My Best Reads of 2020

If I didn’t write or read during this crazy year, I doubt I’d have coped. So, below are some of the best books that kept me company, this year:


Original Skin by Phillipa Yaa De Villiers

De Villiers is a South African poet and playwright whose work touches deeply. This book is a written version of the author’s autobiographical one-woman show, her story of adoption during the apartheid era, which she has performed widely.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A both harrowing and an extraordinary story! I couldn’t think of anything else for days after reading this book. This quote from the book captures what it’s at its core: “Since at least the 1800s, black oral history has been filled with tales of ‘night doctors’ who kidnapped black people for research. And there were disturbing truths behind those stories” 


The Spy by Paulo Coelho

Coelho needs no introduction. But this book is a keeper; an intensely fascinating story set in Paris that can be read over and over again. If you’re a fan of historical fiction. I highly recommend it.


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Noah is one of my comp authors. I delayed reading his book because I had already guessed that his story might be similar to mine. It is, indeed, similar in many respects to many non-white South African children’s stories. I cried and laughed as I reminisce about my own childhood.


Each year, I always feel as if I haven’t read enough books of poetry. But I realise that I also consume a lot of chapbooks, which are not listed in any of the big book retailers.

Chapbook: The Exhibit

But this anthology about poetry and poets featured in it, Our Words, Our Worlds edited by Makhosazana Xaba, was the best gift to myself.

Anthology: Our Words, Our World

It’s a collection of personal essays, interviews, literary critique, feminism, etc., that adds to the decolonising literary culture discourse. Even if you are not a poet or poetry reader, topics covered in this book might be of interest and more so, if you feel left on the margins.


You’re Not listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

I pride myself on being a good listener. This book helped me put my “great” skill under a microscope. I seriously needed a reminder that listening is a muscle that needs constant strengthening, after I failed a loved one. All they wanted was for me to listen. All I wanted was to fix the problem. I cannot recommend this book enough, if you care about the quality of your relationships with others.

That’s my short list for this year. I bet we’re all tired, I know I’m fried! So, you won’t see me pop up in your inbox, though I’ll continue to catch up on your blogs.

But before I go, I’d like to share this well crafted list of Notable African Books of 2020, an inspiration, as you plan your TBR for 2021, to go beyond the familiar. I too, plan to stretch myself by finally reading Proust as seen below.

Proust Collection

So, a big THANK YOU to you all my wonderful blogging community for your support, inspiration, fun and gift of words throughout this challenging year.

If you sometimes hang around Instagram or Facebook, we might bump into each other. Otherwise, I wish you and yours a peaceful holiday season. See you in 2021!

Khaya Ronkainen
Khaya Ronkainen is a writer, poet and creative professional. Her blog focuses on all things poetry and creative nonfiction.


  1. Khaya, wow! Some incredible books you’ve read this year and I’ve got lots of new one to add for me to read next year! The Spy will be first and I may well read Rebecca Skloot’s book. Our Words, Our World looks incredible and fascinating. Yes, listening is a craft and one which we sometimes think we are doing but not so much perhaps. It is hard not to want to fix something … you’ve reminded me to check myself when listening … am I really? Or just waiting for a pause to say ‘my bit’? We all do this!

    I hope you have a restful and relaxing festive season and may the new year bring us a renewed world where interaction becomes a norm again, where fear ceases to prevail. love & hugs xx

  2. Great collection;, Khaya. Trevor Noah has been calling me since ages; the funny thing is I see copies in bookshops and bookish events but I look at them and pass by. I shall pass by no longer, soul sister. Because I want to know more about you. Merry Christmas in advance and do stay safe. Love you loads. 🙂

  3. A wonderfully diverse collection, my friend. It has been a hard year to focus, hasn’t it? I find that I’m pushing myself to stay intensely busy, and expect that once the date flips to 2021, I’ll feel a sense of relief despite the dark days yet ahead. A great share. Be well and find peace in the beauty of the holidays. <3

  4. I knew you’d love Born a Crime! I saw the Henrietta Lacks story in film version. The listening one sounds like a necessary read for us all.

  5. A good list, Khaya. Kate Murphy’s book sounds like a good place to start for me, as I am prone to wanting to fix problems myself, when sometimes all that is wanted is a good listen. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  6. Hi Annika, I’m so happy to hear you found some books to add for your next year’s reads. All three you mentioned are really fascinating reads. With Skloot’s book, and if you’re an audible subscriber, I’d suggest going for the audio version. Because it’s a long (and at times harrowing) story that I found easier to listen to rather than read it, and I exceptionally enjoyed how it’s narrated. And about listening, yes exactly…most times we’re just waiting for the pause.

    Thank you my friend, I wish a restful and joyous holiday season. Much love!xx

  7. Thank you my soul sister. 🙂 I hope you enjoy Noah’s book. To everyone who would like to know how was it like to grow up in SA during apartheid, I now recommend this book. Because it captures it all so well.

    A Merry Christmas in advance to you too. Much love. <3

  8. It’s definitely been a hard year to focus! But I live in hope that new year will more kinder to us all. Thank you Diana, I’m really looking forward to the holiday break and catch up on reading, among other things. <3

  9. Of course, you knew! 🙂 Because I’ve been fortunate enough to have you help me write my story. I’ll forever be grateful. Then came the pandemic, and I thought what’s the point of querying…*sigh* But I’m slightly encouraged to hear from publishing news that not everyone is ready to novels about the pandemic yet. So, I hope start the process again. Such is life of a writer!

    I like that books get adapted into films but a lot is often left out. I think you might gain more from listening to the whole book. I learned so much from this book.

  10. Thank you, Lavinia. I believe we all try to fix problems, at times and especially when we’re called to just listen. Murphy’s book offers great insight, I hope you enjoy reading. 🙂

  11. I had very similar feelings after reading the Henrietta Lacks biography. And these days, in the middle of the current madness that’s spreading through the world, some of those feelings have come back.

    I’ve yet to read Born a Crime. It has been on my list for quite some time. I think I will make it one of my first reads in 2021. In the past, you and I have discussed how similar our childhoods were. I wonder if the same will be true of this reading. I shall let you know.

  12. Yep, Henrietta Lacks biography is a book one can never forget. It evokes so many feelings. Thank you for recommending it. See, this is what I love about reading with others and sharing good reads; our worlds expand!

    Oh yes, each time I read your creative non-fiction pieces, I think wait a minute! That sounds like my childhood. Something I find extra-ordinary as we are worlds apart. Or maybe our worlds are no so different, after all.

    As for Noah’s book, his childhood experiences are similar to most Black South Africans, including me. But where his story differs is in family dynamics and the fact that his book is set in the city. My story is set both in the city and countryside as I grew up in both. And actually, countryside might be where both mine and your childhoods are similar.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy his book; it’s one of the best memoirs I’ve read. I also plan to be intentional in 2021 about publishing mine. 🙂

  13. I hope you do pick one. 🙂 Thank you for popping by. Hope you’re having a peaceful and joyous holiday season with your loved ones.

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