Nobody could have predicted where 2020 would take us or, rather, not take us. All this time at home, though, hasn’t been all bad, and books were — once again — a constant companion. I’m incredibly thankful for the characters who became friends and the narratives that granted me an escape, and of course, I’m forever grateful for the authors whose creative minds told stories and enabled my imagination.
But let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see how all 30 books rank for me in the year 2020 (with my super cool artwork I created on Canva).
30. The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
I had extremely high hopes for this novel, but unfortunately, The Book of Lost Friends was extremely problematic. A white woman wrote about the experience of Black slaves and perpetuated negative stereotypes, including the white-savior complex. The narrative also confused, frustrated, and bored me to no end. They say you never forget your first, and I will unfortunately always remember my first one-flame book.
29. Supper Club by Lara Williams
I love food as much as books, so I wanted to like this novel. Unfortunately, Supper Club was more drama and unruliness than food-lover’s paradise. The characters were annoying, and the characterization was poor. Plus, the food descriptions didn’t layer well with the rest of the narrative. The bright side? It discusses unfair stereotypes of millennials, which I know about all too well.
28. Normal People by Sally Rooney (also on The Biblio Files)
Many people (friends and critics, alike) proclaimed Normal People as one of the best books in recent history. I was supposed to love it … until I didn’t. It’s true that I couldn’t put it down while reading it, but that’s partially because I desperately yearned for some type of clarity and resolution that I never received. This book depressed and frustrated me beyond belief. Dare I mention the lack of quotation marks? *shudder*
27. The Dancing Girls by M.M. Chouinard
With The Dancing Girls, I felt myself questioning the main character’s detective skills. This either means I think very highly of myself or that the writing wasn’t so great. I’m going with the latter on this one. I was also frustrated with how long it took to get to the main character’s backstory. I am curious to see where the other books in the series will take me. Word is still out if I follow up on that.
26. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Jojo Moyes gave me Louisa Clarke in the Me Before You series. Plus, The Giver of Stars was historical fiction based on real-life, bawse women. Moyes’ new writing adventure, though, didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I loved the characters, scenery, and the themes of the book, but it just felt lackluster and that it would never end.
25. The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyers
I have a slight obsession with understanding the Financial Crisis. Working in finance has given me some clues about the numbers, and The Widow of Wall Street gave me fictional insight into some of the people behind it. I was fascinated by the personal drama that surrounded such a detrimental time in the world, but Randy Susan Meyers gave us some mismatched pacing and a lack of characterization to make it stand out to the very end.
24. Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
Paris for One brought me out of a dark literary hole in which I was plagued by depressing narratives. This book was cliché and cheesy but also entertaining, descriptive, and slightly magical. I only wish it hadn’t been topped off with a dozen or so short stories. I just can’t get into that genre; without them, this book would have easily been ranked higher.
23. The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi
I very much enjoyed The Mango Season right up until the last five pages when the author used race to drop a bombshell that just seemed inappropriate. Before that, though, I could completely relate to the themes of independence and familial disagreements. This book also entertained me, and for that, I was grateful.
22. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
In 2020, I became very interested in the idea of American exceptionalism and how we are perceived around the world. This book piqued that interest, as well as those of globalism and historical fiction. It didn’t quite have the thriller or spy aspects that were promised, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I think I would have liked this book even more if there hadn’t been any spy scenes, which distracted from the storylines I liked the most.
21. The Overstory by Richard Powers (also on The Biblio Files)
I read The Overstory in Turks and Caicos. While looking at the bluest of blue waters that stretched for miles in front of me, this book made me think “Shit, we have to protect this beauty.” While this book has many, many storylines and goes on a bit too long, it did awaken the green side of me; it even forced me to commit to my personal resolution to care more for the environment in 2020. This book quite literally changed my life.
20. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Talk of systemic racism certainly isn’t new in America, but it seemed to reach a new volume this year after the death of George Floyd — as did talk about how racism no longer exists. Books like White Fragility provide the context for understanding this denial and how to handle it. Author Robin DiAngelo provides some good examples for readers. Unfortunately, it is written by a white woman and may have too much jargon.
19. The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead
The Colossus of New York is the third book I’ve read from Colson Whitehead — one of my favorite authors — and it certainly gave me all of the New York feels in a year of missing my favorite city. The descriptions were powerful, and the wittiness made me laugh. It was almost like Whitehead was winking at me saying “only a New Yorker would understand.” I certainly did.
18. The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva
Mental health has been a huge theme in literature as of late; I’ve certainly read my fair share. But these types of novels tend to make me sad when I need an escape, so I was leery of The Existence of Amy. Lana Grace Riva finds a way to make this theme not only incredibly relatable but also uplifting. It makes you want to call all your family and friends and thank them for always being there as well.
17. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Kiley Reid’s debut novel questions the wokest of woke people and makes every white, liberal woman take a second look at themselves. There are some structural issues in her debut book, but Such a Fun Age really is such a fun book. The supporting cast will make you laugh and smile, and Reid gives us a much-needed side plot about how hard it is to be in your early 20s and have no idea what to do with your life.
16. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Reading Here Comes the Sun at the start of the pandemic probably wasn’t the best decision, but I learned to appreciate and love this book, which is beautifully written and gives us some of the most conflicted characters I’ve ever met. And as the reader, you feel every bit of anguish that they feel every single day. Nicole Dennis-Benn gives us powerful themes and writing, stemming from a rare authenticity.
15. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life is by far the saddest book ever, and I felt an all-consuming sadness while reading it. But … it was also so beautiful and compelling. It proclaims the importance of friendship and questions why society never lets a friendship be enough. It also has themes of depression and self-harm that are tough to read but must be powered through to truly understand how trauma affects us all. Tough for the soul but still a great read.
