The 5 Best Books I Read in 2020

Needless to say, 2020 was an interesting year. This, of course, affected my reading. I found during the beginning of the pandemic, I couldn’t bring myself to read. Reading about people doing “normal” things depressed me. But as the year wore on, I got back into the swing of things. I think, however, that’s also kind of why all the best books I read in 2020 are nonfiction! I challenged myself this year in more ways than one, and I think these books were really nurturing when and where I needed them. Each one is different and amazing. I highly recommend them!

The 5 Best Books I Read in 2020

All About Love by bell hooks

Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 30th 2018 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published December 22nd 1999)

No matter what happened this year, I think it would have been a game-changer for me. In February, I was diagnosed with ADHD and started taking medication for it. This was huge. Not only did it change the way things were moving forward, it helped me to reframe my life through the lens of a neurodiverse person rather than whatever I had been telling myself to explain my perceived shortcomings. Because of this, I started to be able to truly get to know myself and live more authentically. This was one of the books I read at the beginning of that journey. As far as self-help goes, bell hooks gets it. It’s not all about self-indulgence or individualism. All About Love is truly one of the best books I’ve read. I know this will be one I return to time and time again. It’s also going to be one of those books (like Tiny Beautiful Things) that I randomly buy for people.

From the publisher:

“The word “love” is most often defined as a noun, yet…we would all love better if we used it as a verb,” writes bell hooks as she comes out fighting and on fire in All About Love. Here, at her most provocative and intensely personal, the renowned scholar, cultural critic, and feminist skewers our view of love as romance. In its place she offers a proactive new ethic for a people and a society bereft with lovelessness.

As bell hooks uses her incisive mind and razor-sharp pen to explore the question “What is love?” her answers strike at both the mind and heart. In thirteen concise chapters, hooks examines her own search for emotional connection and society’s failure to provide a model for learning to love. Razing the cultural paradigm that the ideal love is infused with sex and desire, she provides a new path to love that is sacred, redemptive, and healing for the individuals and for a nation. The Utne Reader declared bell hooks one of the “100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life.” All About Love is a powerful affirmation of just how profoundly she can. 

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Published March 18th 2014 by Audible (first published October 22nd 2013)

This was one of the first books I read in 2020! I listened to the audiobook of it after hearing about it somewhere (My Favourite Murder? Maybe Georgia? Anyway). Let me tell you. This book is absolutely riveting. It’s weird and mysterious with all the elements of a great read! Dead Mountain actually kicked off a disaster story marathon for me. I went from there on to Midnight in Chernobyl, Into Thin Air and more. It was a fun time. I highly recommend doing that.

From the publisher:

In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Eerie aspects of the incident—unexplained violent injuries, signs that they cut open and fled the tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of the hikers, and elevated levels of radiation found on some of their clothes—have led to decades of speculation over what really happened. This gripping work of literary nonfiction delves into the mystery through unprecedented access to the hikers’ own journals and photographs, rarely seen government records, dozens of interviews, and the author’s retracing of the hikers’ fateful journey in the Russian winter. A fascinating portrait of the young hikers in the Soviet era, and a skillful interweaving of the hikers narrative, the investigators’ efforts, and the author’s investigations, here for the first time is the real story of what happened that night on Dead Mountain

Nocturnal by wilder poetry

Paperback, 176 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing (first published June 28th 2018)

I read this three times this year. I love contemporary poetry (see me gushing over Amanda Lovelace here) and this one was such a pleasant surprise. I was sent a copy for review by the publisher and boy, am I glad! Some of the poems I did little watercolour renderings of them and post them on my bulletin board. I cried reading it. I laughed. I felt a lot of things. And, if you’re anything like me (ADHD, holllllla), you’ll appreciate the short length of this style of poetry. If you like poetry, you need to add this one to your collection (or at least borrow from the library!).

From the publisher:

The poems of Nocturnal—newly revised and expanded—are constellations to guide those on a journey of healing and self-discovery, no matter how dark the night.

From @wilderpoetry comes a heavily expanded revised edition of Nocturnal, a collection of poetry and beautifully illustrated black-and-white imagery inspired by darkened days and sleepless nights. Poetry meets presentation in each of the four sections (“Dusk,” “Northern Lights,” “Howl,” “Lucid Dreams,”), which trace the author’s continuing journey of self-discovery while illuminating a path for others along the way. Ink stains, landscapes, dreamlike animals, blackened pages, and textured spreads create a multifaceted reading experience. And true to the moniker, these poems are linked by a motif of “the wild.” Celebrating the art of self-love poetry with both word and image, Nocturnal will leave readers comforted, curious, and inspired to explore the world around them.

Save Yourself: Essays by Cameron Esposito

Audiobook, 256 pages
Published March 24th 2020 by Grand Central Publishing

I listened to the audio of Save Yourself and I’m glad I did. It’s read by the author and she just gives it an extra special somethin’! Before I read this book, I didn’t know a ton about Cameron Esposito, but I had listened to her podcast and followed her on Instagram. I really love memoirs in essay form and knew this would be something I’d like. I was not wrong. Although she grew up Catholic and I Baptist (which, though both Christian, are surprisingly different), half the time I found myself exclaiming, are you actually talking about me, though?! Funny and insightful, Esposito shares parts of her life and herself with us. Highly recommend. (Obviously. It’s on this list.)

From the publisher:

From standup comic Cameron Esposito, a memoir that tackles sexuality, gender and equality–and how her Catholic upbringing prepared her for a career as an outspoken lesbian comedian in ways the Pope never could have imagined.

Cameron Esposito wanted to be a priest and ended up a standup comic. She would like to tell the whole, freaking queer as hell story. Her story. Not the sidebar to a straight person’s rebirth-she doesn’t give a makeover or plan a wedding or get a couple back together. This isn’t a queer tragedy. She doesn’t die at the end of this book, having finally decided to kiss the girl. It’s the sexy, honest, bumpy and triumphant dyke’s tale her younger, theology major self needed to read. Because there was a long time when she thought she wouldn’t make it. Not as a comic, but as a human.

SAVE YOURSELF is full of funny and insightful recollections about everything from coming out (at a Catholic college where being gay can get you expelled) to how joining the circus can help you become a better comic (so much nudity) to accepting yourself for who you are–even if you’re an awkward tween with an eyepatch (which Cameron was). Packed with heart, humor, and cringe-worthy stories anyone who has gone through puberty can relate to, Cameron’s memoir is for that timid, fenced-in kid in all of us–and the fearless standup yearning to break free.

Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed

Paperback, 312 pages
Published February 3rd 2017 by Duke University Press Books

This last one was such a wonderful surprise! It was actually one of the course texts for one of my grad school classes! Reading it was a total delight. Not only does Ahmed make a ton of truly excellent points, but she does so in a way that’s academic and literary at the same time. I honestly just adore everything about this book. I even liked doing the assignments about it! However, don’t let it’s academic leanings dissuade you from picking it up! Ahmed herself left academia. Trust me. This book is absolutely worth the read.

From the publisher:

In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

Honourable Mentions: