Like many others, a 2020 goal of mine was to read more. I casually kept up with it, until the pandemic hit and I realized I needed more at-home hobbies. So reading became a bigger priority, and a great way to escape 2020 (besides TikTok). During my year of devouring books, my horizons were broadened and my world views were expanded, but a few stories stood out as particularly exceptional. For anyone interested, I present my favorite books of 2020:
Severance by Ling Ma
I was warned that this book was a little too on-brand for 2020, and it sure was. Ma’s novel takes place amidst a pandemic...which originates in China...and no one in the United States takes it seriously until it’s too late. Sound familiar? Watching her protagonist, Candace, a Bible production coordinator, navigate her family’s past and survive her present was compelling and very poignant. Ma’s themes of family origin and human connection help move the story away from a classic dystopian tale. I found it to be a pleasant read, despite its bleakness, and thankfully did not find it too scary despite our own pandemic.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
If you don’t know Miller’s name by now, you should. In her memoir, she details her life before and after her trauma and assault by Brock Turner, and the full legal proceedings around the case. Miller’s tale is harrowing and heartbreaking, and she quite literally writes the book on the horrors of victim blaming. For anyone who has lived through trauma, her words touch a place of resonance that is deeply profound. Though Miller’s book was very personally impactful, I believe it’s a read for anyone and everyone. Our legal system and the way we treat victims has to change.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens*
I was a bit late to the party on this one, but by the end of Owens’ book, I was a puddle of tears. Owens tells a compelling story that leads you through the life of her protagonist, Kya, with two different storylines that ultimately intertwine. If you’re a sucker for plays on timelines like I am, you’ll love it. It’s definitely the most unique murder mystery piece I’ve read since Gone Girl. What’s arguably most impressive, it was Owens’ first fiction piece; proof and inspiration that it’s never too late to write.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Coincidentally, the last time I picked up a book by Atwood was my first read of The Handmaid’s Tale back in 2016. I promise I’m not purposefully reading these books before each election... but the parallels between Gilead and Trump’s America certainly make things more interesting (or terrifying). Political context aside, The Testaments was a satisfying non-sequel-y follow-up story. Through multiple characters, we get a better look inside the corruption of Gilead, but also the women who make up its structure and their struggles, something easily applied to any society.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
This one was an unexpected favorite I just finished in December, but I consumed it ravenously in about three days. Angie Cruz paints a compelling picture of immigration, family obligation, new beginnings, and identity through her protagonist Ana, a young girl who moves to New York from the Domincan Republic. Almost immediately, I latched onto Ana in her pursuit of happiness in a strange country. Like many other stories of immigration, Dominicana sheds light on the struggles and hardships people go through to find their place in a new country, something most of us born in the United States will never, ever understand.
Bonus: My Least Favorite Book
I did have a small few books I couldn’t stand, and I’ll just say this: if anyone has the audacity to ever recommend a Rachel Hollis book to me again, I will scream.
I have no idea if this list will be helpful to anyone but me, but a small bright side of 2020 was that I rediscovered my love for books and stories. I hope ambitious reading goals are something I pursue in future years, ideally without the push from a pandemic.
*Since writing this post, I have learned the many ways in which Delia Owens has left a problematic legacy. Before reading her book or watching the recent movie adaptation, I would strongly recommend others become more aware of her life story. This Time piece is a good place to start.