Book Reviews

Top 5 Fiction and Non-Fiction Reads of 2020

Happy holidays to you all. Last year I did a post on my top five fiction and non-fiction reads of 2019 and I wanted to continue the tradition. I love my goodreads account because it helps me track what I’ve read for the year and also for my entire life, which is kind of fun. I like a lot of different books. I’m big on romance novels, non-fiction, biographies, contemporary adult fiction, etc. I mean I will literally read anything as seen below. Here are my top five favorite books I read this year split into fiction and non-fiction. These are in no particular order. Let me know your favorites!

Top Five Fiction Books

Sing, Unburied, Sign by Jesmyn Ward

I’ve read Jesmyn Ward’s non-fiction before, but never her fictional work. I was enthralled by this one. “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill anchors Ward’s tale to Mississippi today, which is almost indistinguishable from its notorious yesterday, a present and past (ironically) made more alive in the novel by ghosts and where everyone suffers from the cancers of buried sins. On Jojo’s 13th birthday, while Mam is dying and Pop struggles to keep everyone safe, Leonie plans a road trip to the prison to pick up Michael, Jojo and baby Kayla’s father. It’s The Odyssey meets the Delta blues meets William Faulkner and Toni Morrison and some ineffable something that is Jesmyn Ward’s own magic.”

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

I ventured into middle grade fiction this year just for this book and I am so glad I did! This is a very short read, all in verse, about a son, and his father who is suffering from major memory loss due to his professional football career. It is reminiscent of those who have read Ellen Hopkins fictional story telling poetry. “Jacqueline Woodson brings us into the life of 12-year-old ZJ, whose father is a beloved football star. But after years of professional head-bashing, something is terribly wrong: he now has headaches, memory loss, and mood swings. With the help of his mother and good friends, ZJ faces his father’s decline. An important and heartfelt prose poem.”

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

This book pulled me in right away. It’s fiction, but it covers real historic events I didn’t even know about until I read it. I first read Lisa See in college with ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’, but hadn’t read other works from her since. I loved this one so much that I’m off to read more of her works. “Off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island is home to generations of haenyo—women who take their living from both land and sea and call the shots in their matriarchal society. Young-sook and Mi-ja are best friends in the 1930s, learning to dive with their all-female collective while their island suffers under Japanese colonialism. Lisa See follows them as they grow up under Japanese rule, into WWII, to the Korean War and its devastating aftermath, and into the 21st century. The Island of Sea Women is not only a story of friendship found, lost, and found again, but also a richly detailed picture of a unique culture of women in a world spinning out of control. Amazing detail and presence.”

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This is one of my favorite books of all time now. How had I never read Ann Patchett before this? The writing style is so dreamy and the story itself pulls you right in. I highlighted so many passages in this book that spoke so deeply to me while reading it. Highly recommend! Can’t wait to read more of Patchett’s work. “Meeting the Conroy family and stepping into their elaborate Dutch house—part museum, part home, with all its secrets and charm, comfort and sadness—enthralled me as the mystery unfolded like a gentle call to arms. From poverty to wealth and from wealth to poverty, we see through Danny’s eyes the struggle to hold the family together against grief, greed, and the heartbreak of losing all that once bound them. Patchett paints a masterpiece here; there’s no looking away. It lingers in your imagination long after the story has been told.”

Death is Hard work by Khaled Khalifa

This was such an interesting fictionalized account of one family’s quest to drive across country with their dead father to bury him during a very real civil war. If you haven’t read anything on Syria this is a great book to guide you toward empathy with the people of Syria. “Khaled Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work is the new novel from the greatest chronicler of Syria’s ongoing and catastrophic civil war: a tale of three ordinary people facing down the stuff of nightmares armed with little more than simple determination.

Top Five Non-Fiction Books

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

If you are white and are looking to educate yourself on racism, this is the book. A great way to check your privilege and written by an anti-racist educator. “In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book”, antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.’

Shit, Actually: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema by Lindy West

This was my most enjoyable read by far. I had so much fun reading this one and laughed through the entire thing. If you haven’t heard of Lindy West (creator of Shrill, author of Shrill and The Witches Are Coming), this book is a great introduction. “In Shit, Actually, Lindy returns to those roots, re-examining beloved and iconic movies from the past 40 years with an eye toward the big questions of our time: Is Twilight the horniest movie in history? Why do the zebras in The Lion King trust Mufasa-WHO IS A LION-to look out for their best interests? Why did anyone bother making any more movies after The Fugitive achieved perfection? And, my god, why don’t any of the women in Love, Actually ever fucking talk?!?!”

Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird

This was my favorite memoir I read this year. Like many others in the Harry Potter fandom, I am furious at J.K. Rowling’s misunderstanding of the transgender community. Her beliefs are hurtful to transgender people, and in particular those transgender people who grew up loving and respecting her and her work. I’d been searching for answers on how to move forward in the fandom when I came across this book. Jackson is a huge harry potter fan and has been his whole life even doing work with the HP Alliance in the past. Jackson is funny, honest, and has a fascinating story to tell about his journey. Would highly recommend this book. “An unflinching and endearing memoir from LGBTQ+ advocate Jackson Bird about how he finally sorted things out and came out as a transgender man. When Jackson was twenty-five, he came out as transgender to his friends, family, and anyone in the world with an internet connection. Assigned female at birth and raised as a girl, he often wondered if he should have been born a boy. Jackson didn’t share this thought with anyone because he didn’t think he could share it with anyone. Illuminated by journal entries spanning childhood to adolescence to today, he candidly recalls the challenges and loneliness he endured as he came to terms with both his gender and his bisexual identity.”

The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek died on my birthday this year (thanks again for that 2020). I knew he was dying, I knew his illness would be what killed him, and it really was just a matter of when. In February this year, I called in a sick day and flew down to LA in the morning and watched a live taping of Jeopardy! with my Dad, then flew back the same day. It was exhausting but worth it 1000%. I am so glad we did this as Jeopardy is a big part of what we share together. This week Trebek’s final episodes will air and it’s just heartbreaking to me. I grew up watching Alex and I still watch him 5 days a week at 7pm sharp. This memoir was great though. There was so much I didn’t know about Alex’s early life. It’s a quick read and I highly recommend it.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

If you’ve read anything on this site before you’ll know I’ve been venturing into minimalism the past two years. Up until the point of reading this book I was mostly focused on physical minimalism. Wardrobe, home, etc. I deleted Facebook last year and have also talked about how to minimize time spent on phones, but hadn’t really done any research on that digital side before. I was just doing what I thought was best. This book is great though. Not only does it go through the whole social media bad, outdoors good, but it also gives you really great tips on how to accomplish less digital time. I’ve learned about app time limits (which I now have set on all my social media applications) as well as screen down time settings for the work day which has helped me be more productive all around. If you’re appalled by your weekly screen time report that your phone gives you, this might be the book for you. I was averaging 5+ hours a day, and since reading this I’m down to 1.5. Which still seems like a lot right? But I’ve really noticed a difference in my mental health. You would be surprised by what your average screen time is I am sure. I know I was. This book also encouraged me to turn off all apps and notifications when I’m watching a movie or tv show and it has made a huge difference in my attention span and in being present. I recommend this book for anyone wanting to test out a new type of minimalism.

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