My five favourite books of 2020 (and honourable mentions)

Happy new year! When I started writing this blog I wasn’t sure what kind of stuff I’d write, if I’d keep going or lose motivation. I’ve found this to be such a fun place to really reflect on books I’ve read, read others posts and get to interact with those of you who comment- thank you so much for reading, following and commenting. Writing has particularly given a bit of structure and a sense of a community throughout the lonlier lockdown stages of 2020. As we head into another UK lockdown- a more positive one I feel, with a vaccine available- I’d like to say I hope you’re all doing as well as you can, and I hope to keep writing here 😊 I managed to read 100 books last year (thanks lockdown) and I wanted to round off the year/start the year with my favourite books of 2020. I will, however, be using my written thoughts for previous posts as I read some a long time ago and my memory is not the best haha. Hopefully you’ll find something that you might enjoy in this post 😊. Ps. I only include new reads here because I know that I’m going to love rereads.

Mr loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four and leads a double life. Born and bred in Antigua, he’s lived in Hackney since the sixties. A flamboyant, wise-cracking local character with a dapper taste in retro suits and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare, Barrington is a husband, father and grandfather – but he is also secretly homosexual, lovers with his great childhood friend, Morris. His deeply religious and disappointed wife, Carmel, thinks he sleeps with other women. When their marriage goes into meltdown, Barrington wants to divorce Carmel and live with Morris, but after a lifetime of fear and deception, will he manage to break away? Mr Loverman is a ground-breaking exploration of Britain’s older Caribbean community, which explodes cultural myths and fallacies and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves.’ (Mr Loverman synopsis)

I love finding an author and liking every one of their books, I’m excited to read all of her books eventually. This book is emotional but equally funny, lighthearted and charming. There is a very British humour and sarcasm to it, which as I’ve mentioned before, I love. Barrington and Morris are very warm, likeable characters whilst feeling 3-dimensional. I enjoy the layers in Evaristo’s writing and I really liked the way that this book explored the fact that you be gay with internalised homophobia, and that being gay and LGBT friendly does not automatically make you a ‘PC’ person- Barrington is flawed and has some sexist characteristics that are explored throughout. I feel that this is more realistic than some stories, where characters in a minority group are automatically thought to support every minority group, even ones that they are not part of, and I find it interesting to read about characters who experience marginalisation and yet can marginalises others with their views. Barrington is a very layered, interesting character and I felt really warm whilst reading Mr Loverman. I think this is the exact balance required for a book with such heavy themes and I’d really recommend it, I loved it 🙂

Favourite/meaningful quote:

‘In that moment, I wanted to tell this stranger, this Merle, this girl from the tiny island of Montserrat, that I had commensurate preferences too, but I couldn’t be a brave warrior like her.

I wanted to tell her about Morris.

I wanted to sing his name out into the night.

His name is Morris. He is my Morris and he always been my Morris. He’s a good-hearted man, a special man, a sexy man, a history-loving man, a loyal man, a man who appreciates a good joke, a man of many moods, a drinking man, and a man with whom I can be myself completely.

Yes, I was in the throes of a Malibu-and-Coke-soaked madness, a madness that could lead to the demise of my life as I’d hitherto known it. But I was on the verge.’

The Crimson Petal and the White- Michel Faber

Welcome to Victorian London as you’ve never seen it before. Amongst an unforgettable cast of low-lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge.’ (The Crimson Petal and the White synopsis)

I read this last January and writing about it brings me back to a Wintery Christmassy feel with blustery, rainy nights- the perfect setting to read a about a Victorian time period (I’m so excited for Winter, I love it!). This is a long, long book with such intricate detail. Whilst they take a lot longer to read, I can’t resist long, character driven stories that really take the time to set the scene and envelop you in the world. Due to the subject matter, this is also quite a dark gothic novel that can be difficult to read at times. I heard about this book when both Jen Campbell and The Personal Philosophy Project talked about it on youtube- I love getting book recommendations on booktube, please recommend some of your favourite channels that discuss books! I often enjoy books that they recommend, and I was very interested in hearing that this book is loosely based on Jane Eyre. They also mentioned an abrupt ending that leaves you wanting more and I’m always very intrigued by endings like this. Jane Eyre references/parallels are apparent throughout, however, this does not ruin the story or make it easy to guess what’s going to happen, and the story and characters were very original- I loved the balance. There are characters that are definitely not likeable, and characters that I loved, particularly Sugar and Agnes. I love reading from the perspectives of the morally ambiguous characters and I found them all very interesting (although at times during the Rackham chapters I was excited to get back to other’s stories, which I think was intentional in the writing). I’d really recommend this book, although I wouldn’t recommend going into it if you are in a negative mental state, and I’d beware of themes of abuse. The narration within this story is also incredibly interesting as Faber breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader- almost as though we are watching a Victorian play (the narration and themes remind me a little of Moulin Rouge, one of my favourite films). Whilst writing this I’ve been swept back into such a Wintery mood and it’s really made me remember how much I loved this book! I’ll definitely look into reading more of Faber’s books if they are written as intricately and beautifully as this one!

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.’ (Girl, woman, other synopsis)

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book because whilst I love contemporaries, I tend not to like short stories, however, I very quickly got into the unusual writing style and I loved this book! I think the ways in which the characters were interconnected kept a flow and helped to make the book feel like a whole story rather than short stories. I loved the way that Evaristo raised discussions around feminism, gender and race through the perspectives of the characters- I began to think deeply about these issues and the discussions that the characters were having. The way in which these issues were interspersed felt very natural and I feel that the different opinions voiced through the characters multiple perspectives allow the reader to form their own opinions. Through this writing style the reader can be part of the discussions without the authors distinguishing a ‘right or wrong’ perspective- that said it is important to note that there are a number of issues raised within this story that are clearly wrong such as examples of racism and domestic abuse. I found the conversations about race between Amma, Dominique and Nzinga and Morgan’s feelings surrounding gender as a construct to be particularly interesting:

Amma thought she was accusing them of being too white or at best, in-authentically black, she’d come across it before, foreigners equating an English accent with whiteness, she always felt the need to speak up when it was implied that black Brits were inferior to African-Americans or Africans or West Indians’ (Amma)

women are designed to have babies, not to play with dolls, and why shouldn’t women sit with their legs wide open (if they’re wearing trousers obv) and what does mannish or manly mean anyway? walking with long strides? being assertive? taking charge? wearing ‘male’ clothes? not wearing makeup? unshaved legs? shaved head (lol), drinking pints instead of wine? preferring football to online makeup tutorials (yawn), and traditionally men wear makeup and skirts in parts of the world so why not in ours without being accused of being ‘effeminate’? what does effeminate actually mean when you break it down? (Morgan)

This book was engaging and fast paced; I would say by the last quarter I read it a little more slowly as there were so many new characters, but overall I felt that every character was interesting (although Amma and Yazz are maybe my favourites as the ones I got to know first). I would recommend this book- although I’m sure you’ve heard of it already haha- I loved it 😊

Favourite/meaningful quote (there were many):

… ageing is nothing to be ashamed of especially when the entire human race is in it together

white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race

Song of Sacrifice by Janell Rhiannon

The heart of the Trojan War belongs to the women. Mothers and daughters; wives and war prizes all whisper to us across time… praying they be remembered alongside the mighty men of myth.

As the Age of Heroes wanes, the gods gamble more fiercely with mortals’ lives than ever before. Women must rely on their inner strength and cunning if they’re going to survive the wars men wage for gold and glory. They struggle for control of their own lives. Rise from the ashes of brutal assaults. Fight to survive… by any means necessary. In a world where love leads to war and duty leads to destruction, it is the iron hearts of these heroines that will conquer all.’ (Song of Sacrifice synopsis).

I hadn’t heard of this book until I listened to Rhiannon’s podcast on spotify Greek Mythology Retold (which I found in 2020 and love). This is a retelling of the events leading up to the Trojan War based upon the Iliad, with an emphasis on the different perspectives and experiences of the main characters throughout. This is a long book, but I really enjoyed it and the detail allowed the author time to think about how each character would have felt and dealt with their different fates throughout- in her podcast, Rhiannon emphasises her interest in the perspective of the women in the war and the relationship between humans, fate and the Gods. This book is easy to read with interesting characters and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the Iliad but would like to learn more about the Trojan War- I’ve read the Iliad but I built my way up by reading about 20 myth retellings first and without doing this I would have no clue what was happening hahaha. I think mythology is one of those things where it will always take a long time to get to grips with what’s going on, but I do think this could be an interesting starting point (with the help of Google or a map of the million characters haha). 😊 I think the author is planning for this to be a series known as the Homeric Chronicles with around four books, there are currently two out just now.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Meet Queenie. She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling.’ (Queenie synopsis)

I knew nothing about this book going into it, but I instantly loved Queenie as a character and found this very quick and easy to read. This book emphasises the more ‘every-day’ elements of systemic racism and Candy-Williams highlighted the ignorance of white people in denying racism through the dismissive nature of the white characters; Queenie experiences lots of gaslighting from her relationship and there are several examples of her ex-boyfriend supporting the racist statements and assumptions made by his family. As a result of this gaslighting, Queenie often doubts herself and the racism or sexism that she faces throughout this book- I loved the nuanced way that this is addressed as the writer effectively emphasised the doubt that people can feel whilst standing up for what’s right, and the way that dominant assumptions and meritocratic discourse create an environment where racism and sexism can go unchallenged. Queenie will be a very relatable character for readers in her actions and inner monologues. I will note here that there is lots on consent, power and abuse which is extremely well written but may act as a trigger for some readers.

I also enjoyed the realistic and positive depictions of mental health and illness, and Queenies relationships with her family and friends. Themes of reliance on others and the need to work on yourself and learn to love yourself can be seen throughout. It was very interesting to read about the cultural elements of mental health discussions in this book; Queenie and her family reflect upon the often-dismissive reaction to mental illness within Jamaican culture, and reluctance or shame surrounding accepting help.

Important/meaningful quote:

It’s not putting black lives on a pedestal, I don’t even know what that means,” I said, my heart beating fast. “It’s saying that black lives, at this point, and historically, do not, and have not mattered, and that they should!”

I looked first at Gina, then around the room to see if anyone was going to back me up. Instead, I was met with what I’d been trying to pretend hadn’t always been a room full of white not-quite-liberals whose opinions, like their money, had been inherited.

Honourable mentions

  • The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (this book and Queenie are even to me, it was hard to decide)- See ‘Books I read in October’
  • Six Tudor Queens: Katheryn Howard by Alison Weir- September books 1st to 15th
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Hate u Give by Angie Thomas- see May books 22nd to 31st
  • The Iliad by Homer

Thank you so much for reading, please let me know your favourite books of 2020, I love these kind of lists! 😊

P.s. I don’t use Goodreads, but I do record books on List Challenges and I’ve made a list of all the books of 2020 if you want to see how many you’ve read:

https://www.listchallenges.com/books-carly-read-or-reread-in-2020

Books I read in October

Autumn/Winter time in general- and more specifically the very strange 2020 vibes- have made me want to go back to rereading and the comfort it brings, something that I’ve been making a conscious effort to do less of for a couple of years due to the never ending pile of new books I have, hahaha. I just love the welcoming atmosphere of rereading an old favourite, even better if it’s a childhood book on a cold Winter’s night. In October I read two new books and reread four childhood favourites (I also meant to read some spooky Halloween books but I just wasn’t in the right vibe)

