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    I, A Self-Confessed Bookworm, Read More Books Than Ever In 2020 And Here's What I Thought Of Them

    I haven't read this much since I was a kid.

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    Hi there, my name is Clare and I am a bookworm. This year I managed to make it through a whopping 47 books and while I was aiming for 52, it's not a bad effort.

    Person sits in front of a wall of books looking at the titles and smiling
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Before COVID-19 hit, I would read on my commute into work in the mornings and afternoons. Now, I generally just read with my first coffee of the day and, if it's an especially good book, I often don't realise I have to be logged into work until it's 8:55 A.M.

    This list is a mixture of Aussie and international authors, essays, fiction and non-fiction, crime, YA and a bunch of other genres. I'm an eclectic reader and with so many publications coming across my desk in my capacity at BuzzFeed, this year turned into one of reading exploration — picking up titles and authors I never would have before.

    Read on to learn about the novels I tackled in 2020.

    1. The Yield by Tara June Winch

    Book held in front of the plant showing birds flying from the bottom to the top of the cover; sticker on the front saying "The Stella Prize 2020 Shortlist"
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book was by far one of my favourites and the most enlightening of the year. Albert "Poppy" Gondiwindi has written a dictionary to pass on his language and each definition contains little snippets of the story. His granddaughter, August, returns after his death to find that their home is to be repossessed by a mining company.

    2. Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

    Book cover shows a faint etching of a skull with a winged insect stretching across the mouth
    BuzzFeed

    Warning: This book could be triggering for some readers.

    This non-fiction account made me want to be a better writer. The work surrounds Lee's time as a judge's associate in Queensland where she often saw cases about sexual harassment and assault, before she ultimately decides to bring a complaint of her own to court.

    Lee's voice is absolutely gripping and despite the discomfort I sometimes felt while reading, it seemed absolutely necessary that I finish it.

    3. Beauty by Bri Lee

    Person holding a small book that shows an abstract face painted with wide brush strokes and a piercing eye
    Sohan Judge / BuzzFeed

    Another work by Lee, this essay is a must-read for anyone who sometimes gets too swept up in the societal standards of beauty. It was raw, real and because I connected so strongly to her inner thoughts, it had a real impact on how I view my body.

    I say it's an essay because of it's length and structure, but if you're someone who thinks essays are long and boring — don't worry. This one reads like your conscious has written something just for you and packaged it up into a little book.

    4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    A graphic novel with the front cover showing a profile view of a person and a family sitting around a couch with a city showing in the window behind them
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I read this one at the start of the year and it was one of the first graphic novels I'd ever taken up. Persepolis is a look into daily life in Iran starting from when the author was 10 in 1980. Because it's so visual, it really felt like a curtain being pulled back on a culture and a country that I didn't know much about.

    5. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

    Book held in front of a plant with the cover taken up by title
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book was part of the "prescription" I got when I went to bibliotherapy for the first time. Unfortunately, when I read it, the pandemic and lockdowns were first starting and it sent me into a bit of a spiral, making me question a lot of my life choices.

    It wasn't until I realised that the advice given here was for people not currently going through a pandemic and that I calmed down. Life can't be fixed with a "one piece of advice for all" approach and I read too much into each letter and response, wondering if I should adapt everything to my own situation. It might offer you some insight into experiences you're currently dealing with, but at the time I read it, Tiny Beautiful Things wasn't for me.

    6. Lolly Willows by Sylvia Townsend Warner

    Book cover showing title written in cursive, a cat and a pen drawing of a village nestled in the hills
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    As long as I can remember, I've never really gotten into classics. It wasn't until I picked up Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte that I developed an appreciation for them. Since then, I've had a swing-and-a-miss kind of relationship with the classics and this one was a bit of a miss.

    7. Notes To Self by Emilie Pine

    Bright book completely bare except for the title and author's name
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This was one of the first collections of essays I've ever picked up. It changed my mind on what essays actually were and I was captivated — like I was reading the inner-most thoughts of the author. How could they be so open and honest? Not only with the world, but with themselves?

    Pine's essays are a deep reflection of her life and it's one of those books that I think I'll read over and over throughout my own journey.

    8. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

    A book with little scenes drawn on the front like a house with a bike outside and people walking outside of a bar
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book was a love story with a twist — and it was fun. The novel covers the same characters as they lead different lives dependent on how they first met, showing the audience that a lot of our lives can be impacted by the tiniest things.

    It was a great read for me, because it made me relax about the minute decisions I was making in my own life. Sometimes, you just gotta trust in yourself and the people you're surrounded by.

    9. The Girls' Guide To Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

    Book sitting on a window ledge showing a girl in a red jacket running away
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I remember loving this book and thinking that it read like essays from Notes To Self, except it was fiction. I was completely wrapped up in Jane, as the story follows her life, growing as she grows with the impact of the characters around her.

