In a year where we couldn’t count on anything, we still had books. (Although most people had way less brain space to actually read them. Myself included.) True to form – 2020 can’t ruin everything! – here’s my end of the year book list. Not as many as I hoped for, but this year I have learned to take what I can get.
As an extra bonus, I’m including both audio books and podcasts! Early this year I invested in an Audible account, since my new job came with a new (aka long) commute. Although they aren’t as great as actually reading actual books – I’ve learned my audio book niche: they have to be read by the author and said author has to be a comedian. That is my sweet spot and I’m not going anywhere. Everyone has a podcast these days, but I found the great ones helped me get through the year the same as a good book did. Some of the best writers have the best podcasts – so it kind of fits the theme? Whatever. Just go with it.
As always – let me know your favorite reads of the year!! Always, always looking for a good novel to add to my forever growing list.
Best Novels (in order!)
The Vanishing Half | This follows two twin sisters as their lives diverge, and it’s one of the best novels I’ve read in years. There’s a lot to unpack, but Bennett effortlessly weaves things into the storyline you almost don’t even notice. I’m normally a the-library-is-for-novels kind of girl, but buy this one! You’ll want to re-read it.
Where the Crawdads Sing | Oh man, oh man. Beautifully written. A story that keeps you guessing and will also make you cry. It’s so well done it’s hard to believe this is Owens’ first! This will definitely be made into a movie or show at some point, so pick it up before Hollywood ruins it.
We were the Lucky Ones | You read this as one of the million other WWII era books out there these days (I keep reading them!) except that …this one is based on a true story. Jaw drop. It follows one Jewish family (and their many children) who were spread all throughout Europe during the war, and you have to read it to believe it. Hard to read at times, but overall a heartwarming story.
Transcendent Kingdom | We all knew not to expect another Homegoing with Gyasi’s second (I WISH), but this book does not disappoint. Completely different concept and story, but still beautifully executed. Bonus: If you grew up in American Christianity, it really hits home.
Best Non Fiction (not in order)
Untamed | I will be honest – I first read this book and thought, Love Glennon, but this isn’t my favorite. Her previous two books were more narrative driven, which I preferred. Plus if you follow her on social media (which, you should!) a lot of the big ideas in Untamed had already been featured in posts. It was still really great, there were a few chapters that got me, but if you had asked I would have recommended her older stuff first.
Then, I listened to Doyle on Brene Brown’s podcast – and I was stopped in my tracks. Suddenly the book made a lot more sense. She purposefully wrote the book to become more untamed as it went on. The themes stood out more. I went back and re-listened to the audio book (Doyle reads it!), and realized how phenomenal it is. Cannot recommend this book enough – even if you had to read it twice like me 😉
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation | I’m a little weary of things that want to discuss The Millennials, but I am such a fan of Peterson’s work I had this pre-ordered. It’s basically a deeper dive into this piece she wrote back in 2019, which really hit home for me. Like all of her work, the book is well researched, eloquently written, and somehow a little fun. I learned SO many things that have shaped our generation and how we work, and it’s really made me evaluate how I think of my job and work as a whole.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood | I’ve been hesitant to pick up any of Held Evans work since her passing, because it’s just so sad. But I’m glad I finally(!) dove into this one. It’s pretty old, but it holds up. Funny, sarcastic, deep, theological. Even with half a seminary degree, I learned a lot about the Bible and its view of women.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone | I am the biggest fan of books that double as free therapy (because we all need therapy, but that @*$* is expensive). This is written by a therapist, about both her therapy patients and going to therapy herself – but it doesn’t read like a weird self help book or instruction manual. Gottlieb does a great job of weaving stories together to make the whole book read more like a narrative. It’s both enjoyable to read and incredibly insightful.
Fierce, Free and Full of Fire | Hatmaker can do no wrong in my book, but I wasn’t ready for how good her latest is. Unlike her older stuff which are more of a collection of essays, this book reads more like a step by step walk through of things she has learned and how she’s gotten there. It’s hard to describe how informative and useful the book is – you’ll just need to read it for yourself.
