[BOOKLIST] Divas, Ghosts, and the Opposite of Stranger Danger: The Best Books Published in 2020(that I actually read)

It’s been a hell of a year, hasn’t it? I may be the only writer on the planet to feel this way, but I have absolutely no desire to rehash this year in all its pandemic-ridden, protest-fueled, iconoclastic glory. I don’t want to talk about publishing drama, Black Lives Matter booklists, trends, predictions, or the effect of the pandemic on literature. I just want to keep on keeping on until we reach some semblancy of normalcy (whether new or not) instead of gazing at my navel over the top edge of my medical mask.

So without further ado, BS, or un-necessary ruminations, here are–


…Sorry, where was I? What just happened? What were we talking about?

Oh, yeah–these are the best 5 books published in 2020 that I read this year.

Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a scholar, a paid reviewer, an expert, or in any way “qualified” to create year-end ‘best-of’ lists. I also read heavily in the backlists of most publishers–meaning there’s a lot of new releases that I never get to and most of what I read is only new to me. I probably haven’t read anything that the popular kids have. Basically, I’m just a lady who likes reading and I don’t want any nonsense in the comments of this collection of opinions unless you are very, very smart.

Top Five Equal Opportunity Reads of 2020(in no particular order)…

1) The Meaning of Mariah Carey, by Mariah Carey(with help from Michaela Angela Davis)

I’m just as surprised as you are to see this here. Mariah’s memoir is surprisingly deep, at least for the first two-thirds while she unpacks and examines her difficult childhood, scrappy entry into the music business, difficult first marriage and unapologetic ownership of her enormous talent and drive. The introspection drops off pretty quickly for the last third, but it’s still a lot of fun to read the diva’s dish on famous folk and signature performances. This gave me a whole new appreciation of Mariah’s presence in the music world and I’m still surprised by how much I appreciated her words. Find it here.

2) See No Stranger, by Valarie Kaur

Speaking of deep, while I didn’t expect Mariah’s memoir to be as introspective as it was, I thoroughly expected this book by Sikh-American activist Valarie Kaur to wreck me, challenge me, and build me up again. It did all of that and more. Kaur is someone I respect enormously for her dedication, hard work, and positive imagination in these fraught political times, and reading this work–part memoir, part manifesto, and part meditation–really got my mind right in the midst of all the pandemic gloom and election stress. Highly recommended no matter what spiritual path or political bent you lean towards. Find it here.

3) Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger

It’s rare that I read a novel that hits all of my readerly happy spots–great storytelling, cool characters, grounded in culture and cultural redemption, heavy sci-fi, fantasy, or folklore angle, teaches me things I didn’t know, and lots of fun. Elatsoe hit them all and scratched the itches on a few I didn’t know I had. The story of a 17 year old Apache girl with the ability to call ghosts in a world where that isn’t a particularly weird condition, but not being white still is? Yes, please. I slurped this up like vegan ice cream on a 100-degree day and I’ve been recommending it to everyone who has ever read a book. Get into it here.

4) Battle Ground, by Jim Butcher

Speaking of fun, this is admittedly a weird entry on this list, comparatively speaking. It’s here because it was a fun, escapist popcorn movie of a book. When surrounded by Readers™ and Reading™ it can be easy to forget that reading for pure fun is still a valuable experience. Sure, Harry would not be likable in the real world, the Dresden women are alarmingly sexist creations, and the previous book in the series was kind of a bust. This book blows up a Kraken in the first 20 pages, sets Chicago on fire and lets good and evil duke it out in Millennium Park. The deaths are meaningful, the big damn moments of awesome are pretty damn big and pretty damn awesome and ultimately, I just had a lot of fun in the pages of this one. They don’t all have to be deep. Find it here.

5) Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu

It took me a long time to get a bead on this National Book Award winner about a Taiwanese-American actor living in the space between racial stereotypes in Hollywood. It’s a truly unique novel and while there are times when it reminds me of work by Spike Lee and Paul Beatty, I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like this, at least not so fully realized. It’s imaginative, incisive, critical, and also tugs a few heartstrings. It hit almost all of the same literary buttons as Elatsoe but it’s a lot less joyful. I only gave it 4 stars when I initially reviewed it, but I read it back in July and it really stuck with me in a way that not a lot of books do. Find it here.

Honorable mention: Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

I damned this with faint praise initially because the novel-in-verse structure felt gimmicky for me at first. However, this is another book that really stuck with me long after the last page. Something about Acevedo’s portrayals of immigrant community and the process of loving flawed people entirely really resonated with me. On its face, it’s a simple story of two daughters separated by both an ocean and their father’s duplicity. But I feel like this is a book that will be talked about and remembered for a long time because it says so much more than what its surface story seems to be. Find it here.

According to my reading tracker, 80% of what I read is backlist titles. That said, I did read some good books published this year and I’m pleasantly surprised by the diversity of what I found good. I may do a few more year end retrospective lists. I may also just eat my weight in cheese straws and York peppermint patties over the holidays because pandemic. Only future me knows for sure, but check back here to find out in about a week.

(As always, thanks for reading, beautiful people. If you want to see a list of everything I read this year–backlist included–check out the full shebang HERE. Remember, this blog has affiliate relationships with entities like Bookshop and any purchases you make from links clicked on from this blog may result in a commission being earned. Happy Holidays!)

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