20 in 2020: What I Read This Year

My goal at the beginning of the year was to read 25 books. With the short stories, quick bits of poetry, and half-finished books I couldn’t stay awake through, I’d say I mostly hit it. Would I have read this many had a global pandemic not happened? Debatable. Today I’m only talking about the books I actually read, and what I thought about them. If you have thoughts on any of these, I would truly love to hear them–comment below!

Here’s the 20-ish books I read in 2020:

  1. She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey: This book was written by the reporters that first broke the damning story on Harvey Weinstein and in turn, ignited the Me Too movement. Even if you don’t think you’re a nonfiction person, read this. It’s incredible to see not only how much work they did for this story, but doubly how much work Weinstein’s team did to try and stop them.
  2. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: I read this for book club in the depths of winter, which I think really added to the solitary, chilly Alaskan feel of the book. This one was long, but didn’t feel like it. The story pulled me along and kept me up late almost every night. While sad and violent, I’d still highly recommend.
  3. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: I absolutely LOVED this book. Kiley is a graduate of the UI Workshop, and in the spring I was lucky enough to attend a virtual Q&A session with her and she’s brilliant. I read this before the conversation on race exploded in May and June, and I think it’s all the more timely now to read. The subtle racism throughout an addicting story had me listening and reading to this one nonstop for a week.
  4. The Catcher in The Rye by JD Salinger: I don’t know why, but I really wanted to read this book. I never did growing up, and it felt like a literary right of passage. Overall, I enjoyed it. The sentences get pretty long and made me feel like I wasn’t able to take a breath as we’re stuck in the narrator’s head. However, I loved how he illustrated such isolation in a city packed with people. Check that one off the literary bucket list!
  5. The Threated Everything by Paula Cisweski: Truth time: I stole this book. I was waiting for a friend in a local wine bar, sitting next to a book shelf. I picked up this book of poetry, started reading, and felt like it was meant for me to read right then. The poems spoke to exactly what was going on in the world, in my mind, and beyond. It was such a sweet little moment, and I knew I had to finish it. And so, it came home with me. This isn’t to say I won’t return it or replace it on their cluttered shelf with other poetry favorites…but it was a tiny thrill in the middle of winter. One I don’t regret 😉
  6. The Idiot by Elif Batuman: This book came highly recommended by many, including my coworker who is always reading at least three things at once. The dry humor throughout was fantastic–my copy is filled with pen marks and underlines of perfect quips. The story, however, was pretty slow for me. It was tough to get through towards the end, but I also read this in March when our world set fire. So there may have been some other factors keeping me from finishing this book…
  7. One Day by David Nicholls: This was another book club read. It was cheesy but honestly, in April I needed something mindless to read quickly, and this was it. The end made me cry, but movie sucks.
  8. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb: She’s a therapist in LA discussing the emotional work her patients are doing, as well as her own journey back into therapy. This was a much-needed nonfiction break for me, and I loved it so much I recommended it to my own therapist!
  9. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub: The world Straub creates of a dreamy Brooklyn in the summer transported me. This was a book I read mostly outside, and I think that’s how it should be read. The story was a little predictable and problematic, but it was pretty well-written and I still rushed through the end to know what happened.
  10. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari: I found this one at a Half Price Books and thought it looked interesting, especially for someone trying to date in the middle of a pandemic. Though it’s written by a comedian, it’s actually rooted in loads of research on how we date in the social media-era. It was so fascinating, and put words behind a lot of trends I didn’t realize I was seeing.
  11. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I read Little Fires Everywhere last summer and loved it, and this was equally as good (or maybe better!). The way she captures suburbia and the secrets behind it in her work is so spot-on. Plus, the mystery aspect of this looming death throughout was gripping.
  12. Black KKKlansman by Ron Stallworth: Ironically, I started reading this book just days before George Floyd’s passing. A black man infiltrates the KKK in the sixties, becoming close friends with David Duke. Honestly, it was jarring how much of this could’ve happened in 2020. The story was fantastic, and the movie was equally wonderful.
