2020- the year dominated by COVID 19 and social distancing… all that quarantining meant cancelling a lot of really lovely, emotional things: Family holidays, out of state trips, birthday parties, school events… heck even in person school and my son’s kindergarten graduation. I didn’t get to do SO many things I wanted to…. but at least I got a ton of reading done. That’s a silver lining I’ll hold on to. I thought I read a lot last year when being sick and pregnant kept me in bed a lot. That was NOTHING compared to being stuck at home and needing to stay awake during middle of the night nursing sessions. So here are some of my favorite reads of the past year
The Gifts fo Imperfection by Brene Brown
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone who is looking to get more vulnerable and more real, anyone who has heard a lot about Brene Brown but never actually read her books.
The main idea: Living an authentic life is key to happiness. We all have areas of “wholehearted living” where we can make improvements. You may need to lean into faith, creativity, or meaningful work. I will be fully transparent and say I need to continue working on self-compassion, rest, and calm. Lots of amazing stories backed up by research.
Why I loved it: I have read SO MUCH of Brown’s work and listened to every episode of her podcast, but somehow I never read this foundational work until the 10th anniversary edition came out this year. So many good foundational thoughts and reminders of why I choose to battle my perfectionism each day.
I’d also recommend: Any other book by Brene Brown. Or her podcast. I’m a pretty big fangirl for her…
Atomic Habits by James Clear
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone who wants to conquer some goals, change some habits, or feel inspired.
The main idea: Research backed methods for creating new habits or quitting toxic ones.
Why I loved it: This book was so approachable and helpful! Similar to Brene Brown’s book mentioned above, it combines research with interesting stories and is incredibly clear about action steps you can take. It made me feel good that I recognized many of the strategies mentioned as things that inform the creation of my beloved Powersheets.
I’d also recommend: Getting Stuff Done, Cultivate, or using Powersheets.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
I’d recommend this book to: The feminist in your life, people who don’t understand why we still need feminism. Anyone who doesn’t understand male privilege.
The main idea: Our world still sees the male body as the default. Because of this, research does not disaggregate data based on sex/gender and so the world is less convenient, fair, and even much less safe for women.
Why I loved it: Well-researched. Well-argued. And still manages to be hopeful and humorous in the face of this overwhelmingly frustrating data.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone who has suffered from trauma. Anyone who loves someone who has suffered from trauma.
The main idea: Traumatic events remain with us in our bodies and unless we integrate the body into our healing we will not be able to resolve that trauma.
Why I loved it: I have found this to be oh so true. Yoga, Linklater, Drama therapy all come up in this book and these have been key to my own healing.
I’d also recommend: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (also about therapy but much less dense of a read)
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone who is ready to deal with potentially triggering material.
The main idea: This is the memoir of Chanel Miller, or you may remember her as Emily Doe from the Brock Turner case. If anyone is ever wondering why more women don’t report their assault, just have them read this book…
Why I loved it: The fierce fight and hope alongside the harrowing details of what it is like to try and fight for justice when one has been sexually assaulted was stunning.
I’d also recommend: Making a donation to RAINN. Hugging a survivor (or sending a virtual one to be cautious of COVID).
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone who wants a deeply personal yet approachable book about everyday and systematic racism. (It also includes a lot of faith references so that may be a plus or minus for you but was a definite plus for me)
The main idea: A faith-based look at racism from microagressions to outright discrimination based on one woman’s experiences.
Why I loved it: This is the book I am going to recommend as a great entry point for any friends or family who are Christian and looking for an entry into anti-racism work.
I’d also recommend: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander– a deeply researched and upsetting book on how systematic racism plays out in the “war on drugs” and our criminal justice system. This book is a lot heavier/more dense and less personal than I’m still here. For some, the lack of personal attachment may make it more compelling or persuasive.
When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan
I’d recommend this book to: Catholics, Jim Gaffigan fans, anyone struggling with gratitude
The main idea: A deeply sweet, funny memoir about Jeannie Gaffigan’s experience with a large brain tumor and the recovery once it is removed.
Why I loved it: Man did this help me restart my gratitude practice. Reading this during lockdown this year as well as being in the postpartum stage was really profound timing. I laughed, I cried, I hugged my kids extra tight.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
I’d recommend this book to: Shakespeare nerds or anyone else who loves poetic language or retellings through a female perspective.
The main idea: A look at Shakespeare’s family, with a special focus on Shakespeare’s wife. Also plague.
Why I loved it: I studied Shakespeare nonstop for three years and somehow my imagination never wandered to the questions posed in this book about these familial aspects of his life. The language is achingly beautiful and the ending was such a gut punch. Also- just probably the timing of reading this during our own plague.
I’d also recommend: I mean… if you haven’t read Hamlet that would be a good recommendation… Also, I definitely plan to read more of O’Farrell’s books.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone looking for an intellectual read that is still palatable enough for book club.
The main idea: An abolitionist who is horrified by being gifted a slave as a young girl and secretly teaches that slave to read. The book takes the narrative perspective of both the young abolitionist (Sarah) and the young slave (Hetty).
