Top 25 Books of 2020

I read over 200 books this year and I’d like to take a moment to reflect and highlight 25 of my favorite reads (in no particular order). This was an especially difficult list to curate since I read so many awesome books! From romance to historical to literary, these books carry a diversity of engaging plots and complex characters (and I did my best to highlight some specific favorites from each genre). I chose each piece based not only on their execution, but also their personal effect on me, so this entirely my own opinion as well!

Reading Challenges Completed:

All photos and title links go to Goodreads.

Notable Mentions: The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho, Feminism for the 99% by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu, Colonize This! edited by Daisy Hernandez & Bushra Rehman, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, Blood Sisters by Kim Yideum, Brute by Emily Skaja, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee, Life of the Party by Olivia Gatewood, The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver, The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Frida in America by Celia Stahr, Disability Visibility collected by Alice Wong, Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett,The Henna Wars by Adina Jaigirdar, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, As Long as Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Educated by Tara Westover, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, The Little Old Lady Killer by Susana Vargas Cervantes, The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

It seemed, at times, that this was the only way the world would be remade as the heroes had dreamed: one woman holds another woman, and she in turn lifts the world.

Short description: Five women navigate their sexuality, relationships, and aspirations during an oppressive government regime in 1970s Uruguay.

Critic Quote: “In this way, De Robertis’s storytelling feels trauma-informed, even healing-centered.” – Lambda Literary

Why You Should Read This Book: Heart-breaking and heart-mending, De Robertis is able to access and reveal the complex stories of these women with incredible empathy and beauty.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story, too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Short Description: A chronicle of the lineage of two Ghanian half-sisters beginning in the 1700s, one who escapes the ravages of slavery and one who does not, and how their winding paths separate and converge.

Critic Quote: “In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.” – NPR

Why You Should Read This Book: An absolute must-read! Awe-inducing in its scope and grasp of precise characterization simultaneously.

Full Review HERE

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

No matter how sore the injury

Has left you, you sit understanding

Yourself as a human being finally

Free now that nobody’s got to love you.

Short Description: A gorgeous collection of poetry centering on black masculinity, sexuality, and violence.

Critic Quote:The Tradition is a major step forward for the poet; the collection is assured in its handling of autobiography and public history, as well as in its formal variety and play. It’s a collection full of ghosts, a complex and multifaceted Liebestod; its images, figures, and statements draw close and fade away, haunting its reader.” – LARB

Why You Should Read This Book: Sharp and lush at the same time, I’d definitely recommend this collection to everyone for its quality and accessibility.

Full Review HERE

Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions by Briallen Hopper

To give us back to one another—there lies the great, the singular power of learning to lean on others. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: One runs away to find love, and finds only oneself.

Short Description: Hopper examines the many manifestations of non-romantic love, the importance of forming and relying on one’s many relationships, and how these observations developed throughout the scope of her own life.

Critic Quote: “Part of what Hopper does so artfully in her work is to disrupt the foregone narrative conclusions imposed on American women by 21st-century late capitalism.” – LA Review of Books

Why You Should Read This Book: Powerful, skillfully crafted, and moving, Hopper’s essays are a must-read for all!!!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

You think this is a big deal because, no offense, you’ve had a lot of people in your life who claimed to care about you but didn’t act like it. That’s not me. I can cook, and right now, you can’t. So I’m doing it for you because that’s how people should behave; they should fill in each other’s gaps. Don’t think about it too hard.

Short Description: After a brush with death, Chloe Brown decides to take her life by the reins and create a list of things to achieve, asking for the help of (and perhaps falling for) her superintendent along the way.

Critic Quote: “Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a tour-de-force romance that tackles tough problems like insecurity and chronic pain while still delivering a laugh-out-loud love story full of poignant revelations about human nature.” – NPR

Why You Should Read This Book: A light-hearted romantic read starring characters with emotional depth and electric chemistry.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. Van der Kolk

When people are compulsively and constantly pulled back into the past, to the last time they felt intense involvement and deep emotions, they suffer from a failure of imagination, a loss of the mental flexibility. Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.

Short Description: A well-researched and extensive study of how trauma impacts people’s physiology.

Critic Quote: “Van der Kolk’s book is informed by years of practice, research, speaking engagements, collaboration, and experiment, and is written in an easy-to-follow style . . .Van der Kolk’s 2014 book provides the reader with an excellent account of the effects of trauma.” – Journal of Loss and Trauma

Why You Should Read This Book: Yes, this book is well-researched and accessible, but more than that, it’s written with evident empathy making it a wholly unique book – highly recommend.

