Best Fiction – The Third Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards

Fiction being what I read the most of, I always feel like the Best Fiction category is the best reflection of my favourite books of the year and I would say this year is no exception. So far this year I’ve read 62 novels. I narrowed the least down to sixteen, then down to five, but my top pick was clear to me from very early on.

My Top 5 Novels of 2020 (in this exact order) are:

5. Radicalized by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2019)

I didn’t read enough short story collections this year (or enough that I loved) to warrant a Best Short Story category but if I had, Radicalized would be the clear winner. This collection contains just four stories but each one is so involved and so thoughtful that each one has stuck with me. I still feel I’m committing a radical act each time I make my own bread.

4. Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf Canada, 2020)

I can see how this book isn’t for every reader but I really enjoyed the glimpse into every day life during the plague, I loved the refocusing of Shakespeare’s life by telling the story through his wife’s perspective, and I thought the way O’Farrell explored grief and motherhood and marriage was brilliantly done.

3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Anchor Canada, 2017)

I still can’t believe how much Gyasi packs into this book. It feels like an epic. When I tell people about it, it sounds like a book that must be at least 500 pages long and yet it’s actually relatively brief. It’s immensely readable and intensely heartbreaking. After I finished it, I recommended it to Peter who also read it this year.

2. True Story by Kate Reed Petty (Viking, 2020)

I haven’t seen or read much about Petty’s debut novel but I was blown away by it. The story itself is familiar but compelling but it’s the way Petty plays with style and perspective that really set this novel apart. The story is constantly twisting in on itself, revealing new angles and making the reader question what came before and yet it never felt confusing or withholding. I’d really love to see this one get some more fuss!

And the Winner is….

  1. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Biblioasis, 2019)

This book feels overwhelming – over 500 pages, primarily consisting of one sentence, in a stream of consciousness narration. But it is so, so readable. I didn’t think Ellmann could sustain my interest or create tension over such a long book and one where, really, not that much happens, but she did. More than that though, I felt very recognized by this book. There is a lot that is different between me and the narrator of Ducks but there was so much here that was familiar and it was such a well done capture of motherhood and of life n the early 21st century. This was the book I was reading in mid-March when a pandemic was officially declared and the world shut down and I think that probably also has something to do with the way this book has stuck in my brain throughout 2020, but I know it’s also because of Ellmann’s strength as a storyteller.

Honourable Mentions:

These are the rest of the titles on my original Top 16 (in no particular order):

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

The Doctor of Aleppo by Dan Mayland

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

There you have it! My top reads of 2020 and the conclusion of The Third Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards! Thanks for following along. If you like, tell me your top five fiction picks for 2020, or even just your very favourite of the year. Have you read any of mine? Agree? Disagree?

18 thoughts on “Best Fiction – The Third Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards”

  1. I’m horrified that Bleak House only made your also-ran list! You must read it again, and again, until you’re brainwashed into accepting it’s the best book ever written…!! 😉 Glad you had so many good reads this year – here’s to more next year! Merry Christmas to you all 🎅

  2. Ooh, I love this list! I’m so excited to see Ducks at the top of your list, as it was my top read last year and I still feel it’s criminally under-read. Hamnet (and Judith) was a resonant read for me this year also, and Homegoing is one of my all-time favorites. A few others of your top 16 will be on my favorites list this year as well. And I’m very much looking forward to True Story! It looks like you had a great year for fiction, and I hope 2021 will be even better. 🙂

    1. Thank you!! Ducks is so good but it’s such a hard sell! I’d love to see more people read it. There are plenty of reading goals I didn’t hit in 2020 but I did get to read some great fiction so definitely something to celebrate!

  3. OMG I totally forgot about Ducks Newburyport, I can’t believe I read that this year! in 2020! It seems like years ago, but for me, it was the ‘before times’ so the general anxiety in that book is on a whole new level now LOL

    1. Hahaha! There is definitely a before and after divide for this year. I was trying to rush to finish this because it was a library book and then everything shut down and I ended up having it for months!

  4. You read so many books on the 2020 prize lists! I was so tempted by Ducks when everyone was raving about it, but I don’t think my brain in lock down was ready for one sentence at 500 pages. I tried reading a bit of it, and I was so worried I wouldn’t like it that I couldn’t focus.

    1. It has a lot more natural breaks than the one sentence description would make you think. But it is a hard one to sell others on! I just loved how it highlights such an everyday woman and her seemingly average life. You still don’t see that a lot in literature.

    2. The part that interested me in bloggers’ descriptions of it was how this mother has to worry about school shootings and other contemporary concerns. It seemed like such a window into parenting today.

    3. Yes, so many of her concerns and fears around motherhood and marriage were SO familiar to me, even though she was also very different from me. Though the other day, Pearl was telling me about the “bad guy” drill they did at school and I realized that worrying about the pandemic and her school experience has just about driven out any fears I might have had about school shootings this year. Not sure if that’s a win or not…

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