2020 In Books
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
I wouldn’t label myself as a fast reader (except in select cases), but I do enjoy a good book. Over the years I’ve fallen in and out of reading, sometimes finishing books in a day, and then taking 11 months to read one book (yes, you read that right—eleven months, one book).
But I’ve made a conscious effort to read more, and the Goodreads app has definitely helped me stay on track (it’s like social media but for books. 10/10 recommend. And don’t come at me for looking like a nerd).
It was my goal for 2020 to read 10 books. As unimpressive as that sounds, I’m proud of myself for actually achieving it. I figure if I want to write a book of my own one day, it would probably help if I actually read some.
Included below are descriptions as well as excerpts from select books. I’ve always been one to underline and highlight sentences and passages that stand out to me as I read, and this was the case for most of the books I read this year.
In chronological order, here is my year in books:
(Note: I've included a link to each book, where you can purchase a used copy at Thriftbooks.com. Always make sure to check your local bookstore first!)
A sweet, serendipitous love story that takes place over the course of 10 years. Like any holiday romance, One Day in December has moments that feel fated and magical. But after the charm wears off, the reader is left with something that might feel real and familiar. What follows for the main characters, Laurie and Jack, is a decade of missed opportunities and decisions that bring them close, but never quite close enough. If you’re looking for something heartwarming with a happy ending, definitely pick this one up.
As someone who cares deeply about writing and travel (...and Italy, let’s be honest), it’s no surprise that I snatched this off the shelf at Book Buyers in Charlotte. Even though I saw the movie back in 2018, the book was a different experience, providing a deeper insight into each country the main character, Liz, visits—Italy, India, and Indonesia.
Throughout reading the book, it made perfect sense to me why Eat, Pray, Love is seen as a classic tale in the travel writing realm. Each destination teaches Liz something about it and her, ultimately unlocking lessons and perspectives she would have never gained if it weren’t for the act of travel. The places serve as classrooms and the people she encounters serve as teachers, all encouraging her to move forward. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is feeling stuck or is in need of inspiration.
“You can still live on that shimmering line between your old thinking and your new understanding, always in a state of learning… this is a border that is always moving… that mysterious forest of the unknown always stays a few feet ahead of you, so you have to travel light in order to keep following it. You have to stay mobile, movable, supple. Slippery even.” (Page 204)
On a whim, I picked up this book while browsing the shelves at McNally’s bookstore in New York City. Immediately, I loved the concept of essays spanning the travel experience, from traveling with your family to the simple joy of finding the perfect restaurant. Although it was a short read, it gave me a lot of food for thought.
The very first page, titled “How to Choose a Destination,” has a quote that reads:
“Our destinations are a guide to, and a goad for, who we are trying to become.”
I couldn’t agree more, and so I was inspired to write my blog post “Where Do I Need?”
No pun intended, but this was the perfect summer read. Park Avenue Summer takes inspiration from the real life story of Helen Gurley Brown, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine from 1965 to 1997. The story follows Alice Weiss, Helen’s fictional assistant, during Cosmo’s transformation from a magazine targeted at domestic housewives, to a magazine addressing the modern woman. Although Alice is her own character in her own right, the book really gives you a glimpse into what it was like to be a working woman in 1960’s America.
I’m definitely not the first to have this book on my reading list. I’d also like to include that when I was originally gifted this book last Christmas, my aunt hilariously and accidentally bought me a Spanish copy. Anyway…
The former First Lady’s memoir is not only insightful about the Obama administration and campaign, but it is also endearingly relatable. Her tone is never entitled and her language is never intimidating—her story never feels out of reach. Uplifting but also authentic, Becoming echoes a lot of what we continue to hear from the Obama family: a message of hope for the future coupled with the realities of the present.
“So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be American—that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.” (Page 415)
I watched the show before I read the book. Sinful, I know. But watching the show only made me want to read the book more, and I wasn’t let down. Rooney’s straightforward and candid writing style isn’t quite what I was expecting, but because it matches the characters’ personalities and relationship, the storyline has a really clear tone. Normal People is exactly what its title suggests. The main characters, Marianne and Connell, are normal people. Their story is simple; nothing extraordinary brings them together or tears them apart (other than their terrible communication skills if I’m honest). But because of this, the novel does a really great job illustrating the complexities of two people just trying to understand themselves and their relationship to each other. The reader isn’t hit with moments of fate or “they were meant to be.” Instead, the story brings you something that feels real and dare I say, normal.
Neither Here nor There is one of those books that can and probably should be read chronologically and consecutively, but doesn’t need to be. Each chapter is a destination, and each destination is its own story entirely. Overall, this book wasn’t my favorite because it isn’t your typical character/plot storyline, but I still appreciated Bryson’s witty writing and thoughtful insight on the realities of travel.
If you’re someone who likes to read multiple books at once (I’m not, but just in case you are), I’d recommend this one as a contender. You can pick it up and put it down, and each time you pick it back up, you won’t miss a beat. Additionally, we can’t really travel right now, so maybe this will help to temporarily resolve your travel itch.
“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” (Page 34)
Written from two perspectives and set over the course of one year, Jess and Alex bring you into both sides of their story, making their missed opportunities linger with you like a slow burn. This one reminded me a lot of One Day in December not just for its holiday backdrop in London, but because the writing shared a similar ease and relatability—a reminder that love stories aren’t linear. People are complicated and make mistakes. But in the end, what matters is that they found their way to each other.
I read this book in practically two sittings, within a nearly 24 hour period. The last time I read a book this quickly, I was 14. I began this book because I’d heard great things and was having an itch for fiction. What began as “an easy read” quickly turned into an unexpected love story. In Five Years is full of surprises, good and bad, and moments where chapters and passages make you feel like the entire story is on the tip of your tongue, just waiting to be unfolded before they’re revealed to be something else entirely. If you’re looking for a fiction fix, this is your book.
“I am constantly trying to learn the rules, only to realize that the people who win don't seem to follow any.” (Page 84)
Aciman’s writing style is unlike anything I’ve encountered. Call Me By Your Name isn’t broken up into chapters or even proper paragraphs. There’s rarely a standard dialogue either. Instead, the novel is written like a continuous and almost obsessive stream of consciousness. The plot isn’t typical; rather than explaining characters’ past experiences or parts of their personality, it focuses sharply on Elio and Oliver’s relationship, beautifully illustrating the complexities of falling in love and navigating a relationship that can’t be ignored. Although the entire novel was brilliantly written, the last 50 pages were my favorite, worded with a precision bordering poetry.
“Perhaps we were friends first and lovers second. But then perhaps this is what lovers are.” (Page 157)
If you read any of these books via my recommendation or have already read them and happen to hate them or have a different opinion, that’s all fine and dandy. It’s what makes this world go round. Happy reading!