Why I loved it: I’m apparently late to the party on this one because it was an Oprah’s book club pick several years ago and I just found it this past spring. I loved the fiesty female characters and that it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. I loved reading about a new person from history that I wish I’d known about all along. I loved the language.
I’d also recommend: The Book of Longings– Sue Monk Kidd’s fictional piece imagining the life of the wife of Jesus.
Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
I’d recommend this book to: Lovers of fairytales reimagined.
The main idea: A retelling of Cinderella from the stepsister’s perspective. Only it is so much better and more complex than that. In a world where only the beautiful seem to deserve happy endings, what happens when you are a woman whose looks are not her greatest asset?
Why I loved it: I’m a sucker for revisited fairytales, especially with a feminist perspective.
I’d also recommend: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I’d recommend this book to: Readers who enjoy gothic love stories and will get the tropes, readers who don’t mind things getting creepy and weird.
The main idea: Noemi’s cousin has written a disturbing email from her new secluded home and Noemi is charged with visiting her to investigate her cousin’s strange change of behavior and personality. She arrives at the gothic mansion of High Place and things get weird and creepy from there.
Why I loved it: Insanely well written and specific. Strong characters, a page turner, and vivid enough that I couldn’t fall asleep after I had read it.
I’d also recommend: Checking out the Hulu series when it comes out… if you have more of a stomach for horror than I do….
*Library of Legends by Janie Chang
I’d recommend this book to: Anyone who enjoys myths and legends or historical fiction.
The main idea: This book takes place in the 1930s when Japan is attacking China. A historical period/place I knew very little about before reading this book. University students at this time are making a pilgrimage to safer towns less likely to be bombed and are bringing with them the Library of Legends- stories of mythical characters who are more real than some of them realize.
Why I loved it: It was like a fairy tale meets historical fiction. I learned something new and my imagination was delighted all at once.
I’d also recommend: My other favorite historical fiction from this year- The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
*The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
I’d recommend this book to: Readers who are Jane Austen fans!
The main idea: Pride and Prejudice, but from Mary’s perspective… and then oh so much more and all the Jane Austen tropes you could want.
Why I loved it: I love Jane Austen. I love books that reimagine or shift the perspective on something familiar. This was such a fun, easy read.
I’d also recommend: The original Pride and Prejudice or watching the movie adaptation with Colin Firth (or the Keira Knightly version works too)
SERIES FINALES: These three books are the finales (or prequel in the case of Songbirds and Snakes) and so the information below them will actually be for the series in general
Hero of Ages (Mistborn 3)
I’d recommend the Mistborn Series to: Fans of fantasy who love world building that doesn’t get in the way of plenty of action.
The main idea: You never know what is needed to save the world. But, like any good fantasy novel, a deep sense of hope and teamwork are key.
Why I loved it: The ending. I don’t want to give anything away but the ending pays for any part earlier in the series that lags.
Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
I’d recommend The Hunger Games Series to: Anyone old enough to read about children killing one another…
The main idea: Children forced to kill one another in a national “games” as a punishment for rebellion against the capitol. This newest edition is a prequel told from the perspective of the villain from the main series, but from when he was younger and the games were just getting started.
Why I loved it: Suzanne Collins is so incredibly talented at explaining character motivation without justifying it and creating a world that is horrifying and yet utterly captivating. This prequel had insanely high expectations and it did not disappoint.
Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
I’d recommend The Thief Series to: Readers who can stick through a bit of a slow beginning. It pays off. Trust me. Readers with any interest in geography, politics, or myths/faith.
The main idea: I have a hard time summarizing this series without giving away some of the things that make it so wonderful so please just trust me on this one. Let me put it this way- I put this book on hold with the library over a year before its publication date and I still had to wait several weeks because so many people had put it on hold. I will probably be buying this whole series to share with my kids when they are older.
Why I loved it: The characters are incredible. The stories within the stories deeply charming. The writing is masterful.
I’d also recommend: Listening on audiobook. The narrator of this series is masterful and that is how I experienced all of these books aside from the first time I read the first in the series.
I would recommend ALL of these books as read-alouds for kids in Kindergarten through second grade and possibly even beyond (or before in the case of Ramona… my three year old daughter was DELIGHTED by this series up until Ramona got significantly older than her…). These books contain humor, lessons, and leave a lot of fun imagining.
The Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin and the series it goes with skews a bit older.
Ramona the Pest and the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary skews a bit younger.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Narnia series skews religious and starts younger but edges toward older quickly. PS: I am a huge fan of the publication order of the series and I’m super sad that you can only find really old versions of boxed sets that keep them in this order.
WHEW! I know, that is a LOT of books. and shockingly less than 20% of the books I read this year. Hopefully there’s a little something for almost everyone on this list. I’d love to hear your favorite reads of the year too as I start planning out my top book picks of 2021! (I am still hoping to read a lot… but hopefully a bit more balanced as life starts moving back to a more social activity later in the year…)