See full review HERE

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

And, as the Migration spread the issue of race relations across the United States, forcing the entire country to face its centuries-old demons, it also helped inspire and pressure other racial regimes such as that of South Africa and, thus, was a gift to other parts of the world.

Short Description: A historical look at the history of the Great Migration, observed through the lives of three different individuals.

Critic Quote: “The Warmth of Other Suns shows how hope can get people through the most intense situations, but action is required to make them something more than a dream.” – The Guardian

Why You Should Read This Book: WOW! Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of the Great Migration, but Wilkerson’s ability to make history vividly intimate and present is something to admire.

See full review HERE

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings

Discussion about racialized and gendered fat/slender bodies circulated largely in elite white spaces… They served as a mechanism for white men and women to denigrate the racially Othered body. They also worked to police and applaud the “correct” behaviors of other white people, especially White women.

Short Description: A thorough history of western fat phobia and its basis in othering and oppressing black women.

Critic Quote: “This fascinating and carefully constructed argument persuasively establishes a heretofore unexplored connection between racism and Western standards for body size, making it a worthy contribution to the social sciences.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Why You Should Read This Book: Comprehensive, well-researched, and educational, this book is a must read for anyone – especially those who are new to casually reading academic texts.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

The history of Asian Americans is lastly a history of America in a global age. Like many Americans today, Asian Americans live transnational lives and form their identities across national borders.

Short Description: A historical account of the impact, struggles, and legacy of Asian Americans of various origins.

Critic Quote: “A powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.” – Kirkus Review

Why You Should Read This Book: Factual but engaging, this is a great addition to anyone’s knowledge base on U.S. History.

Full Review Here

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

What if you were alone? All the books and blogs catered to couples. What about the rest of us, who were alone and planned to stay that way? Who has the right to have a child? Does not having a partner or not wanting to have sex nullify this right?

Short Description: A thirty-something Japanese woman considers her views on womanhood and motherhood as she interacts with her family, co-workers, and friends.

Critic Quote: “Kawakami lays open a wealth of philosophical ideas, and writes with a clean, lively directness that evokes the unruly creativity of the Osaka dialect. ” –  The Japan Times

Why You Should Read This Book: Thoughtful and well-written, this book is a must-read, especially for those interested in translated fiction.

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

If I die in police custody, know that they killed me. If I die in police custody, show up at the jail, make noise, protest, tell my mother. If I die in police custody, tell the entire world: I wanted to live.

Short Description: BLM co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors narrates her childhood and growth as an activist against police brutality and racism.

Critic Quote: “Love here is imagined as a political force in addition to an interpersonal one, and the two aspects are joined in the fear and protective drive for those we care about deeply that keeps us going when we might not be able to persevere for ourselves alone, that keeps us committed to a collective future even when it may be difficult to imagine ours individually.” – The Georgia Review

Why You Should Read This Book: ESSENTIAL READING! This was an excellent memoir and I highly recommend it.

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

Life is so much more complicated than I ever imagined, and nothing is as easy as it seems. We meet at the border of mutual attraction and repulsion, and between us is a row of thorns. The two of us … have been ravaged, yet no one can walk away. Tell me, is love – along with honesty, patience, and determination – strong enough? Is it?

Short Description: A group of Taiwanese LGBTQ young adults must navigate graduating college, tumultuous relationships, and facing a world unable to accept them.

Critic Quote: “The is an important work that explores the liberation of gender during a time when anything behind a façade of hetrosexuality in Taiwan was still considered taboo. Candid and creative, Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin is a classic of Taiwanese contemporary literature that stirs the imagination as it confronts social inequities of gender and sexuality.” – Asian Review of Books

Why You Should Read This Book: A ground-breaking text in Taiwanese LGBTQ literature, this book is necessary read for all. Though the end drags on a bit, I highly enjoyed this book and found myself highlighting scores and scores of paragraphs.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

I am doing my best to not become a museum of myself.

I am doing my best to breathe in and out.

I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.

But in an American room of one hundred people, I am Native American—less than one, less than whole—I am less than myself.

Only a fraction of a body, let’s say, I am only a hand— and when I slip it beneath the shirt of my lover I disappear completely.

Short Description: A collection of poetry focusing on indigenous rights and struggles.

Critic Quote: “Here, Diaz revels in one of the greatest marks of her poetic genius: her move from realism to the fantastic made real, bound and anchored by theme, language, metaphor and allusion.” –NPR

Why You Should Read This Book: Masterfully constructed, memorable, and visually rich, this is a poetry collection you must pick up!

Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha

Disability Justice allowed me to understand that me writing from my sickbed wasn’t me being weak or uncool or not a real writer but a time-honoured crip creative practice. And that understanding allowed me to finally write from a disabled space, for and about sick and disabled people, including myself, without feeling like I was writing about boring, private things that no one would understand.

Short Description: A rich text that dissects a variety of aspects surrounding disability justice and experiences as well as how disability intersects with race, gender, sexuality, and class.

Critic Quote: “Written very accessibly, these essays cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on the ways that disabled people, particularly those also marginalised due to race, gender, sexuality and class, work to help each other survive through ‘care webs’, when the state and non-disabled people will not provide care, or when the existing systems do more to harm than help. This book is full of both eloquent personal reflection on what it’s like to live as a chronically ill person of colour, and hard-won practical experience and wisdom about community organising.” –Spoonie Hacker

Why You Should Read This Book: An essential text on disability justice – dense with knowledge and empathy and a book I’ll be reading again and again and again and again.

Read full review HERE

Disfured:On Fairytales,Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc

Give me a story about a disabled man or woman who learns to navigate the world and teaches the world, in turn, to navigates its own way around the disabled body. Give me power and also weakness, struggle but also reams of joy. Our lives are made of this fabric–our stories deserve nothing less.

Short Description: An analysis of how disability is represented (or more accurately, misrepresented) in various European fairytales, interlaced with the author’s childhood.

Critic Quote: “Read this smart, tenacious book.” –The Washington Post

Why You Should Read This Book: A bit circuitous at times, but an overall insightful and well-written exploration of ableism in European fairytales. I especially enjoyed how the author wove her own adolescence with her analysis and found her dissection of The Little Mermaid, The Maiden with No Hands, and Beaty and the Beast expertly done

Read full review HERE

Dietland by Sarai Walker

We can’t hide it or fake it. We’ll never fit society’s idea for how women should look and behave, but why is that a tragedy? We’re free to live how we want. It’s liberating, if you choose to see it that way.

Short Description: The electric tale of how a plus-size advice columnist’s pursuit of weight loss intersects with a radical feminist terrorist organization that seeks to take revenge on rapists, abusers, etc.

Critic Quote: “Disguised as a light chick-lit novel about body image, Sarai Walker’s debut is scathing about the images to which women have tied their value and worth.” –The Guardian

Why You Should Read This Book: I was expecting a bit more from the ending, but overall this is a fantastic, electric read.

Last Night with the Earl by Kelly Bowen

Beauty can be found everywhere, should you only look. It is not a finite commodity. It changes with time and circumstance to become something new and different, but no less valuable. Your aunt is no less beautiful now than she was fifty years ago.

Short Description: After a disastrous parting, a haunted earl returns to his home to find it leased to a women’s academy where a past love now teaches art, unsealing old feelings and deep wounds.

Critic Quote: Last Night with the Earl is one of those books that, when upon finishing, made me wonder why the hell I waited so long to read it in the first place. It’s rich in emotional development and has one of the wittiest heroines I’ve ever read.” –Smart Bitches Trashy Books

Why You Should Read This Book: Some pacing issues, but otherwise a sweeping, emotionally rich, romantic read (perhaps now one of my favorite romances).

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

But that evening, sitting alone in my cabin, I didn’t yet indulge in such thoughts. I didn’t weep, I didn’t touch my bottle of rum, I only thought that the door of grief is never shut.

Short Description: This story follows the Guadeloupe lineage of a group of women as they find their own unique paths during a time of historical and social change within their country.

Critic Quote: “Any course on women or black writers of the western hemisphere will be enriched by its inclusion.” –Scholar’s Compass

Why You Should Read This Book: Absolutely breathtaking, masterful descriptions that astonish even through translation. Highly recommend.

Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World by Kumari Jayawardena

Many people in the Third World are not aware that their countries have a history of active feminism, or of early movements for women’s emancipation, that were supported both by women and men reformers.

Short Description: A series of short histories on the coinciding rise of nationalism during pre and post-colonial Middle-eastern and Asian countries (and Egypt) and how anti-imperialist and feminist revolutions intertwined during these time periods. 

Critic Quote: “More than three decades after it first came out, the book remains the best introduction to the history of women’s movements in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. It takes us into the lives and ideas of a host of women and men who sought reform and revolutionary transformation. Their stories leap from the page.” –The Guardian

Why You Should Read This Book: Literally one of my favorite books on global feminisms ever . . . it took me over a year to read but only because it’s so dense with valuable information. I highly encourage anyone interested in learning more about feminism in general to read this deeply informative text. Jayawardena’s language may not be flowery, but it’s easy to follow and efficient in relaying complex histories and politics.

