Only one of these actually came out this year, and one was published in 1847. A true spectrum. Without ado, the best books I’ve absorbed over the past six months — listed from just-read to January.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Brontë
Yes, I majored in English lit. No, I hadn’t read Wuthering Heights until June of 2020. Emily Brontë writes in that gorgeous lost-art classic style that makes me feel like I’m really working my brain as I read. I’m particularly fascinated by the role race plays in this novel and how I’d never heard it mentioned before that Heathcliff very possibly could’ve been Black.
(Also, IMAGINE being one of the Brontë sisters. The skill! The prowess! Just imagine.)
MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Easily one of the most-hyped reads of 2020. My Dark Vanessa is a novel of obsession, abuse, and psychological trauma. It asks questions about agency and power; it challenges, interrogates, and confirms widely held notions about the nature of emotionally and sexually abusive relationships — in turn forcing the reader to challenge and question those notions themselves. Horrifying, illuminating, and intensely memorable.
THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride is not for everyone. Her prose defies convention, using a blend of stream-of-consciousness, thought fragments, and “normal” structure to give you a sense of a character and their inner monologue. It’s not easy to read, and I get why some people would forego her work — but I’m absolutely enraptured by the way she manages to develop character and story with such a strange, distinctive style. The Lesser Bohemians is a pull-no-punches chronicle of the sickening agony of obsessive love and the gut-wrenching pain of those moments where you’d literally do anything to keep a person in your life. I’ll read anything this woman writes.
(Side note: what is happening in Ireland to churn out writers like McBride and Sally Rooney?? Unreal.)
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION by Ottessa Moshfegh
This is a rather infuriating read. Told from the perspective of a deeply unlikable protagonist attempting to heal a truly fucked-up psyche — one dealing with grief, loss, and a toxic attachment to a waste-of-space ex-partner — My Year of Rest and Relaxation explores the line between self-serving egotism and self-care and offers a unique look at depression and mental health through a murky lens of vice, addiction, and consumerism. A one-of-a-kind read.
A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING by Ruth Ozeki
I adored this dreamy, sad, atmospheric tale by Ruth Ozeki and spent equal time crying and sitting enthralled by her seemingly boundless capacity for calm exploration of our most daunting existential questions. How much agency do we have over our own lives? What does it mean to die? And what, for that matter, does it really mean to live? I’m fascinated by death, so A Tale for the Time Being really struck a chord with me.
WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith
This was my first Zadie Smith, and I don’t think I was ready for her deeply layered and intricate storytelling. Packed with cultural commentary and smart, sharply written dialogue that reminded me of a screenplay, White Teeth made me a more well-rounded reader and blew me away with its bottomless character development. A modern classic for a reason.