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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

Personal Reading

Did I Fulfill My Reading Plan for 2020?

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.

Related Post:

I just went back and reread my reading plan for 2020. Then I had a good laugh.

I did relatively well with Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals. I didn’t meet most of the goals, but I’m being gentle with myself in evaluating how well I did under the COVID-19 circumstances.

Here’s a look at those original goals, with my current assessments presented in the white paragraphs.

Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals

1. Goodreads Challenge

Since I easily exceeded my 2019 goal of 50 books, I’m cautiously raising my 2020 goal to 55.

I did make this goal, even though I resorted to a couple of books from my “short-enough-to-be-read-in-one-day” TBR shelf.

Here are my stats, according to Goodreads:

  • books read: 58 pages read: 19,629
  • shortest book: How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf, 64 pages
  • longest book: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, 1,157 pages
  • average book length: 338 pages
  • my average rating: 3.9 

2. The Classics Club

Even though I just met my goal of 4 books read from this list last year, for 2020 I’m increasing my goal to 6. If I don’t increase my efforts, I might not get through my Classics Club list in my lifetime.

I failed miserably at this one. I only read 2 books from my list, and I didn’t write the follow-up reviews (although I have high hopes of catching up on this omission in 2021).

3. 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

Although I’m staying away from most challenges that require me to read books in specific categories, I’ve signed up for this challenge to motivate myself to write more substantive blog posts in 2020. I’m aiming to write 2 discussion posts per month.

Two posts per month would total 24 such posts. My final count, including this post, will be 12. That’s not too bad, considering that my pandemic experience included the lack of ability to focus on one idea long enough to write about it.

You can find the list of my discussion posts here.

Part II: The Calendar

I’m setting myself specific monthly challenges. I hope that these projections will allow me sufficient time each month to read other works, such as my monthly book club selection and my monthly choice from Book of the Month, in addition to new releases.


The Jackson Brody novels by Kate Atkinson:

  • Case Histories
  • One Good Turn
  • When Will There Be Good News?
  • Started Early, Took My Dog
  • Big Sky

And here is where we end. I did finish Atkinson’s 5 Jackson Brody novels, but, once again, I didn’t blog about them. The rest of my carefully constructed dated assignments dissipated in the pandemic fog.

For 10 of the first 15 days of March I couldn’t read at all. When I thought I was once again ready to pick up a book, I told myself to just choose the book that interested me the most (which turned out to be Long Bright River by Liz Moore). For the rest of the year I followed the same procedure, standing in front of my TBR shelves and choosing whatever book seemed to call to me at that time. 

The experience of this past year will affect how I formulate a reading plan for 2021, but I’m still processing exactly how. Thanks for listening, and I hope that, if you evaluate your own 2020 year in reading, you’ll be gentle with yourself. Congratulate yourself on what you did accomplish and don’t worry about what you didn’t. Whatever, if you’re still around to read in 2021, you’re one of the lucky ones.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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

Author News Book Groups Last Week's Links Libraries Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Book Club Spotlight: How This 20-Year-Old Book Club Connects Virtually

The group of 15 ladies successfully transitioned from over 20 years of dinner and monthly meetings at the Rancho Santa Margarita City Hall to a virtual format — and were even able to welcome back a few members! Most recently, the club held its annual holiday party on Zoom complete with holiday sweaters, a book swap, and a meaningful book discussion.

PBS to Broadcast Two Documentaries on Agatha Christie

Mark your calendar! “PBS will kick off the year 2021 with two TV documentaries focused on the life and publishing career of bestselling British crime novelist Agatha Christie.”

The broadcast dates are January 17 and January 24.

Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

From the Associated Press. “Book publishing in 2020 was a story of how much an industry can change and how much it can, or wants to, remain the same.”

A Speculative Fiction Expert’s Year of Escapist Reading

Kerine Wint, a software engineering graduate who loves to read science fiction and fantasy, writes, “2020 is the year that has made having an escape a necessity.” Speculative fiction is, she says, “ a vehicle that shows us so many new worlds, allowing us to view and understand ourselves and others unlike us.” 

As an added bonus, at the end of the article are links to similar links in other genres: mystery, literary fiction, romance, and young adult.

PW’s Person of the Year: The Book Business Worker

All readers think of people involved in any aspect of producing books as essential workers. Publishers Weekly agrees:

The most important people in the book business in 2020 are not the powerhouse agents or the megabestselling authors or the Big Five CEOs. They are the booksellers, debut and midlist authors, editors, librarians, printers, publicists, sales representatives, and warehouse workers, to mention just a few—the workers, who have been the most important people in the business all along.

I’m a Romance Novelist Who Writes About Politics—And I Won’t “Stay In My Lane”

An ardent argument by novelist Alyssa Cole: “Assuming the romance genre can’t be political is, well…political in itself.”

