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.

Fiction:

  • 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.

Nonfiction:

  • 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.

18 Comments on “Best Reads of 2020, So Far

    • I completely agree! And this book is nice because it’s so character-driven. I also was really drawn to the cover.

    • I will have to read more by Acevedo. This was really good – great characters and not over-dramatic like a lot of YA. She is also an excellent audiobook narrator.

  1. Amy and Isabelle is the one Strout book I still have to catch up on. If it’s as good as everything else she’s written then it’s a treat in store.

    • I still have a few more of hers to read. She is so good! I think Amy and Isabelle was a bit rougher than her later books, but I really loved the characters. And they show up in Olive, Again.

    • I know, like we need more book recommendations! I thought of that as I was posting. Still, I hope you enjoy them! Let me know.

  2. Excellent work! I also LOVED With the Fire On High [and her other book, The Poet X] and am anxious for her new book to be out. Old Baggage was fun. I’m going to look into some of the “new-to-me” titles here–thanks.

    • Strout creates such great characters and it’s a very thoughtful story about a mother and daughter. I found I really liked both characters even when they were completely at odds with each other, which is hard for an author to pull off.

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