I set (and met) a goal of reading 52 books this year - one per week! Every reading list is so personal and mine is always a mix of newly published books, classics that I somehow missed along the way, recommendations that pop up from friends or author blogs or podcasts, and books found via the meandering research of my own writing projects.
My absolute favorite book of 2020 was Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell.
This book was published in March of 2020 and, although it takes place in the late 1500s, it couldn't be more timely, as the story centers on the death of Hamnet Shakespeare by plague in 1596. Hamnet is the son of, yes, that Shakespeare, but the novel is actually not so much about young Hamnet, as about his mother, Agnes (aka Anne Hathaway Shakespeare), her background, her remarkable gifts, and the impact of the death of a child on a mother. (Side Note: Agnes/Anne was the wife of the world's most famous writer but she herself was probably illiterate and is, for the most part, lost from the actual historical record. So I found it fascinating that O'Farrell was free to reimagine this life in this way.)
Disclaimer: In addition to being interested in historical fiction focused on women's experiences, the publication of this book was timely for me because I started out 2020 with the goal of reading ALL of Shakespeare's works (approximately 40 plays plus the Sonnets). In the end, I read 13 of Shakespeare's plays this year, most of those in January through March, before the lockdown due to our own plague and before Hamnet was published! I somehow lost my momentum on the Shakespeare goal, so I will pick it up again in 2021. If anyone is interested in that reading project, you can join our Shakespeare 2020/2021 Facebook page.
However, you do not have to read or even care for Shakespeare in order to appreciate this beautifully crafted story of his wife and family. In fact, Will hardly appears in the book at all. This is the story of Agnes as a daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and as a healer and herbalist. (The author's research in this last area alone is so intensive and impressive!)
I always like to go beyond the book to learn more about the history, themes, and even the writing process of the author. If Hamnet the novel sounds interesting to you (or perhaps you've already read it), CLICK HERE for a list of further resources to accompany the novel, including interviews with the author, podcasts about the Elizabethan world that Agnes Shakespeare lived in, and themes of marriage and family in William Shakespeare's plays.
Well, I ran out of space to talk about ALL of the other amazing books - old and new - that I read this year, but here are
Tiffany's TOP 5 MOST ENJOYABLE READS for 2020:
(with links to my Bookshop.org independent bookstore affiliate pages)
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (biography), Ruth Franklin (2016)