Best Books of 2020

In January of 2019, I closed out all of my social media accounts and made an active commitment to read more books of substance, and less ephemeral drivel, than had been the case in then-recent years. I was pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that was when I did my Best Books of 2019 report, and had a wealth of great reads to choose from. It was also pleasant to see that my own writing output increased when I gave up on social media, as I dedicated time and energy toward my own website that had once been wasted by tossing tiny bon mots into the winds of the Twitterverse, where they spun and flashed briefly, then were forgotten, as they deserved to be. It was a really good lesson in how much of a time-suck social media could be.

Also, objectively speaking, my life was far less anxious and agitated after I wiped the social media spew from my world’s windshield, depending for news on a small number of trusted, curated websites in lieu of the hateful and untrustworthy worlds that Jack and Zuck and their evil greed-head ilk have built to destroy us in the name of share-holder equity. What a truly shitty paradigm that experience is, on so many levels. I look forward to us moving beyond it, though I am not enough of a futurist to see how and when that might happen. I just know that it is a long overdue transition, and that tomorrow’s historians will likely look at how we spent our time and framed our arguments in the first quarter of the 21st Century and will wonder “What the hell were they thinking?!? And how could they have collectively been so very, very stupid?!?”

One way we get stupider is by not reading great books by great writers, so I feel like I again did my own small part to stay smart in 2020 by continuing to devour a wide range of new books by authors both familiar and fresh. I share my lists of the best new books I read this year below, parsed by genre, alphabetized by author surname within each of the three categories, with links to foster further exploration. (In some cases, the books were published before 2020 in their native languages, but the U.S. editions came out this year, so I do include them, with notes to that effect).

Perhaps some of these wonderful works will move you too. Or perhaps some other literary thing will have rocked your world rigorously enough that you’d like to share a recommendation in the comments. Happy to hear from you, in either case!

2020 Novels:

The Heap, Sean Adams
Providence, Max Barry
Parakeet, Marie-Helene Bertino
Piranesi, Susanna Clarke
The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, M. John Harrison
The Vanished Birds, Simon Jimenez
The Last Human, Zack Jordan
Qualityland, Marc-Uwe Kling (English Edition)
Pew, Catherine Lacey
Eden, Tim Lebbon
The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel
Deacon King Kong, James McBride
Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor (English Edition)
A Children’s Bible, Lydia Millet
Death in Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh
Earthlings, Sayaka Murata (English Edition)
Weather, Jenny Offill
The Evidence, Christopher Priest
Hearts of Oak, Eddie Robson
Little Eyes, Samanta Schweblin (English Edition)

2020 Short Stories/Collections:

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, Laura van den Berg
Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh
Velocities, Kathe Koja
To Hold Up The Sky, Cixin Liu (English Edition)

2020 Nonfiction:

Clean: The New Science of Skin, James Hamblin
The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch, Miles Harvey
All My Yesterdays: The Autobiography of Steve Howe, Steve Howe
Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt, Steven Johnson
The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition, RADM James R. McNeal and Scott Tomasheski
Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, Lulu Miller
The Ox: The Authorized Biography of John Entwistle, Paul Rees
Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World, Alexander Rose
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures, Merlin Sheldrake
The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World, Patrik Svensson (English Edition)
Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music, Ted Templeman and Greg Renoff

If I had to pick a “Nonfiction Book of the Year” for 2020, this one would be it.

And if asked to name a “Fiction Book of the Year” for 2020, I’d go with this one. Happy reading!!

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