I couldn’t bring myself to do my usual ‘Top 20 Things I Learned in 2020’ post because even though 2020 was pretty much non-stop No Exit-style epiphanies, fuck this year. Seriously, I’m so mad, I can’t even be in the same room as 2020. But, books? Why should my annual book list pay the toll? This is always my favorite post and I’m doing it anyway, y’all. Books are still great, happy things and even though I found reading to be harder this year (I only read 67, down 17 from last year’s 84!), it still provided a much-needed escape in a year that just kept finding new ways to punish. I’m doing a top 13 because 13 seems like a great number for 2020 and also because I couldn’t decide which 3 books to leave out.
A note: I only listed books that were new to me even though I reread and reloved a lot of classic Anne Rice and Stephen King this year. I also reread the complete short stories of Oscar Wilde and I totally recommend them! Absolutely charming. I read mainly fiction but a lot of science-y self-help and books on racism as well. I learned a lot. These were my favorites:
- The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix: This book hit me right where I live. It’s funny, scary, set down where everyone says “y’all,” and -most importantly- THERE ARE VAMPIRES. You will love this novel! Highly recommend his other book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, as well.
- Save Yourself by Cameron Esposito: Full disclosure: Cameron was my neighbor at the time this came out. It was very early Covid and I was sad, scared, and stir-crazy. She left a copy on my doorstep, I dove in immediately, and ended up LOVING it. I knew it would be funny because DUH but it’s so much more. Cameron’s a fantastic writer and Save Yourself will make you laugh, cry, think, and learn. I was blown away by her insight and her story-telling.
- All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders: Science AND magic, in THIS economy? Um, YES, PLEASE. There’s a witch plus mad scientist love story. Kind-of. Also, it might be the end of the world? This book is the best possible genre mash up. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my teen nephew for his birthday.
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: This novel is sweet and sad and I can’t recommend it enough. You will absolutely fall in love with the two main characters: a young girl and an old man. The book is full of beautiful sentences and poignant observations. I was sorry to finish it.
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: Sparkling and wistful, this novel goes down like the last cocktail of the night at a crowded bar on New Year’s Eve of a shit year. Would be a great NOW read.
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: A character-driven story about siblings and their journey through life. It’s a sweet, slow read but really gorgeous.
- The Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson: A modern-day YA mystery series! These books are so much fun; you won’t want to put them down. There’s three so far and there’s a fourth coming next year! I will drop everything to read it when it comes out.
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo: I highly recommend this book. I read it over a weekend and found it to be extremely well-thought out and informative. Ijeoma Oluo breaks down the race conversation into palatable, easily understandable chunks. If you want to learn about racism, this is a great place to start.
- Born Public by Greg Mania: Full disclosure: Greg and I have been online friends for a long time and I was absolutely delighted to read his first book this year. I found it to be every bit as charming and fun as Greg is himself. It’s a wonderful read and I’d recommend it to anyone!
- My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: Dark af, clever, and absolutely gripping. I loved the story and the way it made me say, “What the fuck?!” every other page. An engaging read.
- The Bright Lands by John Fram: This was tailor-made for me to love it: Texas high school football, murder, the supernatural. I mean, come on! I can’t imagine anyone picking up this well-written, delightful book and not loving it.
- If It Bleeds by Stephen King: I love a book of Stephen King short stories! One of the best ways I can think of to spend a Saturday, especially this year. This one has four stories and the title story features one of my favorite King characters, Holly Gibney! There’s also a super creepy tale titled “Rat” that’s still making me shudder.
- The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: What if Jesus had a wife? If he did, this is her story. I’m not religious at all but I enjoyed this novel. It felt very feminist to me, very powerful. I realize it’s not for everyone but I thought it was a great read.
Runners-up: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman, In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson, and The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Aaaand, that’s it, folks! I wish you a 2021 full of good reads and great times. Sending love to all!