My Favorite Books of 2020
At the beginning of 2019 I set a goal to read more. Specifically, I set out to read 24-30 books (I ended up at 25). I renewed the resolution at the beginning of 2020 and I’m working on book #32 this week. I am surprised by that number. It doesn’t feel like I read that much more than in 2019, but apparently I did.
I keep track of the books I read on a dedicated Pinterest board. As I look over the books I read this year, here are the ones that stand out to me, in no particular order.
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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
I don’t usually read true crime, but I was interested in this book because it not only tells the story of the Golden State Killer (a serial rapist and murderer in 1970s and 80s California) but also the passion with which the author Michelle McNamara pursued the truth about him decades later. Sadly, Michelle passed away unexpectedly before the killer was captured (you may have read about that; she was the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt) so parts of the book are drawn from her notes and interviews. Still, I was engrossed from beginning to end as she takes us inside her process of piecing together the movements and actions of a killer who was responsible for so much violence and terror but went uncaptured for decades.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Tom and I watched the Netflix documentary based on this book and I found it so interesting that he surprised me with the book for my birthday. I knew I would enjoy the parts of the book that covered the Obamas’ White House years (and there were some fascinating behind-the-scenes details there) but I was not expecting to enjoy reading about Michelle’s earlier life as much as I did. From growing up in her tight-knit family of four, to her experiences at Princeton, to beginning her career and meeting Barack, it was all fascinating to me. I also loved that so much of the book was set in Chicago, one of my favorite places. An interesting topic and so well-written, I predicted that Becoming would be one of my favorite books of the year and here it is.
Columbine by Dave Cullen
“Whatever you think you know about Columbine, you’re probably wrong.” I’d heard some version of that statement about this book so many times that I finally had to read it for myself. Journalist Dave Cullen arrived at Columbine High School about an hour after the 1999 shooting and spent the next ten years researching all aspects of the tragedy, including how it unfolded, what motivated the two killers, various law enforcement angles, and the experiences of the victims, survivors, and their families. The result is a book that is both thorough and compelling; somehow Cullen manages to make sense of the reams of evidence resulting from the event and presents it in a highly readable way.
Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews
I read Mary Kay’s new release every summer and I always know I’m going to enjoy it but this may be my favorite of hers so far. Conley Hawkins returns to her hometown after her promising journalism career hits a major bump in the road. Despite her misgivings, she agrees to work for her family’s struggling, small-town newspaper while trying to figure out what’s next and finds herself covering the mysterious death of a local Congressman. A little mystery, a little journalism, and a little romance added up to a favorite read for me.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
This was one of my Book of the Month Club choices and I’m so glad I took the chance on it. Rachel Krall has a popular true-crime podcast, but she keeps a low profile so she’s surprised when, on her way to cover a rape trial in a small North Carolina town, someone leaves a note on her car asking her to look into their sister’s death in the same town 25 years earlier. As Rachel reaches the town and becomes immersed in the trial she’s there to cover (a young swimmer with Olympic aspirations is accused of raping a local high school girl) the mysterious notes keep coming and she finds herself drawn into this new story from a generation earlier. The premise of this book, with the podcast element, drew me in and the story more than held my interest.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
It’s so hard to explain what The Library Book is about. It’s an Amazon bestseller in the History of the Western US and Library and Information Science sections, but that doesn’t tell you much, does it? The book begins with a mysterious fire that occurred at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, and the story of that fire and the person suspected of setting it is woven throughout the book which covers the history of public libraries in general and the Los Angeles Public Library specifically. The Library Book is one of those highly readable non-fiction books, that readers and library lovers are likely to enjoy.
The Dry by Jane Harper
This Australian debut novel is a mystery that takes place in the midst of a drought, hence the title. The main character is a federal agent who returns to the hometown that he and his father were (literally) run out of years before. While looking into an apparent murder-suicide involving an old friend, he begins to uncover secrets about the mystery that caused him to leave town in the first place. Our book club read this book and everyone was enthusiastic about it. Speaking for myself, the story immediately pulled me in and kept me turning pages until the end, which is exactly what I want from a mystery. (FYI, Jane Harper’s next book, The Survivors, is set to be released in February but is one of Book of the Month Club’s choices for January. I enjoyed The Dry enough that I made The Survivors my January selection.)
Have you read any of these? What did you think? What was on your list of favorites this year?
I listened to Michelle Obama’s book on audio last year and found it really good. Like you, I was surprised by how interesting her early years were to read about. And I have The Library Book still sitting on my shelves, waiting to be read (like way too many other books). I had a number of favorites this year, with maybe the most enjoyable fiction being Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, and for nonfiction favorite Holley Gerth’s The Powerful Purpose of Introverts. Looking forward to more great books in 2021!
I hear nothing but good things about The Dutch House (which is also sitting on my shelves waiting to be read!). The book about introverts sounds so interesting. Thanks so much for sharing, Lauren.
I loved The Dutch House but didn’t read it. Instead,
I listened to the audio version narrated by Tom Hanks–amazing. If you love houses, you will enjoy this story with a house as the main character!