The 20 Best Books of 2020

By Lauren McNeese

Throughout the year of 2020, I have read fifty books. The ones that I would consider the best twenty are listed below. It is important to me to read for several reasons. Primarily, reading serves as a wonderful way to cultivate empathy. It is a beautiful escape. It provides one with a deeper understanding of the world in which we live and our place in it. In a year like 2020, our world has been inundated with all sorts of crises, from a pandemic to the current political climate. It can be overwhelming. Reading allows us to forget present struggles for a time and to combat whatever we may be facing in life. 

The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah- Fiction

Hannah explores the life of a young woman, Leni, who has set out with her family to move to Alaska after her father loses his job. She writes a story of an abusive father, Ernt Allbright, and Leni’s quest to escape and find true freedom. 

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Night, Elie Wiesel- Nonfiction

Wiesel and his father spent time in a concentration camp, and he writes his real and raw thoughts on the experience. This is a hard read, but it will change the way in which you consider good, evil, and God, who is sovereign over all. This was the required summer reading for seniors this year. 

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The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald- Fiction

Fitzgerald lived during the roaring twenties, a time filled with vibrant and exuberant lifestyles. This book is about James Gatz, who turns himself into Jay Gatsby. This is a story about the power of self-invention and the dangers it involves. This book was from Mrs. Campbell’s AP Language & Composition class. 

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Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer- Nonfiction

What would it look like to leave behind all of your material possessions in pursuit of a greater freedom? What does it look like to leave a life behind and forge ahead to a new one? What about living by oneself in Alaska? This book is a good but hard read that I would recommend to anyone looking for a little inspiration. 

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A Timbered Choir, Wendell Berry- Fiction

Berry writes with beautiful imagery and is a poet many enjoy reading over and over and over again. This book contains a few of his really well-known poems, like “The Objective,” but it also includes some lesser-known works. This book was from the list of summer reading books. 

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Serena, Ron Rash- Fiction

Many would compare this novel to Shakespeare’s Macbeth for the power struggles included within it. This novel was hard to put down for the fast-paced writing style Rash used and the action-packed pages. Matilda Green, former staff writer for The Charger, polled teachers on their favorite books. This was Ms. Barrett’s favorite! You can find that feature here.  

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Seven Men and Seven Women, Eric Metaxas- Nonfiction

Metaxas examines seven men and seven women who are known and loved throughout history and unlocks the secrets to their greatness. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and diving deeper into the histories of these important figures. 

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Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow- Fiction

Henderson found himself in Africa on a spiritual safari, searching for greater truth. He is soon viewed as a god-like figure among the tribes for his problem-solving skills. I read this book twice because it was hard to follow at times. From the aforementioned poll of teachers’ favorite books, this was Mr. Campbell’s!

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Freakonomics, Stephen J. Dubner- Nonfiction

My interest in this book came from listening to Dubner’s podcast, also named Freakonomics. Dubner explores connections between seemingly unrelated entities and why things work the way they do. I found it utterly fascinating and would recommend it to the curious. 

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Dream Big, Bob Goff- Nonfiction

This book was actually released in 2020, and it is a good contribution to the collection of works by Bob Goff. As a senior in high school, I enjoyed Goff’s ideas of what it means to dream big and what it looks like to practically pursue one’s ambitions. The book is a beautiful call to something larger than oneself and I would recommend it to all who are searching for greater purpose. 

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Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins- Fiction

This book was actually released in 2020, a good addition to the Hunger Games series. It is a prequel to the rest of the Hunger Games series and a narrative of how President Snow became a twisted and maddened murderer. I would recommend this book to all who loved Collins’ first three books and who would like to learn more about one of the most prominent characters. 

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Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen Kilgariff- Nonfiction

Isn’t it interesting how society has conditioned young girls to be polite to all? Is there a time when this has become dangerous? What are the statistics and case studies of young women who have not put a foot down and stood up for themselves and as a result been violated or worse? This book is about taking charge of yourself, your life, and your own self-defense. 

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Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert- Nonfiction

Gilbert has written several award-winning books, and in this one she shares how she reached this place in her writing career. To quote the author of Peace Like a River, Leif Enger, “hard work is the landing strip of the muse.” In other words, put in the hard work, and the inspiration will come to you. That is what Gilbert writes of throughout this book: how to better go after and take hold of your work and the creativity it requires. 

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The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander- Nonfiction

This was a heartbreaking but necessary read. It explored cases of how our criminal system works and the flaws in its inherently discriminatory in nature. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the US justice system and all who are wanting to work for change. The first step is always education. This book is from the list of summer reading books. 

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An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison- Nonfiction

A memoir of a woman with manic-depressive illness, Jamison describes her tumultuous lifestyle up until her diagnosis and treatment, along with her personal pursuit of a career in psychiatry. I would be wary when deciding to read this book, as it is heavy at times, including the descriptions  of her intense highs, intense lows, and suicide attempt. 

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot- Nonfiction

Henrietta Lacks’ cells were taken without her permission by doctors and were used for all sorts of research. One of the things the cells helped with was the polio vaccine. Years later, her family fights for their rights as the cells were taken without their consent. 

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Still Alice, Lisa Genova- Fiction

Alice is a professor of psychology, yet as her own brain begins to deteriorate she recognizes that she is showing symptoms of early-onset Alzheimers. She makes a plan called the butterfly plan where she writes questions of things she wants to remember. If she can’t remember the questions, she makes a plan to overdose. Ultimately, she forgets her plan due to her diagnosis and continues living a life filled with her family and support. 

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Gilead, Marilynne Robinson- Fiction

This is a story about fathers and sons and spiritual warfare. I greatly enjoyed this novel though it was sad to read. A father is dying and leaves final thoughts with his son. It is full of wisdom and advice from a life well-lived by the father to his son. 

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The Nick Adams Stories, Ernest Hemingway- Fiction

In this coming of age story Nick Adams undertakes the journey of growing from adolescent to adult. This is a sequence that closely parallels the events of Hemingway’s life. I greatly enjoyed this story and would recommend it to those who enjoy coming-of-age stories and find joy in the journey over the destination. 

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Untamed, Glennon Doyle- Nonfiction

This book was actually released in 2020, and it is an interesting addition to the other two in the collection of works by Glennon Doyle. Doyle shares stories of her family and how she believes we are conditioned as a society to present ourselves in a certain way. She shares her beliefs of how this is detrimental, and, ultimately, how to break free from these restrictions. 

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