It’s that time of year again—the flashing of lights, the spewing of smoke machines, the glittering of impractical dresses and ankle-killer shoes. Yes, that’s right, it’s the Dust Lounge Book Awards 2020. In which I bring you the best of the books I’ve read over the past 12 months (yes, 12 months, if we still consider time to be any sort of reliable concept).
And 2020 was a great year reading-wise for me. A combination of not studying this year, and pandemic escapism meant I cracked through nearly 50 books this year (compare that to 22 last year and you get the drift of how much fun I’ve been having hiding in the pages of other people’s imaginations). And, damn, I’m grateful to all them there authors out there for giving me that.
I read on the basis of don’t-finish-it-if-it-ain’t-working-for-you-right-now—so every book I finished is one I’d heartily recommend you get your readerly eyeballs wrapped around. And for those books I didn’t finish, I left them because there’s probably another time in another place for me and that book. Take this case in point—Han Kang’s The Vegetarian I read and loved this year, but I’d actually DNF’d it only a year or so before. Times change, moods change, readerly vibes align.
And speaking of vegetarianism (*segway segue*), I’m just gonna go ahead right here and insist you read Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. If I had an official best read of the year, this would be a strong contender. And also one that you might need a strong stomach for.
It also turns out I read quite a lot of pandemic based fiction—perhaps a dubious choice of escapism for 2020 but somehow it worked. Maybe that’s just my readerly bag (*ha-ha I say maybe like we all don’t know it totally is*), and there were mighty fine entries in this category from the likes of Lauren Beukes’ with Afterland, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Paul Tremblay’s latest novel Survivor Song.
If you fancy tripping your head off in a safe and responsible way, you’d be well advised to check out Jeff Noon’s A Man of Shadows. You may or may not have taken mind altering drugs when reading, but that book will make you think your gran has put something in your tea *and your gran wasn’t even in the house*.
Horror had a particularly bumper year in my reading pile—I won’t list them all here but Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians was beautifully, hauntingly good, while Stephanie Ellis brought bloody, fiery folklore to my nightmares with The Five Turns of the Wheel.
And then there was the downright weird, the unsuspected, the wait-one-goddamn-minute-while-I-pick-myself-up-off-the-floor kinda strange. You’ve got the likes of Jess Hagemann’s shocking, challenging but fascinating Headcheese (including stunning illustrations from Chris Panatier). Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings creeps behind its cuddly exterior to bring you horror escalating into possibly one of the weirdest scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. And there’s Ross Jeffery’s Juniper which has meant I can’t look at the chonky ginger cat that stalks our neighbourhood in quite the same way ever again.
I feel the need to make a few special mentions, for books that will sit in my soul for some time to come. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa is right up there as one of my favourite books of the year, if not ever. It’s a quiet read, sinister and dreamlike. It’s the sort of book you want to linger over. It’s just beautiful. Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil all the Time was bleakly brilliant, so good I can’t watch the Netflix adaptation yet while it settles in my brain. And finally, the only non-fiction book of the year for me was Chuck Palahniuk’s inspiring Consider This which now lives on my desk, prodding me to write at any given opportunity.
And that brings us to the very moment you’ve all been waiting for. Drum roll please, raise your glasses and get your cheering cheeks ready, because here we have the Dust Lounge Book Awards in all their finery. *Insert digital confetti, oversized party poppers, plus suitable brass section jingle here*
Top Five reads of the year (in no particular order)
- Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
- The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
- The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
- Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk
Notable achievement awards (hotly contested)
- Most likely to ‘get something in your eye’: Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
- Most likely to put you off your dinner: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
- Most WTF moment of the year: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
- Weirdest read of the year: Headcheese by Jess Hagemann
- Strangest cat storyline of the year: Juniper by Ross Jeffery
- Best trip of the year: A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon
- Best road-trip of the year: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
- Most likely to make you get a perm and break out your leg warmers: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
- Bloodiest (and pinkest) book of the year: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier
Thank you for joining me on this most excellent of reading roundups. Please mind the steps on your way out, don’t forget to pick up copies of books that take your fancy from your preferred book outlet, and if you want to catch the full list of this year’s reads then head on over to my Goodreads 2020 Year in Books page. Every single one of them was a real, readerly treat.