Since the early pandemic months of 2020, I knew this would be a good year for reading. One of the gifts of being sequestered, quarantined, or otherwise detained at home is having plenty of quality reading time. I loaded myself up with online book orders this year and spent my grateful-for-everything days and nights tending my literary health.
There is nothing better than getting lost in a good story to pass the time. My true loves of lit are historical fiction, classic fiction, and memoir. So it is no surprise, that my TOP 5 favorite books of 2020 nailed these categories. Though it was tough to narrow my choice to only five because life is too short to read a bad book.
Lynne’s TOP 5 BOOK LIST of 2020
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: I love Steinbeck. Probably my favorite writer of all time, his attention to detail and artful descriptions are a pure joy to read. This book was inspired by his migrant labor camp journalism in San Francisco in the 1930s, and later became a catalyst for congressional hearings regarding Labor Laws in the U.S. So much of this migrant story is relevant today, as it was when Eleanor Roosevelt wrote her review, “Now I must tell you that I have just finished a book which is an unforgettable experience in reading. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, both repels and attracts you. The horrors of the picture, so well drawn, make you dread sometimes to begin the next chapter, and yet you cannot lay the book down or even skip a page.” 1 Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 for this book as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1940.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate: Imagine the years just after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 and you have no idea where your disjoined family is, let alone whether or not they are even alive? How would you try to find them? Based on a real newspaper The Southwestern Christian Advocate out of New Orleans, anyone who paid for a subscription could post a free ‘Lost Friends’ ad in an effort to find their family or friends. A gripping story, well researched and well told, The Book of Lost Friends adds yet another dimension to our complex, often distressful U.S. History. 2 Sometimes a book comes along that is as important to read, as it is entertaining.
The Feather Thief by Kirk W. Johnson: This bizarre, true crime-story takes place in June 2009, when Edwin Rist, a 20-year-old American flutist studying at the Royal Academy of Music, stole historically valuable feathers from the Museum of Natural History in Tring, near London3. This book is a page-turner to the very end as it deep-dives into an industry one would never suspect as worthy of grand theft. An absorbing, clever, wonderful story.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover: This memoir is both horrifying and inspiring but also entirely engaging from the first page to the last. I was curious about this book, but hesitated, thinking it was a rant on homeschooling (it is not). American author, Tara Westover triumphs in spite of her zero education, insane-dysfunctional family, and extreme poverty.4
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger: One of the last remaining Holocaust survivors, Dr. Eger is a wonder. Her memoir is simultaneously tragic and beautiful while also a therapeutic guide to humanity. Just when you think she cannot possibly remain positive – even after surviving Auschwitz – she literally writes the book on human suffering, forgiveness as a choice, and how we heal through our pain. This book is extraordinary; each chapter a gift.5
Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.– Anna Quindlen
Runners up were: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes; A Separate Peace by John Knowles Night; by Elie Wiesel; The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah; A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler; The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.
These books enriched, entertained, and energized me. As always, I leave you to fully research the titles above to see if they are a good fit for you. Though I loved each and would re-read them again in a heartbeat!
For more fun, here is my entire List of books read in 2020:
No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thurnberg The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Love & Misadventure by Lang Leav (poetry) Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes Uncommon Stories by Tom Hanks The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover Finding Wonders by Jeanine Atkins The Presidents of the United States of America by the White House Historical Association A Separate Peace by John Knowles Night by Elie Wiesel Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal The Polio Hole: The Story of the Illness that Changed America by Shelley Fraser Mickle The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler Lullabies by Lang Leav (poetry) The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells A Glorious Space by Julie Bogart Lord of the Flies by William Golding The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage by Caroline M Grant, Lisa Catherine Harper The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
I cannot wait for the titles that come my way in 2021. Happy reading, and happy New Year! 🎈
- National Endowment for the Arts: https://www.arts.gov/stories/blog/2020/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-grapes-wrath
2. “After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 and the eventual adoption of the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery, between 3.5 and 3.9 million freed slaves began to search for their loved ones. Their method of “people-finding” was to place an advertisement for “Lost Friends” in the Southwestern Christian Advocate and have those letters read by pastors in churches all over the South.” https://medium.com/literature-lust/the-surprising-people-finder-in-the-book-of-lost-friends-b7449bc152c
5. https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Choice; “Internationally acclaimed psychologist Dr. Edith Eger tells her unforgettable story in this moving testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of choice in our lives.”