The 10 Best Books I’ve Read in 2020 (So Far!)
Can you believe we’re in the tail end of 2020 already?
I’m definitely struggling to believe it. This year has been quite a journey, and honestly, it feels like we’ve all aged by about a decade. But one thing has helped me maintain a sense of normalcy through it all: books.
Way back in January, I set myself a reading challenge for the year. Truthfully, it wasn’t too ambitious. I knew I had limited time to spare, and I wanted to enjoy reading instead of putting extra pressure on myself.
The challenge was to read a book every week. Pretty easy, breezy.
While I’ve fallen into my fair share of reading slumps this year, I have somehow managed to keep up with the challenge. And this year, no small achievement has gone unnoticed.
Considering the whiplash-inducing pace of the news cycle this year, I’ve never needed quiet, screen-free activities more in my daily routine. This year, reading has helped me slow down when things were moving too fast. It’s also added some variety to otherwise monotonous days spent at home.
I found a great escape from 2020 in books.
And trust me when I say I’ve read some good ones this year.
So while it’s a little late to be doing a mid-year round-up, I knew I couldn’t go without sharing these gems with you. Plus, I’m sure the rest of the year will bring even more favourites!
If you’re looking for some new stories to sink your teeth into, here are 10 that I love — and hopefully you will, too.
1. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Adding The Mothers to this list feels a little like cheating because I haven’t finished it yet. But truth be told, it would end up on this list anyway.
The reason why can be summed up in just a single paragraph:
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season. But we didn’t. We shared this sour secret, a secret that began the spring Nadia Turner got knocked up by the pastor’s son and went to the abortion clinic downtown to take care of it.” Brit Bennett, The Mothers
After reading this one paragraph, I knew Brit Bennett would quickly become one of my favourite authors.
The Mothers tells the story of Nadia Turner, who, grieving the death of her mother, seeks comfort and affection in the arms of Luke, the pastor’s son. It’s a summer romance — it’s not supposed to be serious. But when she becomes pregnant at seventeen, she knows she has to make a choice. The consequences of that choice — and the secret she keeps to cover it up — follow her into adulthood.
2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other weaves together the stories of twelve women of colour in modern Britain.
Each character stands her ground as a striking individual – with her own beliefs, aspirations, flaws and motivations. I’ve learned so much from this book about the pains, joys and complexities of the Black experience in the UK (and beyond). I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what it means to be a woman — in all of the word’s weight and diversity.
“he stopped telling her how devastatingly beautiful she was when previously he said it several times a day she realized how addictive it had become without it she craved it and felt ugly” Bernardine evaristo, girl, woman, other
What truly stands out to me throughout is the intersectionality of the novel’s feminism. The range of topics covered – sexuality, trans rights, the patriarchy, privilege, generational and class differences, domestic abuse – is handled with a sensitive touch.
Though Evaristo tells twelve stories, a shared thread of connection runs through each one: they’re all richly, vividly human, with a longing for love, home, belonging, creative expression, or healing.
3. Educated by Tara Westover
Educated doesn’t need much introduction, but I’ll share one anyway in case you haven’t heard of it.
Tara Westover grew up in an extremist Mormon family, spending her days preparing for the end of the world and believing that doctors and teachers were part of a brainwashing, poisoning conspiracy. Her powerful memoir tells the story of her move away from her family’s beliefs in an attempt to discover her own — and to emancipate herself from physical and psychological harm.
Her mission to gain an education not only estranges Westover from her family, but also rocks her entire worldview. Education, therefore, becomes a search for truth and self-identity.
“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” Tara Westover, Educated
Educated is inspiring, terrifying and psychologically complex, but never judgmental. Trust me: if there’s one book you read from this list, make it this one.
4. Outline by Rachel Cusk
Outline is a story told in conversations between a writer teaching in Athens and the various people she meets along the way.
But the narrator herself remains just an outline, and details of her personal life are few and far between. The focus remains on the voices she encounters on her travels: from a billionaire she meets at the airport to a friend unloading about his love life over a meal in Athens.
Cusk explores the stories we tell ourselves, posing questions about where these stories come from, how we use them to fool and delude ourselves, and how they’re perceived by those around us.
“The human capacity for self-delusion is apparently infinite – and if that is the case, how are we ever meant to know, except by existing in a state of absolute pessimism, that once again we are fooling ourselves?” Rachel Cusk, Outline
If you’re searching for a book that will leave you deep in thought about your identity, Outline (as well as the other books in Cusk’s trilogy) is a great place to start.
5. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
A family drama spanning five decades, Commonwealth opens up with a catalyst. An uninvited guest at Franny Keating’s christening party sparks the beginning of an affair and the end of two marriages. What follows is the story of the six children caught in the fall-out: their relationships, their losses and their stories as they unfold over time.
