Armchair Travels

2020 Book Wrap Up

I beat my reading goal again this year! Huzzah! 66 books down. I guess being unemployed during a pandemic makes for more reading time. 🙂 Though, I also binged a TON of TV, so I could have read more, but alas. 
A few quick facts about the books I read this year:

Out of 66 books….
23 were fiction (35%)
43 were non-fiction (65%)
25 were audio books
44 were written by women
20 were written by men
2 were written by nonbinary/gender queer authors
17 were written by POC
12 were written by LGBTQ+ authors

Next year, I’m going to try to even out my fiction/nonfiction ratios, closer to 50-50, and have a few books from my school days that I’m considering revisiting. In general, though, I want to continue expanding my horizons in subject matter, diversity of authors, and of work translated into English (this year, only book was translated (from Yiddish to English) but was still written by an American). And because I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fiction I’ve read outside of my usual genres, I will continue to try new things (though will likely still read many sci fi, YA, and mystery novels since those tend to give me the most fictional satisfaction).

People often ask what was my “favorite” read of the year, but that’s an impossible question for me. Some books that provide an unforgettable reading experience aren’t necessarily books I would ever read again or recommend to many people. Some books that I love or that resonate with me on deep levels don’t come close to being ‘favorites’ or ‘desert island’ choices. 

Instead of trying to identify any ‘favorites’, I’m going to highlight a few books that really stuck with me long after I finished them, books that made me think or completely reexamine longhand beliefs, or that completely absorbed me in the storytelling.

So here are my “favorite” reads of 2020, the ones that left the most lasting impression on me, broken down by category. (You can see all 66 books in my Book Review post.)

Category: Memoir

Winner: Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Runner-up: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Picking just ONE memoir to highlight is tough; it might just be my favorite nonfiction genre. Out of all of the ones I read, these are the two that I find myself recommending to other people the most because they both are incredibly well written, tell relatable stories of change (even if you haven’t gone through the exact same thing) and provide self-reflective lessons for the readers to ponder. Highly recommend both, but if you can only read one, go with Untamed. 

Category: History Made Fun

Winner: Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright

Runner-up: You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe

Reading a book about history’s plagues and just how badly humans have handled previous pandemics DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC in which humans were not handling things all that well was perhaps a bit on the nose and could have backfired. But Wright’s book was irreverent and funny and fascinating and disgusting and inspiring and just so so so good. I want all history books to be THIS much fun.  Similarly, Coe manages to infuse the presidential biography genre with irreverent humor, bringing a fresh perspective to a topic I would never usually find interesting. I was surprised to have enjoyed this as much as I did and would definitely read another history/biography from her.

Category: Mind-Changing Nonfiction

Winner: For the Love of Men by Liz Plank

Runner-up: Talking Back, Talking Black by John McWhorter

I love nonfiction so much because I want to learn about *everything*! But I also think it’s important to read things that offer differing perspectives on topics that you already know a lot about. Plank’s book, For the Love of Men, examines toxic masculinity from a variety of angles searching for its origins, laying out why we must face the daunting task of challenging society’s dysfunctional definitions of maleness, ultimately making the argument that redefining masculinity is a feminist issue. I learned so much from this deeply researched book and have completely shifted my mindset about many of the included topics, reconsidering my own biases and assumptions. Similarly, McWhorter’s short but powerful examination of Black English completely reframed the history and linguistic structure of the dialect for me, and in my opinion successfully argues that Black English is its own separate language variety (rather than a “degradation” of Standard American English). Both of these books are written in a very accessible way, though they do both lean into research and get nerdy about stats and linguistics/syntax respectively. 

Category: Bill Bryson Nonfiction

Winner: At Home

I read three Bill Bryson books this year (The Body, 1927, and At Home) and loved all of them so much, but if I had to pick just ONE to recommend to others, it would be At Home. A romp through (mostly English) Western history using the house as a structure, giving you broad-strokes history lessons about an insanely wide range of topics, including many you would never have thought about if he hadn’t mentioned it. Lots of wonderful party trivia and random anecdotes delivered in Bryson’s signature wit! 

Category: Romance

Winner: Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Runner-up: Get a Life, Chloe Brown

I read a LOT of romance this year, a genre that I usually skip past. But in a dumpster fire year, I needed lighthearted and hopeful and all of the romance I read gave me that, without being trivial or saccharine. Casey McQuiston’s was my favorite of the bunch: LOL funny, super sexy, KILLER dialogue, the sweetest love story ever, and an interesting political subplot that keeps the pages turning.

Category: Overall Fiction

Winner: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

If there was one fictional story that worked its way deep into my heart, filling the Firefly sized hole with a lovable ensemble cast with a fun sci fi universe, it’s this one. This one hit me in all the feels, and made me ache for MORE stories in this universe with these characters. (Sadly, the other books in the series don’t follow the same characters.) This will become a reread for me (a rare distinction). 

RUNNER UPS: 

Non fiction that I want every person to read:

  1. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
  2. The Fate of Food by Amanda Little
  3. Wordslut by Amanda Montell

Fiction that I still think about:

  1. Followers by Megan Angelo
  2. Sadie by Courtney Summers
  3. A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab

What did YOU read this year? What were your favorites!? What was the most surprising read that you loved? What was the worst book you read this year? What book changed YOUR mind about something? What subject did you learn a lot about this year through nonfiction? Do you read more fiction or nonfiction? Tell me about your armchair travels! What will you read in 2021?

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