I read 100 books in 2020. I made a commitment to read more books by women and persons of color. So out of the 100, only 1/3 were written by white men. Another quarter (25) were by white women, and then 21 each by men and women of color.
Here’s a list of my 20 favorites – in no particular order (well, some order, maybe a little).
Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
This is a classic Victorian haunted house story. Think Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or The Turning of the Screw. But Moreno-Garcia literally uproots the Victorian mansion and drops it into mid-century Mexico. This lets her explore a very spooky story while weaving in colonialist themes. This novel is brilliant. It may be my favorite of the year.
Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica
This book is horrifying in the most literal way. It’s a dystopian novel in the vein of Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451. The hook this time, though, is that animal meat has become toxic to humans. In response, the US has legalized cannibalism, sort of. The main character works at a meat processing plant. When it belonged to his father, they processed pigs and cows. Now they process humans – except no one calls them humans. They’re called product, special meat and a number of other “words that hide the world”.
Only something written (and translated!) so beautifully can get away with such horrific subject matter. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I read it.
A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
This book is stunning. It’s about climate change. It’s about growing up. It’s about generational conflict. It’s about the Bible. I tore through this book, and I already want to read it again. And probably again.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Jones is a Blackfeet horror author whose finally getting some well-deserved attention. (He also released a novella this year that’s set in Rockwall, TX – the town right next to mine!) This book is about revenge and life on a reservation. It’s shocking, unpredictable and heartbreaking.
Can I Get a Witness by Brian K. Blount
This isn’t a new book, but it’s the single best commentary on the Revelation to John I’ve read. I used it for my revised Revelation study this year and it really reframed a number of issues in the Revelation for me. Really incredible.
Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
This book released in June, and it’s been building steady momentum since – to the point that it’s nearly impossible to get a physical copy right now. Du Mez’ thesis is that an overwhelming majority of Evangelicals offer full-throated support for Donald Trump’s politics not despite our faith, but because of it. This is a crystal-clear diagnosis of Evangelicalism’s deep sins – patriarchy and white supremacy – complete with receipts.
The Faithless Hawk by Margaret Owen
The second of a duology (the first is The Merciful Crow) that uses a fantasy landscape to explore systemic injustices. The world-building is terrific. The characters are fun and memorable. But when the whole system is rotten, how do you offer any sort of realistic resolution?
I’ll say this ending surprised me in the best way – it was at once inevitable, inspiring and unexpected.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
Technically a YA novel, this magical-realism tale features an Apache girl who can summon the dead. When her cousin dies, he warns her in a dream that it was murder. Can she save his family? Somehow, this book manages to be fun and exciting, rather than scary (okay it’s a little spooky, but it’s fun spooky). This is a stand alone novel, but I’d love more books in Elatsoe’s world!
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
This is a fantasy novel set in a world grounded not in Medieval Europe but the pre-Columbian Americas. It’s the first book in a trilogy and it’s surprising, inventive and fun. The end shocked me, and I cannot wait for the next book to come out. (I’m also waiting on Roanhorse’s conclusion to her Sixth World trilogy so…)
One Person, No Vote by Carol A Anderson
Our book club on race read this early in the year, and it’s the most comprehensive, accessible look at voting rights I’ve found. If you want to understand why talk of Voter Fraud is not only pointless but actively harmful to American Democracy, this is your book. If you want to learn why Voter ID laws are a form of voter suppression, this is your book. And if you want to explore how you can make a difference, this is a good place to start. 2024 is right around the corner…
American Spy by Lauren Wilkenson
Half a dozen people told me to read American Spy this year, so I did. Wow. This book is literally about an… American spy. But she’s a Black woman, and that makes for a fascinating story. I was enjoying this book all the way through, but the end was a total gut punch that put it over the top for me.
A Libertarian Walks into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
A journalist decided to investigate the first recorded instance of a bear attacking a human in New Hampshire in some years. What he found was a small town that Libertarians had taken over (literally – they all moved there, voted themselves into office and started dismantling the city government). But then bears sort of invaded… and there wasn’t any infrastructure.
This book is hilarious. It’s a great piece of investigative journalism that only occasionally lets the author’s disdain for Libertarians shine through.
The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu
Ken Liu is a national treasure, and this is his second short story collection. His work always uses sci-fi and fantasy to ask deeply human questions. Yes, that probably sounds trite, but Liu does it better – and more consistently – than just about anyone else writing right now.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
In a year that finds us grappling with the legacy of one H. P. Lovecraft, I found The Twisted Ones to be a breath of fresh air. It’s thoroughly a work of cosmic horror. It’s incredibly creepy, and occasionally scary. But it doesn’t carry over the gross parts of Lovecraft (read: the racism).
Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
This was the first book I read in 2020, and it’s all about how language evolves. The internet has given us the ability to observe how language evolves in real time. McCulloch is a linguist and her insights are brilliant and penetrating. I couldn’t help but think about how we think about all sorts of things – including Biblical inspiration.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Reads like a screenplay. Feels like a memoir. Is actually a novel that presses and the bounds of what the written word can do. Really incredible.
Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager
You write a book about Halley’s Comet, you’re going to hook me. I’m just old enough to remember its last trip past Earth. This book uses the comet’s infrequent visits to reflect on how we tell stories. It reaches into the far past – to Hansel and Gretel, the Brothers Grimm and more. It reaches forward into the unknown future. It’s lyrical, beautiful and thought-provoking. And it’s about a comet!
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My friend Annah does terrific, quick book reviews on Instagram. Her glowing review of this one dropped it onto my list. It opens mid-20th century in a Louisiana town that’s made its purpose becoming as white as possible. Twin sisters embody the town’s dream – they’re so light they can pass for white. The book follows their trajectories. And I don’t want to say anything else.
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
A Superman comic set in the 1940s that highlights Superman’s immigrant status. Superman punches white supremacists. What else do you need in 2020?
The Story King by Matt Mikalatos
Okay this one is a cheat because it doesn’t release until later this year, but I got to read an early draft of Matt’s Sunlit Lands finale and it’s awesome. Much like Owen’s Faithless Hawk, Matt had to give us a story that solves the problem of a world broken at the level of organizing systems. No spoilers, obviously, but this book was a ton of fun and the conclusion was deeply satisfying.