    10. The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal

    Front cover of a book showing thin trees in snow with the title down the bottom "The Deceptions"
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Set both in 1943 and 2010, this story takes you from Prague through WWII to Sydney. Hana Lederová is imprisoned in Theresienstadt, a Jewish ghetto, where she meets a Czech gendarme. The story then follows both their families until they meet again in the unlikeliest of ways with a lie that is best kept untold.

    11. A Treacherous Country by K.M Kruimink

    Hand holding a book which shows a portrait of a woman in a circle and the title
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    A Treacherous Country was the winner of The Australian / Vogel's Literary Award. Set in the 1800s, it's written in an old-fashioned style that I struggled to connect with, although I appreciate the dedication. The story follows one Gabriel Vox as he trudges through Van Diemen's Land, trying desperately to find a woman called Maryanne Maginn.

    12. The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle

    Hand holding a book made up of an octopus whose tentacles curve around the front cover
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book blew me away. You know when you open the first page of a new novel and you have no idea what lies inside, only to be presently surprised and elated by the contents? That was The Octopus and I, a book that I couldn't stop reading. It completely relaxed me and inspired me to keep writing.

    Lucy is dealing with her new breasts after her cancer. One night, she runs out onto a road to help a crossing octopus, only for both of them to be hit by a car. The story is told extremely well, weaving around you like the curve of a tentacle drifting through a current.

    13. The Cedar Tree by Nicole Alexander

    Hand holding a book that has a dirt track underneath a flat horizon and a large tree
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book is a good piece of escapism. Alexander takes you into the story and keeps you there as you're swept up into the characters' lives and the loneliness that rural Australia sometimes brings.

    14. The Banksia Bay Beach Shack by Sandie Docker

    A book with a light cover, a picture of a banksia and old-school van
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Perfect for a light summer beach read, this book belongs next to your sunscreen and towel. It's quick to read, interesting with a fast moving plot and I ripped through it in a manner of days.

    15. Kudos by Rachel Cusk

    Cover shows an aeroplane window with a mountain view below
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I made a mistake with this book, picking it up and reading it without realising it's the third in a trilogy (haven't we all?). I'd been wanting to read Cusk for a while and when I saw this in the bookstore, nothing was going to stop me from buying it. But, if I'm being honest, I think it could be read as a stand alone. It wasn't until I finished the end and fully read the blurb that I realised it was a trilogy.

    In Kudos, a female writer visits Europe to promote her new book. From there, the book centres mostly around the conversations she has with others. It's a powerfully written novel and I will wholeheartedly admit that I didn't understand all of it. But, that doesn't mean I wasn't completely in awe of it.

    16. Lion by Saroo Brierley

    Hand holding book in front of a plant, cover of book is a face with a Google search bar in front of it
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I saw the film version of this years ago, but I read it for the first time in 2020. In hindsight — and like what most others will tell you — I should have read the book first. By already watching the movie, a lot of the magic had been taken out of it.

    17. Below Deck by Sophie Hardcastle

    Book with a dark background with golden wavy lines embossed over the title and author's name
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This was another one of my favourites for the year, although it does depict scenes of sexual abuse that could be triggering for some readers. Whenever I find a magnificent book written by a young female Aussie, I can't help but be enthusiastic about it. Below Deck is about Oli, who hears the world in colour. She's taught how to sail from two strangers, Mac and Maggie, but years later when she's the only female on board a yacht, she is abused by another crew member.

    It's a confronting read, but one that ends on an uplifting note that makes you want to both laugh and cry.

    18. The Coconut Children by Vivian Pham

    Book sitting on a cushion depicting a swirl of lines. joined together to look like hair or wool
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Another great read for me in 2020 and can you believe it, Pham was only 19 when it was published? Coconut Children follows Sonny, a second-hand romance novel enthusiast and Vince, who was arrested when he was only 14. It's a gritty novel and Pham's voice is so strong, it's like listening to an audiobook. I would highly recommend it.

    19. I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowle

    Small book held in front of a plant, majority of which is covered by the title and author's name
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book might be confronting and triggering to some readers as it includes a non-fiction account when the author was raped as a teenager. She goes beyond the event, detailing how the trauma of that night lived in her body, which lead to a series of illnesses that she struggles with today.

    It's a humbling read and it was one of the works that affected me most in 2020.

    20. The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

    Hand holding a book that shows waves crashing onto a rock
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This is just a classically good novel. It's one of the ones that you have to let out a satisfied sigh after you finish because, "Damn, that was a good book". This novel tells the story of three women whose stories span centuries. Woven together, you can't help but be wrapped up in their lives, wondering what's going to happen next.

