This was a weird year for a lot of things, but it was also a weird year of reading for me. Like many others, I often struggled to find the focus or willpower to read much of the time, and when I did have enough of those, I often turned to comfort reads or books that would provide a pure escape.
I set a goal on my Goodreads account to read 60 books this year, and by May, I’d been averaging 8 books a month and had finished 40 by the end of June, which made me think I was going to blow past my goal, no problem…
Except I just *barely* made it by squeaking in book #60 last night, just before the calendar is about to turn to a new year.
Part of it was the craziness and stress of selling our first home, searching for and fixing up our second home, and doing the two moves in between all that, and part of it was just due to it being a stressful year for everyone. I’ll admit I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for the past couple months, and I’m hoping that the freshness of a new year will help to pull me out of that.
However, reading slump aside, I’ve still read a TON of great books this year, the top 10 of which I’ve rounded up for you below!
Note: There are affiliate links below to the titles mentioned, which means I may get a small commission on any purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
I read this title early on this year, and it felt FABULOUS to find a five-star read barely a week into the new year (and lemme tell you, I am stingy with my five-star reviews!). This book felt like a modern Huck Finn story, with lovable, memorable characters, an inventive plot, and a twist at the end I didn’t see coming. Part of my criteria for a five-star read is that I would be eager (or at least willing) to read the book again in the future, and this one definitely fits the bill for that!
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty can be a bit hit or miss for me (mostly because I feel like her tone is sometimes lighter than her subject matter), but I absolutely adored this book–it’s now easily my favorite Moriarty novel, and I’ve now read four. What Alice Forgot is the story of a woman who is madly in love with her husband and expecting her first child…except she is really 10 years older than she thinks, on the brink of divorce, and has three children. This book is a wild ride, but it also really, really made me think about the impact of certain life experiences, daily attitudes and choices, and the importance of not letting “adulting” start dragging you down too much. If you’re looking for a page-turner that will start the new year off right for you, this one would be a good one to pick up. (Content warning: Like all of Moriarty’s novels, it does contain quite a bit of profanity.)
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Although this was a five-star novel for me (and one that I definitely want to reread again someday, mostly just so I can feel like I can get even more out of it), I recognize that the very slow, almost exclusively character-driven plot won’t work for everyone. Gilead is narrated by a dying father who is penning a letter to his young son that tells him his hard-won lessons on faith, forgiveness, and what’s really important in life. I snagged a copy of this through my local used bookstore as soon as I could so that I could have a copy to mark up when I picked this up again! (If you don’t have a used bookstore near you, my favorite online used book marketplace is Biblio, which I’ve used many, many times!)
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
Now, this was a pretty predictable read, but I still really enjoyed the experience of reading it (and positively FLEW through this, finishing it in a 24-hour span). Jessie is mourning the loss of her mother and her old life as she’s forced to relocate to her new stepmother’s house, which means that she’s now going to start attending a super-elite prep school. Nothing about the new place seems to fit her, until she starts receiving mysterious emails from a stranger who calls himself Somebody/Nobody, who promises to basically be her “spirit guide” for surviving her new school. The book’s definitely on the fluffier side, but it was the perfect kind of book to read when I needed an escape from the reality of this year.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
I haven’t given this many five-star ratings to fictional novels in a single year in a long, long time, but this was another one! This kind of reminded me of a Jane Austen novel–if Jane Austen novels were set at the dawning of WWI–complete with uppity community members more concerned with their public image than with the greater good, an independent and feisty female protagonist, a subtle love story (but don’t let that put you off—there’s so much more to this!), and a rich social commentary. At first, I was a bit hesitant to start due to the long length (nearly 500 pages), but I was soon swept up into this little English town completely. I could definitely see myself rereading this one down the line, which is something I almost never do with fiction.
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
This was the book that introduced me to Susan Meissner, who was one of my happy discoveries this year. I found this to be really enjoyable, despite the fact that it covered a heavy period in history (the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic and WWI). I’d like to think that I would have liked this just as much even if we weren’t currently in the middle of a pandemic ourselves, but seeing as we are, it just added that much more depth to my reading of it.
We Had Everything But Money
While I enjoyed reading this old compilation of Depression-era recollections from people who lived through it, I didn’t realize what an impact it had made on me until I realized that I’ve been thinking about snippets of it all throughout this year. Basically, this contains just a ton of stories and photos about how even though a lot was tough about The Great Depression, it taught many people to be thrifty and resourceful and to still enjoy life despite its hardships. I often feel that because most of us in this generation have lived–by comparison to our great-grandparents who lived through the World Wars and The Great Depression–a very pampered and easy life, we tend to pout and whine when things don’t go our way rather than just suck it up and deal with it. Reading this book (and then thinking of it often throughout this year) has helped remind me that humankind is resilient and has lived through worse things than this.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
I still can’t believe it took me this long to read anything by Brene Brown, but it won’t be the last. This book on resilience and vulnerability was paradigm-altering, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it has completely shifted how I view so many different things in my life. I took photos of certain passages in this so many different times that I finally just decided I need to get myself my own copy already.
Good Husbandry by Kristin Kimball
I absolutely loved Kristin Kimball’s first memoir–The Dirty Life–and was ecstatic when I heard that she’d published another one. While The Dirty Life covers how she went from being a journalist who fell in love with a farmer that she was interviewing for a story and then moved out to the middle of nowhere after marrying him, this follow-up covers the challenges of running a struggling small farm while having a young family. I like that Kimball’s memoirs aren’t all roses and glitter when it comes to farming, but I also like that they do include equal parts of magical and hard.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This book has so many five-star reviews from my friends on Goodreads that I’ve lost count, but it took me forever to finally pick it up myself. After I finished, I joked that this book should come with a warning that it absolutely will change forever how you view the American justice and prison system, and that it will make you want to be a better, more compassionate human. Period.
What were YOUR favorite reads of 2020? Do me a favor and drop them below, so I can make sure to add them to my TBR for 2021!