Best Of 2020

Best of: March

Hello, dear fellow book-lovers. Current circumstances are feeding my anxiety like a hungry puppy, but when I can step away from my devices, and talk myself down from the crazy thoughts popping up in my mind, I find that I’m clear-headed enough to read. And I am incredibly grateful, both for the escape it offers me, and for the sense of work-related purpose and achievement it gives me when I’m not managing to do any writing. If you’re here, then I hope that means you’re still finding joy in reading too, or perhaps you’re just making lists of good things for when you can get to them again. Here’s three more for your list.

Best Short Stories: Love, Pan-fried, by Gray Crosbie (2019, Knight Errant Press) I can’t remember who drew this collection to my attention, it popped up on twitter and it sounded like something I’d like, and clicky clicky – there’s been quite a bit of that lately. I really loved it. These tiny stories are surprising, and fantastical, and like all good fairy tales, have a dark side that leaves bloody marks. “In the end I built a snowman to survive. I made him look just like you, with your hat and the frown you wore when too cold.” Crosbie works with such precision of language and conjures such depth of emotion in so few words. These stories will stay with you, having dug in their claws.

Best in Translation: Fair Play, by Tove Jansson (tr. Thomas Teal 2007, Sort of Books) I’ve never read anything by Tove Jansson before, although she keeps coming up on my radar and somehow I’ve had a feeling for ages that I was in love with her. Like when you’ve never been to a place but feel like you spent all your summer holidays there once. Is that even a thing or just me? I don’t really need to convince anyone of Jansson’s excellence, but you may not know (I didn’t) that as well as the wonderful Moomins she wrote several books for adults. Fair Play is perhaps a novel and perhaps a set of linked short stories, following the relationship of two women who travel and work and live alongside one another. It’s delightfully domestic and I found it so relevant to current times – for most of the book Jonna and Mari’s world is quite small, as ours is at the moment, and they find satisfaction and often joy in the small things they do, and the ordinary moments they spend with each other. This edition has an excellent introduction by Ali Smith, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Best Novel: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo. I say ‘novel’ for convenience, but I really don’t think this is a novel. Linked short stories? Not even that really. A series of linked vignettes? I’m sure there are many opinions, and many different readings of this book. I thought it was remarkable (well, obviously I’m not the only one) and I don’t care that it doesn’t tell a story. It tells us about women, all kinds of women; it tells us about their relationships to each other, and how complicated those relationships can get as the interwoven threads reach out further. Evaristo moves from one character to the next with sheer mastery, every single person feels so real and complete. I’m sure nothing I’m saying hasn’t been said before, but if by any chance you’re still tossing up whether or not to read this, or are worried that it’s ‘Booker-y’, or hard or dull, then please stop hesitating and go get your hands on it right now.

That’s it for March, I hope you and your loved ones are all well, and you’re finding some moments of escape and delight in amongst the challenges. Tell me what you’ve been reading, or what you plan to read next. Xx