10 Literary Podcasts to Listen To if You Miss Life Before Quarantine

“Dig into these podcasts even if you don’t have the energy to dig into the stack of novels that’s been growing on your nightstand.”

The Top 10 Library Stories of 2020

Publishers Weekly “looks back at the library stories that captivated the publishing world this year—and what they portend for 2021.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown


Merry Christmas!

If ever there was a time that required an extra helping of holiday cheer, 2020 is it.

tall Christmas tree decorated with gold balls, red ribbon, and a Victorian angel on top

Please allow me to send each of you an extra-big helping of cheer this winter. Thank you for sharing the book life with me during these crazy times.

several Christmas stockings hung on wall

And if you’re looking for some particular examples of holiday happiness, here are a few I’ve collected.

Fauci’s Christmas Eve: Turning 80 and fighting the pandemic

Start with this story of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who turned 80 yesterday.

Peep These Wondrous Holiday Light Displays Around the World

From Atlas Obscura, a reminder that “Evenin 2020, the world is aglow.”

Mariah! Dolly! Carrie! 2020 Can’t Quarantine This Cheer

The New York Times reports on streaming holiday specials by Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carey, and Dolly Parton.

Scenes from the holiday season

UPI offers a slideshow of 68 images featuring “people observing the holidays in the United States and around the world.”

A Christmas Story: 25 Things to Look for During the 24-Hour Marathon

If your Christmas traditions include at least one complete viewing of the film A Christmas Story, here’s how to raise your game this year, thanks to the folks at Mental Floss:

we’ve got a way for you to watch A Christmas Story in a whole new light: by keeping your eyes—and ears—peeled for these 25 blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em gaffes, anachronisms, and other fun facts that make watching the classic film an entirely new experience.

Meet the People Who Can’t Bring You ‘Messiah’ This Year

If, like me, you include a performance of Handel’s Messiah as part of your holiday ritual, the New York Times offers this article, which includes videos, of nine performers guiding you “through the emotional arc of Handel’s classic, from comfort to grief to jubilation.”

Holiday Nostalgia Train

Another treat from Atlas Obscura:

WHILE WAITING ON THE F train platform on a Sunday in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you might think you’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone when eight vintage subway cars barrel up to your station. This is the holiday train, a once-a-year treat courtesy of the MTA’s New York Transit Museum, which whisks MTA patrons back in time. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Author News Book News Publishing

The Ten Biggest Literary Stories of the Year ‹ Literary Hub

Without any further ado, you’ll find the third and final installment of our countdown of the 50 biggest literary stories of the year below—so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. It’s time for the top 10, baby.

Source: The Ten Biggest Literary Stories of the Year ‹ Literary Hub

Author News Book Groups Fiction Last Week's Links Libraries Publishing Reading Television

Literary Links

We Need More Dark Stories with Hopeful Endings

Author Les Edgerton believes that dark novels needn’t have completely dark endings: “To endure page after page of never-ending pain and sorrow and to culminate in the same morass of tragedy would only be nihilism, and the best books don’t end like that.”

Here he lists some novels that illustrate an ending that combines something good with something bad to achieve a realistic view of life.

The Bigger the Publishers, the Blander the Books

Dennis Johnson, the co-founder and publisher of Melville House, writes that “the Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster deal threatens the values that the book business champions.”

Stephen King Has Thoughts About Stephen King TV Shows

With a new adaptation of The Stand arriving on CBS All Access, Stephen King discusses the best and the worst TV adaptations of his novels.

Book Clubs in Lockdown

BookBrowse surveyed readers and book clubs to see how book clubs are adapting to conditions brought about by the current pandemic. You can download their report on current conditions and implications for the future.

When Reading Had No End

Dwight Garner discusses the dual nature of reading in 2020: “This was the worst year, and nothing made sense any longer, except when it was the best year, because time for reading seemed to expand like one of those endless summer afternoons when one was in the late stages of grade school.”

The literary life of Octavia E. Butler

“How local libraries shaped a sci-fi legend”

This interactaive map of the areas in California where science fiction author Octavia Butler grew up reveals how important libraries were in shaping her vision and her career.

The Benefits of Community Reading Programs

by Summer Loomis, for Book Riot:

Community reading programs have always interested me. I like the idea of people from different backgrounds and experiences coming together to read something together. There is something so calming about people being capable of this. I find it very comforting. However, it can be hard to feel like we’re part of a community at times. So I went searching for community reading programs of the “one book one community” type.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Author News Awards & Prizes Book News Publishing

The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 30 to 11 | Literary Hub

Below, you’ll find the second installment of our countdown of the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch.

Source: The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 30 to 11 | Literary Hub

Author News Book News Literary History Reading Writing

The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

Starting today, we’ll be counting down the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. Join us, won’t you, on this very special journey.

Source: The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

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