My year in reading: 2020

2020 was a YEAR, wasn’t it? I started off the year with the ambitious goal of reading 70 books. Cute of me, in retrospect. I ended the year having started 71 books, but only finishing 54. Womp-womp. In most years, I would have been disappointed in falling so short of a stated goal, even one as arbitrary as number of books read, but by the end of 2020, my attitude was, basically, “F*** it.” (Which has been a helpful overall life mantra as I’ve navigated through the flaming pile of chaos that was 2020!) I’m happy I read any books at all, this year, frankly.

Failing to meet my goal also forced me to reevaluate the wisdom of setting numbers-based reading goals. Yes, I only read 54 books in 2020, whereas in 2019, I read 66 books, but I read 20,151 pages in 2020, as opposed to a measly 17,837 pages in 2019. So, there. But you know what? I wish I hadn’t read so many pages or finished as many books as I did this year, because this year, more than other years, I forced myself to finish books (often quite long books) that just were not working for me. And I regret that! I should have taken my own advice about not finishing books, because I wasted time and brain-space in a year in which I had neither resource to spare. In 2021, I resolve to quit books earlier, and/or to skim more liberally when necessary. Onward!

Now, for some of my faves and not-so-faves. (Please note, as always, that only some, not all, of these books actually came out in 2020).

Best novel: tie between Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi, and Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips. (NB: I will talk your ear off about either of these books, if given the slightest chance. Please read them. They are both gorgeous and wonderful and precious and make me want to be a better writer/burn everything I’ve ever written in a bonfire).

Best memoir: Tie between Wild Game, by Adrienne Brodeur and Empty, by Susan Burton

Best journalistic non-fiction: Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker

Best book about writing: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee

Most eye-opening/life-changing: Quit Like a Woman, by Holly Whitaker

Most overhyped: Tie between The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett and Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino

Most enraging: 28 Summers, by Elin Hilderbrand (NB: I hated this book with such a fiery passion that I’m almost grateful to Hilderbrand for writing it and creating characters that were so gratifying to want the absolute worst for).

Best series: the Jackson Brodie mysteries, by Kate Atkinson

Long book I wish I hadn’t finished: SO MANY CONTENDERS, but tie between The Outsider, by Stephen King (577 pages), and The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (506 pages)

Book I really am gonna finish in 2021: Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow

For more of my thoughts and notes, feel free to check out my handy Google spreadsheet!

What were the best books you read in 2020? Any great ones I missed? Hit me up!


  • I also need to take this advice about not finishing books that I am not enjoying! I read more books this year than I ever have before (104). Not doing much of anything outside my house meant I had more chunks of time to read (previously my big chunks would come when I traveled for work and obviously that didn’t happen this year). My kids also have finally reached an age when they can entertain themselves a lot more, leaving me more free time.

    This year in reading re-iterated for me that I kind of intrinsically know what I like and there’s a certain set of folks on the various social platforms whose tastes align closely with mine and they will almost certainly steer me the right way when it comes to recommendations. Just because something is hyped all over Instagram doesn’t mean it’s for me (see A Burning, Red, White, and Royal Blue, Uncanny Valley). That doesn’t mean I am not open to dipping into genres outside my normal non-fiction wheelhouse (I loved reading short stories and novellas this year for instance) or that I am shutting off broad categories. More that being a discerning reader is okay.

    Some of my favorites from this year: Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey, Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, Notes on a Silencing by Lacey Crawford, Here for It! by R. Eric Thomas, The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Severance by Ling Ma, We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper, Sisters in Hate by Seyward Darby, The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Death in Mud Lick by Eric Eyre, The Address Book by Deirdre Mask, Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

    I also loved Empty and wish it had gotten more attention!

    • Oh, this is a great comment (especially about tuning out the noise on social media re: the It Books) and I love your list of favorite books. I forgot to mention in my post that I also read (and loved) Hidden Valley Road. Bob Kolker is so talented — did you read Lost Girls? I also want to read Memorial Drive; I heard Trethewey interviewed on Fresh Air and have had her book on my list since then, but just haven’t gotten to it. We Keep the Dead Close is currently on my holds list at the library. I am going to have to add some of your other books to my list, as well.

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