The Black Flamingo- Dean Atta (Physical book, new read)

‘A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.’ (Black Flamingo synopsis)

I didn’t know what to expect from this book because I often don’t really like young adult unless I read it as a teen, just because I often find it cheesy, however, this book is beautiful and I ended up absolutely loving it. It was real, poignant and even made me cry a lil bit. I appreciate that it doesn’t overdo any of it’s themes, but will be very beneficial to a number of people. The prose also makes it very quick to read which I always love as I want to keep going and really engage with the characters. I’d highly recommend this book for everyone. I also love family themes where you can feel the love and connection coming through, please recommend any books that come to mind.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

To have a loving family is to feel afraid and yet believe you are going to be all right.

Don’t.
Don’t come out unless you want to. Don’t come out for anyone else’s sake. Don’t come out because you think society expects you to.
Come out for yourself.
Come out to yourself.
Shout, sing it.
Softly stutter.
Correct those who say they knew before you did.
That’s not how sexuality works, it’s yours to define
.’

Meat Market- Juno Dawson (new read, audiobook)

‘Jana Novak’s history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she’s uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she’s unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom…But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.‘ (Meat Market synopsis)

I enjoy/get very enraged reading books about the fashion industry because I feel very passionate yet mixed about the messages associated with the industry. Fashion can be exciting, interesting and obviously has a part to play in everyone’s lives. I have respect for models who are very hardworking and have to spend lots of time in what I can imagine would be a very isolating job at times. However, I am extremely passionate about ensuring that children and young adults do not have to grow up in a world that condemns people for what they look like, promotes weight loss, eating disorders and a negative perception of self image; again, I am not condemning models who are naturally slim, it is not wrong to be skinny and there is too much body shaming concerning tall, slim individuals, however, it is disgusting that the people who work behind the scenes in such industries, and in magazines promote only one image and imply that everybody should have a slim body type that is only natural to a few people. Not only are diets promoted and disordered eating encouraged (obviously not by all), but the fashion industry is also extremely racist, ageist and in many cases transphobic. I went on a lil rant there, I’ll get onto the book now.

This is a young adult book (this is the first month in ages that I’ve only read YA!) and it does well to tackle some of these themes, as seen from the first hand account of the narrator, who herself is growing and learning as the story progresses. It has a number of stereotypical tropes associated with fashion and YA, and at times I felt like it dragged a little bit, however, for the most part it was very interesting with an important message. Trigger warning- this book includes themes of assault and one of the main themes in the second half of the book is the me too movement. I felt like this subject matter was handled well. There are also themes that may be triggering for anyone recovering from an eating disorder or substance abuse. I’d recommend this book if you are interested in the themes, I enjoyed it.

‘Girls’ series- Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical books)

Back at it with the Jacqueline Wilson books, this is definitely my favourite series of hers, I still find these books incredibly interesting and love the characters (most of them). I find them so readable and they have Wilson’s typical ability to touch on heavy themes in an engaging and almost comforting way. Ellie is such a lovable (if angsty) character and I feel so at home and comforted every time I revisit these books. P.s. I swear I read these when I was about 9, my mum just saw Jaqueline Wilson and assumed they were fine, but they really are more for teens hahaha, please beware of this.

Girls in Love– focuses on the pressure to be in a relationship as a young teen, with darker themes of grooming.

Girls under Pressure– discusses eating disorders and image, background themes of grief and loss in family

Girls out Late– first relationships and pressure with changing friendships. (I hate Russell, good lord what a character).

Girls in Tears– again pressure to have sex, relationships, grooming, friendships and jealousy.

This has been a month where I’ve felt like I’ve read nothing, but I’ve actually read some pretty lovely (and in many cases comforting) books 🙂 I hope you’re well!