14. Three-Fifths by John Vercher (also on The Biblio Files)
The title of John Vercher’s debut novel isn’t just a nod to a terrible historical moment; it also symbolizes the pain that someone of mixed race feels every day. Three-Fifths highlights themes of identity and how we grapple with who we are, especially when it’s someone we don’t want to be. The narrative ends a bit too quickly for my liking, but the power of this book could never be lost with Vercher’s strong writing and narrative.
13. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
My favorite part about sports books is that they aren’t actually about sports, which is definitely the case with The Boys in the Boat. Daniel James Brown’s nonfiction book tells the story of underdog rowers who competed in the 1936 Olympics amid the start of the Holocaust. But it’s also a story of boys who came from absolutely nothing and worked for every bit of success they had, and they make poignant and symbolic main characters. You know how the story will end, but Brown still puts you on the edge as if you don’t.
12. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Queer fiction just isn’t highlighted enough, especially in chick lit, so Red, White & Royal Blue was a refreshing addition to my library. This book was incredibly fun to read. I loved the characters’ sassiness and wittiness and found myself laughing out loud at many points. Most importantly, it tackles many societal issues. Oh, and we finally get our first female president in this novel. Praise be!
11. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (review coming soon)
Speaking of refreshing books, you likely haven’t come across a book like My Sister, the Serial Killer. It’s dark, twisted, and seriously funny. Oyinkan Braithwaite has incredible talent and writes some of the best descriptions I’ve read in a while. Her characters are somehow relatable, and while we like to think we’d always do the right thing when faced with a moral dilemma, Braithwaite’s themes of family and loyalty make us question that.
10. The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
After reading her first three (of five) novels, I’ve officially entered the Jasmine Guillory fan club. The Wedding Party may be a bit repetitive, but Guillory still delivers a fun and entertaining plot with lots of food and sex. She keeps the tone light and enjoyable but still touches on racism and sexism. Furthermore, she once again gives us a strong female lead with a mind of her own.
9. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Garlic and Sapphires made me laugh on the second page, and that never stopped. This memoir also gave me so many New York feels that made me miss lunch in the city with my girlfriends. Reichl, a former Times restaurant critic, doesn’t have many real-life characters in her book; rather, she created them both mentally and physically, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about every character and disguise she created for the sake of journalism.
8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
You may think, “That’s the weirdest book title I’ve ever seen,” but you won’t regret reading this heartwarming and heart-wrenching novel based true events. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was written in the form of letters, a refreshing structure that allows us to really understand the characters and read between the lines when they can’t. It’s also historical fiction and will make you yearn to travel.
7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow also gives you wanderlust, and it started my slight obsession with understanding and wanting to visit Russia. The main character is so unbelievably charming and sweet, and I’d like for him to be my grandfather. I had expected some big, riveting hardship, but the characters experience Soviet struggles on the periphery. This definitely was planned by Amor Towles, who I’m sure wanted to highlight the complexities and varying degrees of truth that Russians experienced at this time. Talk about brilliant.
6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (also on The Biblio Files)
The Shadow of the Wind was completely riveting. This novel has so many twists and turns and OMG moments that you can’t put it down. This book has many great qualities, but most importantly, it’s just a really good story. Sometimes authors spend too much effort on literary devices and flowery writing, but Carlos Ruiz Zafón put his energy into a phenomenal, mysterious, and intriguing narrative. It paid off.
5. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Goodreads voters thankfully chose The Vanishing Half as the best historical fiction novel of 2020. Brit Bennett’s story of twin sisters — one who vanishes to pass as white — has many compelling themes, and her writing does them justice. She writes with an intensity and darkness that makes you feel like you’re always on the edge of something big. I loved her debut, The Mothers, so much, but Bennett somehow stepped up her game even more with her second book.
4. The Lies That Bind by Emily Giffin (also on The Biblio Files)
I’ve never tried to hide my Emily Giffin obsession. Giffin carried all of usual stunning qualities to her most-recent novel, The Lies That Bind, which I couldn’t put down. The characters she created were incredibly conflicted and imperfect, making them so relatable. I also loved witnessing 9/11 through a New Yorker’s and a journalist’s perspective, something that touched me and made such a powerful statement about how certain moments in our lives have such a big impact.
3. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi wins the award for ripping up my emotions the most this year. Transcendent Kingdom covers themes of addiction, trauma, family, caregiving, religion, and more, and Gyasi expertly weaves them all together. She also wins the award for best symbolism of the year by symbolizing large questions about the human experience through her main character’s every action and thought. This is powerful stuff that makes for powerful and heart-wrenching reading.
2. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (also on The Biblio Files)
We’ve made it to the top two, and I feel fantastic that they both live in the chick-lit realm. City of Girls is one of the most-fun books I have ever read, made possible by the wise and daring main character, Vivian. Elizabeth Gilbert excels at characterization and at creating character arcs, and Vivian’s voice is the stuff of writers’ dreams. This novel will make you laugh — a lot — all while appreciating the fact that dumb decisions we made as teenagers and in our early 20s won’t be held against us forever.
1. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Jasmine Guillory’s recent ascension into a prestigious list — my favorite authors — should mean my favorite book of 2020 is kind of obvious. The Wedding Date has everything I want in a book but so rarely find. It has great characters who live real lives with interesting character arcs. It has a diverse cast that discusses and experiences issues of race. There is real sex (and a lot of it) that always promises female pleasure and safety. There are witty comments and smart, badass women. Most importantly, this really well-written book is a fun one, and I enjoyed it more than any other book this year.
Let me know what your favorite books of 2020 were and if you completely disagree with my list. Happy New Year and goodbye, 2020 (finally)!