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Literary Links

The time is right to cancel Dr. Seuss’s racist books

One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.

Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a ‘Cancel Culture’ Controversy Erupts

Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.

6 Books That Give Voices to Forgotten Women in Our Stories

The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”

Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre

Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories

Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”

“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”

Is It Worth Reading If I Forget Everything I Read?

Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting

In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”

Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

A Sickness in the Air

“Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind imagines the world after a global disaster, but its real subject is white entitlement.”

[Alam] has an interior barometer exquisitely calibrated to signifiers of social class: fashion houses, just-trendy-enough restaurants, interiors detailed with the loving eye of a copywriter for a high-end furniture catalog. His interest lies in taxonomies of race and class, not in generating the reader’s empathy or evoking an emotional response. Lacking the capacity for deep reflection, his characters drift along in their bubbles, so perfectly self-absorbed that the other people in their lives are all but invisible . . .

What should you read in 2021? These 10 authors have ideas.

What intrigued me most about this list is the format. Writer Neema Roshania Patel asked “Torrey Peters, author of “Detransition Baby,” which came out on Jan. 12,” to name a book she is looking forward to this year, then asked the author of that book for a recommendation, and so on.

“I spoke with 10 female authors by the end of the chain, and together, they brought me down an exciting path of novels — plus a collection of poetry, a book of essays, a memoir and even a journey to the cosmos.”

George Saunders: ‘Monty Python taught me that comedy and truth are the same thing’

I was attracted by this article’s title because, well, it’s George Saunders, but also because I’ve always had a very tenuous relationship with comedy. Growing up, I did not find the Keystone Cops and the Three Stooges funny at all. This article didn’t really help me sort out my concept of comedy, but, hey, it’s George Saunders talking about writing.

Books Like House of Leaves: An Intro to Ergodic Fiction

I haven’t read it yet, but House of Leaves has been on my TBR shelf for a while now because I’m always intrigued by descriptions of books with unusual structures. Here Melissa Baron discusses what she calls “fiction’s coolest niche genre: the weird and unconventional world of ergodic literature.” She pares the definition down to “books or digital text that use unusual methods to tell their stories,” but you’ll have to read the rest of the article to even begin to understand what the term means.

And I just moved House of Leaves several places upwards on my TBR list.

When I find fiction too draining, I turn to books about books. They can be as thrilling as a whodunit.

Michael Dirda finds that reading “serious literary fiction . . . [can] be exceptionally draining.” So, when he needs a break, he turns to nonfiction: “even a dry-seeming nonfiction category like ‘books about books’ — a librarian might label them ‘studies of print culture’— can be dangerously fascinating.”

Read what books about books he has especially liked recently.

Jonathan Kellerman Wants to Know Why Crime Fiction Has Such a Hard Time with Mental Health Professionals

Jonathan Kellerman, a former practicing clinical psychologist, created the fictional psychologist Alex Delaware in the novel When the Bough Breaks, published in 1981. Now at nearly 40 novels, the Delaware books comprise “the longest-running contemporary American crime fiction series.”

Here Kellerman discusses how, in Alex Delaware, he aimed to create a portrait of an ordinary person who works in the mental health profession. Kellerman laments that most other fiction continues to present mental health professionals in terms of two clichés: “evil shrink/screwed-up shrink. Sometimes a combination of both.”

In Psychological Thrillers, the Abyss Stares Back

German thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek discusses why he writes psychological thrillers: “In my view, the fascination for psychological thrillers can be explained in part by the fact that they deal with one of the last unexplored universes of all, one we carry right inside us: the human mind.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Personal

Groundhog Day Reading

Happy Groundhog Day!

I came across this list of time-loop books to celebrate with and felt it my duty to share it with you:

13 Great Time Loop Books to Read This Groundhog Day

I’ve read three of these books:

  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I vouch for all of them.

Happy reading!

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

What’s Behind the Label ‘Domestic Fiction’?

Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:

Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?

After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”

‘My Wine Bills Have Gone Down.’ How Joan Didion Is Weathering the Pandemic

Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.

Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.

What Stories of Transition and Divorce Have in Common

As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”

Page refresh: how the internet is transforming the novel

“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”

Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:

We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.

As Political Divide Widens, Will Big Houses Rethink Conservative Publishing?

Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”

(Also see this article from last week’s Literary Links.)

25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter

In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Tracking the Vocabulary of Sci-Fi, from Aerocar to Zero-Gravity

“The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction probes the speculative corners of the lexicographic universe.”

Check here for the backstory of terms such as warp speed, transporter, and deep space.

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading

Literary Links

TIMES NEW ROMAN, ARIAL, AND HELVETICA: THE FONT FAVORITES, BUT WHY?

Melissa Baron looks into why, with hundreds of thousands of fonts in existence, Times New Roman, Arial, and Helvetica have become :the most widely used fonts ever.”

