Best Fiction Books I Read in 2020

 

I write because I read. I grow because I read. I can never be bored because I read.

Out of the 48 or so books I read in 2020, 75 percent — that is 36 books — were fiction. The rest were non-fiction books, children’s stories, and travel books.

Even though most of my writing is personal growth and travel-focused, I also write short stories and personal essays.

And for any kind of creative writing — travel, short stories, and even self-development — reading fictional books is crucial. Otherwise, how would I know how to describe a scene on the street or a conversation amongst two people sitting in a cafe? How would I keep the articles interesting and give them a story arc? A beginning, a middle, and an end, you know.

Apart from helping me write, fiction short story books and novellas are interesting and entertaining. They teach a lot about the history of the world. Fiction books also unravel the behavior and inner workings of human beings. (These 21 books changed the way I understand life.)

So while The Outsider taught me how straightforward life can be, Gora and Anna Karenina showed me a lot about the desires and limitations of human beings while telling the history of India and Russia. I wouldn’t have known so much about the Brahmo Samaj and the Russian high class if not for those two books.

I’m thankful.

In 2021, I target to read 100 books, double the amount from last year. So 8 books, at least, per month, and two books per week, which is not bad at all. But this year, I would write the reviews of the books as and when I read them. Thus I would be able to provide a fresher critique.

My reading list for 2021 comprises the Kindle ebooks I have already bought, books I find at places I stay(of course I can buy the book if I want it in my collection), and my Amazon and Goodreads wishlist.

Now here are the creative fiction books I loved the most in 2020, that helped me understand something better, moved my life ahead, or made me feel as if with the characters I had progressed, too.

 

 

But first something about books.

Source. A Sumerian clay tablet, currently housed in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, inscribed with the text of the poem Inanna and Ebih by the priestess Enheduanna, the first author whose name is known.

[As Wikipedia tells, a tablet is a physically robust writing medium, suitable for casual transport and writing. Clay tablets were flattened and mostly dry pieces of clay that could be easily carried, and impressed with a stylus. They were used as a writing medium, especially for writing in cuneiform, throughout the Bronze Age and well into the Iron Age.]

 

Best Fiction Books I Read in 2020

 

Time Machine by H.G. Wells

 

Written in 1895, Time Machine is a fictional account of the experience of using a time machine to travel to the future. The book hits hard on the fact that humans only strive when they need something. Without a purpose, we are left directionless. Once we reach perfection, we start to deteriorate.

Thanks to the book, I have started to appreciate imperfection a little bit more. Do read this classic if you want to know how a bizarre future seems absolutely normal.

Buy the book here.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

 

Anna Karenina is my all-time favorite classic fiction novel.

The book is a thick one but that is not the feature you should focus on. Leo Tolstoy was a writer who understood human nature intricately and that shows in his writing. Anna was one of the many characters of the book who lived in the rich aristocratic society of Russia. The book revolves around the feelings of love, loss, being a woman and the limited women rights, jealousy, meaning of life, and friendship.

Brave up to read this book. It will make you ask the most important questions of life.

 

The Outsider by Albert Camus

 

As you sip warm sake you slowly get familiar with the bitterness. And such has been my familiarization with the Outsider. I reread The Outsider this year. And every time I read this book I appreciate the unvarnished honesty of the protagonist a bit more.

The Outsider is a thin fiction novel about a guy who appreciates the impermanence of life and knows that one way or the other, life is in the right always. But the world disagrees and he pays a heavy price for speaking the truth and doing what feels right.

I highly recommend reading this one for a clear view of what matters.

Alice Munro’s short stories (Or click here to buy a print.)

 

Alice Munro is a Canadian writer who is known for writing honestly and frankly about the social issues of the time, especially the position of women. She grew up on a Fox and Minc farm in Canada Ontario, and her writing is mostly centered around countryside and farm life and the limitations of human beings.

I read Alice Munro for the first time in 2020 and love the simplicity with which she talks about people. My favorites amongst the 25 are Boys and Girls, Queenie, and Runaway, amongst many others.

 

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay 

 

The Far Field is the first book of Madhuri Vijay. It is the journey of a woman who travels from Bangalore to Kashmir. She is searching for a Kashmiri man who used to visit her mother in Bangalore. The man disappears, the mother commits suicide, and the protagonist makes her way to Kashmir to find out the truth.

I loved this book, not for the journey of the woman so much, but for the story of Kashmir, the people there, what the army has been doing to the Kashmiri people, and how difficult the terrains are.

I recommend this book to all fiction, non-fiction, travel, and history lovers.

 

1 / 1 – BD_Hunefer papyrus first printing formsBook of the Dead of Hunefer; c. 1275 BC; ink and pigments on papyrus; 45 × 90.5 cm; British Museum (London). Source.

