweeney proved herself adept at writing stories that didn’t proceed how you expected, twisting and turning in surprising ways that nevertheless never felt forced.

My favourite novel of the year was Hurricane Season by Mexican author Fernanda Melchor.  Soon after reading it, I was gratified to read in an interview with her that two writers who had influenced her were Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  This was pleasing because the first, brief, chapter, in which a group of small boys discover a body in the stream seemed like an homage to King’s The Body, the short story that inspired the film Stand By Me.  The second chapter, which recounts the history of The Witch and her influence in the village in which the novel is set, and describes the passing of the mantle to her progeny, also known as The Witch, reminded me of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, of all the generations of characters, the strange magic, things that might be myths. 

At that point, I thought that was what Hurricane Season was going to be about, but where One Hundred Years Of Solitude spirals outwards, adding more and more and more on top of what has already happened, Hurricane Season at this point digs inwards and spends the rest of its 200 (dense, intense) pages exploding the village’s myths until anything that might have seemed magical is exposed, worn down to a gritty reality in a series of hard truths told by the various characters implicated in the life and death of The Witch.

Bonus Music Bloggery Content!  My Favourite Albums of 2020

  1. DEERHOOF – Future Teenage Cave Artists
  2. THE SOFT PINK TRUTH – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
  3. SHACKLETON / ZIMPEL – Primal Forms
  4. MARY LATTIMORE – Silver Ladders
  5. MELENAS – Dias Raros
  6. THEO ALEXANDER – Broken Access
  7. MIDORI HIRANO – Invisible Island
  8. CRAVEN FAULTS – Erratics & Unconformities
  9. PERFUME GENIUS – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Writing Challenge: A-Z

In this instance, the challenge issued was to write a short story consisting of 26 sentences, each one starting with the next letter of the alphabet. It should be on the theme of ‘order.’

All day it felt like he got things wrong.
Before breakfast, his clothes resisted.
Crumbling like dust, no explanation.
Deaf to his complaints the day continued.
Each minute ticking past in brief error.
For instance, this unfinished thought.
Going round in circles, it felt like he was.
Holding things the wrong way up, he was.
Imagining everything falling over, he was.
Just hold on a minute and try to correct.
Knowing this had all happened before.
Lately, every day had felt the same.
Must he merely put up with all this?
No, there had to be a way to get control.
Order was what he needed, organisation.
Picking things up, putting them in place.
Quite carefully creating sense from chaos.
Really starting to feel a bit more positive.
Steadying the ship, this is good, better.
There was still some part of the day left.
Under the light of the moon he worked.
Very carefully in the diminished light.
Wasting not a second before it was gone.
X next to Y which goes next to Z, end.
Yes, he had completed the day’s task.