[Updating: I am constantly updating this list as a few readers have sent in their favorites after its initial posting. I’m putting an asterisk * adjacent to the names of those whom I’ve added. I hope readers will return to this list throughout the year for possible titles of interest, and some that may not have been here Dec. 31.]
Easily this post is my Favorite (‘Book’) of the year.
Amidst some controversy, I limited contributors to just four titles with the intent of focusing more on what readers were saying about their favorites and less emphasis on how many books were cited multiple times. Whether I achieved that or not, you will no doubt tell me. Some of you have already done so, and I look forward to hearing from others about this year’s format.
To the results:
There are 228 books listed from 68 contributors, 34 female, 34 male. Nonfiction (NF) submissions slightly outweighed Fiction (F), 52%-48%, only the second time that has occurred in the 12 years we’ve been doing this.
Seven titles received three or more citing:
- Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (NF) (7)
- The Splendid & the Vile by Erik Larson (NF) (5)
- A Promised Land by Barack Obama (NF) (3)
- Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F) (3)
- The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (F) by Kim Michele Richardson (NF) (3).
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F) (3)
- Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F) (3)
Seventeen others were cited twice. Had contributors been able to submit more than four favorites, I suspect there would have been a significant increase of these and other titles cited.
I hope you will take the time not only to check out your own submissions and those of people you know but of other contributors too, readers you don’t know. For me, everyone participating is a friend (some of whom I’ve known more than 50 years), and I have interest in what they’re reading and enjoying and think you may also. Some of their choices I can assure you will be unfamiliar to you but certainly are ones worth considering.
If you’re frustrated by not being able to list more than four, you’ll see at the end of the post how you might add more of your own favorites to this year’s post. You’ll also see what others are adding.
Additionally, you’ll find links to the three 2020 mid-year posts, and for those who really have little to do, you can link to any or all of the annual lists starting in 2009.
The list below is alphabetical by first name, and any errors are solely my responsibility. Let me know if I need to make corrections.
The 2020 Favorite Reads from MillersTime Contributors
As for what I’ve been reading, it’s yin and yang. On the one hand I have delved deeply and continuously into Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (NF) and been a part of several discussion groups about it. That woman is a genius writer — how she did all that research and then crafted the information without sounding like a rant is astounding.
On the other hand, I’ve done some lighter reading, prompted by my book group that wanted an escape. I’ve now read a couple of British writer Jojo Moyes books. That woman can write in a page-turner way. I was ready for a “happy ending/bad guys lose/good guys win” book. The two titles I consumed are The Giver of Stars (F) and One Plus One (F).
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal (NF). Memoir of ceramicist Edmund de Waal, his family, the Ephrussis Family – which was a Jewish banking family in Paris/Vienna in the 19th Century. The story is told by tracing the history of Japanese netsuke (small carved figures) which were passed down through 5 generations of the family. Can be a little slow at times but the family’s story is very interesting.
Billion Dollar Brand Club by Lawrence Ingrassia (NF). Interesting story about all of the billion dollar internet brands including Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker.
The Warburgs by Ron Chernow (NF). Long but amazing story about an amazing Jewish banking family
The Last Kings of Shanghai by Jonthan Kaufman (NF). Maybe my favorite of the year. Gives the reader a great understand about how China developed its relationship with the west today told through the story of two Jewish families that emigrated to China from Iraq.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F). I usually read books instead of listening. This book changed my thinking about audio books. Akhtar is a story teller whose compelling voice explores family, identity, relationships, and allegiances. Though fiction, it richly borrows from Akhtar’s experiences growing up in an immigrant family in a frayed America. This is fiction that feels like nonfiction.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF). If Homeland Elegies is fiction that reads like nonfiction, this is the opposite: nonfiction that reads like fiction. A portrait of leadership during a most troubled time May 1940 – May 1941, I valued reading about how a great, though flawed, statesman rescued civilization. Stark contrast to the dangerous leadership of this country’s last four years.
The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant (NF). (Thank you Ellen Miller for recommending this book.) It is about Natchez, MS: the eclectic, colorful locals; the city’s culture, social, class and caste systems; the legacies of its slave owner families; its struggles with its past and present racism; its future viability. If you know New Orleans and its idiosyncrasies, Natchez makes NOLA seem rather dull. The book is alternately amusing, poignant, nauseating, and cringe worthy.
Ellen Miller said:
The ‘acclaimed books’ and prizewinners I read in 2020 – mentioned above but not listed because their number would technically violate the rules of the editor to list only 4 books! — were all very much deserving of praise they received. So I’ve added a footnote. Don’t miss any of these?