[Scrolls can be made from papyrus, a thick paper-like material made by weaving the stems of the papyrus plant, then pounding the woven sheet with a hammer-like tool until it is flattened. Papyrus was used for writing in ancient Egypt, perhaps as early as the First Dynasty, although the first evidence is from the account books of King Neferirkare Kakai of the Fifth Dynasty (about 2400 BC). Papyrus sheets were glued together to form a scroll.]

 

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told: A Book of Profiles by Muhammad Umar Memon

 

This is a collection of Urdu short stories written by many authors. The people in the stories are real and relatable. The tales cover partition, Hindu-Muslim riots, fear, cruelty, death, life, love, care, empathy, friendship, family, the discomfort of traveling to strange lands, limited means, and desire, amongst other human emotions.

Do read if you love realistic short stories.

 

No Presents Please by Jayant Kaikini, Original in Kannada, Translation by Tejaswini Niranjana

 

No Presents Please is a collection of short stories written by the Kannada author Jayant Kaikini who spent almost two decades in Mumbai and writes about the city as his own. Set in the chawls, slums, streets, and roadside shops of Mumbai, the book has simple and real stories. But often the characters do something so out of their norms that even their closest people are shocked.

If you love realistic fiction, No Presents Please is a must-read.

The Short Novels of John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and is quoted “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” He made me laugh so much that no other writer had for a while. He also made me pull my hair because he showed such reckless individuals, mostly men, in his books that I wondered how could someone be that irresponsible and stupid.

The six short novels of the collection were all hilarious and easy, conversational reads. Tortilla Flat, the Moon is Down, The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, and The Pearl — many of these six are also made into movies, which I have yet to see.

John Steinbeck portrays how the art of doing nothing can cause a hilarious string of events really well. Serendipity, if you must say. Read one page of Steinbeck and you will see vices and desires of humans laid open. The stories cover racism against the migrant communities, farm and ranch life, war and loyalty, poverty, and friendship, amongst other themes.

I loved all the novels in the book.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

 

What a fun, adventurous book to read!

So while everyone told me how the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was better and funnier than the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I avoided Finn. I didn’t want to let go of the idea that the book that I had read in school — my favorite book — taught by my favorite English teacher — the Adventures of Tom Sawyer — wasn’t the best book of all time. Wouldn’t I be cheating if I liked any other book better than Tom Sawyer?

But when on top of all people even my partner told me how he enjoyed Huckleberry Finn’s adventures more than Tom Sawyer’s, I couldn’t help myself from buying the e-book. I read all of it in two sittings.

Sadly, I now agree with all my friends and my partner.

Do read Huckleberry Finn if you love books full of mischief and childlike playfulness. I bet you will have a great time. And who knows if end up stealing a boat or two yourself. Sshh now.

Oh, I wouldn’t call this book a children’s book. We adults need such simple books more than the children for we get so busy in the doing that we forget the being. You will know what I mean if you read this one.

 

Image of Women in Literature by Mary Anne Ferguson

 

Composed and edited by Mary Anne Ferguson, the Image of Women in Literature is a collection of stories and poems by different writers. The theme of the book is to analyze how women have been portrayed by writers of different genres, ages, countries, and styles.

In this book, women are discussed in six different roles and the stories are divided into those six sections to support each of the sub-themes. Writers are Ruth Whitman, Ray Bradbury, Sue Miller, John Keats, Irwin Shaw, Maya Angelou, Susan Glaspell, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, and more.

I had bought this book in an old bookstore years ago but only got a chance to finish it and appreciate it now.

Left From the Nameless Shop by Adithi Rao

 

Adithi Rao has written many children’s books, short fiction, and her film scripts have been bought by big Hindi production houses.

One of her many books is Left From the Nameless Shop, a book set in Rudrapura, a fictional place in Karnataka. The stories are full of the kindest, loveliest, friendliest, and helpful people that one can ever find. Some of the stories and the people sound too good to be true, but I do like to believe that we have such warm places and generous people.

The simple stories are of everyday troubles of life and how people of the town come together to solve them. The community and the tales are open-minded while deeply rooted in culture.

You can feel free to call me an idealist or a perfectionist, but the goodness in the book has made me like it. Oh, the stories are entertaining.

Short stories of Ernest Hemingway

When I picked up the Old Man and The Sea the first time, I couldn’t finish it. Something didn’t work for me, the story felt too slow. I picked up the book again a couple of years later, and not only appreciated the book but also fell in love with Hemingway’s straightforward style of writing. Short sentences. Simple words.

I had to read his short story collection, a book of 49 stories written at various phases of his life. I couldn’t read all the 49 stories, some were too indulgent of war and soldiers and didn’t make any sense to me in my present context. But he had gathered them from his journeys in many cities, countries, and continents( Africa, Paris, and the US et cetera) over decades. Choose and read.