Old Novels as Therapy

“In these incredibly dark days, I’ve found solace talking to people I’ve known since childhood.”

Novelist Betsy Robinson explains why, right not, she’s finding solace in some old favorites, “books with a personal foundation already in place.”

10 Feminist Retellings of Mythology

Christine Hume, author of “Saturation Project,” recommends modern stories that turn patriarchal folklore on its head.

At the end of story-telling is myth-making: exhausted, stripped down narrative, pure grammar crystalized into affect. And when it’s good . . . Myth-structure holds the power to awaken us to our own history and also to make ourselves into strangers.

A Very Brief History of Reading

A good overview of the quintessential human experience of reading.

75 Debut Novels to Discover in 2021

If your reading list for 2021 isn’t yet long enough to be totally discouraging, Goodreads can help.

Sudden amnesia showed me the self is a convenient fiction

I read a lot of psychological thrillers, and one of the genre’s standard tropes is the narrator who wakes up with no memory memory of who she is or how she got here. 

Believe it or not, sometimes this actually does happen. Steven Hales writes about his experience with transient global amnesia (TGA).

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Reading

Resources for Putting Together a Reading Plan for 2021

Related Post:

fancy scroll

Do you have a reading plan for 2021? If you’ve never put a reading plan together, the task can seem overwhelming. Here are some resources I’ve collected that can help. 

But you don’t have to develop a formal reading plan to find these articles useful. Maybe you’d like some advice on how to keep track of the books you read. Or perhaps you’re just interested in finding a few reading challenges to motivate you or help you discover new kinds of literature. 

Either way, you might find something you can use in these articles.

Introducing the 2021 Reading Log

Tirzah Price has developed a spreadsheet for keeping track of her 2021 reading. She provides a link where you can download a copy of her template, which you can then modify to fit your own needs. She even provides a video tutorial to help you work with the spreadsheet.

Book Riot’s 2021 Read Harder Challenge

2021 is the seventh year for Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge. This year’s challenge “has 24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”

Read Native 2021 Challenge

From the American Indian Library Association, which offers book lists and activities.

11 Ideas to Tackle As 2021 Reading Goals

If you want to put together your own challenge, here are some ideas to help you find some activities that will serve your purpose.

2021 Reading Lists and Challenges to Expand Your Reading

Here’s a list of five specific challenges for 2021. For even more choices, simply do a Google search for “2021 reading challenges” and see how many hits turn up.

My 2021 Reading Challenge: 10 Goals to Expand My Literary Horizons

Instead of using someone else’s challenge categories to expand her reading horizon, Sharon Van Meter created her own. See them here, along with a book recommendation that illustrates each one. 

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations List Personal

The Best Books I Read in 2020

Most of the annual best books of the year lists refer only to books published during the stated calendar year. But my annual list always refers to books I read this year, regardless of when they were published.

Here, then, are the 10 best books I read this year, listed alphabetically by author, plus 5 more honorable mentions.

The Best

Alam, Rumaan. Leave the World Behind

Clark, Julie. The Last Flight

du Maurier, Daphne. The House on the Strand

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Mandel, Emily St. John. The Glass Hotel

Moore, Liz. Long Bright River

Murakami,Haruki. 1Q84

Reid, Iain. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Shute, Nevil. On the Beach

Toews, Miriam. Women Talking

Honorable Mention

Brodesser-Akner, Taffy. Fleishman Is in Trouble

Connelly, Michael. The Law Of Innocence

Foley,Lucy. The Guest List

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road

Wrobel, Stephanie. Darling Rose Gold

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations List

Lists: More Best Books of 2020

The Ultimate Best Books of 2020 List

You could check out all the lists below. Or you could just start here and be done with it. Emily Temple of Lit Hub has scoured all the “best books of the year” lists to find out which books appeared most often.

The 10 Best Literary Adaptations of the Year

From Lit Hub editor Emily Temple: “I’ve polled the Lit Hub staff to settle on the ten best literary adaptations that debuted on small or large (ha ha) screens in this bizarre death spiral we’ve called 2020.”

The Best Books of 2020

BookBrowse presents its award winners in these categories: nonfiction, fiction, debut, and young adult.

And below those titles are the top ten best books of 2020 as voted by BookBrowse subscribers (more than 9,400 people voted).

The 10 best books of 2020

From the Los Angeles Times.

10 great books that got lost in the noise of 2020

Also from the Los Angeles Times, because “a lot of smart, important, moving literature was lost in the chaos” of this tumultuous year. The list contains memoirs, short stories, novels, and essays.

Best biographies and memoirs of 2020

From Amazon Book Review.

 Electric Lit’s Favorite Short Story Collections of 2020

Lamenting “that the New York Times list of 100 notable books from 2020 only included one short story collection,” Electric Literature offers its list of several more.