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

I go to them now as though it was always meant to be, as though the very day that my mother birthed me, she had chosen me to live life eternal, among the children of the deep blue sea, those who have escaped the chains of slavery to form a world beneath the heavens and the blood-drenched earth where you live.

Short Description: A collection of loosely connected stories centered on Haitian women through history in Haiti and the USA.

Critic Quote: “As we become familiar with Danticat’s characters, moved and pained by the seemingly increasing distance between their hopes and their lived reality, we are forced to realize that it is the actions of other humans that have created such painful experiences.  Not all of Danticat’s characters survive; in fact, many do not.  But what continues to remain is the spirit of hope, the determination to hold on to what it really means to be Haitian, even after one has escaped to the United States.” –Teaching Latin America Through Literature

Why You Should Read This Book: An excellent collection of short stories – each was powerful and memorable in their own right. I will be eagerly reading more of Danticat’s writing in the future and highly recommend this book to others.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

I mean, think about it. Our childhood memories are about murder and mayhem. How many others can’t bear their own thoughts?

Short Description: Five Indigenous children endure the brutality of Canada’s residential schools in the 1950s-60s and must learn to face and make sense of life beyond it.

Critic Quote: “This book is a must-read for everyone in Canada so that we all can begin to understand and respond to the intergenerational impacts the residential school system has had not just on the students and their children but on the entire country.” –Miramichi Reader

Why You Should Read This Book: Absolutely outstanding. Each character was vividly and artfully written – superb structure and emotionally devastating. Definitely pick this book up!

Full Review HERE

Jezebel Unhinged by Tamura Lomax

The problem is also that, though black Americans have historically been interpreted as ‘problem people,’ reifying diasporic subjectivities into an undifferentiated mass of difference and second-class citizenship, the problematizing of black femaleness, womanhood, femininity, and sexuality within black religion and black popular culture as the difference within black difference attempts to not unhinge but breathe immortal air into jezebel and other tropes.

Short Description: A highly detailed analysis on misogyny (or in this case, misongynior) in the Black Church and how it works, and how it harms Black women and LGBTQ+ people.

Critic Quote: “Lomax’s writing is undeniably scholarly. The notes for each of the book’s seven chapters are extensive, and its bibliography is gratifying and dense. However, Jezebel Unhinged is still readable, accessible, and provocative.” –Foreword Reviews

Why You Should Read This Book: Incredible, insightful, and wonderfully fresh. 100% recommend for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of Black feminism.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliot

In this age, the natural world is spared only if it can be photographed; if its beauty can be sold; if it doesn’t get in the way of more pipelines and more profit.

Short Description: A series of essays on the intersections of Indigineity and mental illness, colonization, sexual assault, food, photography, and more.

Critic Quote: “The author is not inclined to shrug off such things, and her larger views on the treatment of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian and American governments and critiques of racism, sexism, and other such offenses are well thought through and elegantly argued.” –Kirkus Reviews

Why You Should Read This Book: An absolutely fantastic collection of essays. Highly recommend.

The Rape of Nanking
by Iris Chang

Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.

Short Description: A historical account of the destruction and horrific massacre of Nanking leading up to WWII, all recounted from a variety of perspectives, articles, interviews, diaries, etc.

Critic Quote: “Chang, a Chinese-American, has written a searing account of the sack of Nanking. . . . Although it is clear that she is passionate about the subject, Chang gives a balanced account.” – HistoryNet

Why You Should Read This Book: Devastating to read, but expertly written, organized, and presented.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat
by Aubrey Gordon

Fat people are frequently spoken about or at, but we’re rarely heard. Instead, bodies and experiences like mine become caricatured and symbolic, either as a kind of effigy or as a pornography of suffering. Bodies and experiences like mine are rarely allowed to just be ours.

Short Description: A searing series of intersectional essays on fatphobia in the US, covering air travel, medical abuse, clothing sizes, diet culture, sexual assault, and more.

Critic Quote: “Everyone who has a fat family member, friend, acquaintance, or coworker should read this insightful book.” –Library Journal

Why You Should Read This Book: I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this book. An excellent analysis of fatphobia in the US with Gordon’s own experiences effortlessly woven throughout. Not only is the information itself deeply insightful, but the way Gordon presents her knowledge reveals the precise, smart writing at play. Recommended for everyone. 

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