Franny is 24 and working as a cocktail waitress when she begins an affair with renowned author Leon Posen. When Posen decides to use Franny’s complicated family story as inspiration for his next bestselling novel, Franny and her family are forced to confront the ghosts of the past — and what they mean to each other now.
Apart from exploring the complexities of family dynamics, Commonwealth poses some powerful questions about failure and success — and the ownership we have over our own stories.
“Had she done something with her life no one would be asking her to make them cappuccino, and had she done something with her life she would be perfectly happy to make them cappuccino, because it would not be her job. … She could feel good about being kind without continually wondering if she were anything more than a nice-enough-looking waitress.” Ann Patchett, Commonwealth
6. Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Many of us know the name Brock Turner, the Stanford student who sexually assaulted a fellow female student on campus. Less of us know the name of his victim, known as Emily Doe to preserve her anonymity during the case trial.
In her memoir, Chanel Miller claims her identity, sharing her side of the story that shook America and changed California case law. And her identity is so much more than ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.
Know My Name is on this list not only because it’s a monumental work in its subject matter. It’s also here because it’s beautifully written, thoughtfully composed, and bursting with creativity, humour and personality.
“Victims exist in a society that tells us our purpose is to be an inspiring story. But sometimes the best we can do is tell you we’re still here, and that should be enough. Denying darkness does not bring anyone closer to the light.” Chanel Miller, Know My Name
This subject matter is inherently dark, but ever important in today’s culture. Miller’s story is crucial in a world where so many are still denied a voice in the matter.
7. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
How self-deluded are we, really? Are we actually progressive and ‘woke,’ or are we more concerned with seeming that way? And why are we so fascinated by stories of people who play the system, from the Fyre Festival fiasco to the bankers who profited from the recession of the 2010s?
In this powerful essay collection, New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino unpacks our perceptions of reality through the lens of pop culture. She holds up our norms and obsessions — the Internet, reality TV, self-optimisation, the wedding industry — and forces us to look at them squarely.
“Where we had once been free to be ourselves online, we were now chained to ourselves online, and this made us self-conscious. Platforms that promised connection began inducing mass alienation.” Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror
Trick Mirror is highly recommended reading for any Millennial and Gen-Z woman trying to make sense of self-centred modern culture. Each essay is fresh, personal, full of depth and humour — and bound to get you thinking.
8. Atomic Habits by James Clear
If I had to choose my favourite personal development book of all time, it might just be Atomic Habits. And it’s not because James Clear encourages a massive overhaul of your entire life in order to be successful. Actually, the opposite: he believes in ‘atomic’ changes. Not big, unattainable goals, but small systemic changes.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement” James Clear, Atomic Habits
Atomic Habits is a dynamite non-fiction book that offers practical, achievable and scientifically-backed ways to build powerful habits and improve your life. It really highlights the impact of small actions in our lives, and how even the smallest changes can go a long way when repeated over time. Atomic habits are so easy to implement that you’ll barely even notice them at first. But in the end, they make the biggest difference.
If you’re looking to hit the reset button on your daily routine and take action to become a better version of yourself (without struggling), then reach for this book.
9. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
I first heard about Queenie on an author special episode of The High Low. Queenie is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London and working for a national newspaper. She tackles the daily struggles of interracial relationships, workplace harassment, casual sex, and trying to balance two sides of her culture.
“Before I got off the bus, I made an internal list of people who could touch my hair: 1. Me 2. A hairdresser 3. That’s it, that’s the whole list” Candice Carty-Williams, Queenie
Queenie is widely dubbed as the new Bridget Jones, but there’s so much more to her than that. I particularly loved Carty-Williams’ skilful treatment of mental health, sexuality, racial microaggressions and childhood trauma in the context of a young Black woman living in London. But apart from these heavier topics, this book is also brilliantly funny — especially in any scene that features Queenie’s Caribbean grandparents.
10. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & The Six rapidly rose to fame in the heart of the rock and roll era. They had it all: sensational albums, sold-out tours, millions of fans worldwide. That’s why their sudden split and disappearance in 1979 came as such a shock. The whole world’s been curious about it ever since.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Daisy Jones & the Six was a real rock and roll band after reading this book. It feels so real, in fact, that I had to Google the band twice just to be sure.
“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody. End of fucking story.” Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six
Told interview-style, the story reads like a Rolling Stone piece, allowing the reader to deduce the truth from the band members’ statements and inconsistencies. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking, but also wildly entertaining. If you, like me, obsessively rewatched A Star Is Born, this is a must-read.
So there you have it — ten of my favourite books of 2020 (so far!)
Keep an eye out for more reading lists coming later this year — maybe some of these titles will end up in my top 5 of 2020! And if you’re looking for more titles to add to your list, why not check out my other reading lists right here.
You can also sign up for my weekly newsletter for a hand-delivered book recommendation straight in your inbox every Monday!
Happy reading — let me know which of these titles you’re most excited to read!
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