Electric Lit’s Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2020

“Staff and contributors voted for the best memoirs, essays, and reported work.”

Electric Lit’s Favorite Novels of 2020

Finally, here’s Electric Literature’s favorite novels of 2020 as voted by staff and contributors.

The 10 Best Books of 2020

According to Vulture.

Our critic’s picks: The best mystery books of 2020

Oline H. Cogdill for Florida’s Sun Sentinel.

The Best of 2020: The Top 10 Reviews of the Year

From Off the Shelf: “These books are among the very best that compelled us to gush our praise out to the world.”

The ‘superlative’ books of 2020

“When the BookPage editors finished creating our lists of the best books of 2020, we found we just couldn’t stop! Here we’ve rounded up amazing 2020 books we love for very specific reasons.”

Reader’s choice: Your favorite books of 2020

From BookPage.

The Best True Crime Books of 2020

From Crime Reads.

Readers on their favourite books of 2020: ‘I’ve given it to everyone I know’

The Guardian asked readers about their favorite books of 2020. “From fiction to philosophy, sci-fi to crime, here are some of the best.”

Barack Obama lists his favorite books of 2020

CNN reports.

My Favorite Fiction of 2020

Katy Walkman, book critic for The New Yorker, has a refreshing approach to compiling her list:

I regret to announce that I will not be declaring the ten best fiction books of the year. Such lists are malarkey. I’d be delighted to boss you around—I assume that’s why you’re here, to receive direction or fight—but please just think of the titles below as ten worthwhile books, milestones of a sort, published in this Very Weird Year.

The Most Borrowed Books of 2020 in NYC

OK, this is not exactly a list of best books. But according to Nicole Saraniero, “The most checked-out titles reflect the way New Yorkers were feeling about the historic events and cultural movements that have occurred over the past twelve months. Many books that earned top spots tackle subjects like social justice and isolation, while others offer pure escapism.”

This article avoids merely listing titles by commenting on and attempting to explain the significance of the data.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Last Week's Links Publishing Television

Literary Links

15 Books About Appalachia to Read Instead of Hillbilly Elegy

This article came out after I posted last week’s articles about Hillbilly Elegy.

Kendra Winchester, from Appalachia, has compiled this list of works to counterbalance “the stereotypes of J.D. Vance’s version of Appalachia . . . [that] the entire region is made up of poor rural white people consumed with violence who have no one to blame but themselves for their life circumstances.”

Oxford’s 2020 Word of the Year? It’s Too Hard to Isolate

This year, Oxford Languages, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, has forgone the selection of a single word in favor of highlighting the coronavirus pandemic’s swift and sudden linguistic impact on English.

Fauci’s plea ‘Wear a mask’ tops list of 2020 notable quotes

In other linguistic news, “A plea from Dr. Anthony Fauci for people to ‘wear a mask’ to slow the spread of the coronavirus tops a Yale Law School librarian’s list of the most notable quotes of 2020.”

How TV Cop Shows Are Tackling Police Brutality Storylines Post-George Floyd

This topic has come up periodically since the recent upheaval about racism in law enforcement. The article reports:

some cop TV shows including CBS’ “S.W.A.T.” and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” and “Chicago PD” are returning for their new seasons . . . And many plan to dive head-first into the new environment surrounding law enforcement.

Commentary: The latest publishing mega-merger might kill off small presses — and literary diversity

Another issue that gets talked about a lot is the lack of diversity in publishing. Here’s a look at the latest merger, the acquisition of Simon & Shuster, the third largest publisher in the U.S., by Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House.

The Best Epigraphs of 2020

Epigraphs are those short quotations at the beginning of books or, sometimes, at the beginning of each chapter or section in a book. I admit that I usually don’t pay as much attention to them as I should. I always intend to go back at the end and ponder their significance, but often I don’t remember to do it.

Here’s a list compiled by Ashley Holstrom of the best epigraphs of books published in 2020.

11 Short New Books to Read in One Sitting

And here’s something that I found after I had published Books You Can Read in One Day.

All the books on this list are recent publications, so you might find some new recommendations here that aren’t on the other lists.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations List

Lists: Best Books of 2020

Publishers Weekly: Best Books 2020

Publishers Weekly started the annual parade off before Halloween with its lists. This page offers a portal to categories such as mystery/thriller, poetry, romance, various children’s levels, and YA.

Barnes & Noble: The Best Books of 2020

Barnes & Noble got in on the action during the first week of November. Here’s its portal to various lists.


Fortunately, when it comes to recommending good books, there are no mistakes.

