Book Favorites of 2020

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Book Favorites of 2020

There has been one pretty great thing about 2020 for me: I’ve finally figured out how to incorporate audiobooks into my life. I’ve always liked them; back BK (Before Kids), I listened to books on CD from the library in my car on the way to work. In the past few years, I’ve finished maybe 1-2 books a month on audio.

Being home all the time, though, and doing chores or simply piddling around, I feel that I’ve perfected the art of “benign neglect” parenting, as my favorite literary podcast, Currently Reading, calls it. I can listen to an audiobook in one earbud while keeping an ear out for the kids at the same time. Now that my kids are all out of diapers and can mostly play independently, I do less active parenting, and this method works well for me.

And thus, the upside to 2020: I’ve zoomed past my reading goal for the year and already finished 91 books. This includes 20 (!) books that have been published this year. Today, I thought I’d share with you five good reads published in 2020.

1. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

This beautiful novel takes some getting used to, as it is written in Adunni’s broken English voice — but hang in there, it is well worth it. Adunni is a young teen in Nigeria, sold as a third wife to an older man by her father. In her heart, Adunni wants nothing more than to continue her education and find her “louding voice,” and Daré gives us the heartbreaking but powerful story of her pursuing this goal. On audio, I suggest making sure you’re only listening at 1x speed so you don’t miss anything, but hearing it in the accents done by British actress Adjoa Andoh definitely pays off.

2. One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London 

One of the most fun books I’ve read (listened to qualifies as reading!) in quite a while, but having some substance, One to Watch definitely hit a sweet spot for me. Bea Schumacher is a plus-size fashion blogger with a longtime crush on a male friend. After some relationship trauma, she has an article about the TV show Main Squeeze (a thinly veiled The Bachelor) go viral. Before she knows it, Bea is agreeing to be the next Main Squeeze…and the first plus-sized one ever. I recommend this one especially if you have dealt with any weight issues yourself. Bea’s struggles and triumphs feel so true to life, even as she goes through a reality TV show. Romance with thought from first-time novelist Stayman-London. (A little steamy in some places, but nothing super descriptive, which is how I prefer my romance.)

3. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

’80s nostalgia. High school drama. A collective third-person plural narrator. I guarantee this book is not for everyone, but it definitely fell in the category of pure fun for me. A field hockey team in 1989 decide to up the stakes to win, dabbling in the witchcraft of their Danvers, Massachusetts ancestors. A diverse crew, these girls (and Boy Corey) will win you over. The writing style is a little bananas, so if you only like straightforward, it’s not for you. But especially if you have fun memories of the ’80s, you will find something and someone to love in these pages.

4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell 

A far cry from O’Farrell’s other novels (which I still enjoyed, especially Instructions for a Heatwave), Hamnet tells the story of William Shakespeare’s son, whom we know from the beginning will die from the plague. Meandering back and forth in time, we learn the story of Wil and his wife, Agnes, a village misfit with supernatural powers. The vivid words bring to life 1580 Stratford-Upon-Avon, the troubled families on both sides of this marriage, and the home where Hamnet and his twin sister, Judith, live with multiple generations of family. Words of warning in case it’s not clear: this is a SAD book. I had a hard time dealing with such deep sadness during this time, which already seems sad and bad enough. But if you can emotionally handle it, I think you’ll enjoy running away to a different plague.

5. Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson 

If you’re looking for something to read to or with your kids, may I suggest this book, Ways to make Sunshine? It’s the first book in what I believe is going to be a series about Ryan Hart, a spunky fourth-grader in Portland, Oregon. After her dad deals with a job loss, Ryan and her family must sell their second car and move into a new (old) house. This upheaval brings Ryan some grief but also some new adventures, as she explores the new-to-her house, tries all kinds of cooking experiments, and both bonds with and tortures her older brother, Ray. I read this aloud over a month or two to my three-year-old daughter, and even she loved it (and the illustrations that are sprinkled in). But my nearly 12-year-old heard us read the first few chapters, and she grabbed it and devoured it and proclaimed it one of the books she is going to recommend to everyone. Much like Portland native Ramona before her, Ryan has a wide appeal and is just great fun.

What have you been reading lately? Has the pandemic affected your reading?

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