We reflected on how our 2020 reading habits lined up with our projections and made our 2021 reading resolutions, but today I’d like to take a look at what stood out: what were our favorite reads this past year? Our list is flexible: these aren’t just books that were published in 2020 or reviewed on the site, but simply books that we experienced during 2020 that we thought were particularly excellent.
Though I’ve read 20 books so far in 2020, the one that was the most perfect read, the one that had me finding excuses to go back and read more, was The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I read it on audiobook, and Carey Mulligan’s narration was so lovely (despite mispronouncing La Jolla). I found the ending predictable, but any other ending would have been disappointing. It was the journey that mattered, though, one whose purpose seemed to be to remind us to be grateful for all that we have, and to realize that not everything is about us.
Jonathan H. Liu
As in most years, I read a lot of comic books in 2020, one of my favorite genres. One of my favorites, which I read in the last few days of the year, was the Paper Girls series by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. It starts off in the early morning after Halloween in 1988, where four newspaper delivery girls are starting their rounds—and strange things start happening. I don’t want to spoil too much more in case you haven’t read the series yourself, but it incorporates a type of story that I love, and the four girls have a lot of wild adventures in this 6-volume arc.
Another favorite comic book, for those of you who prefer comic strips, was The Department of Mind-Blowing Stories by Tom Gauld. It’s a collection of science-based strips, and is sure to elicit laughs if you’re a science geek. Finally, Gene Yang’s Dragon Hoops was a fantastic story about basketball, focusing on the team at the school where he taught, but also digging into the history of basketball and Yang’s own relationship to the sport. It’s filled with action but also deeply personal.
In the fiction department, I highly recommend Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang. This collection of short (and sometimes longer) stories is filled with fascinating explorations of ideas from time travel and fate to artificial intelligence and self-awareness. It had been a long time since his previous story collection, so I was particularly excited to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Finally, I love flipping through art books, and this year one that stood out was Steven Universe: Art & Origins by Chris McDonnell, not only because I’m a fan of the show itself, but because this book is more than just a collection of concept art. It includes a lot of information and interviews about the creation of the show and the way that the team worked to tell the stories they felt were important. It’s still amazing to me that a show like this got made, and I appreciated the deep dive that this book provided.
After reading 182 books in 2020, it’s perhaps not surprising that I had quite a few stand-out titles throughout the year but I tried to narrow this down to three very different books.
My absolute number one favorite had to be Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This contemporary YA romance features a romantic relationship between Alex – the First Son of the first female US President – and Henry, Prince of England. The pair can loosely be described as enemies at the beginning of the book but a minor diplomatic incident forces them to appear as friends in front of the press and… the inevitable happens. The story sees the two young men facing their own challenges but was also laugh out loud funny in parts which made me fall in love with not only the main characters but the brilliant supporting ones as well.
I also found myself enjoying Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark, a dual timeline haunted house thriller with Amityville Horror vibes in which a young woman returns to the home her family fled one night when she was too young to remember. Her father has written a bestselling book detailing their experiences living in the supposedly haunted house but Maggie doesn’t believe a word of it. The book follows her current exploration of the house and also her father twenty-five years before as they both face unexplained events at Baneberry Hall and leaves you guessing about whether or not they are truly supernatural right until the end.
Finally, I want to mention The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewart Johnson. This memoir recounts the author’s life as a planetary scientist and a mother alongside the story of Mars exploration, right up until the present day. It is brilliantly written and made me want to leap straight back into studying science once again.
It was something of a lean year for books for me. Perhaps it was the general flatness of 2020, but I found less time for reading and fewer books that really engaged me. It might even be the case that my favorite book was one written a few months before I was born. Just before Christmas I reread Watership Down and loved it.
Of books that were published this year, two stand out as book that absorbed and entertained me.
The Thief on Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas is a gothic-tinged novel about magic dolls. A novel that was gently gripping as it revealed its secrets. I’ve loved both of Mascarenhas’ novels and have nominated both as my novel of the year (Also, The Psychology of Time Travel in 2018). Her novels perfectly dissect how the world runs according to parameters set by men, whilst also warning of the perils of obsession. Mascarenhas has a way of putting words down on the page that makes me want to read and read her writing. I can’t wait to see what she delivers next.
A new author to me in 2020 was Laura Lam, who delivered Goldilocks; a science fiction thriller every bit as readable as The Martian. Goldilocks details a quest to save humanity and asks whether we should put our own humanity aside to pursue such a noble goal? Filled with twists, turns, and hard choices. Goldilocks was the most addictive novel I read in 2020.
I always like to include a children’s book in our annual round-up, and this year I’ve chosen the Alfie Fleet books by Martin Howard. Genuinely hilarious, with a host of vibrant and memorable characters, the books are everything children’s fiction should be. They’re inclusive, have a great sense of what is right running through them, and extol the virtues of friendship. They’re also bursting with imaginative settings, clever jokes, and fabulous illustrations from the ever-excellent Chris Mould.
What did you read in 2020 that stayed with you? Any books you think we should add to our reading lists?