Throughout the course of 2020, one of my main goals was to read more novels. Growing up, reading was always one of my favorite hobbies, and as a student studying English, I wanted to expand my literary knowledge and read some books that I hadn’t had the chance to get to during my coursework. Of the many novels and works of fiction that I picked up this year, here are my top five favorite books of 2020.
5. “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt
As one of the first books I read in 2020, “The Secret History” is a gripping murder mystery novel featuring college students who are studying the classics. As a twist on the murder mystery plot throughout the novel, you know who dies and who is involved in the murder — but it’s the progression of events and the development of the motivation to murder that I found truly interesting. There’s plenty of ancient philosophy and Greco-Roman allusions sprinkled throughout, and all the characters are strikingly dynamic and tragic at the same time. The text is crafted beautifully, and the story is just as haunting — the combination of these two factors makes for an irresistible read.
4. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
After repeatedly hearing raving reviews of McCarthy’s novels, I decided to see what the hype was all about for myself — and I picked up “The Road” off of my parent’s bookshelf one lazy afternoon in quarantine. As I tore through the novel, I was eerily reminded of our own reality as I read McCarthy’s account of a post-apocalyptic world. Just as the father and son struggle to survive the harsh environment in “The Road,” life in a pandemic felt remarkably similar. Their accounts of isolation, abandonment, searching for supplies and trying to find hope in a bleak situation all hit very close to home. Heartbreaking and awe-inspiring, “The Road” demonstrates the need for human connection — even in the direst scenarios.
3. “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
To offset the darker novels that I had read, I also wanted to challenge myself with a more traditional classic novel. As an English major who had not read Hemingway previously, I thought “The Sun Also Rises” would be a fitting read, and I was further compelled to read this novel as it is set in 1926 — just six years after the Spanish Flu pandemic ended. Before writing “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway worked as a journalist in Paris, and his writing style evokes a journalistic tone. The novel features a casual representation of the Lost Generation as one that is resilient rather than weakened — and the accounts of one group’s travels throughout Europe made me nostalgic for the travels we are currently unable to take.
2. “Normal People” by Sally Rooney
“Normal People” revolves around the lives of two teenagers — Marianne and Connell — as they grow up, attend college and fall in and out of each other’s lives. The novel is centered around their relationship, but it also discusses important themes such as searching for independence and healing through past and present traumas. Sticking true to the title, Marianne and Connell seem like ‘normal people’ and their relationship is presented in an ordinary manner — they have real issues and conflicts they are constantly working to resolve. This novel was also recently adapted into a limited series on Hulu, and even though I think the book is always better than a film or TV adaptation, the “Normal People” series also does a great job of telling the story, just on a different platform.
1. “Eat the Document” by Dana Spiotta
For my favorite book of the year, “Eat the Document” was a novel that I just could not put down. “Eat the Document” has several different plot lines telling the stories of various characters — including a rebellious fugitive, a mysterious bookstore owner, a young activist and a retro music aficionado. The novel works as a collage of these various narratives, and as the novel progresses, their individual stories eventually converge as each character is somehow tied to another. The novel is split between two time periods, the ‘70s and the ‘90s. Throughout the book, the discussions of anti-war sentiment and the rise of the New Left are centered on an appreciation of the music of the time. Simultaneously political and musical, “Eat the Document” was an incredible read that kept me coming back for more until I reached the final page.
These books helped me to escape — or to reflect — on the tumultuous year that was 2020. By routinely sitting down to read, I remembered my love of reading and my appreciation for a well-written story. As we all dealt with difficult times this year, simply taking a moment to curl up with a good book can be a great way to forget about the world and enter a new one of your choosing. Of all of these great reads that I discovered in 2020, I cannot wait to see what the next year will hold.