Ahhh 2020! Things did not go to plan for most of us, and that is putting it lightly! So we should celebrate our small victories. One of those for me is achieving my reading goal: 20 books in 2020! I’m a commute reader, and without a commute for the past 9 months I’ve had to get new reading habits. But without further ado: here are the books I’ve read in the past year!
1. Habibi by Craig Thompson
The first book I read in 2020 was also my first graphic novel, and what a gem! The drawings were absolutely gorgeous, I mean, the sheer amount of detail that went into them! No wonder it took the author 5 years to write and draw this book. The story is beautifully intertwined with passages referencing the Quran and links with calligraphy, and if you’ve been following my blog for a bit you know I LOVE calligraphy and handlettering. It’s a compelling story – but the female character’s storyline was quite full-on at times. As a woman myself I really struggle when to read/watch/… stuff about rape. What I found interesting on the other hand is that the female main character is often portrayed completely naked, whereas for the main male character this is only once the case, and there he has his back turned to the reader.
2. Grand Hotel Europa by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer
As I’m trying to read more in Dutch I’m always on the lookout for good books. The cover of this one instantly reminded me of Wes Anderson (which can only be a good thing) and every since coming across it I’ve seen it in every book shop here in Belgium. It’s a hefty book to carry around on your commute (no complaining in hindsight), but worth the effort. You follow the author along different story lines: on the one hand a love story coming to an end and on the other his time spent at Grand Hotel Europa, where he writes up the tragic affair to find closure. All of this is packed in another layer of contemplation about Europe and the growing tourism that is slowly suffocating it.
3. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
This book was part of the Man Booker shortlist 2015 and has been waiting for me on my bookshelf for a while. I was in two minds whether or not to read it – I don’t like very dramatic or negative books and my boyfriend had told me that this wasn’t the most cheerful read. But I embarked upon this book’s journey and I’m glad I did. The book is beautifuly written and very visual. Every chapter has a theme and often centres around a specific character. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story line really didn’t go as I expected it to, leaving me quite surprised as I was nearing the end of the book. I also found it a very smooth read and finished the book in about a week.
4. Werve(le)nd schrijven by Bavo Van Landeghem
As you might know I work in communications and have done so for the last 4 years. However, most of that time I’ve worked in the UK/in English. Dutch is my mother tongue, but working in communications in Dutch is a whole different ball game. It has made me feel quite insecure, so I’ve been trying to read more in Dutch and brush up on my language skills. This book is about writing better, with a specific focus on how to attract more people to read/click/buy with your writing. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’ve been really impressed by it! Some of the tips & tricks have stuck with me and I’m planning to go through the book again to make a summary for myself. That will help me even more in my day-to-day work.
5. Les Vacances du Petit Nicolas by René Goscinny & Jean-Jacques Sempé
From September 2019 until June 2020 I took French classes. I understand most things in French, can speak confidently (with mistakes of course) but I feel quite insecure about my writing. So in an attempt to improve this I spent 3 hours a week listening, chatting and writing en Français. Our teacher brought in this book one week and asked if anyone wanted to read it. I’m always interested in good reads, so I was quite glad to take it home. It’s a nice book and an easy read in my opinion. The story is about a little boy named Nicolas and how he spends his holidays. It is written from his point of view, which makes for funny situations.
6. Walking the Nile by Levison Wood
If you get the choice between watching the Channel 4 series or reading the book: absolutely 100% read the book. We watched the series a few years back and loved them, but when I watched them again after reading the book I was so disappointed! They leave out the best parts in my opinion. Wood dives straight into the story from the first few pages and, being in Rwanda at that point, that’s a very loaded experience. I preferred reading this book during the day rather than before going to bed as it can be quite intense at times. But all in all an amazing journey and very descriptive book.
7. Lapidarium by Ryszard Kapuściński
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this book. I had picked it up during a sale at the library. I studied Polish and Russian at university and I recall reading some texts by Kapuściński in class, but I’ve never read any of his books. This isn’t your standard book either: it contains different snippets from texts and other books, which is a direct reference to the title. Some parts were really captivating, others very reflective of Polish society in those days.
8. How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong by Elizabeth Day
I saw recommendations for this book on different platforms and from different people; it was mentioned in the Ctrl+Alt+Del podcast for instance. Day created her own podcast first, the book came after. I did check out the podcast too, but prefer the book. I like the structure – every chapter deals with a specific theme, something she has failed at in life. Some of those chapters were really gripping and felt very important, like the one about her attempts to get pregnant. Others a bit less so, but that didn’t make the book any less readworthy.
9. Van de vijand en de muzikant: essays, artikelen, opiniestukken by Ramsey Nasr
Another book I picked up from my library’s book sale. The book consists of two parts called ‘the enemy’ and ‘the musician’. Throughout the book you look at the world, and more particularly Belgium, through the eyes of a Dutch Palestinian, who would become the second city poet of Antwerp. His passion for music resounds on every page. The most interesting parts for me were his views on and descriptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
10. Le Tour du monde en 80 jours by Jules Verne
A classic! I had started listening to the English audio book back in the days when we were allowed to go to gyms and run on the treadmills but only got so far (running on the treadmill is VERY BORING). When I was looking for a classic novel in French I came across it again and hadn’t realised this was originally written in French! It’s a lovely travel tale but also taught me some new (random) French words (like paquebot = steamer)
11. Black, listed by Jeffrey Boakye
2020 was the year of #blacklivesmatters and like many others I had to admit I don’t do enough, don’t know enough. My boyfriend had bought this book not long before so I decided to give it a go and learn. And boy, did I learn! Black, Listed gives you the Black British perspective and demystifies different terms and cultural phenomena. It really encouraged me to read more on the topic, so that’s one New Year’s resolution sorted already. Recommended read for sure!
