I know 2020 has been a weird reading year for almost everyone. But despite that I still read some really great books and more books than I expected to (after a few ruts in the spring, when I think all of us were distracted).
So here are my favorite books I read in 2020. Some of them were 2020 releases and some of them are backlist titles. And they aren’t listed in ranked order, just in the order that I read them!
Plus, stick around for the end for some of my favorite short stories I read in 2020.
Favorite Books from 2020
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
So, fun fact — in 2020 I was on Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next (Episode 222). I was actually a guest at a live show in Fall 2019 and it later became part of the podcast and the whole thing was just as much fun as it sounds like. She recommended this book to me and I LOVED it. It’s the story of Casey, a writer who is struggling with both her art and her grief after losing her mom. She also finds herself torn between two men on opposite ends of the literary world. This book expertly bridges a gap that is sometimes hard — perfectly thoughtful and literary, but also perfectly delightful.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Like so many other people, Station Eleven is one of my all time favorite books. So I was worried what the follow up would be like. I’ll be honest — I still love Station Eleven more, but I gave this book an enthusiastic five star rating. The Glass Hotel follows a woman named Vincent, her brother Paul, and her partner (but not husband) Jonathan Alkaitis in the lead-up and aftermath of Alkaitis’s ponzi scheme being discovered. Mandel’s writing style is flawless as usual, and I love how she experiments with jumping around in time, all while keeping you fully grounded in the story.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
I had not necessarily planned on reading Glennon Doyle’s new release this year, but when my husband gave it to me for Mother’s Day I started it immediately and LOVED IT. It was exactly what I needed at the end of a stressful 2020 spring and grounded me back into myself. Yes, Doyle talks about her divorce and subsequent marriage to Abby Wambach, but really this is a rallying cry for fierce women around the world. Plus thoughts on anxiety, racism, and raising children. This is a book I plan on returning to repeatedly.
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Despite the popularity of Wolitzer’s most recent books like The Interestings and The Female Persuasion, I’ve actually never read one of Wolitzer’s novels. I loved this slow burn of a book about a woman accompanying her husband to accept the literary award of a lifetime while she recounts the life they have had together. And I can’t tell you much more than that without spoiling it! But let’s just say…there is a lot of resentment that has built up over the decades.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
I didn’t plan on having a romance book in my top favorites this year, nor to absolutely love this book everyone is raving about. But I DID. And guys…I think it has turned me into a romance reader? I’ve read a couple others this year (both rom-com and straight up romance) and have really enjoyed them. Beach Read focuses on romance writer January who moves to a beach house on Lake Michigan only to find out her next door neighbor is former grad school rival and literary fiction writer Gus. They are both stuck with their writing projects, so they challenge each other to write in the other person’s genre, and the drama follows from there.
Double Bind: Women on Ambition edited by Robin Romm
This was a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for years, and I didn’t know it was going to be exactly what I needed this year. In this book of essays, women from a variety of industries — writers, chefs, and even a dogsled musher — talk about dreams, challenges, failures, breaking the glass ceiling, and what the word ambition means to them. In 2020, when I did a lot of re-evaluating of my own ambitions and had to put some on the backburner because of the chaos of the year, this book was so reassuring.
After Birth by Elisa Albert
Like so many books I loved this year, I didn’t necessarily expect to fall in love with this one. I expected to like it, but I didn’t think it was going to hit me so deeply. Ari is a new mother, feeling a bit like she is drowning until she makes a new friend who is also about to have a baby. I have never read such an exactly perfect description of what newborn days are like, and this book balanced both the joy and dread of new-motherhood in a way that felt therapeutic to me even years after my daughter was born.
What Kind of Woman: Poems by Kate Baer
This book as been all over the internet thanks to Kate Baer’s well-known Instagram account. And it’s with good reason. Her poems — about womanhood and marriage and motherhood — are an absolute gift. There wasn’t a single poem here I didn’t like, and some of them felt like she was crawling inside my head and writing down my own feelings. I think I’ll be re-reading this again and again.
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
This book was my project for the year. I got it for my birthday back in February and worked my way through it by reading just a couple pages a day. And I’m so glad I did. I learned SO MUCH about U.S. history that I either didn’t know at all or didn’t understand the context of. This book largely focuses are political history and the history of overlooked voices (wars are really a footnote; what really matters are the politics behind them). This book helped me better see how we have gotten to where we are today, and I’ll never read about United States history or current events in the same way again.
Favorite Short Stories I Read in 2020
In addition to my favorite books I read in 2020, I also kept track of some of my favorite short stories.
I didn’t read quite as many short stories this year as I usually do, mostly because my short story club (like a book club, except with short stories) went on a bit of a hiatus toward the end of the year. But I did read some great ones, and since short stories often don’t get the attention they should, I wanted to point out a few of my favorites here.
(I’ve linked to the stories as best I can below, but some of them do require subscriptions to read. Some of them can also be found in The Best American Short Stories 2019, which is a series I read every year.)
Natural Disasters by Alexis Schaitkin
A woman writes copy for real estate listings and has to visit the houses she writes about; as a result she starts to think about her life and her relationships differently.
Procreate, Generate by Anthony Doerr
Doerr describes a couple struggling with infertility in absolutely stunning detail.
You, Disappearing by Alexandra Kleeman
In an apocalyptic world, things and people slowly start disappearing in a completely unnerving way.
Letter of Apology by Maria Reva
This is the second story I’ve read of Reva’s that I absolutely loved (I think that’s a sign I should read more). Here, a KGB agent tries to get a writer to send the government a letter of apology only to have it backfire in unexpected ways.
Black Corfu by Karen Russell
This otherworldly story follows a man in charge of severing the leg tendons of the recently deceased to prevent them rising from the dead and haunting the town. And while it sounds like a gothic fantasy story, it also explores race and privilege.