Favorite Books for 2020


This year I read 54 books, a few more than usual. There were periods when I could not read, finding myself  too irritable and critical, and I gave up on a few books I am sure I would have loved in a different time. I read more non-fiction this year than usual (18) and find to my surprise that nearly half of my favorites are non-fiction books.

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. While the first chapter is very hard to read, the rest more than compensated for that pain. It has a unique setting, the remote Russian peninsula Kamchatka, that the author used to remind us that some issues are universal.

The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. This non-fiction book is a loving and open telling of the story of a large family in New Orleans. The yellow house itself told so much about the family and was destroyed by Katrina.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. When I finished this book I had one of those rare moments when I was so overwhelmed by its beauty that tears came to my eyes.  I felt such elation when the full impact of its wonderful structure became evident at the end.

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis. The story of a woman who ran numbers in Detroit for 40 years out of her home is upbeat and loving and pays tribute to a smart, generous woman.

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller. This book is that rare combination of recounting complex ideas along with reinforcing the fundamental truth that love and respect are paramount. Considering taxonomy and its limitations, Darwin’s ideas, and eugenics bring us to the understanding of the value of love and respect.

The Queen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss. A novel that a grandson wrote when he learned that his grandfather had been at a party with Lucille Ball was taken over by the grandmother.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This message written to Coates’ teenage son was beautiful, moving, and brilliant by turns.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. A pregnant teenager who sees the world through the lens of Greek mythology tells this story. Katrina lurks in the background and then, “She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes.”

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. An elderly woman who had suffered with the disease and isolation of  Hansen’s Disease (formerly known as leprosy) teaches us that paying close attention to whatever is in our lives can bring beauty and joy. And that includes making sweet bean paste.

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald. These essays were educational and entertaining, but even more, were uplifting and brought me great joy.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Bennett tells several compelling stories with characters who became people to me while she never lost sight of exploring the human ability to become another person, to change our own stories.

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