Favorite Reads of 2020
Updated: Jan 6
I was the kid hiding a book under my desk at school, trying to read instead of listening to the math lesson. I used my daily piano “practice” as extra reading time, absently plunking the keys with one hand while turning the pages of my book with the other, until I heard footsteps coming down the hall to check on me, when I’d throw the piano book on top of my real book and attempt some actual practice (no wonder I wasn’t very successful at piano lessons). As soon as I learned how to read, I learned that hiding a flashlight under my bed meant I could stay up and read as late as I wanted. Books have always been an essential part of my life and this year, more than ever, I needed the power of stories, the thrill of opening a new book and embarking on a journey through the pages. In a year when I spent more time at home and saw less people in real life than ever before, books were a lifeline.
I read a lot of books in 2020. 149 plus three that I’m currently in the middle of, to be exact. All the time at home gave me more time for reading. All the things that happened in 2020 gave me a strong desire to escape into a book when I needed a break from pandemic life. Most of the books I read were good. A handful were not. A few were excellent, ones that captured my imagination and I find myself still thinking about, long after I put the book down. They are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, books that just came out and books that have been out for a while but that I’ve just gotten around to reading.
So, in no particular order, my favorite books of 2020. (Some of the links below are affiliate, meaning that if you click through and purchase, I will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you).
Beartown by Fredrik Backman // This was the first book I’ve read by Fredrik Backman, and I immediately fell in love with his writing and was quickly drawn into the small Swedish hockey town where this story takes place.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman // I wasn’t ready to leave Beartown, so I was thrilled that there was a second book in this series waiting for me. I loved it just as much as I did Beartown, and I can’t wait for the third book coming out in 2021.
Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper // 2020 was a year that I spent a lot of time writing and reading about writing, and this book was both a enjoyable read and one that offered practical advice and prompts to get me writing more.
Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhorne // WWII fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I read quite a few books that fell in this category this year, but Code Name Helene was one of my favorites, and based on a true story, which made it all the better.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller // This book is an important and eye-opening look at the legal process surrounding sexual assault and the impact on the life of the victim, far beyond the actual assault. The author wrote a victim statement that went viral before the publication of the book, which is an important read on its own, but the book digs deeper into her experience and is a powerful statement on the culture, beliefs, and processes surrounding sexual assault in America.
Educated by Tara Westover // I tried to read this one previously, and couldn’t get into it, but gave it another try this spring and I’m glad that I did. Her memoir is a fascinating look into a childhood that is so far removed from the one I experienced that it is hard to imagine and a testament to the power of education.
Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain // I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Diane Chamberlain. This was no exception—I always feel an extra connection to books set in North Carolina and I loved the 1940/present story line and getting a look into the process of art restoration.
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer // This is another WWII book that gives a glimpse into life in Poland during the war, which was a new perspective for me. It was a beautifully written, powerful story, that had me turning pages way past my bedtime.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell // A fascinating look at why we trust people when we shouldn’t and how our perceptions and preconceived notions play into various situations.
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro // A combination of a memoir and thoughts on the writing process, I found myself savoring this book—I probably could have read it in one sitting, but I allowed myself just a few pages a day, doling them out like a treat that I wanted to make last.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab // This Faustian bargain that leads into a journey through three hundred years was gorgeously written and completely fascinating. The story was enthralling, and the questions it brought up about how you live your life and how you leave your mark on the world are ones that I will keep thinking about.
In An Instant by Suzanne Redfearn // I got this as one of Amazon’s free Prime reads pre-pandemic and the questions that it brought up about who you are when your world changes suddenly, how we respond in times of crisis, and if we act the way we thought we would are all things that I found myself returning to in March when the world started to shut down.
Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequest // I read and loved Present over Perfect a couple of years ago, but had missed this delightful little book. Reading it during the pandemic was a nostalgic visit to the authors ordinary pre-pandemic days, and a reminder to treasure the beauty in these strange pandemic days of slowing down and staying home.
Calm the H*ck Down by Melanie Dale // I was thrilled to be on the launch team for this fun parenting book. Full of humor, practicality, and stories from the front lines of parenting, it felt like getting advice from a fun older sister, not the dry preachiness of many parenting books.
Twirl: My Life With Stories, Writing & Clothes by Callie Feyen // I loved this collection of thoughts on writing and the stories we tell through our clothes. A beautiful retrospection of how stories—written, told, and those we tell ourselves through our outfits—define us.
What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather // On days when the news cycle was particularly overwhelming this year, I often found myself heading to Dan Rather’s facebook page to see if he had posted his thoughts. His calm voice of reason and knowledge of American history is soothing, and in a year that has felt so, so divided, his thoughts on what unites us were a needed and hopeful read.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown // This is the first thing I’ve read by Brene Brown, but it won’t be the last. Her research-backed writing is thoughtful and challenging, and this book made me consider vulnerability and shame in new ways.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld // This reimagining of Hillary Clinton’s life was fascinating to me. Thinking about the impact on history if such a public figure made different choices was a fun take on the alternate-universe theme.
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne // This is actually one of the books that I’m still in the middle of, but I’m confident enough in what I’ve read so far to put it as one of my top twenty! Reading this as life has slowed down, hoping that 2021 gives us back a more normal life, has me thinking carefully about what lessons of simplicity I want to carry forward with us after this pandemic-induced lull in all of our activities.
The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron // This was another book I read slowly, just a few pages a day, as I’ve been working to build a morning writing practice. I found this book a great companion to building that early morning routine
I’d love to hear—what were your favorite books of 2020? My to-read list is ever-growing, but always has space for a few more books!