I read a lot of great books this year… as well as some not-so-great ones. Reading is one of my favorite escapes from reality and if I don’t read for 30 minutes before bed every night, I see a huge difference in my sleep so it’s something I prioritize daily.
Here is the best of my 2020 reading list including both fiction and non-fiction selects.
I’d love to hear what your favorite book was this year so I can read it next!
Best Books I read in 2020: Fiction
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: My mom read this and loved it. She then passed it to my sister who read it and loved it. My sister then passed it to me and, as you may have guessed, I read it and loved it and passed it on again. This novel is told from the perspective of a young woman in Connecticut who is the granddaughter of the elusive Stella Fortuna, an Italian immigrant.
The story begins in Italy during WWI when Stella’s mother is struggling to survive with young children and her abusive husband fighting in the war. It then covers their immigration to America and the story spans three decades of women. The book touches on motherhood, sisterhood, immigration, poverty, and overcoming obstacles in a beautiful way. I especially enjoyed reading it as the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant family (who also lives in Connecticut!). It’s very well-written and captivates you from the very beginning.
If you have just had a baby or are experiencing any PPD or PPA symptoms, do not read this book right now as it could be incredibly triggering.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Wow, this book. I couldn’t put it down! It is a story of twin sisters in the 1960s who separated in their teens to live totally different lives. Although they were identical white-passing twins, one lived her life as a white woman and the other as mixed-race. The directions their lives take them couldn’t be more different. This was one of those novels that I would stay up way too late reading every night. It got an A+ from me!
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam: A friend lent me this 2020 National Book Award finalist and I knew nothing about it. Holy. Cow. I quickly realized why it was a finalist! A Brooklyn-based family that rents a house on Long Island for a weeklong vacation. While there, they get a knock on the door from the owners of the house saying that there was a huge blackout in the city and something crazy is going on. Neither family knows if it can trust the other and one inexplicable thing after another happens to them while they’re holed up together.
It touches on family dynamics, race, and really makes you think about how you would handle things if the world were seemingly ending. I loved this book and highly recommend it. It’s definitely a little out there but a great read that you won’t be able to put down.
The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir: I picked this up off this staff recommended shelf in a little book store up in New Hampshire aka my favorite way to shop for books. The woman helping me said it was her favorite book of the year so I gave it a try and ended up loving it and finishing it in 3 nights! It’s about a teenager, Essie, who has grown up in the spotlight as one of the daughters featured in a popular reality show about a very conservative and religious family. When she finds herself suddenly pregnant, she learns secrets about her family that would horrify anyone.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: My mom has been recommending this work of fiction from Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, for over a year so I finally bit and read it. Set in the 1940s, it’s told from the perspective of an older woman looking back at her life. I was immediately hooked and loved it from start to finish. Thanks for the rec, ma.
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I had been meaning to read this book for a long time and finally got to it this spring. I loved it and heard they’re making it into a 13-episode TV adaptation which I’m very excited to watch. The format of the book was different from anything I’ve ever read. It was written as an interview with the band members from a fictional ’70s rock band called The Six. So each paragraph is in the voice of a different character. I thought that would feel too frenetic but after a few pages, I almost forgot about that piece of the puzzle. It’s high-energy and the characters are full of charisma.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: While it’s not a page-turner and could be downright slow at times, this novel is overall a great book with incredible character development and has taught me even more about race in our country through the eyes of an African immigrant. It also has a beautiful love story which is never a bad thing, IMO. Americanah is the story of a woman, Ifemelu, who leaves her home in Nigeria to study in the United States and her ex-boyfriend, Obinze who leaves for London to start a new life as well. It follows both of their lives as they go in very different directions before finding each other again.
All Adults here by Emma Staub: This story is about a dysfunctional family, told from the perspective of a quirky grandma, Astrid, who sees someone die in a bus accident before her eyes. That event completely changes her life and she decides to reveal her biggest secrets to her kids and grandkids. As you go through the story, you realize that each of her children also harbors a big secret. It touches on everything from abuse to gender identity to bullying and at times it felt like there were too many hot button topics thrown at me as a reader. But I loved the story and characters which is why it landed on this list.
