2020 Reading Plans

2019 has been a good year for me. These were the key positive events:

  • In January, I signed with a literary agent, Kerry Glencorse at Susanna Lea Associates, and am currently revising my time-travel novel, A Minute’s Grace. I hope that we will be able to submit this to publishers in 2020!
  • In June, I got a new job, as a NUAcT Fellow in History at Newcastle University, and will be transferring my Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship there as well. My job officially starts on January 1st, but nothing much will change for me as I am already living in Newcastle and doing my research.
  • In September, I gave a Science Award Lecture at the British Science Festival, on ‘When children became evil’, which covered the sudden rise of ‘extraordinary children’ in horror and science fiction films in post-war Britain and the United States, and linked these depictions to changing concepts of childhood. I reprised versions of this talk at Oxford IF and at Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People at the Lowry in Manchester. You can read a summary of the talk here.
  • In October, my first academic monographA Progressive Education? How Childhood Changed In Mid-Twentieth-Century English and Welsh Schoolswas published by Manchester University Press. In about two years’ time (given the speed of academic book reviews) I should be able to find out what other historians think of it!

I also travelled to Japan and Australia, started doing research with adolescents in a Northampton secondary school, welcomed my first cousin once removed (baby Hudson) to the world, went to my first football match (Newcastle United vs. Arsenal), passed the Newcastle Roller Girls roller derby intake (even if I am retaking it in 2020) and put together two pieces of flatpack furniture by myself!

Right, onto the books…

I’ve picked twelve 2020 releases that I am particularly looking forward to – almost all from the first half of the year, for obvious reasons – then, as always, added a further eighteen books that I want to read in 2020, whether or not they are new this year or not.

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Miriam Cohen, Adults and Other Children (January 2020). I’m intrigued by this debut collection of short stories, which promises to explore girlhood and motherhood from a range of angles, including a little girl convinced that her baby sister is a changeling, a woman who makes up an imagined child, and a college student who becomes a surrogate for her professor. And, given my own research, I couldn’t resist the title.

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Meng Jin, Little Gods (January 2020). I have to join the bandwagon for this debut novel about brilliant physicist Su Lan and her daughter Lina’s search for answers about her mother’s life. I love novels that engage with theoretical physics, and I have been slightly suckered in by this tagline: ‘combining the emotional resonance of Home Fire with the ambition and innovation of Asymmetry‘. I mean, YES.

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Aravind Adiga, Amnesty (February 2020). While I admire Adiga as a writer, I didn’t find either of the novels I’ve read by him – The White Tiger and Last Man In Tower – especially memorable. However, his latest book, which focuses on a young undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka – now living in Sydney – who must decide whether or not to report crucial information about a murder sounds potentially riveting. It also sounds like it might have a lot in common with Nikita Lalwani’s latest (see below!).

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Evie Wyld, The Bass Rock (February 2020). LONG anticipated by me, this novel about three women linked across the centuries by an isolated Scottish rock is finally coming!

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Natasha Pulley, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (March 2020). Natasha Pulley was one of thetwo new favourite authors I discovered in 2019, so OF COURSE I’m anticipating her third novel with great excitement. This sequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (which is also loosely linked to The Bedlam Stacks) is set in a ghost-ridden Japan in 1888, where a British translator and his Japanese watchmaker friend are investigating supernatural occurrences. Pulley consistently turns the potentially twee into the electrifying, and the possibly colonialist into the challenging, so I can’t wait to see what she does with this premise. Also, octopuses.

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Kevin Nyugen, New Waves (March 2020). I’m intrigued by this debut novel where a black woman and an Asian man team up to steal their New York tech start-up’s user database after being ignored and underpaid by the company for too long.

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Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet (March 2020). Like EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD, I’m eagerly anticipating O’Farrell’s next novel – I thought her two most recent books, the memoir I Am, I Am, I Amand the novel This Must Be The Placewere utterly fantastic. This signals a bit of a change in direction; set in the 1580s, it explores the hidden story of Shakespeare’s son, who died at the age of eleven.

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Nikita Lalwani, You People (April 2020). I liked Lalwani’s debut, Giftedand loved her second novel, The Villageso this long-awaited third novel is a must-read for me. It’s set in an Italian restaurant in London run by undocumented Sri Lankan immigrants, and promises the kind of difficult moral choices that Lalwani delivered so effectively in The Village.

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Souvankham Thammavongsa, How To Pronounce Knife (April 2020). This debut collection of short stories comes recommended by Mary Gaitskill, and promises vignettes of the day-to-day life of immigrants and refugees in a nameless city.

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Elisabeth Thomas, Catherine House (May 2020). We’ve had an abundance of creepy or speculative fiction set in educational establishments recently, a trope I absolutely adore, but nothing has quite hit the nail on the head for me yet. I’m hoping that Thomas’s debut, set at a liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania where students have to isolate themselves from the outside world for three years, will be the one where everything comes together. Like Little Gods, it also has some irresistible if unlikely comps: ‘combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go’.

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Sophie Mackintosh, Blue Ticket (May 2020). I was put off Mackintosh’s Booker-longlisted debut, The Water Cure, by the lukewarm reviews and an opening page where the writing sounded decidedly wavery, but I’m keen to give this one a go because I love the premise; it’s set in a world where motherhood is decided by lottery, and women have to live with the decision that is made for them – no children if they draw a blue ticket, motherhood if they draw a white one.

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Sarah Moss, Summerwater (Autumn 2020, no cover yet). Sarah Moss is a somewhat ambivalent author for me. I’ve read everything she’s written, and am consistently impressed by her intelligence and originality, but no single one of her books has ever totally bowled me over (the two that came closest were The Tidal Zone and Night Waking). Perhaps Summerwater, set in a rainy Scottish holiday park, will be the one I unreservedly adore. Interestingly, it also marks her switch from smaller literary publisher Granta to big-hitter Picador.

***

The Rest of the List 

Ken Liu ed., Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation

Bruce Holsinger, The Gifted School

Zawe Ashton, Character Breakdown

Kit de Waal ed., Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers

Emily St John Mandel, The Glass Hotel

Edmund de Waal, The White Road

Nicola Griffith, So Lucky

Paulina Flores, Humiliation

Alia Trabucco Zerán, The Remainder

Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt (January 2020)

Sandeep Jauhar, Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation

Helen Mort, Black Car Burning

Xuan Juliana Wang, Home Remedies

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe

Karen Russell, Swamplandia!

Caite Dolan-Leach, We Went To The Woods

Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Stubborn Archivist

Jessi Klein, You’ll Grow Out of It

32 thoughts on “2020 Reading Plans

  1. A great list of books – Common People is on my wishlist and there are a few on there that look intriguing, and I look forward to reading about them before deciding (cf my Terrible TBR). And congratulations on the agent and the job news! I’m so glad I found your blog in 2019 and look forward to reading about what you’re reading in 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been a great year for you! (You might want to read Derby Girl: A Memoir by Sammi Jones?)

    I’m desperate to read Hamnet, and will definitely read the new Moss and Wyld novels as well. I’d also be interested in the Mandel, (E.) de Waal, Griffith and Jauhar books.

    You’re welcome to my proof copy of Humiliation if you don’t already have access to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh, the Jones memoir looks fun!

      I’d love the copy of Humiliation, but I know you have a lot of books waiting for me, so only if you can manage it when we meet up in March.

      Like

  3. Congratulations on your book and new job! A Minute’s Grace sounds wonderful. It sounds like it could explore the consequences of grief or maybe time travel paradoxes 🙂 I love that cover of Pulley’s new book and I love octopuses. I did not enjoy The Bedlam Stacks, which I found rather problematic but I don’t think I will be able to resist that cover of The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Perhaps I should really give Pulley another read and read The Watchmaker (I have not read it) and then her new book. The cover and the fact that the new book is set in Japan are becoming very irresistible to me. She is very travel-oriented in her books, isn’t she? I love the way she explores (ancient) cultures. Pulley’s style and me just do not get on very well, but I do love her vision.

        Liked by 1 person

        • IIRC, Watchmaker has a more straightforward style than Bedlam Stacks. The moral objections you had to Merrick in Bedlam Stacks should also be less of a problem in Watchmaker. Hope you enjoy it if you try it!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Hahaha – I laughed out loud at your flat-pack furniture accomplishment. It *can* feel like quite a thing.

    Congrats on the agent signing – I hope everything goes as you are hoping it will. And your reading plans sound great. I like the mix of backlisted and new. One that you’ve included that I’m keen on reading is the new Emily St. John Mandel. I’m reading/rereading some of her backlist now, in anticipation, and it’s just making me want to read it even more!

    Liked by 1 person

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