My 12 Favorite — and Two Least Favorite — Books of 2020
In the Reading Year 2020, I read nearly every genre in every medium. I read all over the calendar, today's newest fiction and books from days gone by; I'm never sure what will truly captivate me on the page. I read text in print and ebooks, and I listen to books on my daily run. (I am an equal opportunity consumer.)
2020 was not a typical year of reading for me, at least at first. The pandemic coupled with short staffing at work made reading difficult — but never impossible. I need to read as much as I need air and sunshine (but not nearly as much as I need sleep, apparently). Halfway through the year, I recaptured my reading momentum, and I didn't look back.
I read 95 books in just about every genre. Some of the books were modest in length — some were graphic novels, and a few were picture books — but the biography of Queen Elizabeth topped the scale at 721 pages, so I was no slacker. According to Goodreads, I averaged 245 pages per book.
I had a very rewarding reading year, with few duds in the lineup. It was a challenge to winnow down the "favorites," considering every time I saw another title, I thought, "Oh, and I loved that one because who doesn't love ravens?" or "Shakespeare as a spy!" or "Maybe I do need to talk to someone..." So here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
- In the Drowning Deep and Rolling in the Deep — I have three words for you: apex predator mermaids. Or sirens. Whatever. Still: apex predators.
- The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires — This book is a love letter to the neighborhood moms of Grady Hendrix's youth. That they also have to rid the neighborhood of vampires — well, all in a day's work for the 80's SAHM. It was nothing like I expected: it was much better, and I'm looking forward to more by this author.
- Fall for the Book hosted a conversation with Marjan Kamali. I now own the book in print, on Kindle, and audio, and plan to re-read it again soon.
- There, There — Many people are on their own paths to the upcoming powwow, revealing their own histories and arriving at unexpected destinies. Different characters tell their stories in each chapter, which is gorgeously read on audio. I knew little about Oakland and its Native American population, and Tommy Orange's characters and story were unforgettable.
- Eleanor & Park — Such a difficult book to read because the characters feel so real in harrowing situations, but such a rewarding read in the end. Eleanor is new in town, and Park sits alone on the school bus — two very different people who learn to trust, and grow up, under circumstances no teenagers should have to face. So many parts made me cringe and gasp, and it took all of my restraint to not skip ahead to make sure everything would be "okay." (I would not always find that comfort.) It was my first Rainbow Rowell book, but not my last.
- Hamilton, The Revolution — I laughed, I cried, I fell in love with George Washington all over again. The intricacies of how the musical came into being was fascinating, revealing, delightful, and riveting. I listened to the book and read it in print to enjoy the handwritten notes included in the tome.
- Neverworld Wake — What an intriguing premise: a group of young adult friends are trapped between the worlds of life and death until they decide which one of their party will survive a terrible accident. They can — and do — go anywhere to be with anyone alive on that day. But there is no escaping your life (or death).
- The Huntress — This powerful complex story includes some of the most unexpected characters, and moments of heart-stopping shock and terror. Plus, you get to meet the Night Witches. (And if you have no idea what that last sentence is about, stop reading this entry and start reading this novel right now.)
- Just Mercy — Justice is not blind. Bryan Stevenson can tell you all about it, and does, in this amazing book. I did not see the movie. I admire the book too greatly to see it on the big screen — and honestly, the book read better than any movie could possibly depict. I recommend you listen to the author read his book.
- The Big Book of the Dead — Marion Winik memorialized friends, family, and others important in her in "books of the dead," two volumes named after the Maryland neighborhoods in which she lived when she wrote them. Those two books are combined here in a single volume that reminds us how interesting, important, and unforgettable people in our lives are.
My least favorite book was The Starless Sea. I adored The Night Circus, and I couldn't wait to see what the author came up with next. I didn't expect a mess of a story that I had to re-start three times before I realized there was no good way to wade into chaos. The author seemed to be deep into gaming, and the book must have followed a gaming pattern. It's the only excuse for such a disconnected, bloated, confusing story with characters I couldn't care less about if I tried. I read it in every media I could in case I missed something. (I didn't.)
