Before we turn the last page and slam the book shut on a terrible year, let’s take a moment to acknowledge something good that came out of 2020: a bountiful yield of great reads. These 10 books topped New York Times bestseller lists, were the talk of Twitter and virtual book clubs from Oprah’s to your local library’s, and helped us escape this wild year. If you’re looking to cozy up with an engrossing read (or 10) this winter, here are the 10 best books of 2020 to add to your reading list.
“Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi
Knopf (September 1, 2020)
As a sixth-year PhD student in neuroscience, Gifty spends her days studying the behavior of mice related to depression and addiction in her lab at Stanford University. The study hits close to home for Gifty, as she lost her brother to a drug overdose and is living with a mother who is suicidal. To make sense of her grief, Gifty turns to science, looking for an answer to alleviate her family’s suffering. As she dives into her past, Gifty reflects on the evangelical church of her childhood and the promise of hope for her Ghanaian family. Bestselling author Yaa Gyasi crafts an emotionally layered story, highlighting the struggle between faith and science and capturing the complex dynamics of family.
“Intimations: Six Essays” by Zadie Smith
Penguin Books (July 28, 2020)
Zadie Smith has captured the strange and surreal time of lockdown in a fantastic collection of essays. The short collection provides insight and comfort, sharing relatable thoughts and actions that so many have experienced while adjusting to a new normal. Smith tackles pressing social challenges and political issues facing the world, speaking to how this time may impact what we once held as essential.
“The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf (March 24, 2020)
Vincent is a hotel bartender on Vancouver Island and when a mysterious message appears etched on the glass, she is so shaken by the words, and she flees, leaving with a wealthy man who walks into the bar. Jonathan Alkaitis is the wealthy man who has his own troubles involving a Ponzi scheme, which will years later cause devastation. Slipping through different points in time, this is a thrilling and layered story. The award-winning author captivates readers with her complex characters whose lives are intertwined throughout the novel.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by Victoria Schwab
Tor Books (October 6, 2020)
Addie LaRue lives an unusual life, having made a deal with the devil in her youth; she lives her life alone, as no one she meets will remember her. Addie is fated to live a life of immortality, spanning decades and continents without forming any relationships, not able to set any roots in her life. After 300 years, Addie encounters an individual who remembers her name. The author weaves magic and history together in a deeply enchanting story.
“Interior Chinatown: A Novel” by Charles Yu
Vintage (November 17, 2020)
Willis Wu can be found as a background actor on the police procedural show, Black and White, filmed in the Golden Palace Restaurant, but he has hopes to play a bigger role in the show and in his own life. He doesn’t think to dream outside of what is traditionally cast for him, believing that the biggest role he can hope for is, “Kung Fu Guy.” When he is thrown into the spotlight, he discovers much more than he expected. The author examines race and family dynamics in this darkly humorous and inventive novel.
“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig
Viking (September 29, 2020)
Nora Seed has a rare opportunity, faced with a library of sorts, where books tell two different stories of your life. One that you have lived and one that dives into the unknown, of what may have been. A magical story examining the choices we make. If you had the opportunity to change your decision, what would you decide?
“Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey (June 30, 2020)
With the arrival of a mysterious letter from her newly married cousin asking for urgent help, Noemí Taboada sets off to the Mexican countryside to High House. In her letter, her cousin writes about a dire situation and when Noemí arrives it is clear that High House and its inhabitants are keeping secrets. Atmospheric and engaging, the complex characters and thrilling plot will quickly pull readers in.
“The Office of Historical Corrections” by Danielle Evans
Riverhead Books (November 10, 2020)
In her highly anticipated new collection, author Danielle Evans crafts richly detailed short stories and a novella featuring magnetic and complex characters. Notably, the story sharing the collection’s title, speaks to the issues surrounding how history is documented and passed on to future generations. Evans expertly weaves in larger issues of race, history, culture, identity and loss facing the world today within each powerful narrative.
“Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close” by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Simon & Schuster (July 14, 2020)
Friends and hosts of the popular podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, take a deep dive into the power of positive friends and how we maintain those friendships over time. The authors share insights into their decade-long friendship, with honest conversations about the highs and lows of their relationship. Humorous and deeply relatable, this book will allow readers to view their own friendships in a new light.
“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King
Grove Press (March 3, 2020)
Reeling from the unexpected death of her mother and a recent love affair, Casey Peabody settles into waiting tables in Massachusetts during the summer of 1997. With a mounting pile of bills, Casey is struggling to complete a novel she has been working on for six years. At 31 years old, Casey finds herself questioning her choices and comparing herself to accomplished friends. When new relationships complicate her life even more, Casey must find the strength to follow her dreams and pursue a creative life in a world that often demands otherwise. Written with honesty and humor, readers will relate to this hopeful coming of age story.
Support local by purchasing these books at your neighborhood bookstore:
- Book Bin 1151 Church St Northbrook, IL
- Roscoe Books 2142 W Roscoe St, Chicago, IL
- The Book Market 2651 Navy Blvd, Glenview, IL
- Women and Children First 5233 N Clark St, Chicago, IL
- Bookend & Beginnings 1712 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL
- The Book Cellar 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL
- Volumes Bookcafe 1474 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL
More from Better:
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- Cheers to Local Brews: 10 Holiday Beer Releases to Pick Up from Chicago-Area Breweries This Month
- Advice to Help You Turn Things Around in 2021, from ‘Aim High’ Author Sydney Sadick
Meghan Odegard is a librarian living in Wisconsin. She proudly supports Barn Sanctuary, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and caring for farm animals in need.