Best Books I read in 2020: Non-Fiction
Know My Name by Chanel Miller. I stayed up way too late night after night while reading this book, feeling drawn to Chanel and her story. It was chosen as the best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Elle, Glamour, Chicago Tribune, and others for good reason.
It’s a memoir written by Chanel Miller, aka Emily Doe, the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on Standford’s campus in 2015. We all read the story, but for many, it was quickly forgotten as the #MeToo movement continued to blow up and we were hit with case after case of sexual assault around the country and the world.
But when Chanel read a letter to her attacker at his sentencing, it went viral (thanks to Buzzfeed) and no one forgot her or her story after that. The letter was eventually read on the floor of Congress and helped to inspire change in California law about the definition of rape and how it sentences rapists. It also helped countless women step forward with their own stories. If you’ve read the letter, you know how powerful and eloquent Chanel Miller can be.
Her book is a testament to that power and eloquence. Read this one with me. It’s important. It makes you think about sexual assault from a different perspective and is written with much grace and beauty. I wrote a longer review of Know My Name as a blog post as well.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin D’Angelo: When I first bought this book, it was number one on Amazon’s Bestseller list and was on backorder everywhere which is great because that meant that a lot of white people are doing the work to learn about, well, white fragility. While I was reading it, the book became quite controversial for good reason. It’s a book about racism. Written by a white woman. Watch this video from Louiza Doran (“Weeze”) where she breaks it down better than I ever could.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austen Channing Brown: I finished this memoir in 3 nights and could not put it down which is rare for me with non-fiction. It was short but incredibly impactful. The author shares her story of growing up and working as a Black woman in a career that has been predominantly white. What I loved about it was that she shares her personal experiences in a beautifully raw way.
This quote sums up a lot of what she discusses:
“If Black people are dying in the street, we must consult with white feelings before naming the evils of police brutality. If white family members are being racist, we must take Grandpa’s feelings into account before we proclaim our objections to such speech. If an organization’s policies are discriminatory and harmful, that can only be corrected if we can ensure white people won’t feel bad about the change. White fragility protects whiteness and forces Black people to fend for themselves.”
Fair Play by Eve Rodsky: This book changed my life so profoundly, that I wrote a full blog post about it and Eve even did an interview with me in for the post! Read my review and then buy this immediately if you’re married or shacked up with a partner. Anel and I just re-did the exercises from her book since so much has changed in the last 9 months. It has helped our marriage more than I think anything else.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson: Shock is a good word to describe how I felt while reading Jessica Simpson’s memoir. I was never particularly a big fan of her music but knew her story from the sidelines… or so I thought. This woman is so much smarter than anyone gives her credit for. She was abused as a child and has overcome addiction and body shaming and so much more. Today she’s running a billion-dollar company and laughing all the way to the bank.
Plus she spills major tea about her exes John Mayer, Johnny Knoxville, and Nick Lachey. I promise that even if you’re not a fan of J Simps, it’s a great read.
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor: A reader recommended this non-fiction book to me and while I didn’t read it cover to cover, I’ve been going back to it every few daweeksys to learn more. The author’s argument is that no matter what you do for your health, it doesn’t really matter unless you’re breathing properly. It turns out there are people studying this all over the world and he travels around learning all about breath.
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.
Truly I will never breathe the same again after reading this book and haven’t stopped thinking about it. And I’m not even done yet! It’s so fascinating, especially as someone who has suffered from pretty severe sinus issues for my whole life including two sinus surgeries.
The Mindful Mom-to-Be by Lori Bergman: My sister bought me this book since it helped her so much in her pregnancy. As a second-time mom, there was a lot I felt I could skip over but there were a lot of great tips especially for stretches and meditations that I’ve been using regularly.
Spirit Babies by Walter Makichen: Ok this is definitely a weird one, not gonna lie. It’s written by a psychic-medium, now passed, who could communicate with the future babies of couples which he called spirit babies. He shared stories of couples conceiving through his work and I did his meditations regularly while trying to conceive. I don’t know if it helped or not but I found it super interesting and did feel a connection to my baby (with strong male energy!) before I even conceived.
