2020 book list

I think I’m learning something about myself: I don’t actually enjoy reading.

Just saying that amounts to sacrilige, I know, but truth is, the process of sitting down, holding a book in front of my face, and then raking my eyes back and forth across the page is not pleasurable. I like curling up in front of the fire with a hot drink. I like getting new ideas and information. I even like getting lost in a story. But most of the time — like, say, 80 percent of the time that I’m reading — I’m neither sipping a hot drink nor having an ah-ha moment nor am I lost in another world. I’m just… reading.

When I told my husband my latest self-realization, he gaped, eyes wide. But you read so much!

I make myself read, I corrected. I write it on my to-do list — read 30″ — so that I’ll do it.

So why do I read, you ask?

It’s a fair question, but I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve been trained to — it’s a lifestyle thing, of sorts. Also, because I think reading makes me a better person, because it’s a form of reflection, because it’s a valuable mental exercise, because I want to learn something, and because sometimes, in spite of everything I just said, it is fun.

And tell me this: is there anything better than falling asleep while reading?

Anyway. As I was typing up this list, I was dismayed to realize how many of these books, books that I’ve spent hours with, I had absolutely zero recollection of. I mean, I’ve read these books within the last year and even, according to my notes, claimed to really enjoy some of them, and yet now, a mere few months later, I’m drawing a complete blank. How is this even possible?

he doesn’t even like beer

The books I do recall, though, tend to be the true stories, or at least the stories that felt true to me. So maybe I’m just not a lover of fiction? Or obvious fiction anyway?

Such mysteries!

Anyway. Long story short, here’s what I read in 2020. Cheers!

what I pulled from the library for Christmas break

And to the kids: The Wee Free Men (never again), Great Expectations (tedious, but we made it), Little Women (ditto), Way Back in the Ozarks (a repeat, because my younger son begged me to), Fish in a Tree (why can’t all books be like this?), and now Look Both Ways (too soon to tell).

Now it’s your turn. What should I read in 2021?

This same time, years previous: a Christmas spectacle, right now, balsamic glazed roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, 2016 garden notes and stats, remembering Guatemala, cheese ball, hot buttered rolls, giant sausage and leek quiche, spaghetti carbonara.


  • Thrift at Home

    My relationship to reading has changed, too! I blame perimenopause and pandemic, ugh. I love your refreshing honesty and humor about that! I keep an entertaining, light read at my bedside and save the educational stuff for during the day and put that on my to-do list.

    I highly highly highly recommend Emily Nagoski’s books – Burnout is the recent one she wrote with her twin sister, but I’m currently reading her earlier one Come as You Are about sex. Transforming.

    Also! Have you read Amor Towles??! A Gentleman in Moscor and also Rules of Civility.

    An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

    I really loved The Hidden Life of Trees – an unusual, dreamy, compelling book whose title says exactly what it is.

    I read Watership Down out loud to my big kids who loved it – reminds me that my favorite Richard Adams book is Shardik. I just started reading Fahrenheit 451 out loud to my big kids and in the past I have loved Bradbury’s writing but now it’s just making me twitchy and I want to edit out all the adjectives, hee hee.

    I have also loved Ruth Reichl’s books, but Save Me the Plums felt a bit forced and tired :/ and I couldn’t keep the names/people straight and did not care enough.

    You have a number of books on your list that I have not heard of – writing them down! Thank you!

  • Melissa

    Breaking Bread with the Dead: a Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind. I’ve just started it, but soooo good! It might give you some insight as to why all of us struggle to read now. Spoiler alert – we lack personal density.

    How God Became King – If you haven’t read an N.T. Wright book, this is the one. Definitely not a flippant, just picking this book up because I’m bored read, but worth diving in to find out what the gospels really say.

  • Mommychef

    Oh…this is my favorite post of the year! Every year. I too can relate to not being quite the reader I was a year ago…a distracted, anxious, pre-menopausal mind? Kids home all the time? New job that does not allow for nearly as much downtime where I get paid to read? All of the above most likely. Just finished “This Is How it Always Is”…agree, it’s fantastic. “North of Normal” and “Nearly Normal” by Cea Person were great memoirs along the lines of Glass Castle or Educated. Yaa Gyasi’s “Transcendent Kingdom” is good and thoughtful (not quite as epic as her first novel but…that would be hard to top). Loved “Word Nerd” by Susan Nielsen…a YA novel but so good!