1. Deacon King Kong by James McBride
2. Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
3. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
4. Jack: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
5. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
6. Memorial Drive: A Daughters Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
7. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
8. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker;
9. The Splendid and the Vile: A Story of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larsen
10.Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
11.My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Kathryn Camicia said:
ellen shapira said:
Richard, Thanks as usual for doing this as it is always fun to see what everyone is reading. One big complaint: When you edited my list of five favorite books you took out two instead of one! Here is the one fabulous read that was left off my list:
The Pull of the Stars (F) by Emma Donoghue, author of Room, is probably my favorite book of the last few months. Set in Ireland in 1918, the book tells the story of a nurse/midwife working in a maternity ward of a hospital caring for several pregnant women, all with Spanish Flu. Not only was it fascinating to learn more about that pandemic and early 20the century obstetrics, but the character relationships were richly described and developed. Themes around War World I, Irish Independence, feminism, sexual identity, love and death made this a very satisfying read.
Oops. I’m putting it back on now. Thanx for letting me know.
Thanks so much for doing this. As usual I have found several books that I will definitely get
Rebekah Jacobs said:
I only listed nonfiction so here’s my favorite fiction:
1) Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy (one of the best books I read, climate change but also a love story, hard to explain)
2) Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (for Sliding Doors fans)
3) Beach Read by Emily Henry (more than a beach read)
4) Such a Fun Age Kiley Reid (2 women: a white blogger and her young black babysitter)
5) This Must Be the Place Maggie O’Farrell (I love this author, Hamnet is next, and her memoir)
6) Long Bright River Liz Moore (2 sisters rocked by opioid crisis)
Other nonfiction I loved
1) Life is in the Transitions by Bruce Feiler
2) Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford
3) The Only Plane in the Sky: Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M.Gradd
4) Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
5) Burnout Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
Young adult (from Gracie via audible)
1) Dress Coded
2) From the desk of Zoe Washington
3) The List of Things that Will Not Change
Audible Books (from Mike)
1) A Promised Land Barack Obama
2) The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
3) The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
4) The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey
5) This is Chance! by Jon Mooallem
6) Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
7) Three Hours in Paris by Clara Black
8) The End of October by Lawrence Wright (about a Pandemic, fyi)
Are you sure you have three kids and a husband? When do you get all the time to read/listen?
Barbara Friedman said:
Here are two additional great reads from 2020:
1. Churchill: Walking With Destiny NF by Andrew Roberts is an excellent one volume book on Churchill – from birth to death. Through the book, you learn to love and admire him and even to hate him at times; see him in power and out of power. Interestingly, it was his experience with Islamic fanatics in his early days that gave him the prescience to distrust Hitler from very early on (the lone voice) and the same with Stalin at the end of WWII. He basically never changed and plowed on – saving Britain in WWII – and in the end, garnering enormous respect. We know that but it is worth seeing how he did it all.
2. The Paper Daughters of Chinatown, by Heather Moore, is an historical novel about Donaldina (Dolly) Cameron who worked at and then ran a Presbyterian Mission in San Francisco from the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s whose goal was to rescue slave girls from Chinatown. It follows Dolly’s timeline quite closely but in novel form. You learn a lot about an unsavory part of SF and the bravery of Dolly. If you read and like The Invention of Wings, you will also love this book.
Richard Miller said:
Because of some killjoy limiting submissions to four, I was forced to leave out the following (fortunately, Larry Makinson had it on his list):
“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead:A Novel” by Olga Tokarczuk (F). Wonderfully involving story about a quirky, whacky woman who believes in the power of Astrology, the power of animals, and Wm Blake. Also, a whodunit and a story and meditation on good and evil. Won Nobel Prize for Literature. Polish writer who is also a winner of the Man Booker Prize.
Christopher Boutourline said:
Richard, thank you for this wonderful resource. I wrote down many titles and now have to reconcile that list with a New Year’s thought (not yet a resolution) that, maybe, the pandemic has me “over reading”. I remembered that I thought Trevor Noah’s memoir about his upbringing in South Africa was a very good read with nary a word about his career. Also the mention of “The Deepest South”, by Richard Grant, jogged my memory- I read his previous book, “Dispatches from Pluto” (2015), which recounted this Englishman’s relocation to Pluto, Mississippi. I thought it was a worthwhile read and a scene that sticks with me is when Grant is warned by a friend that it’s not safe for him to keep frequenting a bar. During that discussion Grant reveals that he doesn’t carry a gun and his friend’s incredulous response is “You’re not packing”.
BRIAN STEINBACH said:
Deacon King Kong also has three listings!
I left it out of the opening to see how carefully readers checked out the post. Not surprised you found it.
Susan Butler said:
For those who liked Akhtar Ayad’s Homeland Elegies or his plays or are interested in knowing more about him, I recommend our son’s podcast interview of Akhtar. You can find it here: https://slate.com/podcasts/working/2020/12/ayad-akhtar-writing-process-homeland-elegies