What was the best book you read in 2020? I’d love to know!
Your recommendation for Fair Play is so timely! My husband and I have had several fights lately over tasks and our use of time and haven’t found a good enough solution to solve our frustrations. I just got the book and we’ll be reading it ASAP!
It is SO hard especially since we’re all home more now. I hope it helps! Made a huge difference for us. Just stick with it.
this is a great list! I have only made it through 1/3 of them (as an English teacher, I spend more time reading essays than pleasure reading!) but agree with your recommendations.. I also really enjoyed “Such a Fun Age”. Gave me a lot to think about and made me “good” uncomfortable” at points.
Oooh yes I also loved that! Forgot to include here though.
I LOVED “Leave the World Behind” it was so beautifully done. I also agree Chanel Miller and Jessica Simpson nailed it in the memoirs! My other faves this year were “Such a Fun Age,” by Kiley Reid, and “Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano.
I read Such a Fun Age but will add Dear Edward to my list, thank you!
I really tried to read City of Girls and only got halfway through. It was then I realized it was the same author as Eat, Pray, Love. Another book I couldn’t finish. Guess she’s not for me.
I read Daisy Jones and the Six along with Jessica Simpson’s book based on your recommendation. I enjoyed both, particularly Daisy Jones. Thanks!
Interesting! I couldn’t put it down. Daisy Jones was SO good though, agreed.
This is a great list – thank you! Books I really liked this year were:
-Group by Christie Tate
-The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
-Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
-Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I read Such a Fun Age but adding the others to my list, thank you!
So excited to have some new titles to add to my TBR list! If you loved Daisy Jones and the Six, I HIGHLY recommend The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by the same author! I think you will get sucked in, and appreciate the ever relevant themes!! Happy reading, Julia 🙂
Done and done! Just ordered xx
Where the Crawdads Sing handsdown!! Also loved Know My Name, Vanishing Half and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Loved all of those too! Crawdads was the BEST but I read it last year!
Love your IG! I wanted to mention the book “the warmth of other sons” I’m the daughter of Italian immigrants and my cousin and I were discussion hardships. She strongly recommended I read this book and I quickly realized the color of your skin has been such a dark part of American history long after slavery. This book chronicles the great migration which they don’t teach in schools. I think this is so important.
I second this one! I read it about 7 years ago and I find myself still thinking about it. I have since loaned it to 3 other people and they were blown away by it as well. I thought it strange that I never saw this title with all the BLM reading material that was hyped a few months ago, but I think because it’s an older publication it didn’t get the attention it duly deserves and is probably filed under historical rather than the newer anti-racist categories.
I’m going to give Leave the World Behind, Book of Essie, and Such a Fun Age a try after seeing so many things about it and the comments here.
Thank you for posting!
I had never heard of this but ordering it now, thank you for the rec!
The Warmth of Other Sons is such a beautiful book. Wilkerson’s writing is so well done but the amount of research and interviews she conducted in order to write the book is really stunning. She’s recently released Caste which is also proving to be a great read.
LOVED Normal People. But I read it in 2019 so couldn’t add here 🙂
FIRST, LOVE YOUR IG. THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR HONESTY! SECOND, GREAT BOOK LIST- SO EXCITED TO READ SUGGESTION: HAMNET BY MAGGIE O’FARRELL- ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS~ THE TRUE LIFE STORY OF HAMLET SOUNDS AWFUL, BUT YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW GOOD!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS ✡️❤️
Thanks for the recs! Americanah is a personal fave. I loved Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” — it’s sad, about her husband’s sudden death, but there was something about reading someone getting through a REALLY hard time which was encouraging in 2020. Also “Rules of Civility” which I read during early NYC lockdown (feels like several lifetimes ago). It was nice to feel like I was exploring NYC of the past, when NYC of the present had me trapped in my apartment. Ha! Have you read “Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother” by Beth Ann Fennelly? That was my favorite book I read while pregnant 🙂 Also, speaking of Elizabeth Gilbert, my favorite from hers is “Big Magic.” I love it!