  13. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I read her first (incredible) book a few years ago, so when this came out I was one of the first to buy it, and let myself splurge on a signed copy. This might be my favorite book of 2020. I read it at our family cabin, by the pool, late at night next to a fan in bed. It was so, so beautifully written. The story was amazing. I just don’t have enough good things to say about this work–Bennett is truly a master.
  14. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: Ok. This one was on top of charts all year and generally I enjoy Patchett. But this one was rough for me. The way she describes the actual house is beautiful. The narrator though, felt really whiney to me. I know many people loved this one, and it was well-awarded, but for me, it just didn’t hit the mark.
  15. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett: Our book club decided to try a dystopian YA novel, and WOW why am I not reading more YA books?! Think Handmaid’s Tale and Hunger Games combined. Transporting myself into fantasy worlds isn’t something I often do in reading, but this story was so, so good.
  16. Evidence of V by Sheila O’Connor: This was a book I read for my MFA, and it’s written by a professor in Hamline’s program. This is in my top books of 2020, as well. A prose, poetry, memoir hybrid, this book explores the dark secrets Minnesota held when dealing with “indecent” teenage girls in the 1930’s. Much of this book took place mere blocks from my apartment. It opened up a fascinating conversation with my Grandma, as well, who was a social worker in St. Paul when the remnants of some of these laws were still around.
  17. Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify by Carolyn Holbrook: This collection of essays by an adjunct Hamline professor shed light on what it’s like to be black in Minneapolis. It is written over years of Holbrook building the writing community in the Twin Cities. Through her stories, I was inspired by her resilience and grace, and I was lucky enough to get a spot in her J-Term class this winter!
  18. Expectation by Anna Hope: I love a good British novel. Expectation explores what the hopes and dreams of our twenties look like years later, when life really happens. As someone in their twenties, I was completely captivated by the way this story jumped through time and friendships. Plus, it was incredibly well written.
  19. Burnout: Unlocking The Stress Cycle by Amelia and Emily Nagosaki: Holy shit, this was a book written for me specially, wasn’t it? I read this in the height of my semester and balancing two jobs. I was feeling some of the strongest burnout I’ve had in a while, and this book spoke directly to the science and social norms behind it. Informative and therapeutic all at once. Paired with walks around Minneapolis as the leaves changed, it was perfect.
  20. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: This is a mammoth of a book (over 700 pages!) but I really haven’t minded. I wanted to end the year with a long novel, and this one is soothing for a lot of reasons I can’t fully explain. Fine art, New York City, antiques, sweet relationships, addiction, sunlight dozens of different ways. I’ve loved this book and the journey it’s taken me on.

Honorable mentions that I loved, but did not read cover-to-cover:

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Between The World and Me by Ta’Neshi Coates: I consumed both of these in addition to a lot of online resources in the wake of Floyd’s death. They really turned the way I think about my relationship with race on my head. Queued up for 2021 is the works of Ibrahim X. Kendi.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: is SO FUNNY. So smart, honest, and refreshing. I listened to most of these essays and loved them.

-Best American Short Stories: Since these aren’t books I didn’t count them, but they were magic all the same. Lauren Groff, ZZ Packer, Junot Diaz, and George Saunders are some of my favorite authors, and these short works by them were perfect for before-bed reading.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko: I still want to finish this book, because it was wonderfully written and took a deep, hard look at adoption. It came to me for book club in the height of my semester, so I simply didn’t have time.

-Limber by Angela Pelster-Wiebe: This is another book written by a professor of mine, and it was beautifully introspective while also rooted in nature. I didn’t finish it by the time our class met to discuss, but I’m not through with it yet!


Whew! You made it all the way to the end?! Congratulations.

In 2021, I have a few at the top of my list including, The Most Fun We Ever Had, Writers and Lovers, Luster, Jack, and more poetry, in general. Happy reading this quarantine season!

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