This year I read 150 books, and though it was a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of books I didn’t finish and lots of reading for classes, there were still a number of great books. In fact there were well over 30 books this year that I unreservedly loved, and narrowing it down to 10 was a bit of a challenge, but (somehow) I managed to do it because a top 30 favorite books of the year list is a little too much, even for me.
2020 was a strange year for reading. Although I read more than I have done in many years, it came in strange bursts and droughts. I found a lot of great comfort reading, in the form of romances and magical books. The great thing about fantasy and historical fiction is that it takes you somewhere else, but I think the best of these books are imbued not just with escapism but with a mindfulness that’s as full of the real issues of the world as it is with the otherworldly. For me, reading is a journey into empathy, imagination, and hope rather than an escape. My 10 favorite books differ quite a bit in terms of genre, but they all explore how we come to be where we are and who we are and they don’t hide the fact that this process is a struggle whether against society, the self, or the supernatural.
My 10 favorites, in reverse order of reading (most recent first):
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab This book has everything: deals with the devil, a feisty protagonist, twists and turns…I couldn’t stop reading it. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded to seize the day. In other words, everyone. I think this is a widely enjoyable book.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks Historical fiction at its finest–the kind that connects you to the past and shows you that the past is still with us, even when it’s hard to see. Recommended for: Anyone who likes historical fiction or books.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett More great historical fiction. This book tells the story of two sisters who make very different choices and lead very different lives. Recommended for: Anyone who’s looking for a family saga.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik I have read quite a bit of Novik’s work at this point, and really enjoy her writing. Her characters are really strong and have believable voices. Although I still prefer Uprooted, this book has even more strong female voices in it, and I love how she spins together threads from so many different fairytales and folklore. Recommended for: Anyone who’s tired of how many fantasy books are about dudes.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Even though the title gives away the fate of the main character, this book doesn’t get less heartbreaking, poignant, or beautiful. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded of the power of community (for both good and bad).
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood I couldn’t put this short story collection down. I really like Atwood’s command over her sentences and structures and the worlds she spins. One of these stories does relate to her novel The Robber Bride, but I don’t think you need to have read that to enjoy the stories. That said, that book is well worth reading as well. Recommended for: Anyone who wants their narrative in rapid, witty bursts.
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel Over the holiday, my brother and I had an interesting conversation about the ethical dilemma of parenting a transgender child and what that would mean, which is what this book explores in a humanizing and life-affirming way. Recommended for: Anyone intrigued by this conversation.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston Okay so this one is pure escapist fantasy. But it’s the pure escapist fantasy I needed. The gay romance is hot, romantic, and so sweet, and I love the exploration of this alternate universe. Recommended for: Anyone who needs a reminder about the joys and sorrows of first love. And some escapist romance.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow Speaking of alternate universes, what if there were doors hanging around, waiting to be discovered that could take you to other worlds? Recommended for: Anyone who would open the door.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter A short, image-packed, coming-of-age novel that is the stuff of my dark fairy tale dreams. Recommended for: Anyone who likes their stories a little darker.
Have you read any of these or are you interested in reading any of these? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!