I'm going to take a break from talking explicitly about teaching today to indulge the English teacher in me and share 10 books I read in 2020 I think others might enjoy. I should start by saying that reading for pleasure is one of my great joys. I read every night in bed — sometimes for 20 minutes, but often for 2-3 hours — and I also run an antiracist book club, which generally focuses on a single book each month (one exception to that — we broke "Stamped from the Beginning" into three months, as Kendi's phenomenal history of racism in America needed more than a single month to read and process). I read a lot over the course of each year, averaging somewhere between 125-150 books most years. I'm currently at 172 for 2020.
I am also the opposite of a book snob. Although I have specific tastes, for sure, I believe all reading is good reading. I love fantasy and science fiction, the genres I read most every year, but I also read a fair amount of mystery, romance and more general fiction. Here are some of the best books I read this year.
"The House in the Cerulean Sea" by T. J. Klune
Described by many as "a hug in the form of a book," this beautiful story gave me joy in a year I needed it most. It's a whimsical story about Linus Baker, a man who works as a social worker for supernatural orphans, who gets sent to Marsyas Island Orphanage to evaluate six particularly dangerous children and their caretaker. It's a sweet and funny story with an unexpected love story nestled at the heart of the narrative. I absolutely loved it. If you want more books like this, check out "6 books that feel like a hug" on Weird Zeal.
"Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid
I just finished this book, devouring it in a single, cringing session, and it's brilliant. Reid skillfully builds each of the main characters and juxtaposes their identities, personal histories and world views in such interesting ways, shifting perspectives and telling and retelling stories until they tangle into something that is simultaneously very simple and also terribly complex. The ambiguity of the ending is perfect. It's not a comfortable read, but it's an excellent one.
"The Bone Shard Daughter" by Andrea Stewart
This is the first in new trilogy by debut author Andrea Stewart, who creates a wildly inventive world where an Emperor can manipulate the bones of his people and create eerie, animalistic bone constructs to maintain law and order. The protagonist is his daughter, Lin, whose memories beyond the past five years have vanished. The central story is her quest to regain her memories and prove herself worthy to be her father's heir, but as she seeks to master bone shard magic, she uncovers difficult truths. It's such a unique fantasy; I really loved it.
"Stamped from the Beginning" by Ibram X. Kendi
I'm cheating with this one because I'm still finishing this incredible book, but I'm so close, and it's too important not to include. Kendi's meticulously researched text frames the evolution of racist ideas through five main historical figures: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois and Angela Davis. This is not a fast read; expect to need a long time to work through it and process how much history you didn't know or knew incompletely or knew without nuance. It's absolutely worth your time.
"The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue" by V. E. Schwab
I'm a sucker for magical realism and great writing, and this book has both. It's is a coming-of-age story, a romance and a supernatural mystery set over 300 years after a young woman gets her wish to live forever — but ends up being forgotten by everyone as soon as she leaves their sight. It's beautifully written as the heroine carves a life for herself outside of normal life and learns to live, fiercely, despite her isolation through the centuries and the temptation to end her bargain with the devil-figure who granted it. I really enjoyed it.
"A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking" by T. Kingfisher
This is the weirdest, most wonderful fantasy I read in 2020. T. Kingfisher is "the vaguely absurd pen-name of Ursula Vernon," who writes children's stories. She uses this pen name whenever she writes adult fiction, though I think this book could easily be classified as YA. I love all of her work (except her horror! I am a coward!), but I especially love her adult fantasy. Her Clocktaur Boys series is great. This tale, however, with 14-year-old protagonist Mona and her sentient sourdough starter, is particularly delightful.
"Hood Feminism" by Mikki Kendall
This fantastic series of essays has been much written about already. I'm recommending it to everyone because of how persuasively Kendall argues meeting basic needs is the most critical feminist issue, one mainstream white feminism has ignored. As stated in the Penguin overview of the book, "How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?" If you're like me, you'll finish this book rethinking feminism and deeply inspired to take action.
"How Long 'Til Black Future Month?" by N. K. Jemisin
I loved this collection of short stories (so weird! so interesting!), but this is really an excuse for me to shoutout all of Jemisin's work. Jemisin has been one of my favorite authors for years; her sci-fi and fantasy are incredibly inventive and her characters richly drawn. I reread both the Dreamblood and Inheritance trilogies in addition to this collection this year and need to go back to reread the Broken Earth series as well. Many of the stories in this collection are drawn from these worlds, including an origin story for her newest series, The Great Cities.
"Network Effect" by Martha Wells
This is the fifth book in the "Murderbot Diaries," the ongoing tale of a security robot who gains sentience, a love of popular culture and a deep sense of ennui while reluctantly getting caught up in adventures. I unabashedly love this sci-fi exploration of an old trope — the sentient robot — with his dark sense of humor and pessimism about the human race...while simultaneously kind of wanting to protect them. If this sounds intriguing, start with the 2018 novella "All Systems Red." The whole series is great escapist reading.
"The Calculating Stars" by Mary Robinette Kowal
If you liked Andy Weir's "The Martian," you have to check out this great trilogy. I'm cheating a little, here, because the book I actually read in 2020 was the third in the series — "The Relentless Moon" — but this one is worth reading from the beginning. It's an alternative history book about the direction the Space Race might have taken after a cataclysmic astroid strike, and the characters are really interesting and well drawn. It won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2019 for best novel.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream