The Best and Worst Books I Read in 2020 (Plus Some Honorable Mentions)

It’s February 2021, so that can only mean one thing: time to round up the best books I read in 2020. Clearly. Doesn’t everyone wait almost two months after the New Year to reveal their faves? Just me, huh? 


Last year I read 40 books, which is a lot for me. I went through a short period during and after college (read: 17 years) where I would read 5 books a year max (not including books for my courses in college and grad school). Meanwhile, I began teaching 4th grade and made my students read 20 minutes every night while I went home and scrolled Pinterest and Facebook. It seemed a little hypocritical, so I decided to dive back into reading in 2018 and I’ve had my nose in a book ever since.


With a new baby in January, I didn’t have any expectations for myself in terms of reading goals. And if everything had gone according to plan, I probably wouldn’t have had as much time to read with all the adventures we had on our 2020 calendar. But everything DID NOT go according to plan (not for me, not for anyone), so I found myself with a lot more time on my hands and that meant a lot more books read. So, without further ado, here are the best books I read in 2020, a few honorable mentions, and the duds I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.


The Best and Worst Books I Read in 2020


The Best Books I Read in 2020


Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

From the Publisher: An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.


My Thoughts: Reading this made me fall in love with Michelle Obama even more. It was so relatable to me on so many levels: as a girl trying to prove her worth in school, as a wife, and as a working mother. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but everybody is right. It’s completely worth the hype.


Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

From the Publisher: When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger—and amuse himself—he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world—and more important, his life—through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.


My Thoughts: I enjoyed the exploration in Eastern religious thought from the viewpoint of the main character, who definitely enjoys the comforts and indulgences of the Western world. The tone was not judgmental at all. The conversations Otto and Rinpoche have are insightful for people of all faiths and spiritualities, as they examine the choices we make in modern America and how they affect our spirits. 


Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

From the Publisher: BASED ON THE THRILLING REAL-LIFE STORY OF SOCIALITE SPY NANCY WAKE, comes the newest feat of historical fiction from the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia, featuring the astonishing woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII.


My Thoughts: Nancy Wake was a badass. Full stop. Her story is so riveting, no one would hold it against you if you dismissed it as a tall tale after hearing it. Swipe on your Victory Red lipstick and hold onto your hat before settling into this book, because Nancy doesn’t come to play.


The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

From the Publisher: In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut…

January Scaller…finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.


My Thoughts: Reading this book made me feel the way I did the first time I went cross-country skiing as an adult. Gliding through the winter landscape reminded me of the rush I felt playing outdoors as a child. This book gave me that same rush again, but this time it was reminiscent of curling up in bed as a child with my book lamp clipped to a book, unable to fall asleep because I was so fully immersed in a book’s fantastical world and I NEEDED to know what happened next. Isn’t it so fun to have fun?


Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

From the Publisher: Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers — and why they often go wrong.


My Thoughts: I always thought I was a pretty good judge of character and could make a quick study of someone, but then I read this book and I now I know I don’t know as much as I think I know.


Why We're Polarized by Ezra Klein

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

From the Publisher: This New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller shows us that America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: it’s working exactly as designed. In this “superbly researched” (The Washington Post) and timely book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us—and how we are polarizing it—with disastrous results.


My Thoughts: I closed the book with such a better understanding of the history of our political system and why we act the way we do. It also didn’t do much to assuage my fears about politics in our country.


The Best Books I Read in 2020: Honorable Mentions


What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

From the Publisher: A stunning and honest debut poetry collection about the beauty and hardships of being a woman in the world today, and the many roles we play – mother, partner, and friend.


My Thoughts: Kate Baer writes poems every modern woman can relate to, taking our breath away and making us wonder how she was able to climb inside our heads and write everything we have felt since the onset of puberty.


I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers

From the Publisher: Two friends on opposite sides of the aisle provide a practical guide to grace-filled political conversation while challenging readers to put relationship before policy and understanding before argument.


My Thoughts: The best takeaway from this book is the idea that neither party has a monopoly on good ideas. We can and should learn from our friends, family, and neighbors who vote differently than us.


The Late Bloomers' Club by Louise Miller

The Late Bloomer’s Club by Louise Miller

From the Publisher: A delightful novel about two headstrong sisters, a small town’s efforts to do right by the community, and the power of a lost dog to summon true love.


My Thoughts: This was the right book at the right time for me. It’s comfort food in book form.


HRH by Elizabeth Holmes

HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes

From the Publisher: Veteran style journalist Elizabeth Holmes expands her popular Instagram series, So Many Thoughts, into a nuanced look at the fashion and branding of the four most influential members of the British Royal Family: Queen Elizabeth II; Diana, Princess of Wales; Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge; and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.


My Thoughts: A great read about how the British royals use fashion as a tool for communication. It made me think about the clothes that I wear and what I am saying with them. At this point, they are mostly saying I never leave my house anymore.


The Worst Books I Read in 2020


Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Book Description: The true story of Colton Burpo, who describes visiting heaven while undergoing emergency surgery when he was four years old.


My Thoughts: While I am open to the possibility that this child visited heaven (or else why would I have read it in the first place?), it seemed a little too convenient that every detail he relayed about his visit was exactly as heaven is described in the Bible, or at least the parts of the Bible they cited in the book. Two people visiting the same place will give different descriptions due to their diverse experiences and how they process them as individuals. Though their descriptions are different, neither is inaccurate because they are recounting the place as they experienced it. It seems almost impossible, then, that a child would visit a place and come back to describe it exactly as portrayed in a guidebook his family swears he hasn’t read. As such, it seems to me that Colton’s recounting of his visit to heaven would vary in some way from the Bible’s description because of his individual experience and the way he processed what he perceived. I ended the book extremely skeptical about the boy’s experience and wondering if the book is simply a money grab on the part of the family.


The Modern Mother's Handbook by A Modern Old-Fashioned Mom

The Modern Mother’s Handbook by A Modern Old-Fashioned Mom

From the Publisher: While this handbook can be read in about 60 minutes, it’s packed with 13 years’ worth of no-nonsense, actionable advice for new moms who want to learn how to sleep-train their baby, get a toddler to love eating healthy foods, avoid common parenting mistakes, know the rules for playdates, TV and video games—and raise a happy, healthy, smart, disciplined and interesting child.


My Thoughts: I got this book because The Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Kate Middleton) apparently wrote a letter to the author thanking her for the wisdom she imparts in her handbook. After reading it myself, I have to wonder what the princess’s parenting skills were like before reading the book, since the advice in this book is so basic you can’t help but close it saying, “No, duh.” This book is for mothers who have never looked at any birthing, baby, or parenting websites ever in their entire lives, and also perhaps for mothers who, prior to giving birth, have never spent more than a passing moment with a child before walking away wiping their hands on a wet wipe to sanitize themselves. There is nothing new in this handbook. In fact, some of the advice she gives is against what real experts, including pediatricians, advise. Skip it.


Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

From the Publisher: From Samantha Irby, beloved author of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, a rip-roaring, edgy and unabashedly raunchy new collection of hilarious essays.


My Thoughts: Too raunchy for me. I’m not really squeamish, but I was not a fan of the potty humor. I loved her tone but hated the content.


*Note: None of the links in this post are affiliate links because affiliate marketing is confusing and unrewarding (literally) for me.


The Best and Worst Books I Read in 2020

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