My Top 10 Books of 2020

It’s finally here! The day I announce my Top 10 Books of the Year! If you’d like to catch up on the other “Best of…” posts, here’s the link to 2020 and 2019!

Choosing my Top 10 this year proved to be more difficult than I was anticipating. While there are a few absolute standouts, after that, the waters became murkier and I changed this list several times before deciding to settle on the books before you.

Ultimately, I’m happy with my final selections. I think they really highlight my overall reading tastes this year – a focus on antiracist reading, complicated characters that are struggling to understand themselves and the world they’re trying to fit into, and stories that challenged me and changed my way of thinking.

Something else that’s never happened in my past Top 10 Lists: a backlist title made my final list! Because I’m such an avid reader, I’m usually pretty particular that my Top 10 only consist of titles released in that year, but Freshwater so completely blew me out of the water that the list didn’t feel authentic without its inclusion!

My Absolute Favorite Book of the Year:

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Sportcoat walks into the courtyard of the Cause Houses Housing Project and kills the project’s drug dealer in broad daylight. From that point forward, McBride introduces us to a wide cast of the most delightful characters!

Set in 1969 in Brooklyn, New York, McBride shows us how the shooting affect the people of the neighborhood: the victim, the residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself. Everybody is touched by the shooting in one way or the other, and McBride shows us that his cast of characters are flawed, but real and honest and so incredibly beautiful.

After I finished, I immediately wanted to flip the book back to the first page and start reading all it over again! Deacon King Kong will happily live on my All-Time Favorites Shelf…and I’d be shocked if it EVER gets knocked off!

A Very Close Second Place (That Also Happens to Be a Backlist Book By My New Favorite New-To-Me-Author):

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

This book flipped me upside down! It literally was a paradigm shift in my consciousness. I can’t ever remember being affected by a book SO MUCH! I can’t wait to reread it and see if it’s as impactful the second time around as it was the first. 

Timely Nonficiton That Reflected Life in 2020:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

I’ve already talked about this book in my The Top Nonfiction Books of 2020, but suffice it to say that I think this should be required reading in high schools and colleges across the country!

A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett

I also talked about this in my Nonfiction Books of 2020 post, but A Knock at Midnight is a perfect companion read to Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. They talk about the same injustices of our judicial system and tackle social justice issues in a way that’s educational and inspirational.

The One I Can’t Get Out of My Head:

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Mentioned in My Favorite BOTM Selection of 2020 postBetty is one of those types of characters that weave themselves into your very being. The book is full of heavy topics (rape, incest, generational trauma, racism, and extreme family dysfunction), but those always end up being my absolute favorite types of reading! Given that the story was based on the author’s mother’s life, the story rose to a whole other level. I aboslutely loved Betty, but I equally loved her father, Landon. In fact, the whole Carpenter clan left a mark on me and I won’t soon forget any of them or their stories.

The One That Deserved Waaaaay More Attention:

Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

I was blown away by this debut novel!! The writing is lyrical…I read this book so slowly because I truly wanted to savor West’s beautiful writing. I can’t say enough good things about this book…I was deeply touched by the depth of each of the characters, how lies and secrets continually shook up these two families and affected several generations, and the life-changing strength a loyal friend can be for someone. I also love when inanimate objects are characters in the book – and West’s incorporation of the Church’s all-seeing and all-knowing ways added an element to the book that would have been hard to achieve any other way. 

The One That I Wanted To Hug When I Finished It:

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

I fell for Casey, the main character, hard! She’s 31, an aspiring writer, and reeling in grief over the loss of her mother. Her relationship with her father is strained and the general consensus is CASEY IS STRUGGLING! But she’s likable and I immediately wanted all good things for her. She was relatable. I also adored the writing aspect of this story…how much work goes into creating a book and getting it published. I think all readers can really appreciate the labor of love a book must be and this part of Casey’s passion was beautiful to me. This was my second book by Lily King and I think she really shows her true talent as an author because the two books were equally as good, but so very different from each other. I can’t wait to read her next book!

The One That Read Like Nonfiction:

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa is not for the faint of heart! It’s dark and gritty, and at times, it’s very tough to read. But what I appreciated the most about this book is the way Russell demonstrates an abuser’s ability to manipulate and groom their victims, the lifelong impact sexual abuse can have on a person, and the odd way some victims come to sympathize with their abusers. Told in alternating timelines, we’re able to see the lasting effect of trauma on a person – and that is part of the brillance of the entire book. Strane (the abuser) capitalized on Vanessa’s isolation and loneliness. He made her feel desired, beautiful, and somehow different than her peers. Combined with Vanessa being away from her parents and attending boarding school, Strane’s attention hurled her into a terrifying spiral of destruction. As a mother to a teenage daughter, this book terrified me and helped open my eyes to the red flags that Vanessa’s mom didn’t see or chose to dismiss. This would make an excellent book club choice because there is A LOT to discuss! (Obvious trigger warnings abound, proceed with caution.)

The One I Had to Revise My Rating For:

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

My initial reaction to Real Life related it to Normal People (a book I didn’t like, but find that I can’t stop reflecting back on it), so I think I kind of dismissed it. But as time has passed, I find myself thinking of Wallace and the various thoughts that arose from his stream of consciousnesses. Real Life was deeply touching and it moved me in ways I find hard to articulate. Through this deep character study, Taylor shows the nuance of racism and how society treats men of color. Many characters highlight this and Taylor does a good job of telling that part of the story without interfering. This is another book that highlights the problematic behavior of our current cultural, social, and political climate.

Just for fun, I thought I’d remind you of the books I chose for my Halfway Top 10 Books:

There is a little bit of overlap (Saving Ruby King, The Vanishing Half, Writers & Lovers, and My Dark Vanessa). I like the fact that I can almost evenly divide my favorites in half by the first and last six months of the year because it makes me feel like my reading is even. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but for me, it’s a good feeling!

What were some of the books that defined your reading this year? I’d love to hear!!

7 thoughts on “My Top 10 Books of 2020

  1. Caste and A Knock at Midnight are both on my list. I want to read the latter even more if you’re recommending it as a companion read to Just Mercy because that’s one of my favorites. Great list and glad you had such a good reading year!

    Liked by 1 person

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