12. De moestuin van Mme ZsaZsa by Dorien Knockaert & Kim Leysen
Like many others I also started growing vegetables during lockdown. My attempts started indoors and once strong enough we moved them outside. But what do you do with all these veggies? This book was the answer to that question: detailed and easy-to-understand explications about vegetables and how to grow them, take care of them, harvest them. The other half of the book is filled with seasonal veggie recipes, many of which I have already tried out. So to my fellow Dutch-speaking-aspiring-gardeners: this is the book for you!
13. Wanderlust: a history of walking by Rebecca Solnit
This book was a Christmas present from my boyfriend – and a good shout given my love for walks and travelling. I left it on the bookshelf for a few months, but when Solnit was mentioned in ‘How to Fail’ (see above) it reminded me about the book. However, I was a bit hesitant to start a book on wanderlust during lockdown – what if it made me feel really miserable about not being able to travel? Luckily it didn’t. It wasn’t exactly what I expected it would be: a bit heavy reading at times with philosophical passages but overall a very interesting read. Sometimes a bit much before bed, so it took me a while to read.
14. Passie voor desem by Anita Sumer
Not only did I start growing my own vegetables during lockdown, I also joined the sourdough craze. I mostly used resources online and got acquainted with a few amazing sourdough blogs. But when my mum offered to borrow her book (in Dutch) on sourdough I devoured it from start to finish and even tried a few of the recipes. It’s a good book to get some in-depth knowledge about sourdough, but what I didn’t like is the lack of indicative timings and the fact that you also need to make a separate levain first for every recipe.
15. Une mort très douce by Simone de Beauvoir
Since September 2020 I’m no longer taking French classes, but I figured I could still try reading in French once in a while to keep it up. So this is how I found myself in the French section in our library, scouting for a nice book to read. Simone de Beauvoir is a well-known name, but I’ve never read anything by her. I picked this book because it wasn’t very long (I don’t read as quickly in French). It described a very concrete event (the death of her mother) in a very accessible way, which is good for a topic that can still be a bit of a taboo.
16. Super Sourdough by James Morton
So after reading my mum’s sourdough book I decided to buy my own. I compared a few online and then headed over to my local Waterstones where I found this gem of a book! It is down to earth, very simple, accessible and very funny at times. Filled to the brim with useful tips and gorgeous recipes, I’m working my way through them and I’m glad I still have many more to try! Over summer I was slacking a bit and this book really revived my eagerness to try new recipes and bake more bread!
17.De naam van de Roos by Emberto Eco
Another classic and one that has been on my list for a while. It isn’t an easy read with its 500 pages and passages in Latin. But despite it being a novel of many layers, I really enjoyed its #whodunnit and Sherlock Holmes vibe. Besides, it’s a murder mystery with a magnificent library at it’s centre: what is not to love?!
18. The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary by Catherine Gray
This was a present from a book-loving friend of mine and seemed very fitting for these strange times. I liked the combo of descriptive personal experiences, scientific facts and quick tips on the various topics touched upon in the book. Many of those weren’t new to me, but good to be reiterated and to be reminded of. The quirky little Birmingham references were also a plus. What I liked less was that the text is sometimes a bit over the top, as if every sentence could be a headline, and a bit more swearing that I would like in a such a book.
19. Pallieter by Felix Timmermans
A bit of Flemish folklore that was lying around in the attic. I wasn’t sure if I would like it but this book actually pleasantly surprised me. Sometimes I did need to read words or sentences out loud to understand them as it’s written in Flemish from 100 years ago. But what I loved most about this book is that it has nature at it’s heart – which was a reaction against the harsh and awful reality of WWI, but but still resonates today when faced with the restrictions, hardship and losses during this pandemic. I was less of a fan of the male-centered perspective and the image of women in the book but I guess it is an adequate reflection of the time when it was written.
20. Le premier jour du reste de ma vie by Virginie Grimaldi
And to finish the year off another novel in French. The cover design drew my attention and the summary on the back confirmed that it would be my next and final read for 2020. Lighthearted and a bit cliché, it tells the story of 3 women who all want/need to start over and embark on a 3-month cruise together. The French was easy enough to read for me, so I actually found myself getting through it very quickly and feeling a bit sad when it ended.
20 books in 2020! 20 opportunities to learn or to hide away from reality for a bit. And I needed that this year. I followed a pattern: English – Dutch – English – Dutch – French, which ensured I read books I never would have otherwise. Despite it being a good exercise I think I’ll leave the French for now and focus on English and Dutch books in 2021 as I feel like I’m losing my English a bit after 3 years back in Belgium. But inspiration is always welcome, so I’d be happy to hear about your favourite books from this year! Let me know in the comments!