    21. On Secrets by Annika Smethurst

    Small book with words redacted except for the title and author's name
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This essay is part of a small book series called the "On Series". It recounts the author's experience of having her home raided by the Federal Police, who were investigating whether or not she published classified information.

    22. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    Hand holding book over balcony; cover shows flames with book silhouettes
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Fahrenheit 451 is a book that's been on my "to-read" list for years and I'm glad I finally got to it in 2020. Set in a different time, firemen are people that burn books after they've been outlawed. It's a great dystopian read that you can get through in a weekend and, for me personally, it was a great help for my writing.

    23. The Bee and The Orange Tree by Melissa Ashley

    Cover shows an orange growing off a small branch with a bee at the top
    Affirm Press

    Set in the bustling scenes of Paris in 1699, this story has amazing female characters who frequent salons to discuss their ideas and their own work. I couldn't get into this one for whatever reason, but the plot was great.

    24. After Australia by various authors and edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

    Book held in front of a plant with two adults and two children drawn from the spine to the centre with their faces scratched over
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This anthology includes 12 pieces from Indigenous authors and writers of colour, who imagine what Australia will look like in the future. The stories cover everything you could imagine, including a flu that mirrored the pandemic panic we've had in 2020, only with a bit of a twist.

    25. Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

    Book cover showing a crow sitting on a fence post with a "Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2019" Winner sticker
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book comes from the brother-sister team from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia and is written both in prose and verse. It might be classed as "young adult", but I still thoroughly enjoyed this ghosty storyline and the way it was written.

    26. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

    Hand holding a book with a large title and a red shark on top right hand corner; sticker on the book says "Miles Franklin Literary Award Winner 2019"
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Another one of my favourites in 2020 Too Much Lip is definitely a must-read. The story follows Kerry Salter, the main character, as she heads back home on a stolen Harley, where family issues are rife within the household. Lucashenko is an author of Bundjalung and European heritage and this novel showcases how inter-generational trauma carries within a community and family.

    27. Budgets Don't Work by Melissa Browne

    Hand holding a book over a balcony with half the title, "Budgets Don't Work" with a line through them
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I got this book when I realised that even while WFH, I wasn't saving as much money as I should. It was an interesting read, especially about how different people should budget differently. But, alas — I still haven't changed by budgetary habits. Take from that what you will.

    28. Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

    Hand holding book over balcony which shows someone leaning against a wall with light, shadowed by a blind, falls over them
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I ripped through Kokomo in just over three days, reading it in hour stretches every morning and then forcing myself to put it down and get ready for work. This book won the 2019 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and from the very first page you can see why.

    The scenes in this book are clear, nearly dripping with colour in their vivacity. The story follows Mina, a woman originally from Melbourne, who returns home from London when her agoraphobic mother randomly ups and leaves the house. The book jumps in time and memory, and pulls you along a story that sounds like it should be mundane, but really isn't. Instead, the realness of Mina as she navigates life and the relationships around her, makes you realise that you've been in situations just like this yourself.

    Or, maybe that's just me and I related too hard to Mina? Either or, it's definitely one of my favourite reads of 2020.

    29. A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

    Minimalist cartoon drawing stepping on the title of the book
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book follows Jena Lin — once a child violin prodigy, now 22 — as she balances her violin commitments with her personal life. The book details Jena's sexual relationships as well as her relationships with friends and family, paying attention to how her past childhood fame impacts her now.

    30. Sharks In The Time of Saviours by Kawai Strong Washburn

    Cover shows a person's silhouette underwater
    Clare Aston / BuzzGeed

    Another one of my favourites of the year — it was just a good book that I got hooked on straight away. The characters were authentic and while I didn't love them as individuals, that's one of the reasons I was hooked. Their flaws made them seem real.

    31. The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

    Cover shows a close up of a face in grey with a crack starting under their eye towards their cheek from which you can see a palm tree scene
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and ripped through it so quickly, even though it's aimed at a younger audience. A girl wakes up with no memory on a bus that is driving itself. She, along with the others she meets, have to face ethical conundrums that start to have terrifying consequences.

    32. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

    Book shows a bronze gilded text: "Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has?" with a border of swirls in the same colour
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This is a clever book that broadens your imagination while reading it. Piranesi is in a house, but it's no ordinary home. It has an endless amount of rooms and even more statues that line the halls. But, how did Piranesi get there and will he ever get out? Does he even want to anymore?

    Piranesi is one of those books that makes you appreciate language and literature more after you've finished reading it. It's captivating and unique.

    33. Sticks And Stones by Katherine Firkin

    Half burnt matches surround the word "And" in the title
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    A classic crime novel set in Melbourne, this has all the conventions of a thriller story that fans of the genre will love. It's a great book to read if you're looking for some entertainment, but you don't want to turn on the TV.

    34. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

    Book cover shows title with the subtitle: "Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism"
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This is a read that prompts a lot of soul-searching and learning. It's a great first step if you're trying to educate yourself on racism and how you could have benefited from it in the past.

    35. Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

    Hand holding book which shows a woman of colour with glass butterfly clips in her hair
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    We're still in the Cinderella universe, but years in the future and the story of Cinderella is being used to oppress women. Enter Sophia — a heroine that you will wish you grew up with.

    Aimed at younger readers, its characters are more diverse than any I read as a kid. Looking at Cinderella with such an interesting and unique lens makes you appreciate Bayron's writing.

    36. The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

    Two people sit on a rocky outcrop with a large cat; in the distance is faint city on the edge of the waterfall and above the clouds is another large city
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I would have loved this book even if it was bad because I'm a big fan of the authors' previous works. But, it was fabulous. If you love a bit of fantasy, a strong heroine and the hints of a love story, you won't be disappointed.

    37. The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

    The title is cut into the first cover with colour seeping through from the page behind
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Set in Sydney, the city where I'd spent many years working in bars and restaurants, I had to Google the author to make sure we didn't have any mutual friends from my hospitality days. The main character, Caitlin, works in a bar and the author perfectly describes the rhythm and flow of working in a hospitality scene. However, Caitlin is absolutely terrified of death and it's drastically impacting her life. It's vivid and real and I loved it.

    38. When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett

    Book cover is the back of a woman with wings protruding
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Set in a time where, for those who can afford it, the power of flight is available, this is a world that you're completely immersed by. It deals with classist issues, with a plot line that's intriguing, dangerous and a little bit detective-like.

    The world-building in this book is amazing and just reading it helped my own writing.

    39. Clade by James Bradley

    Book cover shows bees verging onto their hive which is in the middle
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Clade jumps around in time, showing the audience the ever-changing world as it reacts to climate change and other issues. Reading it during a pandemic meant that some sections hit a little too close to home, but it was an epic read.

    40. First We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson

    Book showing an octopus at the bottom with dots coming off its tentacles and floating to the top
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    A friend recommended this book when I told her that my anxiety had kind of taken over this year. I don't like recommending, for lack of a better word, "self-care books", but I will say that this was an interesting read about anxiety in general and I took some helpful hints from it.

    41. Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson

    Hand holding book over balcony with little snippets of scenes such as a ferris wheel and a sign that says "on air"
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book contains a trigger warning about suicide. While Either Side of Midnight is a crime novel that fans of the genre will love, it's got a modern aspect to it that promotes a lot of thought. I was completely hooked, ripping through each page as I tried to figure out exactly what was going on.

    42. State Highway One by Sam Coley

    Young man sitting on the roof of his car
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    After his family gets in a car accident, Alex returns home to New Zealand and embarks on a road trip with his sister from the top to the bottom of the country. There was a slight twist that kept the pace of the story moving and I was so deeply involved with Alex's character that I was desperately rooting for him the entire way through.

    43. Future Girl by Asphyxia

    Hand holds book over balcony showing an artist's rendition of a young woman
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Future Girl is about a Deaf girl, who is growing up in a futuristic Melbourne and dealing with environmental issues. This book is a work of art — literally. Each page is decorated and designed to make this book feel like you're experiencing it — not just reading it.

    44. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

    A pattern of swirls and flowers come out from the title with a minimalist picture of two women in the middle
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I picked this book up on my sister's recommendation. Set in 1600s Norway, it's about a community of women who, after the majority of men die in a storm, take charge and fend for themselves. Then, other men arrive to rid the town of suspected witchcraft.

    It was a great read, with just the right amount of historical fiction and danger.

    45. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

    Cover shows a "V" with a picture of a girl seen clearly through the opening
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I've been wanting to read Ferrante for ages, so I immediately picked this up when I saw it. Now, I just want to read more of her work. Set in Naples, the book follows Giovanna as she navigates her extended family and the cultural divide within both them and the city.

    46. Maggie's Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley

    Hand holding book showing an old campervan with a cat in the window
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    Another fun read, Maggie's Going Nowhere was a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maggie's life is at a point that a lot of us have experienced before: Broke, at odds with her family and hopeless at this thing we call life. It's a charming book with captivating characters that you desperately hope get their happy ending.

    47. Lowitja by Stuart Rintoul

    Person holding a book showing a portrait of Lowitja O'Donoghue
    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This authorised biography details the life of Lowitja O'Donoghue — a powerful Indigenous woman. Lowitja had an Aboriginal mother and a white father and, at the age of two, she was placed in the Colebrook Home, which was run by missionaries. She didn't see her mother again for another 30 years. The book details the challenges Lowitja endured and the accomplishments she earned and fought for throughout her years of hard work and advocacy.

    Now, to the 2021 reading list. Let me know in the comments if there are any books I should be putting in my "to-read" pile!

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