Sexuality

As a warning, this is probably more a stream of consciousness than anything else haha. I’d also like to make a little disclaimer here- I sometimes feel a bit selfish or self-involved whilst writing because there’s no conversation between people (apart from when you comment, thank you because I love reading comments!) so I have to use the word ‘I’ a lot which feels self-indulgent. I know this is kind of the point of a blog post haha but just know that I’m aware of it! This is also just a place to ramble, I am incredibly lucky to been safe and happy with a home, friends and family and there are so many larger issues going on. Lastly, I don’t represent everyone in the LGBTQIA community. That said, I would like to use this post to ramble about my sexuality.

Whilst I have always known that I have no interest in guys, I have also always been very aware of the prejudice, stigma and discrimination that can come with being labelled as gay or a lesbian. Whilst actively doing what I can to support LGBT causes, I have been very hesitant to come out as a lesbian. I have, however, now told my Mum and sister. I have social (and maybe general) anxiety which is maybe not always evident by looking at me- I often get told that I look incredibly laid back or relaxed which I always find amusing as I’m running through a million thoughts in my mind. In general, I am a laidback and chilled out person which makes for a very strange contrast to my simultaneously anxious ways. This anxiety is a combination of lots of things, from my introverted personality to losing my Dad as a child, and I feel like sexuality or relationships in general have contributed a lot to it. It can be very stressful discovering who you are when being gay still creates such an emotive response in society; I have accepted who I am and I would have been able to do this and meet people a lot earlier if it hadn’t been for the prejudice that exists (not by everyone, many people are amazing). In general, society assumes that being straight is the norm. This in itself is not necessarily a problem, however, society (generalising) also condemn people who do not ‘come out’ as lying or concealing their sexuality. In order to live a truthful, fulfilling life that may include having a relationship, LGBT people therefore have to come out, resulting in sexuality (I’m focusing more on sexuality than gender in this ramble) becoming a big revelation. This would maybe be okay if people were accepting; many are, however, there are still significant numbers of people who are homophobic. Therefore, if you are gay or bi, you are either ‘lying’ and hiding something, or you are vocal about your sexuality and therefore face prejudice (from some). This is a very, very difficult situation and has definitely contributed to my anxiety. I have spent most of my life single- in part, I have been very happy with this, I enjoy solitude and the freedom that comes with this. However, there are times- particularly when I think about the future (society also make you feel old by 24 hahaha)- that I feel lonely. I have been able to rid (supress) some of my anxiety in the past by ignoring my sexuality, however, if I do this for long enough I have become depressed. We therefore must do something about the world we live in where people experience anxiety for being themselves, or depression that comes from repressing your sexuality. Thank you so much everyone who is already taking steps to do this and support LGBT rights. My Mum and sister have been incredibly kind and supportive and have been upset only by the fact that they have seen how ill I have made myself in worrying about what to say and what people will think. However, I am still incredibly nervous to tell others and potentially experience prejudice or negative assumptions. There are also a number of men who genuinely believe that some more feminine girls lie about their sexuality to attract male attention, or who sexualise lesbian or bi girls (again, I am not referring to all men, I have so much respect for most people).

I don’t know where I’m going with this post but in a way it’s allowing me the chance to think about and vocalise some things that I have maybe suppressed. I think one of the things people are usually curious to know is when somebody ‘decided’ to be gay or realised- if I really took the time to think about my sexuality, I probably could have come out at any age. I have a specific memory of being around 6 and my friend talking about marrying a man and having children. Even then, I replied that I want children but don’t want to be married. The first time a guy kissed me I was in panic attack mode for around two days- this was the type of guy who, if I was straight I would have been attracted to. The fact that I felt nothing/anxiety when he kissed me signalled that I would not be able to lie to myself and I found this extremely stressful. I have never wanted a relationship with a man and have thought about it only in the past as a resolution to being forever alone- there were times when I considered pretending to be straight almost to make life easier. However, ultimately, I knew that I would become ill with anxiety and more importantly I could not lie to another person. I would be negatively affecting someone else’s life if I did this and I could not allow myself to do this. This would be incredibly unfair.