Also in the "blech" pile was Perfect Little Children. I do not enjoy the trope of a broken-down, drunk British housewife who pretends to have a stressful career and is completely unreliable in every part of her life, especially regarding her Friend Who Is In Trouble. Some find that suspenseful, but I find it tedious — which surprises me because I love me some champagne-swilling rich Brits.
Here is a complete list of the books I read this year. The icons indicate print (📖), Kindle (📲), library (🤓), juvenile (👧), Little Free Library loan (🏠), and audiobook (🎧).
- Humans 📲📖
Brady Needs a Nightlight 📲👧
The Midnight Library 📖
Letters From Father Christmas 📲
The Prince and the Troll 📲
Ivy and Bean and the Ghost Who Had to Go (#2) 📲
Understanding the British: a hilarious guide from Apologising to Wimbledon 📲
Take the Look at the 5 and 10 📲
Hamilton: The Revolution 🎧 📖
The Kitchen Daughter 📖🤓
The Boy in the Field 📖
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir 📖🤓
How to Be an Antiracist 🎧
A Quiver Full of Arrows 📖
Olive, Again 📲🤓
- Olive Kitteridge 📲🤓
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires 🎧
Night, Night, Norman 📲👧
License to Quill 📖
Inside Job 📲
Rolling in the Deep 🎧🤓
New Kid 📲🤓
In the Drowning Deep 📖🤓
Kitchen Table Tarot 🎧 🤓
Such A Fun Age📲
Wayward Son 📖
Carry On 📖
The Stationery Shop 🎧🤓
- Mary Poppins Opens the Door 📲👧
That Monster on the Block 📲👧
Ivy and Bean (#1) 📲
Kaspar the Titanic Cat 📖👧🤓
Slow Cooker Cookbook: Volume 3: Delicious Dessert Recipes 📲
Mexican Gothic 📖
The Paris Wife 🎧📲
Eleanor & Park 📖
Emergency Skin 📲
Hygge: Introduction to the Danish Art of Cozy Living 📲
Then She Was Gone 📖🏠
Perfect Little Children 📲🤓
The Body: A Guide for Occupants 🎧🤓📲
Values Based Goal Setting 📲
How I Made a Friend 📲👧
- The Authenticity Project 📖
Around the World in Seventy-Two Days 📲
There There 🎧🤓
A Stone Sat Still 📲👧
Brokeback Mountain 🎧🤓
One-Pan Wonders: Fuss-Free Meals for your Sheet Pan, Dutch Oven, Skillet, Roasting Pan, Casserole, and Slow-Cooker 📲
This is the Rope 📲 🤓
Neverworld Wake 📲🤓
Blossom & Bones 📖🤓
Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens 📖🤓👧
Black Klansman 🎧🤓
Bonjour Tristesse 📖
The Dutch House 📖
- The Bad Seed 📖🤓
Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World 🎧
The Starless Sea 🎧🤓📲
Time’s Convert 📲
My Real Children 📲
Behold the Dreamers 🎧🤓
The Nightingale 📲
Lion / A Long Way Home 🎧
The Heart and Other Viscera 📖
Dark Matter 📲
The Big Book of the Dead 🎧🤓
Rattles, the Barn Cat Misfit 📲
Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection 📲
Latin History for Morons 🎧
Daisy Jones & The Six 🎧
Tomorrow Most Likely 📲👧
- For This We Left Egypt? 📲
Elizabeth the Queen 📲
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone 🎧
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? 🎧
The World According to Mr. Rogers 📲
The Ravenmaster 🎧
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the End of the World 🎧
Letters to the Lost 📖
Charlotte’s Web 🎧
The Huntress 📖
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 🎧
The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of an Extraordinary Life 📖🤓
The Burgess Boys 📲🤓
I’ll Root for You 📖🤓👧🏼
Just Mercy 🎧