Most Disappointing Books of 2020

HERE WE GO.

I feel like this year more than ever I’ve seen so much ‘worst books of the year lists are pointless and mean-spirited’ discourse so friendly reminder that if you don’t like this kind of content you are more than welcome to simply keep scrolling!

But for all my pointless and mean-spirited followers, let’s do this:

8. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

This book was the disaster women subgenre at its most generic and forgettable. I wish I had more to say about it but I honestly cannot remember this well enough to complain about it, I just remember feeling like I was wasting my time. Isolated things I remember from this book: a pool, sex, Italy, bad writing, California? The end.

7. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This book had a good, important, and topical conceit, and it proceeded to bash the reader over the head with it for 300 pages without the slightest bit of finesse. It’s a perfectly serviceable bookclub book but its literary merit… eludes me (something that would bother me less had it not been longlisted for the Booker). Also, I have never in all my days encountered a child–real or fictional–more annoying than the one in this book, my god.

6. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

This book had all the potential in the world to be a fun, mindless, salacious drama; instead it took itself so seriously despite having nothing of any consequence to say. There is no character development in this novel, no insight, no nuance–AND IT GOES ON FOR OVER 500 PAGES. It’s just one-note characters arguing with each other about their one character flaw and it’s executed with the most embarrassing sincerity that I just have to think about this book and I cringe.

5. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen are two of my favorite books but this is the second year in a row that Moshfegh made it onto my most disappointing list; last year with her collection Homesick for Another World–which at the time led me to conclude that Moshfegh only works for me when she writes novels, but Death in her Hands was a novel and it was a hot mess, so, Moshfegh and I are on rocky footing going forward. The fact that it took me about 5 months to read this under-300 page book should say it all; it’s dull, meandering, repetitive, and not half as insightful or revelatory as it thinks it is. I also found the narrative voice thoroughly unconvincing. Plus this book is so similar to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and it has nothing to recommend itself over Tokarczuk’s, which is a stunning novel.

4. The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

Generic, anemic, and unsatisfying, The Illness Lesson is a book that had lofty ambitions that fell flat on their face. This book was all style and no substance and the style wasn’t even that good to begin with.

3. Girl by Edna O’Brien

I can’t believe the Women’s Prize had enough of a hold over me that I actually read this. What an utter mess. Tone deaf, unfocused, and shoddily constructed. It’s well-researched (though I remain unconvinced that it was appropriate in any way for a white Irish woman to publish a novel like this), but it exposes the horrors experienced by the women abducted by the Boko Haram at the expense of good writing or storytelling or character development or… anything that could have recommended it. Terrible all around.

2. Dominicana by Angie Cruz

In this book–a bizarrely flat and uninspired melodrama–the main character, having just been choked by her husband to the point of losing consciousness, flees, terrified, and runs into her cute brother-in-law. This is the dialogue that follows:

“He pulls out a cigarette from his jacket pocket. You leaving without saying good-bye?

It’s not like you’re ever around, busy with all your girls. I say it in a voice I don’t recognize. Why am I flirting? Now? And with César!”

It’s a no from me.

1. Saltwater by Jessica Andrews

I read this book on January 1, 2020, and in doing so I fear that I cursed us all. Sorry.

I hated this book… so much. The prose was labored, overwrought, and trite; the characters were paper-thin; and the whole novel was disgustingly anti-Irish, despite the narrator having grown up in Donegal. Quoting from my review:

Regarding the narrator’s grandfather’s childhood in Ireland, after establishing that he slept in his aunt’s barn, this paragraph is, quite literally, the only information we receive about that period in his life:

“Auntie Kitty rationed the hot water and made anyone who entered the house throw holy sand over their left shoulder, To Keep Away The Devil. Her husband was in the IRA and they housed radical members of Sinn Féin in their attic.”

Poverty, religious fanaticism, and the IRA – there’s only one stereotype missing here; oh, wait:

“I have noticed that many of the young men in Donegal have shaking hands. […] I ask my mother what it is that makes them shake. ‘It’ll be the drink,’ she says, sagely.”

Anyway if that’s not enough to convince you, the writing was just… so weird, so contrived, so bad, I promise if you open the book to literally any page there will be a passage this awful and perplexing:

“Redness cracking. Fissures forming. You are falling towards us, rich and syrup-soft. Flesh roiling. Bones shifting. Tongues over bellies and fingers in wet places.”


So that’s that! What was your worst book of 2020? I promise I’ll actually start reading your end of year lists this week.

27 thoughts on “Most Disappointing Books of 2020

  1. I didn’t read any books I hated this year?? Weird. A lot of “meh” books but nothing to rant about. Il go with The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It was trying to do a lot and be really profound and it just screamed “book club” and “important issues”. I learned about the AIDS crisis but like, I could have really an article for that.

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  2. Ha, one of these was on my most disappointing list last year (Saltwater) and another is coming up this year! I enjoyed Such A Fun Age a lot and The Most Fun We Ever Had a bit, but I agree that they are both seriously flawed as novels, especially the latter. Girl was dreadful but I expected it to be awful, so it didn’t exactly disappoint me!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. omg WHY WAS THE KID IN SUCH A FUN AGE SO IRRITATING ???? i listened to the audiobook and literally every 5 seconds this kid would interrupt dialogue just to make some dumb “childish” comment that didnt even sound like something an actual child would say it drove me MAD

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  4. I did not feel that way about Such a Fun Age 🤣 but I really appreciate your take on it. I love bashing books when I really don’t get them. Where the Crawdads Sing was my least favorite in my working memory. The audio version just made it even more unbearable!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Really glad Such a Fun Age worked for you and that it works for so many people – I certainly commend its ambitions even if the execution didn’t work for me. I’ve avoided Crawdads, I have a very strong sense that I’ll dislike it!

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  5. Lol, I think everything here that I haven’t already read I’ve crossed off my list thanks to your reactions, so you’ve surely helped my reading year! I had a much better time with Such a Fun Age but I don’t begrudge its spot here and the Booker longlisting still baffles me. My low point in books this year was definitely reading Girl and Dominicana back to back. That Saltwater was even WORSE seems impressive- I hope you’ll have a better January 1 this time around!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Really glad you enjoyed Such a Fun Age more than I did, it’s certainly a book with noble ambitions so I’m glad it works so well for a lot of people. But yeah, Booker worthy… not quite. God the Women’s Prize did us so dirty this year, THREE of my eight were from that longlist!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t think it’s petty to share books you were disappointed in. I like reading other people’s best of/worst of lists because they’re so subjective but all together they give a picture of what someone likes and maybe it will be what I like too. Plus, I read your list and feel pleased that I haven’t read any of these and none of them are on my TBR! (Though maybe that’s petty!)

    Liked by 1 person

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