2020: A year like no other, and yet not without its pleasures. These are the things that stopped my year being a total waste of time.

First and foremost the woods of Lanarkshire without which my locked-down self would have gone stark staring bonkers. Let’s hear it for the trees!

An honorary mention to the Scottish weather, which has been less than its usual atrocious self this year, thus enabling the many, many, many hours of wood-wandering.

Second: Digital festivals and events. I lost count. Apropos literary festivals there was Hay in spring, Melbourne in early summer, Edinburgh in late summer, Cheltenham in early autumn, Frankfurt in October. Countless single events. Goethe Institute events were streamed from both London and New York, and so I had a constant stream of German literary events to make up for the lack of travel opportunities to German-speaking countries. And let’s not forget the wonderful menu of musicals, plays and concerts served up by our artists and musicians, an out-of-work community for the majority of the year. I hope their fund-raising efforts are as successful as they need them to be. As this cultural content moves to subscription models to for sustainability, I’ll be subscribing to NT National at Home for the foreseeable.

And a huge thank you to the many video-conferencing and streaming services for enabling all of the above.

Third: The 110 books that I read. (The same number as in 2019 – I don’t know whether to count that as a success (persistence in the face of constant distraction) or failure (why not many more given all the additional time?)

The quick statistical breakdown looks like this:

Fiction:Non-Fiction:Poetry:Graphic:Drama 84:16:5:4:1 / Authors Male:Female 54:46 / Written in English:Translated from 16 languages 39:71 / Translated from German 33

And the highlights from all that

Best cheer-me-up: The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

Best female friendship (Late 30s): Daughters – Lucy Fricke

Best female friendship (70s): The Weekend – Charlotte Wood

Best memoir: A Woman in the Polar Night – Christiane Ritter

Best puzzle: The Aosawa Murders – Riku Onda

Biggest surprise: Dark Satellites – Clemens Meyer

Masterpiece novella: Reunion – Fred Uhlman

Most beautiful: Around the World In Eighty Trees – Jonathan Drori

Most shocking: Airraid – Alexander Kluge

Outstanding chapter: From Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet in which the plague journeys to Stratford-on-Avon.

Pluckiest Independent Publisher (for launching during a pandemic): Corylus Books (Interview here.)

The Raw One: I Remain In Darkness – Annie Ernaux

Best Literary Criticism and Book of the Year: A Little History of Poetry – John Carey

I didn’t read as much poetry as expected after reading Carey’s book. He sure inspired me to buy a lot though! Sigh – more to add to the mega plan for 2021. However, I did read a handful of volumes of poetry, and so I’m leaving 2020 behind with my favourite poem of the year. After all it brings me back to where this post began – in the woods, with the trees.

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