Somehow, despite everything, it’s been an amazing year for books. Here, in no particular order, are our 10 favourites for 2020!
Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett & David Boyd)
You’ll find two Japanese translations on our list this year, and we’re slightly divided on which one we love more. Arriving first was Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs, a searing and human dissection of attitudes towards women in contemporary Japan that manages to be as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Pew, by Catherine Lacey
A nameless, genderless and seemingly raceless drifter wakes up in a church pew in a small town in the southern states of America. The townspeople name them Pew, and set about trying to determine where they came from, who they might be, and what this new resident means for the town. Catherine Lacey’s ingenious set-up forces us to consider first impressions and to examine prejudices, but it’s packaged like a ghostly fable.
Action Park, by Andy Mulvihill
Action Park: Andy Mulvihill£14.99
At times, this memoir sounds like it simply can’t be true. The full story of America’s most notoriously dangerous theme park is by turns hilarious and terrifying, with moral grey areas washed throughout, but deep beneath the theatrics is a surprisingly tender book about the author’s relationship with his maniacal and effervescent father, park owner Gene Mulvihill. Possibly the most out-and-out entertaining non-fiction book of the year.
Earthlings, by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
No book caused us greater excitement this year than Sayaka Murata’s follow-up to Convenience Store Woman. We were expecting it to be good, but we weren’t expecting it to be so gleefully unhinged. Nor were we expecting it to be a story about a woman who believes she is an alien, and receives communications from a space hedgehog named Piyyut. Deliberately provocative, confronting and challenging throughout, this is a spectacularly odd novel.
Real Life, by Brandon Taylor
This was like a summer soundtrack for us this year. Taking place over one extended weekend, this debut novel introduced to Wallace, a shy biologist whose life is turned upside down in a short space of time. He reckons with his love life, his status as a gay black man in academia, and the tumultuous fallout from a truly appalling dinner party. Melancholy and contemplative but pulling no punches, Real Life stayed with us long after the summer was over.
The Discomfort Of Evening, by Marieke Lukas Rijneveld (translated by Michele Hutchison)
A deserved winner of the International Man Booker this year, this is a dark, weird and deeply disturbing portrait of grief from a debut author with a deeply idiosyncratic narrative voice that lends itself perfectly to the frosty setting of a Dutch dairy farm after a family tragedy. We loved every creepy second of it.
In The Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado
In the dream house£9.99
After devouring her short stories in previous years, we knew Carmen Maria Machado’s new book was going to be worth waiting for. With rich and luminous prose, this stunning memoir creates a stunning picture of a soured relationship and all the attendant emotional intricacies. Inventive, refreshing and frank throughout, we were totally engrossed by one of the most affecting reads of the year.
Hurricane Season, by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes)
Uncompromising, bewitching, troubling and strangely beautiful, we were bowled over by Mexican writer Fernanda Melchor’s first novel to be translated into English. A twisted murder mystery that reveals the inner workings of village life in disturbing, psychedelic and unnerving ways.
The Adventures of China Iron, by Gabriel Cabezón Cámara (translated by Fiona Mackintosh & Iona McIntyre)
Adventures Of China Iron£9.99
The Adventures Of China Iron gave us a heroine with grit and palpable gumption: Gabriel Cabezón Cámara’s feminist retelling of an old Argentinian legend has a whisky-chugging Scottish woman in it, it’s a gay love story and it’s only 200 pages long (we are big fans of brevity). You’d do well to find a more joyous and life-affirming book this year.
Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino
Jia Tolentino’s immensely readable collection of essays, Trick Mirror, proved to be just as intriguing as its title, distilling and dissecting topics ranging from campus sexual assault to the prevalence of pre-packaged salads for office lunches with equal rigour, a picture of contemporary America drawn by a writer who is deeply immersed within it.