By Juhi Bansal

(Check out v2019, v2018, v2017, v2016 here).

I managed to read 96 books in 2020. Thrillers, murder mysteries and police procedurals are my genre of choice but Ii did manage to explore new genres, new authors and got out of my comfort zone several times in 2020.
So, here’s my 2020 in a nutshell:

Number of books read: 96
Number of non-fiction books: 36
Number of books read in new genre like Psychology, Behavioural Economics, Politics etc: 26
Number of new authors read: 64
Number of books by Womxn, POC, LGBT+ community: 60!

Here’s part two of my top picks from 2020. Read Part 1 here.

1. Harry Potter Series (read book 1 and 2) by J K Rowling
Genre: Fantasy

This is not my first JKR though- I’ve read (and mostly liked) her Cormoran Strike series but I know I am two decades too late for this! Given my love for fiction I don’t know why I never got around to reading them when they first released- probably because we didn’t buy books then, just made do with whatever our school library offered. Anyway, it’s never too late right? So, I picked it up finally (and a little reluctantly) because I wanted to see what the fuss was all about (I’ve never ever seen an HP movie so I have zero frame of reference) and because my almost 6 year old wanted to watch the movie and she knows the rule- “you can’t watch a movie unless you’ve read the book”. So, here I was reading it aloud to her and it took us a better part of 3 months! Yes! There were times when I wanted to cheat and skip pages or read all by myself because she couldn’t do more than a few pages a day given how verbose they were plus the lack of photos (or made me repeat passages she found hilarious ad nauseam) but I didn’t. We read it together- all 300 odd pages and had such a blast.

Our hearts were racing & soaring, we had goosebumps and were squealing together as the story progressed. It was so amazing to have read the book to her and with her. Both she and I are Potter maniacs now and plan to read the rest of the books slowly (but together).

2. What Can a Body Do by Sara Hendren
Genre: Non-Fiction, Design, Sociology

I have worked with Sara briefly in the past and I know she has a very wholesome approach to both design and disability but in her book she takes it several notches up. A well-researched book which asks some very pertinent questions- what does disability mean? Each one of us becomes disabled at some point whether due to a temporary injury or old age. What does it mean in terms of the built world then?
I particularly liked her discourse on Eugenics and Prosthetics as artefacts. I would like to know more about Interrogative design and the Accessible Icon Project- made me think about how it takes design to the next level from a simple user oriented design philosophy.

3. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Genre: Fiction, Romance (LGBTQIA Literature)

Lurrrrrvvvved it! If you liked “Red, White and Royal Blue” you will like this one even more. Luc and his friends are hilarious. So are his folks and his colleagues. Oliver on the other hand is hilariously uptight and tres cute! It’s a match made in heaven. You’ll love them, get irritated by them, sometimes even roll your eyes but you cannot stop rooting for them. A “laugh a minute” and “swoon every now and then” book.

4. Educated by Tara Westover
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir

What am amazingly well written book. Tara has been raised in an extreme environment- her parents are “end of world” survivalists who do not believe in doctors, schools or the government. From poverty to chauvinism to blinding religious dogma to abject abuse – Tara grew up not knowing better. She grew up thinking this was “normal”. From this to self teaching herself for the ACTs to going all the way to Cambridge and Harvard, her life is utterly fantastical! She treads two diagonally opposite worlds both with trepidation and care but she trips several times. She has to constantly choose between the world she left behind and the one that’s welcoming her with open arms- and she’s confused because it’s not easy to let go. Her previous life is dotted with unpleasant experiences, abuse and above all parents who can’t seem to let go of their beliefs but she still can’t bring herself to cut those ties and it’s only understandable. Hers is a story of grit and strength and the will to do better but she’s also true to herself when she narrates her story- she’s confused, lost in the woods and is scared of letting go of her roots.

5. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

I am a big Riley Sager fan and Home Before Dark proves yet again why. The setting is paranormal, bordering on horror and sometimes breaching the line- so much so that I would be slightly scared to sleep at night after reading a few chapters. The story oscillates between current day narration by protagonist Maggie and chapters from “House of Horrors”, a non-fiction book Maggie’s dad wrote on their experience of staying in a “haunted” house. It is classic Sager- the characters start growing on you, you think you are getting a hang of things and then BAM! all of a sudden you don’t know what hit you. There were several moments when I felt chills but thats nothing compared to the goosebumps you will get when you reach the end!

6. The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir

Melinda Gates is as insipring as Michella Obama and Sheryl Sandberg. I hate to put her in a box but these women have proven time and again that true feminism lies in lifting women around you whether it’s in your community or your workplace or around you. Feminism is not limited to fighting for equal rights but working tirelessly towards making systemic changes, supporting your claims with real data and recognizing areas where you can make a difference.
Moment of Lift is largely a memoir but Melinda weaves in stories from across the world of her “heroes”, women with grit. Things that we often take for granted, equal partnership in marriage, deciding when to have kids or something as simple as right to education are luxuries for women in most poor countries. While women like Melinda work towards ifting these women up, the least you and I can do is empathize.

7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Genre: Historical Fiction

What an absolutely amazing read! I picked this one up with trepidation but it left my heart full and my soul delighted. Count Rostov is a brilliant protagonist- he’s been put on house arrest in the Metropole Hotel and spends more than 3 decades inside the walls. It’s set against the backdrop on the Bolshevik Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union. Rostov a “person” becomes a persona non grata but over the years grows as a person, friend lover and father. When you read this book, do make sure you read it carefully for every small detail has significance in the story. Everything builds up to the end and you will be left in tears (happy ones) when it comes finally! A must read!

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