  • Lissa

    I read all the time…and many of your suggestions and many of Mavis are right up my alley. Covid has made concentration so much harder. My husband, a very talented needlepointer, has virtually none since Covid. Watches silly war movies instead of reading. I truly believe this is all related to the current trauma in our lives now. Amazing that we expect most of our kids to be able to adequately learn while they’re experiencing trauma too. But that’s for the list. I’ll check them out. Are. you making any interesting Midwest casserole types of comfort food. My brother declared, despite his love of meatloaf his east coast family would never allow it in the house. hahaha. Poor thing…he’s probably missing tater tots too. Always enjoy your posts.

  • KC

    Have you read God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet? I loved it, and then fed it to my remote book club this year, and they *also* loved it despite having… different… tastes from me in general, so now I am more confident in recommending it.

  • Becky

    I love reading, but have found myself reading the news more in recent years. I tried joining a book group, but realized I hate being told what to read and when. So I dropped out. I read a slew of books on our vacation to the Smokies this summer (we had a friend’s cabin all to ourselves, so it was socially distant!) and realized I just need to read light and fluffy things when I read books. So I’ve been doing more of that – I so miss the library, where I could walk in and peruse the New Books shelves and find interesting new things to read! I just finished “The Overstory” which everyone went on and on about and frankly? I was underwhelmed. The writing was beautiful, but beyond that? Meh. I also read the “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” this year and that I really liked. I think I read that Anne Tyler book too – I never fully recall her books, but I do like them, probably because they remind me of Baltimore.

  • Hattie Barnett

    As I get older (and my eyesight worse!), I have started enjoying audiobooks more. Our library has a service called Libby; there’s another called Overdrive, where you can get books to listen to or to read on a device.

    This year some books I enjoyed and would recommend include:

    –Disappearing Earth (a novel about the kidnapping of two sisters and how their remote town on a Russian peninsula is affected)

    –Long, Bright River (a novel about the opioid crisis in Philadelphia) and specifically two sisters — one a cop and the other an addict)

    –Anxious People (a novel about a Swedish hostage crisis and human relationships that is surprisingly touching and weirdly funny by the author who wrote A Man Called Ove)

    –A Place for Us (a novel about an Indian American Muslim family with themes of parent/child relationships and identity/belonging)

  • The Thrifty EducatorElizabeth

    Two of my favorite nonfiction books that you might enjoy are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The Book of Joy by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu. I’ve read both books twice and they draw you in with their stories and amazing writing. I am usually an avid reader, but this pandemic has totally killed my reading life. My mind cannot comprehend the words on the page right now, so I have to mainly stick to easy to read stories. My favorites lately have been Into Thin Air and then Into the Wild both by Jack Krakauer.

    A positive thing that the pandemic has brought to our family is the love of read aloud s. I find I pay more attention when I am reading aloud. Our favorites have been Stuart Little, Ella Enchanted, My Side of the Mountain, Catherine called Birdie, Ben and Me, and we read all the Stink Moody/Judy Moody books twice. Picture books have made their way back into our life too. I found myself sobbing while reading, The Worst of Friends yesterday. It tells how the friendship of Adams and Jefferson fell apart for 11 years over politics, until they made up towards the end of their life. It is just so relevant this year that it tore me up. When it said they died on the same day….no words.

    I also enjoy reading great blogs! I have read yours twice all the way thru…like every post:)

    • Jennifer Jo

      Reading anything sad/emotional/touching out loud = me crying. The other day I started crying while reading about a kid with dyslexia. My kids are still giving me a hard time about that.

      I put the Book of Joy on hold at the library. (I own the Kingsolver one —- sooooo good!)

  • suburbancorrespondent

    I love Little Women, but it makes a terrible read-aloud. I started it with the kids but stopped. It’s a book to be read by yourself, snuggled under a blanket, preferably near a window.

    I used to love, love, love reading, but (I swear) menopause (or maybe the Internet? I don’t know) changed all that. I feel as if I’ve lost a friend. Now, occasionally, I will find a book I really enjoy and can get through, or I will force myself in the way you describe, because I want the information, but with most books, reading is like eating without being able to taste anything. A lot of laborious chewing…

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