My Favorite Books of 2020

The book reviews I failed to write

As I’ve been lacking on posting book reviews, I figured I would cheat with at least a few for this post.

And thus, I present to you, my favorite books of 2020.

The criteria were simple; books rated a 5 in a 1 out of 5 rating. There were 12 books that fit the bill, but I made some cuts in the categories I list below. Of course, this doesn’t mean all the other books I’ve read in 2020 weren’t good. These are just the ones I rated the highest.

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stack of books drawing with a poster that says "read" in the background
Art by Mark (me)

Essay / Short Story

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This year, which is undoubtedly one for the history books, fit perfectly with this book. I knew of it, but I never jumped into reading it. What little I did know was that it was an ode to, or inspired by, James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.”

As Baldwin wrote to his nephew, Coates writes to his son and shares his experience in realizing the violence against his body and the exploitation of the black body. He shares his experience growing up, to the moments he had protecting his son from the assault of adults. In it, the tradition continues and innocence is not ours to be enjoyed.

This is wonderfully written and like the work that inspired him, I definitely recommend giving this a read if you have not done so.

Beyond the Dragon’s Gate by Yoon Ha Lee

This is a science fiction short story that I so happened to pick up free from Tor. I enjoyed it so much that I bought the story, which was only a dollar. It follows Anna Kim, as she assists the military with her knowledge of AI to prevent its destruction. There are some wonderful themes surrounding dysmorphia. I think that I will be giving this another read and checking out more of the author’s work.

Poetry

itty bits vol. 2 by Eric Keegan

This is part of a trilogy and while I rated the other two at 4/5, it was the second volume that I truly enjoyed. Maybe my mood that day was better, but I really enjoyed the quirkiness of the series and of the poet’s writing itself.

Audiobooks

The Sandman by Dirk Maggs (based on Neil Gaiman)

This audiobook was chalked full of big talent to lend their voices to the story. James McAvoy, is the lead as Morpheus, the god of dreams, and is backed by Andy Serkis, Tarun Egerton, Kat Dennings, and so many more.

The story was adapted by Dirk Maggs from Neil Gaiman’s comic book of the same name. I will admit that I never read the comic book despite growing up reading comic books and still having an aging collection. I still found this telling of the story to be truly magnificent. Get this. Listen to this. Now!

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey, Michaela Angela Davis

Let’s get this out of the way; I’m a lamb. 🐑

Now that I’ve disclosed this, it should be no shock that this is in my list. 2020 may have been a shit-show but Mariah should be seeking immediate medical attention for carrying us through it; from at home performances, new album of unreleased music, reveal of a secret alt-rock album, and coming through on saving Christmas.

What I didn’t mention was the release of her memoir written with Ms. Davis. It covers her life from childhood to the adult she is now. If you’ve followed her, you would know some stories and songs. With this book, you get the details from her perspective with revelations on the meaning of certain songs.

The audiobook is listed because it is a wonderful listening experience. Ms. Carey narrates the book putting her playful accents at work when needed, laughing as she recounts memories and choking up at the painful moments. Mariah also sings some songs while reciting the lyrics for others. If there was one way to read a book, for this one, audio is the way to go.

Standard Fiction

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

This is the first written and published book by Ms. Morrison. It is also one of the first few books in which she dared not call herself a writer. Yet, it is beautifully written.

The book follows Pecola, a little black girl who wishes with all her might that she had blue eyes. The story is told from the perspective of Pecola’s friends and family and is a rather depressing tale. You see as the image of beauty is bestowed to little girls like her. Beauty that they would never obtain as they are unable to change their skin. And yet, Pecola craves those blue eyes.

Morrison does some amazing writing and references within this book. I took extensive notes when reading it, pulling phrase after phrase to study her beautiful prose and the rhythm it held. But as elegant as the prose is, the story is haunting but one I’d recommend all the same.

The Stand by Stephen King

This was the largest book I’ve read this year and maybe since the Song of Ice and Fire series with 1100+ pages.

The story follows a cast of characters as a super flu takes out most of the world. As we began lockdowns for Covid-19 in the US, and I lay on the couch recovering from whatever illness I had, I thought it would be a grand idea to read a book about a super virus, in the midst of a pandemic, as I coughed up phlegm.

Yeah.

You get everything you expect in King’s writing; detailed characters, ethereal intimate moments, with your splash of supernatural along pages and pages and pages of a story. This was certainly a great adventure of a read, and I was really saddened when it was over.

Craft

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne, Dave King

I love writing craft books. I can’t stop reading them event hough I know the thing I need to do to improve is write. Still, there come some gems that knock my socks off. This one in particular is for editing your writing.

As I embark on this self-publishing journey, I wanted to beef up my editorial skills especially in the creative writing arena. This book gives you all of that and more with plenty of examples and analysis of text with checkpoints for your writing and challenges to embark on.

I’ve referenced this book many times since I’ve read it and I can’t recommend this to writer’s enough.

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker

The great debate of pantsers vs plotters. In writing, I just sat and wrote what I wanted when it came to creative/fiction writing. For non-fiction, I always needed an outline and structure. With my participation in Camp NaNo in July 2020, it was apparent that I needed to learn the art of outlining.

I’ve read many books on outlining, don’t get me wrong, but it was while reading Take Off Your Pants! did the story outlining actually click with me. I then created an outline template within Scrivener and practiced at creating some short stories based on outlines I created. What came was [4 short stories] cranked out in a blink of an eye. In years past, a 2k worded story would have taken a bit of time.

Libbie walks you through an example of her story to show you how to piece together an outline and how having an outline can be so powerful in your story creation. If you are anything like me, and you have had trouble grasping the idea of outlining a fictional story, give this a try. It certainly blew me away.

2021 and Beyond

And those are my top reads of 2020. It is wild to believe but there are so many more books that I enjoyed and if you would like to see a list of those that I read, take a look at my Notion Bookshelf. I’ve created a “Books of 2020” list that you can select from in the drop-down.

Now, back to reading I go.

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