Friday, January 1, 2021

Read-At-Home Mom's Top 25 Books of 2020

One of my favorite things to do at the end of December is to make my list of my top 25 books for the year. Though 2020 was an unusual reading year in some ways, I still read a lot of really interesting and well-written books. They are listed by category below. I marked my top ten very favorites with an asterisk.

Feel-Good Reads (5)

This spring, between bringing home newborn twins and everything being closed and canceled right and left, I found myself wanting to read purely to escape. Though I eventually started reading other types of books too, feel-good reads remained my top genre throughout 2020. It's hard to guess how I might have felt about these books had I not read them during a global pandemic, but for this year, they were all five-star reads.

  • *Attachments by Rainbow Rowell was one of the picks for the Everyday Reading book club on Instagram, and I just absolutely loved it. I think it's hard to write something funny, and Rowell made me laugh a lot with this quirky romance set in the 90s. I really enjoyed the characters and I felt that the story managed to have substance while still helping me take my mind off what was going on in the world. 
  • The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs was a pleasant surprise for me. Her older books have typically been three-star reads for me, but this one has deeper characterization and a more engaging plot than her previous titles. I think I also appreciated the story because it was about finding hope during a time of grief, and I was grieving the loss of a lot of things this year.
  • *At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon is the first in a series that one of my Instagram followers said had good fall vibes. It turned out that I loved this series so much that from October to December, I read eight of the books. I could have chosen all of them, but the first one is representative of everything I love about the series so I just went with that. I love the characters, the small-town setting, the Christian themes, and the audiobook narrator, John McDonough. 
  • *Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge is the second in a trilogy which I've been reading with the Elizabeth Goudge book club on Instagram. I really liked the first book, too, but this one stuck with me more strongly, especially because it made me love some characters I had previously seen as totally unlikable.  I'm looking forward to finishing the trilogy in January. 
  • *The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg was the real surprise of the year. This is a sequel to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe that catches us up on all the characters from the first book and follows Buddy Threadgoode through his entire adult life. I thought this was just going to be a quick novelty read, but it was actually so much more satisfying than that. It made me laugh and moved me to happy tears. It will only make sense to people who have read the first book, but for those readers it is such a treat. 

Children's and YA Books (3)

The longer I am away from working in libraries, the fewer children's books I read, but there were still a few stand-out middle grade and YA titles I read this year. 

  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a Newbery winner I read with two Instagram friends and it was great. I liked it mostly for what it had to say about education, but it's also great for readers who are interested in sailing and the history of navigation. 
  • The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell was chosen from the shelf at random by my three-year-old as a potential read-aloud. I read it aloud at lunchtime over the course of a week, and though it was a strange little story about a man and a mermaid and their adopted animals, I was completely surprised by how emotional it was and how beautifully written.  My kids also loved it. 
  • *By the Book by Amanda Sellet is an adorable YA romance that came out this spring. I loved the protagonist who is a sweet, naive, and bookish girl from a very quirky and intelligent family who accidentally finds love. As I was reading this one, I was wishing it had been around when I was a teenager. 

Memoirs (3)

I didn't read as much nonfiction this year as I wanted, but there were a few standout titles among the ones I did pick up. 
  • The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp was my book club's pick for November. I really loved seeing how this family lived out their faith and relied on God to see them through some really challenging times. 
  • *A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle is the first of her Crosswicks Journals. I loved reading her descriptions of family life and her neighbors at Crosswicks as well as the insights into the inspiration for her fiction. I also found that her religious beliefs as articulated in this book were pretty in line with my own Catholic beliefs  (but this was frustratingly not the case in the other Journals I read after this one). 
  • A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel is a book I owned as a teenager but it didn't come with me when I moved out of my parents' house and I have no idea what happened to it. I listened to the audiobook on the recommendation of an Instagram follower and I absolutely loved it. It was funny, and relatable, and I'm planning to listen to the second book in 2021. 

Pandemic Reading (3) 

After spending the spring losing myself in escapist reads, I leaned into the pandemic a bit and read some books that ultimately made me feel more optimistic about the current situation.  

  • An American Plague by Jim Murphy is a middle grade nonfiction book about the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. So much of the situation back then was similar to what's been happening here, from people avoiding each other in the streets to fake news writers trying to capitalize on the public's fears. I found this book completely fascinating and I never would have appreciated it half as much had I not read it during the pandemic. 
  • *Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel had been recommended to me prior to the pandemic, and I almost didn't pick it up once Covid-19 started to spread because I thought it would hit too close to home. It turns out, though, that this book really put things into their proper perspective. Compared to the societal collapse depicted in this book, 2020 was a walk in the park. 
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau has been on my TBR since I read We Alcotts at the beginning of 2019 and decided I wanted to know more about Concord. It turns out that it's basically a crash course in social distancing! I read it in the fall, but I wish I had thought to read it in the spring when lockdown first started.  

Classics (5)

  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine is a must-read for understanding how the fouding fathers saw the role of government. This was much better reading than people's unfiltered political opinions on social media.
  • *Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was one of my first reads of the year and it confirmed that I am definitely a Bronte girl, rather than an Austen girl. I loved the writing, the characters, the story, everything. I will definitely re-read this one someday. 
  • Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset is probably the longest book I've ever read. I started it in 2019 and finished it in early 2020. It's so dramatic, and sometimes I got annoyed with Kristin's horrible decision making as a young woman, but it's ultimately a beautiful story of redemption that is worth all the work it takes to reach the end. 
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is a book I'd been meaning to read for over a year. I listened to most of it on audio and found that it really is very readable and quite funny. 
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson was another book I read early in 2020. It's so creepy and unsettling but so good. I listened to the audiobook at regular speed and it was a great reading experience. 

Mysteries (3)

  • The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny is book 11 in the Armand Gamache series, and it's one of the best. It's somewhat darker and different than the ones that come before it, but I like that this series continually reinvents itself.  
  • Anatomy of a Murder by William Traver is the novel on which my favorite movie of all time is based, and I finally read it this year. Though my favorite line from the film turns out not to be from the book, I still really enjoyed this and found that overall the film is very faithful to its source material.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Gaines is a science fiction novel and not a mystery per se, but it does have a mysterious quest at its center that made me want to include it in this category. I thought this was a really interesting take on social media and its potential dangers, and I'm excited to read the sequel that just came out.  

Strong Sense of Place (3) 

Finally, the last three books in my top 25 are stories where the setting plays a significant role.  
  • *Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons is an audiobook I listened to over the summer. It follows Maud, a southerner who marries a man from Maine and thereafter spends her summers in Retreat, a small colony on the coast of Maine where her mother-in-law reigns supreme and where, over the decades, Maud acquires power - and secrets - of her own. This was a perfect summer read, and I liked it so much I bought several more Siddons titles.
  • *Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry is the first book I've read by this author but it won't be the last. It's a beautiful look back at the life of one elderly woman and her family on their farm, and it is beautifully written from beginning to end. It was sadder than I was expecting, but a great book all the same. 
  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman is my first book by this author and also won't be my last. Backman writes gorgeous descriptions of the small town of Beartown, where everyone lives their lives around hockey, and he writes tastefully and honestly about a sexual assault that tears the town apart. I have never read a book with so many quotable lines. I can't believe Fredrik Backman is my age; he seems wise beyond his years.
Have you read any of these books? What were your favorites of this past year?

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