Reading and writing in 2020

2020 was a strange and difficult year. One in which worry replaced creativity, and in which I returned to re-reading, great TV writing and easy reads in search of distraction from the drama outside, and to multi-book series for the relief of staying within the same world for longer than one book alone could provide. But in spite (or because) of all this, I still read 134 books in 2020 (just 13 short of my personal best).

Fave reads and recommendations

Unusually for me, all but one of my favourite 2020 reads came from non-Australian writers.

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed gave me exactly the right mix of empathy, intelligence, pragmatism and hope that I needed to brace myself for last year’s US election. The wonderfully political and right-now young MF romance ended with the mantra: There is hope. Hold it tight, and keep fighting.

I inhaled (twice) the first two books in Rainbow Rowell’s magical MM romantic adventure series, Carry On and Wayward Son (and re-read Fangirl, which preceded it). This wonderfully meta Potteresque fan fiction imagines a world equivalent to one in which Harry is in love with Draco Malfoy (if Draco was a vampire).

I also loved The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, the creepy and completely absorbing prequel to The Hunger Games that I enjoyed much more than than the original series.

In non-fiction, I adored revisiting Kat Muscat’s extraordinary writing talents in Defiance Feminism Empathy, and continue to be grateful that this fierce, funny, poignant and powerful book is out in the world.

And I was also grateful for No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference, the collected speeches of Greta Thunberg: an urgent, important, humbling and motivating read from the voice of our conscience and culpability.

Australian Women Writers

My reading list included 66 books by Australian women writers (49% of my reading total), including posting micro-reviews on Twitter and Instagram for the #AWW2020 challenge. Highlights for the year not already listed above included: re-reading the first 20 books in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher Melbourne murder mysteries, and returning to (my favourite) Earthly Delights series; and being proud and delighted to celebrate the launch of The Spill by my pal Imbi Neeme, a time-machine of a book that transported me back to the Perth of my university years and deep into the unreliability of memory and the push-pull of siblings and legacies. 

I also enjoyed My Heart Crumples Like a Coke Can by SA/Scottish poet Ali Whitelock, a wonderful collection of wonderfully titled poems about love, (in)fidelity, place(nessless), and what’s left after someone passes on. And my fave romance reads included Kylie Scott’s interconnected Stage Dive (Lick, Play, Lead and Deep) and Dive Bar (Dirty, Twist and Chaser) MF erotic romance series, and Rebecca Raine’s MMF and MF Return to You books (Becoming Us and Finding Grey).

We Need Diverse Books

I read 27 books as part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks challenge (20% of my reading total): “books where people of colour can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where disabled people can be just… people.”

Highlights not already listed above included: Of Memory and Furniture by Bron Bateman, a sexy, sometimes shocking, and deeply feminist book about love/lust, relationships, sexual reclamation, and buying bondage gear at Bunnings; Night Swimming by the late, great Steph Bowe, a wonderfully endearing small town FF love story about family, floods and finding a new future for ourselves; and What if it’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, a sweet and swoonworthy young MM New York romance.

Love Oz YA

I also read 18 LoveOzYA books (13% of my reading total). Highlights for the year not already listed above included: the astounding split narrative of Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield; Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Aurora Cycle romantic-adventure-in-space; finishing Kristoff’s tech-mageddon Lifel1k3 series (Lifel1k3, Dev1at3 and Truel1f3); and revisiting CS Pacat’s sexy/stabby Captive Prince series (for the MM romantic adventures of Captive Prince, Prince’s Gambit and King’s Rising); and Ellie Marney’s Sherlockesque Every Melbourne mysteries (Every Breath, Every Word and Every Move).

2020 in writing

Once again, my writing year was underscored with my work on The Relationship is the Project, which we launched into the world in February and which made Reading’s list of books to help understand and fight white supremacy. I am forever grateful for our extraordinary contributors and the difference their words continue to make in the world.

While worry almost completely took the place of creativity from March, I was thrilled that the poetry collection I began during my 2018 Asialink residency in Hong Kong was shortlisted for Varuna’s Publisher Introduction Program.

And I still published articles on fixing Australia’s literary sector, the art of governance (and how we can change our broken governance culture), funding inclusion (which I also presented at the Defining the New Normal ArtsSummit) and writing great arts grant applications, and self-published tips for running great online workshops and flexible, remote and online working (which I also delivered as an Australia Council webinar).

I also wrote a LOT of Strategic Plans and funding applications (including being part of the wonderful #AuthorsForFireys auction); edited a friend’s bilingual family picture book; ran writing workshops for Guildhouse; and even returned (briefly) to songwriting with a tribute for my brother’s birthday.

Here’s to a happier and more hopeful 2021. I hope it makes some of your reading and writing dreams come true.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance.

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