Favourite books of 2020

I have read more than 50 books in 2020, twice as many as last year! Staying at home more than usual certainly helped, but I also think that my reading pace has increased.

First, I will quickly go over my reading challenge for 2020, and then I will talk about my favourite books of the year!

2020 Reading challenge completed!

I have completed all my 2020 reading challenges.

Read more non-fiction

I have read 10+ nonfiction books this year, which is a lot for me. I am particularly glad that I learned more about criminal law in Japan. I read a book about death penalty and one about a wrongful conviction. I plan on reading more about these topics next year.

Catch up with the Kaga series

I have read the whole Kaga series (10 books so far)! I really want to believe that the series is not over yet, and that there will be a 11th book, but I don’t know if this will happen. There is still a spin-off that I need to read, but it has not been released in bunko yet, so I will have to wait.

Read literary fiction

My challenge was to read two literary award winners, but I have actually read more than two books. Sadly, I have to admit that reading literary fiction is still very difficult to me. I had to read in parallel with the translation to be able to appreciate the writing style of authors like Teru Miyamoto (especially his earlier works) and Miri Yu. I can understand what happens by reading the Japanese alone, but my level is still too low to truly appreciate the quality of most works of literary fiction.

Open up to new genres!

This was the most fun and rewarding challenge of the year. I have read SF for the first time in Japanese, medical fiction, contemporary romance, and other genres. I still prefer books that are filled with dead bodies, but reading different genres was very nice, and I have discovered a lot of new authors as well.

Read Haruki Murakami in Japanese

Finally, I have read Haruki Murakami in Japanese for the first time. I chose Norwegian Wood, and I was not a fan of this novel overall. I have seen reviews of people saying that, although they love Murakami, they did not like Norwegian Wood. I will try another book one of these days! 

Favourite books of 2020

Top 5 favourite books

I was very surprised to see that most of my favourite books are not crime fiction!

『錦繡』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)

Looking back at all the books I read this year, 『錦繡』 is, I think, my favourite. I was so emotionally involved in the story that I had to take breaks from reading. It is the first epistolary novel that I read in Japanese, and overall this is a format that I love but don’t get to read very often.

I highly recommend it.

I also read another novel and two novellas by Miyamoto this year, but none had the impact this one had on me.

『泣くな研修医』 by Yujiro Nakayama (中山祐次郎)

I found this book extremely addictive. The author is a surgeon and while he wrote several medical nonfiction books, this one is his first novel. If you like medical fiction, this novel is a short, but engrossing one, I just could not put it down.

I am interested in reading more medical fiction and non fiction, so this was a very good start! There is a second volume called 『逃げるな新人外科医』, and it is obviously on my reading list!

『祈りの幕が下りる時』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

I love all the books of the Kaga series, but the last one was really excellent.

The story is rather complex and the investigation is not just about finding the murderer, but to understand the motivations behind people’s actions. We also learn a lot about Kaga’s mother, so this is definitely an essential episode in the series.

I would say that with 『新参者』 and 『悪意』, this novel is one of the best of the series.

『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)

This book is a collection of super heart-warming and nostalgic episodes of the author’s childhood. The stories are extremely relatable and told with humour.

I love Momoko Sakura, and while I didn’t know ちびまる子ちゃん before learning Japanese, I did watch several episodes of the anime as listening practice. I found it easier to picture all the events described in the book with the anime in mind.

『そして父になる』by Akira Sano (佐野晶)

I must say that I read this novelisation while watching the film (I had never watched it before). It is hard to tell whether I would have loved this book so much if I hadn’t watched the film. Obviously, the film added a lot to my reading experience, and I don’t know how I would feel about the novelisation if I had read it alone.

In any case, this is by far the best novelisation I have read, and I found that the author added a lot of little details that made it easier to sympathise with the characters (while I found somehow hard to connect with them in the film).

Note: I guess that 『極主婦道』 should make the list too, but I still haven’t finished the series yet.

And if it were a top 6, I would include:

『密室の鍵貸します』 by Tokuya Higashigawa (東川篤哉)

This book is the first one the Ikagawa series. It is a light-hearted and funny detective novel that is also extremely well done and engrossing. If you like locked-room mysteries, you will love this book.

Overall, I had a lot of fun reading this book, it is one of the most entertaining books I have read this year. I will read the whole series for sure.

Top 5 easiest books

Overall, these are the books that I believe are the easiest ones among the book I read this year.

『おれがあいつであいつがおれで』 by Hisashi Yamanaka (山中恒)

This book is an easy one for Japanese learners. It can be a good first novel, if you have never read books in Japanese before. The story is very good too, the book is engrossing and funny, but it also shows in a clever way how difficult it is to live as oneself in a society that forces you to behave and talk in a certain way. This might look like a book for children, but as an adult, I was completely engrossed in the story and cared a lot for the two protagonists.

『アンフィニシュトの書』 by Shinya Asashiro (浅白深也)

This book is overall easy to read and it has a repetitive structure that also helps a lot. You might find the beginning a little challenging if you are not used to reading novels in Japanese, but when the story kicks off, it really gets easier. Once you know the characters and the setting, the repetitive pattern of the story will make for a smooth read. It is a murder mystery, so if you are into that, you will certainly find this one addictive.

『11文字の殺人』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

This novel was surprisingly easy to read, it is mainly composed of dialogues, narrative parts are reduced to a minimum, there are almost no descriptions… it reads very quickly and easily, I guess that native readers can finish it in just one day.

It might not be the best Higashino, but it is one of the easiest I have read and it is a real page-turner.

『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)

This is not a novel, but a collection of short episodes from the author’s childhood. The length of each of them makes them perfect to short reading/studying sessions. The stories are extremely relatable, the vocabulary used is related to everyday life situation like school, family and friends.

I also found that there were more furigana than in other books.

『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』 by Sachiko Kashiwaba (柏葉幸子)

This book was also on the easy side. I personally found that it was not as easy as expected, mainly because the whole book was mostly written in hiragana and the story has fantastic elements that makes it more difficult to read than realistic, everyday life settings. But if you struggle with kanji and enjoy Spirited Away-like stories, 『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』 is a perfect book.

I also want to mention that『ノルウェイの森』 by Haruki Murakami was much easier to read than I thought.

Top 3 nonfiction

Since I have read more nonfiction this year than ever, here is a separate category for my favourite books.

『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 by Shoji Kondo (近藤昭二)

I have learned a lot about capital punishment in Japan in this book. It is exactly what I was looking for, the writing was agreeable and the book was well structured. Not only have I learned a lot through this book, but it also made me want to read more about this topic. If you are interested in anything related to death penalty in Japan, this book is a perfect introductory one.

『ハングルへの旅』 by Noriko Ibaragi (茨木のり子)

I cannot believe that I read this book this year, it feels like an eternity… When I read this book, South Korea and Japan had been through months of trade dispute, and this Noriko Ibaragi’s account of her journey to learn Korean was the most heart-warming thing ever. As a language learner, you will find a lot of precious anecdotes and relatable episodes in this book, and if you are interested in Korean and Korea as well, this is a must read!

『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』by Mikako Brady (ブレイディみかこ)

This book was not really what I expected (I thought it would be centred more on racism), and I was a little disappointed in it at first, but Brady’s depiction of her daily life adventures with her son soon seduced me. Secondary school is a difficult time, and seeing how Mikako sided with her son to tackle all sort of social issues is really heart-warming.


That’s it!

Let’s hope that 2021 will bring enough positive things to make up for the disaster of 2020.

I wish you all a good start in the new year!