—Ron Charles, Washington Post book columnist
Book Club Newsletter, 11/6/2020

RIF’s Favorite Books of 2020

THE 100 MUST-READ BOOKS OF 2020

Announcing the Amazon Editors’ Best Books of 2020

Bill Buford, the writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker, once said: “Stories protect us from chaos, [and are] essential to the way we make sense of our lives.” Given the tumult of this past year, we’ve needed stories more than ever. And fortunately, while 2020 has fallen wildly short of many expectations, it’s been a boon for readers who enjoy great books. 

From Erin Kodicek, editor of Amazon Book Review, comes this list of the top 10 books of the year. The list includes both fiction and nonfiction. And, since it’s from Amazon, you’ll find many links to other lists that might suit you.

The 10 best books of 2020

Both fiction and nonfiction choices from the book folds at The Washington Post, with links to associated “best books of 2020” links.

50 notable works of fiction in 2020

Another offering from The Washington Post, also with associated links.

50 notable works of nonfiction in 2020

And here’s The Washington Post’s list of the year’s best nonfiction.

These Are the Best Books of 2020, According to O, The Oprah Magazine

Yes, Oprah weighs in with fiction and nonfiction titles.

100 Notable Books of 2020

This list from The New York Times includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

The End of the World Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2020

“The End of the World Review” formulated this list to contrast with the New York Times list above, which is heavily weighted toward the giant publishing conglomerates.

The New York Public Library: Best Books of 2020

The New York Public Library offers lists for adults, for kids, and for teens. There are also Spanish lists and information on books available in accessible formats (e.g., digital talking books and braille editions).

The Ten Best Books About Food of 2020

“From cookbooks to grocery-store exposés, these new books will tempt palates and fuel curiosity”

From Smithsonian Magazine.

The best books of the year 2020

From the BBC Culture desk.

Best books of 2020

From The Guardian, this is the portal page to lists in fiction, children’s books, crime and thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, memoir and celebrity books, politics, ideas, sport, nature and science, poetry, comics and graphic novels, art, food, and stocking fillers.

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2020

Recommendations from Sophie Roell, editor and one of five founders of Five Books.

AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks of 2020

This page features the best of the best. 

The Best Books We Read in 2020

“The fiction and nonfiction, old and new, that kept us going.” From The New Yorker. The books that comprise this list are not necessarily new publications from 2020.

Best Books of 2020

This is BookRiot’s portal to its lists of best books in these categories: children’s, comics, fantasy, fiction, horror, mystery/thriller, nonfiction, poetry, romance, science fiction, young adult.

Our columnist picks his 10 favorite crime novels of 2020

Choices from Adam Woog, crime and mystery fiction columnist for The Seattle Times.

The best mysteries and thrillers of 2020

This list contains only a few titles, with a link to the full list of 20. I’ve included this link because the article begins with a brief description of how the Amazon Book Review selects its best books of the year: “there’s no formula. It’s just us, reading new books by authors we love, reading books recommended by publishers, or reading books because we just like the look, or the description, of that particular book.”

NPR’s Book Concierge

NPR offers a big list of books that allows you to apply all different kinds of filters to find something that’s just right for you or for some lucky gift recipient. And just in case you can’t find anything published this year that quite fills the bill, you can also consult the best books of years past (back to 2013).

The Best of 2020: Our Top Ten

AudioFile has its list of the best audiobooks of 2020. Here Audible, the audiobooks arm of Amazon, offers its list of the top 10. At the bottom of the page are links to other categorical lists, such as fiction, comedy & humor, memoir, self-development, and mysteries & thrillers.

Times Critics’ Top Books of 2020

“The Times’s staff critics give their choices of the best fiction and nonfiction works of the year.”

From The New York Times.

Our Top Five Picks For Best Mystery & Suspense of 2020

From Jamie Canavés for Novel Suspects: “The way I judged this year’s list was rather simple: what are the thriller books and mystery books published this year that I read and am I still thinking about? In a year that felt a decade long, it seemed like a good way to set the bar.”

The best books of 2020 – picked by our acclaimed guest authors

Here’s another list from The Guardian: “Our panel of writers – who all published books this year – share their favourite titles of 2020.”

Our 65 Favorite Books of the Year

From Emily Temple for LitHub: “We Lived Through 2020 and All We Got Were These Really Good Books.”

Of all the unique occurrences of 2020 that Temple lists (and the first paragraph is worth reading just for this list), my favorite is this one: “We all watched every TV show ever created and then complained about them on the internet.” I say this after watching all seven seasons of The 100, a show with an interesting premise that outlived that premise by four seasons and ended up with a totally stupid conclusion. 

The Best Books to Elevate Your Reading List in 2020

From Esquire: “The best fiction and nonfiction of the year covers everything from teenage sexuality to Big Tech, while also telling deeply human stories of identity, romance, and family.”

Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Books of 2020

I always take special interest in this list because the books are chosen not by critics or professional associations but by ordinary readers like you and me.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown