My Favorite Books of 2020

Dear 2020, GOODBYE. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

Listen, there were so many amazing things about 2020. Number one: I got married! Andrew and I had such a special ceremony (we actually had 3 ceremonies, it’s a long story) and made lifelong memories. It was truly the highlight of the year. Second only to us expecting our first BABY! Bebe Piper is expected in March and what a joyful way to mark one year since the pandemic started in the US, by welcoming our new favorite person in the world. I have already ordered her all the books. (Please send recommendations.)

Also, just below marriage to the love of my life and the impending birth of our first child, I would say that my reading year was *also* a highlight. As of today December 29th, I’ve read 73 books! That is the most I’ve ever read in a single year. It’ll be interesting to see how having a newborn affects my reading life in 2021 🙂

I chose these books based on two things, the content of the book and the experience of reading the book. Sometimes, I love a book because of the plot, the writing, the characters, and a combination of the three. Sometimes, I love a book because it met me in the moment. Its subject matter coincided with whatever was going on in my life in just the right way. I considered breaking this up into two posts, one fiction and one nonfiction. But I’ve decided to put them all together here because I only ended up with three nonfiction books in my favorites this year.

I also set up my Bookshop.org affiliate store! You can go here and find all of the books I’ve read and recommended: https://bookshop.org/shop/thelazybookshelf

If you want to know more about what I’m reading, you can follow my Bookstagram @thelazybookshelf. Or you can follow me @heymeff for general silliness and sporadic posting.

I read Writers and Lovers in March, and it may have been the last book I read in The Before Times. It’s about a struggling writer in Cambridge who works as a waitress to pay the bills, but writes her novel during her off hours. I have to say, remembering back on the story, I have no idea what the cover is about. BUT the writing was really good. I think some readers might find it a little boring, because not much happens. But one reason I loved it was because I loved the main character Casey.

For fans of: Ann Patchett and Gilmore Girls

Further reading: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Did you read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel? Well this new book of hers is nothing like it, BUT it does have similar weird, hard-to-explain vibes. It’s sort of about a Ponzi scheme? But there are also maybe ghosts? I have a soft spot for books that are really atmospheric and I think that’s what I loved about The Glass Hotel. The settings in the book are so unique and well written. I think it was just the kind of escape I needed in mid-April.

For fans of: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, the movie Parasite and sci-fi movies

Further reading: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks Dalton and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This is a middle grade book! I am usually hit and miss when it comes to historical fiction, but I could not put this one down. I listened on audio and then loved it so much that I bought the paper copy for my daughter to someday read. The story is told by a young girl whose family gets split across the Berlin Wall. It’s full of action, it’s tense and the protagonist is such a strong, smart, brave girl. I read it during the pandemic and I feel like it was comforting to read during tumultuous times in history that humanity has survived and overcome.

For fans of: Nancy Drew books, The Hunger Games, and The Giver

Further reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I *love* a good narrative nonfiction book. Read my review of this one here. One thing I loved about this one, aside from the extraordinary story, was the empathy with which the author wrote about the Galvin family.

For fans of: documentaries, investigative journalism, the movie Spotlight, OJ: Made in America

For further reading: Bad Blood by John Carryrou, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

I did not expect to have two middle grade books on my 2020 favorites list. This one is pretty long– it’s over five hundred pages– but it’s worth the commitment! It’s about three kids connected over dozens of years by a harmonica. I partly read the paper version, but mainly listened on audio and was crying by the end. It’s divided into three sections each taking place in Germany during WWII, Pennsylvania a few years after, and finally California. When I finished it, it left me with feelings reminiscent of reading Harry Potter and that is about the highest praise I can give any book.

For fans of: Harry Potter

For further reading: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This was a great book to read during the pandemic: It’s about a married couple who move their two and seven year old onto a boat for the summer and sail the Caribbean. At the very beginning, the reader knows something has gone wrong, and the whole book tells the story of what happened on the boat. I thought it was a really unique premise. One factor that makes me love a book is when it has a strong sense of place, and this one delivered on that front. It’s about marriage and what it really means to live. The husband and wife have different political views and I thought that was an interesting element.

For fans of: Liane Moriarty, Little Fires Everywhere, and sailing.

For further reading: Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

This was definitely the best mystery I read all year; it’s a literary mystery of the highest standards. It takes place in a small town in Nevada and centers around the death of the school’s newest teacher. I loved the characters and the structure of the book, and I couldn’t guess what was going to happen. The ending was satisfying and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately checked out the author’s only other novel from the library. (Which definitely wasn’t as good, don’t bother with that one.)

For fans of: The Current by Tim Johnston, Broadchurch on Netflix, and Tana French

For further reading: The Lost Man by Jane Harper and Long Bright River by Liz Moore

I have recommended Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson over and over, and this would be an excellent companion read. It follows the story of many Black Americans who’ve been sentenced to life in prison for minor drug charges–sometimes without evidence or witnesses. The author tells us how substance abuse and addiction affected her own life and family. It follows her path to social justice warrior in such a compelling way. I read this and listened to it on audio simultaneously and I’d highly recommend both formats!

For fans of: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, How to be an Anti-Racist, The Central Park Five on Netflix, and Educated by Tara Westover

For further reading: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Becoming by Michelle Obama

I loved O’Farrell’s last novel and decided to give this a shot after hearing her interview on NPR. I was sixteen weeks pregnant when I read this and knowing that it was about the death of a young child almost deterred me from reading it. I definitely cried more than a few times, and yet I’m so glad I dove in despite the emotionally traumatic subject matter. Because although a child does die, this book is at its heart about being a woman, becoming a mother, and truly the gift that women are to this earth. (I’m crying just writing that!). It is so atmospheric. The writing is lyrical, and the family becomes so real that you cannot help but care deeply about each person.

For fans of: Shakespeare, historical fiction, The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

For further reading: This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Investigative journalism is one of my very favorite genres. I *loved* this book so much. It’s part true crime, part coming of age after college, and part expose on the toxic masculinity that permeates the Ivy Leagues. Usually in journalism, the writer doesn’t use first person pronouns. But in this book, she writes about her own experience in researching Jane’s story, and I really enjoyed her thoughts and perspective. It gave me a really good book hangover. I honestly haven’t read anything as good the re

For fans of: Killers of the Flower Moon, Rise and Fall: The Story of 9/11, the Serial podcast

For further reading: Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Follow me on Instagram! @thelazybookshelf

What were your favorite books of the year?

What else do you want to know about the books I’m reading?

2 Comments

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  1. Congratulations on your marriage and your new little one. I have no shortage of recommendations, but the ones I always buy for others is Oh What a Busy Day by Gyo Fujikawa and Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg. I would also recommend Oliver Jeffers and Sandra Boynton. Thank you for your book recommendations. I found a few I would like to check out. Happy New Year.

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