My Year in Books — 2020

Summer Farah
5 min readDec 17, 2020

As of writing this, I’ve read 56 books in 2020. My original goal was 40, bumped up in the fall to 60 as I realized I was, in fact, going to finish the Sealey Challenge (a poetry book for each day of August). I don’t think I’ll finish, but there’s always time.

According to Goodreads, an app I reluctantly use, the first book I read was Birthright by George Abraham; I read an ARC on my roommate’s kindle in order to write a blurb for my dear friend’s debut full-length collection. I haven’t read it since, in its true, published form, but I know I will be flipping through it next year, and the year after. I am so lucky to have started my year with something I knew would be dear to me.

Every December, I say I will read more novels— Baldwin’s Another Country was an attempt, as was Austen’s Northanger Abbey; I despised Eve Babitz’s Black Swans (short stories, technically), and absolutely devoured Han Kang’s The Vegetarian; when I criticize myself for not reading enough novels, what I mean is novels for adults rather than teens.

In January 2019, I was a unique type of depressed; the end of my college experience approaching, the existential dread of reality soaking in; I was to be an adult. I turned to an old comfort: fanfiction. I wasn’t able to find my favorites among my old bookmarks and I feared I was misremembering them, then feared they hadn’t existed at all — of course, I was being dramatic. It was 2AM EST, in my friend’s grandmother’s freezing living room in Manhattan that I learned my favorite writer had sold a book; a real book! Two, even! To a big publisher! and so she had deleted all of her works from the internet; fans of her archived them to a Google drive. I had to know if her books had come out, where I could read them, how I could support her in the afterlife of fandom. Crier’s War by Nina Varela released in October 2019. I read my copy in April 2020. Sometimes you wait for something that you know will be perfect simply because you know you will need it. About a month into the pandemic, around the time I started figuring things would not, in fact, improve any time soon, I finally got past chapter 1. It was everything I wanted it to be. I have the sequel Ironheart in hand, and just like before, I am waiting until it is needed. How comforting it is to know something new will still be the right thing.

Comfort: perhaps the main thing I was seeking with each move in 2020. Comfort TV, comfort music, comfort video games (every video game is a comfort video game!). I still watched tragic things and listened to Mitski, but my books — my re-reads! I read Kingdom Animalia in August. I am reading Kingdom Animalia again. I read it twice last year, too. There is no worry that book cannot empathize with. I re-read The Twenty-Ninth Year, a book I re-read to water damage when it released in 2019. I started reading select poems of TEETH, Aracelis Girmay yet again — for a month during the summer, I was without my collection, when I felt the most intense yearning to read one of her books. I could not shake the feeling, so I simply purchased one I didn’t already own. the black maria is ethereal. When I re-read it, which I know I will, I will give it much more time and space, the time it deserves. The pandemic takes so much time from us, depression, too — time slipped away so intensely one day that I did not notice who was coming in and out of my space, glasses of water appearing & coffee cups replaced in what felt like a blink. I look through my Good Reads, and honestly? Do I remember reading all of these? No, and not just because a year is long, this one longer than others.

DELUGE, Leila Chatti’s debut full length was my Sealey Challenge day 1. I thought about it for the entire month of August, and thought about it for every day after that; I did not read a book that month without thinking of DELUGE. The challenge was good, in that it got me to read. A friend dropped off a bag of books & I got to look through their collection, picking and choosing what could be fun — a piece of someone I love dearly, whose home I have not stepped in for a year, because the world is bad. The challenge was good, in that I read broadly. But I rushed; it is not the rule to rush, we make our own boundaries, we know what is good for us — if a book needed two days, I could have given it what it deserved. DELUGE, and many others, deserved a week, a month, a year — if only I could slow down and stop focusing on numbers, on goals. I am always reading, I am always re-reading, I am always thinking; I know this. It should be enough.

After my Sealey month, I thought reading had returned to me. I thought I could be ten years old again, visiting the library after school every day and picking up a Nancy Drew place-holder when the next book in A Series of Unfortunate Events wasn’t available. I read How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Red White & Royal Blue, the aforementioned The Vegetarian, and A Phoenix First Must Burn. I was reading when I woke up. I was reading while dinner cooked. I was anxiously waiting for my workday to end so I could go back to my books. I checked out fifteen more books from the library in anticipation of my reading. I considered upping my goal to 75. I was finally myself, again.

I wasn’t. I read 2/15 of those library books. I returned them after they were twice-due, feeling like I had failed; I picked up translations, craft books, so many books I could learn from, and hadn’t been able to get through any. Despite it all, at that point, I had read 52 books. Why did I possibly feel like I hadn’t done enough?

56 books and 2020 ends in two weeks. I may rush four more before the New Year. In 2021, I will try to read more novels, again, but I know I will mostly read poetry. I will try to read more widely, but I know my list will skew contemporary and American. I will likely re-read Kingdom Animalia; perhaps I will make it my tradition, to read it at least twice a year — in two different seasons. I used to read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets at the change of seasons; I realize now there are many others I could give my time to. Maybe my final four will be Kingdom Animalia and Deluge, twice through. Maybe in 2021, all I will do is re-read, giving time back to the books that deserve it.

Others of note:

Strip by Jessica Abughattas

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

The New Testament by Jericho Brown

CAPABLE MONSTERS by Marlin M. Jenkins

A Theory of Birds by Zaina Alsous

Boy with Thorn by Ricky Laurentiis



Summer Farah

Summer Farah is a Palestinian American poet and editor. She co-writes the biweekly newsletter Letters to Summer.