How Reading Fiction Saved My Mental Health in 2020

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As a Black and Asian woman, and bookworm since childhood, I realised far too late in my life that most of the books I’d read were written by people who did not share my lived experiences, that’s why I decided to only read books by women of color in 2019. I devoured Maya Angelou’s autobiography series over a few weeks and then continued to discover incredible new voices who made me feel seen and let me escape into narratives that absorbed me.

In 2020 I had every intention of keeping this rule, but couldn’t resist reading debut novels that friends had recommended like ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ and ‘Olive’. Then, while in my living room one day, I noticed a book on my shelf that a friend had gifted me years ago and that I had still never read — Jilly Cooper’s Pandora. I picked it up to flick through the first pages in jest. Before I knew it could not put it down. For the first time since the pandemic had been declared, I found myself laughing hysterically.

I reflected on the fiction I read in 2019 and noted that I was still, to some degree, a pretentious reader. I always went for critically acclaimed books over hotly discussed bestsellers. In the brave new world of lockdown, I had the freedom to let down my literary guard and enjoy the kinds of books I’d overlooked for so long. I still stayed within the realm of women’s perspectives and had one of the most pleasurable years I’ve ever had as a reader. I discovered Nigerian authors who made me feel homesick, and found myself transported back to Lagos through their descriptions.

My 2021 reading resolution is to get through all the non-fiction books I’ve hoarded on my shelves. It’s safe to say this may be one resolution I abandon with no regrets. I miss the escapism of fiction — I find reading to be more absorbing than watching TV. It’s been the perfect antidote to the repetition of lockdown life.

The Novels I Read In 2020:

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Dear Alaere by Eriya Onagoruwa

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Zikora (short story) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous by Jilly Cooper

Pandora by Jilly Cooper

Polo by Jilly Cooper

Players by Jilly Cooper

Rivals by Jilly Cooper

Riders by Jilly Cooper

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Olive by Emma Gannon

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto