Top reads of 2020

2020: the year of reading. Was there anything else to do? As such, it has taken an extraordinarily long time for me to whittle my long-list of 34 favourites down to this select few. I’ll start with the education favourites, and move on to fiction (my true love).

Education favourites

Kate Clanchy: Some kids I taught and what they taught me

Clanchy’s was the first book I read in 2020, and the fact that it was the first book I thought of for this list is a testament to its impact. An absolute ode to the joys of teaching, Clanchy tackles some really challenging aspects of pedagogy (how do you teach writing?) as well as sociology (what is the purpose of education, and how do you square a school’s aims with its community?). I wrote about her book here.

E.D. Hirsch: How to Educate a Citizen

I have long loved Hirsch, but find his earlier works a challenge to read. With each new work, I find his writing more and more lucid. This short work excoriates progressivism and provides a clear path to a coherent, enlightened curriculum that works for all children – but especially those for whom education to often does not work.

Eva Moskowitz: The education of Eva Moskowitz: a memoir

I am a big fan, and still keep Pondiscio’s account of Moscowitz’ school chain the Success Academies on my desk in work, filled to bursting with post-it notes. I was surprised at how much of an insight this gave me into Moscowitz’s schools, and how often I have quoted this to colleagues after reading it. It’s much more than a memoir – it’s a love letter to transformative education.

Tom Bennett: Running the Room

The other book I cannot stop quoting is Tom Bennett’s latest offering. I bought this because everyone said it was incredible, and everyone was absolutely correct. I’m not sure how he manages it, but Bennett makes this a relevant read for both practitioners at the very start of their career and those leading the behavior and culture of schools.

Fiction

Bernadine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other

This is genuinely one of the most moving books I have ever read. Having a cast of so very many characters shouldn’t work – I’ve got lost in simpler stories with fewer characters – but in Evaristo’s hands it all weaves together in a tapestry of life and all its hurts and joys.

Tessa Hadley: Late in the day

This story of close friendships and their response to a shared grief felt so tangible I miss the characters even now, seven months after reading it.

Claudia Rankine: Citizen

A searing but beautiful prose poem exploring black experience. Both horrifying and edifying. A masterpiece.

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation

A wonderful novel of marriage, motherhood, art disintegration and coming together. Manages to be brilliantly artful and sincere simultaneously.

Ann Patchett: The Dutch House

It took me about 75 pages to fully enter the world of this book, but once I did I fully appreciated why some critics reckon this to be Patchett’s master work. Again, I miss these characters desperately.

Curtis Sittenfeld: You think it, I’ll say it

I read American Wife last year and adored it. I’ve not loved everything by Sittenfeld, but these short stories are brilliant – in only a few pages, you become completely invested.

Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey

I cannot believe it has taken me so long to read Rupi Kaur. I read these poems in one sitting, and then again the next evening. And again. There is so much life in so few words.

Anna Wiener: Uncanny Valley

Ok, I know this isn’t fiction, but it’s not education either so it can go here. A rare non-fiction read that has stayed with me, providing an insight into Silicon Valley and its working practices. It made me laugh a lot.