Memorable Backlist Books of 2020

Admittedly, I’ve really drug my feet putting together my “best of” lists for 2020. Part of it is that, despite coronavirus, I’ve had some incredible reading this year and it’s overwhelming for me to think about having to break it down. Another part of it is that I am incredibly indecisive and can overthink just about any decision I make (am I the only one with this problem!?)…but I’ve put it off about as long as I can. It’s now or never!

Here’s a rundown of my blog post schedule this week:

If you’d like to catch up on the other “Best of…” posts, here’s the link to 2020 and 2019!

I intentionally focused on backlist this year as part of my participation in Whitney’s Unread Shelf Project, so I couldn’t help but make that a subject for its own post. I will be participating in the project again in 2021 – it was a great way for me to whiddle do the overwhelming amount of books already on my shelf!

What were some backlist books that stood out as memorable for you?

Fiction:

  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
    • This was my introduction to Emezi and I fell for them hard! This novel was incredible – in its uniqueness, in its story, and in its ability to sink into your soul forever. Unlike anything I’ve ever read before, it’s definitely one of the books that stood out the most for me this year!
  • Severance by Ling Ma
    • While it was interesting to read this one alongside an actual pandemic that was taking the world by storm, there’s a lot more to this one than just a dystopian story. Satirical in its take on American culture, I found Ma making pretty accurate correlations which equally humored me and made me incredibly sad. While Ma lent a kind of joking tone to some of the questions she raised in this book, it also had such an element of truth to it that it quickly became quite profound and forced me to do some introspective work.
  • The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
    • This is a story about a family – three daughters and one brother – and what happens with the oldest (and stand-in mother figure to the other siblings), Althea, is sentenced to prison after her husband and her are convicted of a crime. Althea’s daughters, Baby Vi and Kim, are left swirling in the aftermath of their parents’ crime, and the siblings come together to help take care of them as best as they can. Through the transitionary process, deep secrets begin to emerge and old hurts are brought to life.
  • The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh
    • This atmospheric literary mystery had me immersed…not only for the whodunit? aspect, but for the deeper nuances the author explores. It’s not a long book (under 300), but everything about it was perfection!
  • Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum
    • What I learned from this book made my heart hurt. The struggle of true depression must be such a difficult thing to navigate and understand…without a lot of options besides medication (which comes with its own set of negative side effects). Bunny is a character that pulled at my heartstrings. I wanted her to find help so she could life a more happy life – be more appreciative of the life she had. But even Bunny realizes that she should be more content – and therein lies the whole issue with depression.
  • The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero
    • This story really demonstrates the daily life of an undocumented person navigating life in NYC. It’s heartbreaking to know that there are many people living like this in our country, and Rivero’s portrayal of this situation is well done.

Nonfiction:

  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
    • This book is an incredibly fascinating look into the world of a female scientist! I not only learned a lot about the profession, but so much about trees and their contribution to the world. For a topic I’ve barely ever thought about, Jahren creates a narrative that’s as engaging as it is educational.
  • The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
    • I can honestly say that I loved every single essay in this collection of feminist power! This book is also a great example of not having to agree with every aspect of another person’s thoughts and beliefs but still being able to see value in their perspective. I think West is smart and well-articulated and this collection is wonderful. (Also,the audiobook version (read by West herself) is phenomenal!)
  • The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World by Jeff Goodell
    • This book was published a few years ago, so I can’t attest to how the science has stood the test of time, but I was absolutely blown away by the looming consequences of the global warming crisis. It’s not that I’ve been hiding under a rock – I’m surface-level aware of the climate crisis – but this book was well-written and helped me understand the issues much more solidly.
  • Running With Sherman by Christopher McDougall
    •  I LOVED this story of a donkey that changed a community – bringing them all together to participate in a challenging burro race in the mountains of Colorado. This is my second book by McDougall and he proves himself to have a true talent for making narrative nonfiction engaging and consuming!
  • Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
    • I don’t know if this book would have been as impactful in print as it was in audiobook. Jamison reads this story collection herself and there was something quite compelling about hearing it in her own voice; I was totally immersed in this book!
  • Catch & Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
    • This book shocked me, it creeped me out, and it made me angry! Farrow’s account of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory years as a producer in Hollywood. The audiobook is an entire experience and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor multiple times throughout this wild ride!

Memoir:

  • From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke
    • I could smell the pasta sauce bubbling on the stove as I read this heartbreaking, yet incredibly hopeful, memoir of Locke navigating life without her beloved husband. Rich with details – from the smells, to the sights and sounds – this is an immersive book and an honest look at the grief process.
  • Me by Elton John
    • Tell-all celebrity memoirs can go either way – either full of juicy details the reader can’t get enough of or just a bunch of mundane name-dropping that bores one to tears. Happily, Elton John writes one of the best celebrity memoirs I’ve read. It’s such a tell-all that I often wondered if Elton John would have friends after this book was published. I have always loved Elton John and this book was an intimate look into his fame-filled (and wild) life!
  • Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz
    • Díaz’ childhood was difficult. Her parents divorced, she moved from Puerto Rico to Miami Beach, she lived in neighborhoods where kids carried guns. She went to jail for stabbing her brother, and she struggled to find and embrace her true identity. But for all those things that feel hard and heavy, there’s also a sense of survival and hope. Díaz is just one of those types of people that have seen a lot and come out better for it. (Trigger warnings abound, so proceed with caution!)

Romance:

  • The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
    • This was such a great escape. Tucker describes Alaska in such vivid detail, there were times I felt like I was actually in The Last Frontier myself! I loved the developing relationship between Calla and Jonah and I can’t wait to revisit them and continue their story soon!

YA Fiction:

  • Lovely War by Julie Berry
    • This is one of the most unique premises for a book I’ve ever read – the narrators of the story are a rich cast of Greek mythological characters. The book is set during The Great War (WWI) and it follows two couples and the hardships they must endure while trying to navigate a world at conflict. It has romance, friendship, strength, and survival…weaving it all together in the most beautiful way.
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
    • Jackson created a story that grabbed me from the first page. It totally reminded me of Darling Rose Gold, but Allegedly is SO MUCH BETTER! My only complaint is that I found the ending was a little messy and a lot underwhelming. But leading up to that point…I could not put it down!
  • A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
    • The book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast (though I’ve never seen the movie so I can’t say how closely it follows the storyline or if that even matters), and I loved every page of it. All the characters – main and secondary – are incredibly well-written. I loved the world of Ironrose, and the fantasy/conflict aspect was well executed!

10 thoughts on “Memorable Backlist Books of 2020

  1. All of your nonfiction picks sound so good to me! I loved The Witches Are Coming and I’ve been meaning to get to Lab Girl since it came out, hopefully this year finally. The Water Will Come sounds scary but necessary, and I’m not as well versed in the more granular details of the climate crisis so that sounds like a good place to start. Wonderful list, I love how varied your reading was!

    Liked by 1 person

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