My favorite stories from the book were: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and Hills like White Elephants.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is Stephen King’s collection of some of his most thrilling stories. Along with every story, comes the author’s notes on how he got the idea of the story, and how and when he wrote it. These notes make the book a helpful read for writers to understand the process of short story writing.

If  you love thrillers, crime novels, magical realism, or just short stories in general, you would love this book. My favorite stories from the book are Mile 81, Cookie Jar, and Drunken Fireworks.

 

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

This was a good fictional (and non-fictional) story of the colonized and free India written by Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha since 2009.

The Great Indian Novel is a fictional interpretation of the Mahabharata, the great war epic, and the Indian independence and politics. The main people of the book are the characters from Mahabharata representing Indian politicians.

I would recommend this book to people who want to understand Indian political history and politicians(Gandhis, Nehrus, and others of the time). Mahabharata characters are spot on, with some fair twists.

The book is really long, and I definitely felt the length at places. The satire and puns work, but not always.

When you read this one, make sure you Google search the names of the politicians who served the particular post discussed in the book. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to fit the character in the political history.

 

1 / 1 – 1024px-Madame_de_Pompadour readingMadame de Pompadour spending her afternoon with a book (François Boucher, 1756). François Boucher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

Fiction Books I didn’t Like

 

Pyjamas are Forgiving By Twinkle Khanna

I purchased this book as I didn’t want to judge a book by its cover; I didn’t want to prejudice against Twinkle Khanna, because how can a celebrity write.

Pajamas are forgiving is not worth buying. It is a love story and the journey of a woman from a marriage to an ashram to redeem herself. But while all of this could have been meaningful and real, most of the story was full of cliches, bad decisions, and shortcuts that the writer had unabashedly taken. Of course, the protagonist was going through a divorce, was high class, goes to an ashram to heal. Obviously, her ex-husband shows up there with his new wife. Of course, the ex-wife sleeps with the husband again. Surely there is a foreigner who gets raped. The new wife is sinister, because why not. Et cetera, et cetera. At your own risk, readers.

As a writer the book helped me understand how not to write. So read it for that if you may, and nothing else. Sorry Twinkle, I tried. But you didn’t try hard enough to offer real value to people and that shows.

 

Maidless in Mumbai By Payal Kapadia

Another book I tried because I’m always excited to read new Indian English writers. But this book read more like a diary and less like a story. The author hadn’t tried to invest in the characters but prepared a memorandum of cliched people doing cliched things. Of course, there was a husband who didn’t coordinate, a loud mother-in-law who barged in the room without knocking, maids who quit their job before even starting, a subordinate at the office who would definitely cheat, and so on.

Don’t even read this one to see how not to write. Sorry, Payal. I tried.

 

Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale

The debut novel of Amrita Mahale, Milk Teeth is a fictional story set in the late 19th century in Mumbai. Apart from being a love story of three characters, Milk Teeth takes the reader through the communal changes that India and Mumbai were going through at that time.

You would like this book if you like reading compelling real-life stories that ask questions about the forward(backward?) moment of society. But there is too much in the book to not like.

Ira’s character, which constitutes the first half of the book, starts off well. But then comes a gay protagonist who hides his life from everyone. This was a bit too much to handle at that time in the story. I also don’t know if I learned anything new from the book except the Mumbai life.

Too many cliches, again.

 

Feasting Fasting by Anita Desai

Feasting Fasting is about a woman trapped with her middle-class parents at home. They ask her to do all their home chores, and it appears that the daughter is sort of a domestic helper and acts as a middle man between her parents and the world. Despite being irritated with her parents, she lives with them, never marries, quite unable to understand what to do with her life, but does nothing to bring a change. Her character doesn’t make progress through the book. In the end, she is shown to make peace with the situation and fulfill her role to the best of her capability.

Then there is the son, the brother, Arun, who stays in Massachusetts with an American family. Even so far away, Arun is torn between the things from back home and what he sees every day in the US. No matter how much he tries to run away, he gets confronted with the same interpersonal and family issues again and again. Arun is then happy to leave this home, too.

The book is a good example of how we all live similar lives. We stay stuck if we don’t make a change. Also, no matter how much physical distance we create, our mind is the one that needs to let go.

But I felt cheated when I finished the book because neither did I learn anything from Feasting Fasting nor did I enjoy the book.

 

Girl in White Cotton by Avni Doshi

Girl in White Cotton was a confusing, overloaded, complicated, and strenuous read. I didn’t enjoy the book at any point. The characters were jumbled. Their shifting memories and altering identities really let me down. There was no breather from the moroseness and the complexity of the characters. No one comes to save the reader. So that’s that.

Which fiction books did you love reading in 2020? Do let me know in the comments.

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