Best Reads of 2020, So Far
We’re a quarter of the way into the year — does anyone else feel like March has gone on forever? I’ve been having trouble coming up with meaningful things to write about, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite books so far. It seems like some of you have a lot more reading time on your hands, and some of you, like me, are struggling to concentrate. Whatever your situation, I hope you can find something in this list that sparks your interest.
- Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout: I’m guessing Strout has never written a so-so book. This is about a relationship between a mother and daughter in a small town. Isabelle has raised Amy on her own and feels like an outcast in their small Maine town. Amy is a teenager who is starting to rebel against her strict upbringing when she develops an interest in one of her teachers. This was Strout’s first novel, and it’s beautiful. I loved the audiobook version.
- With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo: A new favorite author, this is a book about a teen (I seem to be reading a lot about teenagers right now) who has a baby and is struggling to finish high school as a single parent and pursue her passion for cooking. I plan to read everything Acevedo has written. I also listened to this on audiobook, narrated by the author.
- Atlas Alone by Emma Newman: If you’re a science fiction reader, run don’t walk to Newman’s Planetfall This one, the fourth in the series, is particularly good. A lot of it is set in virtual reality, game-like settings. It’s all about AI, government control, and privacy, set on a spaceship of people traveling to find a new world. It’s seriously disturbing though.
- Old Baggage by Lissa Evans: This book is pretty hard to describe, about a group of aging suffragettes in 1928 Britain. The main character, Mattie, is struggling to feel relevant in a now-quiet world. She starts working with teenage girls so they can be more informed intellectually and politically, while at the same time a friend of hers is creating a teen group to support the fascist movement. It’s a thoughtful, character-driven novel about an interesting time in history.
- They Called Us Enemy by George Takei: This is Takei’s graphic memoir of his time in internment camps during World War II. It’s a powerful story with a surprising amount of historical detail, and I learned a lot from it. Takei is so inspiring and I’m glad he continues to tell his story.
- Know My Name by Chanel Miller: I can’t say enough about this book. Miller tells her story with a lot of detail and feeling. Her story is one that every woman will relate to – even if we haven’t experienced sexual assault, we have all been in situations where we feared it. I liked the comprehensive nature of her memoir, from the legal process to dealing with the aftermath of assault. Miller raises so many important issues that we need to think about.
- Shrill by Lindy West: I really enjoyed the TV version with Aidy Bryant, but as is often the case, the book is so much better. West raises a lot of issues that women deal with every day, but she does so in a really humorous, personal way. A lot of her book is about fat-shaming but it goes beyond that, to issues facing all women like abortion and menstrual health. In short, she writes about the things we don’t talk about.
- Popular by Maya Van Wagenen: another teen-oriented book on my list, this is a book actually written by a young teenager. Maya finds a book from the fifties about how to be popular, and she decides to try applying it to the modern world. It’s easy to be cynical and say this is all a publicity stunt; in fact Maya is very clear from the beginning that she wants to be a writer and this is her way of writing a book. But it’s also a really powerful story about how our fears about not being liked hold us back, and how social status and appearance aren’t what matters most.
I listened to six of these eight books as audiobooks, three of which were narrated by the authors. I continue to be surprised how much I’m enjoying audiobooks, when a year ago I thought listening to a book couldn’t possibly compare to reading one.
Right now I’m reading a really good book that will probably end up on my best-of list, Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had (also on the longlist for the Women’s Prize).
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, this year I’ve particularly enjoyed The Hating Game, The Unhoneymooners, and Hunted, which blends Russian folklore and the Beauty and the Beast story. I can also recommend Ayesha at Last, a modern take on Pride and Prejudice about two Muslim families.
Those are my recommendations for the year so far! I hope you’re all doing well, staying healthy, and reading something that gives you comfort.