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Best new books of 2020 for those in a reading slump: The Glass Hotel, My Dark Vanessa...

Best new books of 2020 for those in a reading slump: The Glass Hotel, My Dark Vanessa...

Book worm

Text: Emily Heng


Image: Instagram | @themoonsg

The announcement of Singapore's quasi-lockdown (*cough* phase 1 of circuit-breaker) was met with a torrent of emotions, as you'd recall. The slew of reactions and responses ranged from panic-buying bubble tea; grief (R.I.P. our social lives); and succumbing to a Masterclass subscription in a bid to pass the time productively. For our bibliophiles, though, the news was met with a certain degree of relief; an understanding that this was the perfect time as any to finally make some headway on our TBR list. As for fresh-faced reading rookies, on the other hand, it served an apt opportunity to plunge head-first into a hobby both educational and enlightening. This popular sentiment was evidenced in a report by The National Library Board, where libraries island-wide experienced a 225% leap in physical loans before forced closures.

This brings to mind the question: where does that leave us now in phase 2, with our lives (mostly) resumed to regular scheduling? We're glad to report that we're still reading — as are you, hopefully, especially now that bookstores and libraries have opened their doors. Whether you've recently fallen off the bandwagon (again) or are just looking for some fresh reads, here's a list of quick, engaging, and downright captivating books of 2020 to get ya back on track.

For those with a vested interest in Black identity, politics, and the #BLM movement, try: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

There are a lot of nuances and complexities surrounding issues of race, gender, and identity. Often times, attempts at educating yourself on such matters can be a mind-boggling affair with academic terminology and jargon hampering the process. Perhaps it's why Such a Fun Age left such an inedible mark. The novel follows African American babysitter, Emira, and her journey employed under white blogger, Alix Chamberlain. From critiques of "white saviours" to the insidious nature of ally ship, it skillfully addresses the complications of interracial relationships without sacrificing on plot or character development.

 

For those looking for a thought-provoking read on #MeToo, try: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

It has drawn comparison to 1955 novel, Lolita, thanks to its exploration of consent, abuse, and power dynamics. The plot focuses on fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye, who becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her forty-two-year-old English teacher — who is later accused of sexual assault by another student. Alternating between Vanessa's present and her past, it has been credited as a fresh new viewpoint on trauma and victimhood. So far, it's garnered praise from writing bigwigs in the vein of Gillian Flynn and Stephen King, so take from that what you will.

 

For those yearning to be sucked in a good mystery, try: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

You might recognise Emily St. John Mandel as the author behind pandemic-popular read, Station Eleven — a standalone piece set in a world after the collapse of civilisation. Her latest work isn't quite as on-the-nose as to the issues faced in 2020, though it does tackle universal themes in relation to greed, ambition, and white-collar crime. The 302-page novel is primarily about the relationship between half-siblings, Vincent and Paul, and their involvement in a massive Ponzi scheme that threatens to have devastating consequences on both their personal and professional lives.

 

For those looking for an acerbic, witty read, try: Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho

Crazy Rich Asians is lauded for their fresh, droll take on the intricacies of South-east Asian culture. The trilogy has since concluded, thus allowing for Last Tang Standing to takes on the mantle in 2020. Written by reformed legal counsel and Singaporean resident, Lauren Ho, it is about the pursuit of happiness, surviving one's thirties intact, and opening oneself up to love as told by dutiful Chinese-Malaysian daughter, Andrea Tang.

 

For those who prefer long-form essays, try: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Smart, charming, and funny in equal measure, we can't say we expected any less from this popular American comedian. Irby brings her signature humour and panache in Wow, No Thank You — which, this time, focuses on ageing, marriage, and "settling down with step-children in white, small-town America." Expect gems in the form of descriptive accounts of "skinny, luminous peoples" as well as comparisons of Irby to a "cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person."


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