 Now that I feel free to admit that I’m not attracted to guys, I have space to think about my feelings. I have liked guys on a surface level before (because I put lots of effort into making myself hahaha, what a disaster) and I still blush or get nervous if an extremely attractive guy talks to me, however, this is the furthest my attraction goes, I have never wanted to be in a relationship with a guy. Interestingly, guys that I have dated in the past are bi or now have boyfriends- I feel like we both instantly felt safer and more relaxed with each other because we knew we were not straight hahaha (this post is probably quite something for a Fredian psychologist). Ironically, I feel like after I come out to everyone, I will be able to have stronger relationships with males. I’ve never really felt very close to guys, and having no brothers, I wish I had close male friends. However, I have always been concerned that if I am very friendly towards guys I meet that they will take it as flirting or assume I like them (not that they’d necessarily like me back, I don’t want to come across as being very vain because that’s not what I mean at all haha). It has been very stressful thinking of 1000000 reasons to reject guys that have asked me out (again, not saying there have been many) without hurting their feelings or being questioned by my friends (I’m honestly so curious as to what my friends think my sexuality is hahaha, my sister said she kind of thought I liked girls but also kind of thought I’d secretly dated more guys and just hadn’t told her, or just haven’t dated many people because I’m so shy/anxious).

 Because I am so stereotypically feminine, people assume that I am straight- despite a few subtle stereotypes such as being a crazy cat lady, loving Hozier, Lana del ray songs, Orange is the New Black, Killing Eve, doc martens and being vegan- also the subtle hint in that I show absolutely no interest in guys (I’d be intrigued to learn if anyone on here thought/assumed anything of my sexuality, I find it interesting to know). This is in some ways a blessing as I do not encounter negativity ort abuse from strangers who assume that I am gay, however, it also means that I will have to consistently come out throughout my life and experience the reactions that may not necessarily be positive.

Anyway, the point was I’m looking forward to hopefully building closer relationships to guys in the future because we will both know that it is entirely based upon platonic friendship. I think I’ll eventually be more confident and more able to be myself in general- hiding your sexuality wears (wheres?) you down over time. I’ve felt tired whilst socialising and spent a lot of time holding back, feeling secretive, or lying about which guys I find attractive. I am now worried that some girls may jump to the wrong conclusion that I must secretly like them, and this is something I find extremely stressful in the prospect of telling my friends that I like girls. I always try to go for the approach of saying nothing about guys where I can rather than directly lying, but as I mentioned earlier, having to ‘lie’ is not something to be ashamed of- it is unfair of society to condemn people for hiding their sexuality when the world can be homophobic.

I’m also excited to now feel able to think about what I want in the future, where before it was an anxious disaster cycle of deciding whether to be alone forever (which I still might be, who knows hahaha, and ps. It’s completely fine if you want to be), being with guys which I know I would not be able to sustain long term or coming out. I think this time to think is necessary, as contrary to what some people believe, coming out does not mean you have all the answers and you are going to be in a relationship straight away. I now have more questions that before, for example, thinking about how I will have children and the issues/questions that will arise from this. However, the point is I am starting to feel free to think about these things, I am beginning to feel excited about the future and it is starting to have form. I believe that in coming out you are gifting yourself the freedom that most straight people take for granted (again, I am not reflecting on a number of important social justice issues here, I understand that there are significant problems and abuse that can take place in heterosexual relationships, I am simply reflecting upon the absence of issues specifically relating to sexuality). I have a long way to go and a lot more stress and anxiety to work through before reaching the ‘other side’ (this is very cheesy) but I feel freer already.

If you are currently in the place that I have been in, please feel free to talk to me (my Instagram is carlybooksandmusic), I will never reveal anything you say to anybody else. Also, please know that you do not have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Thank you if you’ve read this whole ramble haha, as soon as I post this I will probably be incredibly stressed (good old anxiety hahaha). I hope you’re well 😊