I bought a copy to read and then mailed it off to my friend to read, who mailed it to our other friend after she finished it! Sisterhood of the traveling books just might be my new favorite thing.
A Burning | This book made a lot of lists this year – which I get, as it’s beautifully written and a stunning concept for a first time novelist! But overall it wasn’t my favorite read.
Mindy Kaling’s Amazon Publishing essays | Do these count as a book? Goodreads seems to think they count as 7. Kaling released these essays that are free for Kindle with an Amazon Prime account, and, as everything Kaling does, they are wonderful. I made my husband dig his Kindle out of our garage the week they came out just so I could devour them – and that’s exactly what I did. I will happily read anything Kaling pens, and I will also be her best friend. Just putting it out there.
- Where the Crawdads Sing | discussed above
- We were the Lucky Ones | discussed above
- A Year of Biblical Womanhood | discussed above
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone | discussed above
- The Nightingale | Great novel! Two sisters living during WWII (go figure) – and it’s being made into a movie soon
- The Careful Use of Compliments | meh
- Lethal White | a bit long, but the whole series is
- Snow Falling | If you are a Jane the Virgin fan – THIS IS FUN!
- Loose Ends | not worth it
- The Great Alone | decent novel, but The Nightingale is better
- Fierce, Free and Full of Fire | discussed above
- Callander Square | good ending, but not worth the read
- Untamed | discussed above
- Such a Fun Age | I liked this, but didn’t understand how many people loooooved it
- A Burning | discussed above
- The Vanishing Half | discussed above
- Transcendent Kingdom | discussed above
- Rodham | A+ concept, C+ execution. I was really bummed because I had been looking forward to this!
- Prep | I picked this up after Rodham was disappointing… and this was a little disappointing, too
- Mindy Kaling’s Amazon Publishing essays | discussed above
- Troubled Blood | This is the 5th of JK Rowling’s murder mystery novels, penned under Robert Galbraith, and I think overall the best
- Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation | discussed above
Audiobooks: (they count, but they don’t fully count, ya know?)
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? | read this a while ago, but in January I decided I wanted Mindy to join me on my commute to my new job. Did not disappoint.
- Why Not Me? | same as above
- Born a Crime | Heard how great this book was – and, IT’S GREAT! Noah reads it himself, and with all his accents it’s phenomenal. I bet it’s a great read but I’m so glad I listened to it.
- Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) | Stunning book, but wish I had actually read it instead of listened. I will say it kept me great company on walks as the pandemic was starting.
- Untamed | discussed above
Podcasts: (they’re kind of like audio books?)
- My Favorite Murder | I’ve heard so much about these ladies, but never got into it until this year. If you’re into true crime and serial killers and all that goodness – this is the best it gets.
- The Michelle Obama Podcast | Do I really need to say more?? I wish there were 5 million more episodes, but my two favorites were her one with Barack and her one with Conan. Second up is the one with her girlfriends and then the one with the girls she’s mentored/worked with. Actually they are all favorites, go listen right now.
- Unlocking Us with Brene Brown | Queen Brene graced us with a podcast this year. They can be a little dense (no light listening!) – but are wonderful! I already mentioned her episode with Glennon Doyle, she has a great two episode series on Little Fires Everywhere, and her discussion with Joe Biden was sweet.
- Canary | This has serious S Town vibes (in the best way) and is a deep dive into a sexual assault case by a Washington Post reporter. If you can stomach the topic, it’s super well done. 7 episodes that I’m pretty sure I finished within a week.
- The Daily | I don’t listen to this every morning, but I try to most days. It has some great reporting, and the Sunday Stories are usually a welcome break from actual news. (A few weeks ago it was all about how trees in a forest are actually connected and somehow it restored my faith in humanity.)
- You’re Wrong About | OKAY. This is my newest obsession (if you know, you know). Two hosts go back through events / people (mostly from the 90s) and do deep dives into things you probably don’t know and/or were wrong about them. Their Princess Diana series is phenomenal. Their recent episode on Fox News is amazing. I’m currently going through their OJ Simpson trial series and it’s all I want to listen to. They do their homework and also do a really great job of looking at social and cultural things of the day and how it compares to now. I love love love it.