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Mel's Best Books of 2020

In my reading life this year:

  • I finally embraced revisiting my favorite genre of my youth: contemporary romance— and have gone out of my way to accumulate dozens by some of the genre’s most well-known/most-prolific writers.

  • I caught up to the end of Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series.

  • I dove deeper into current events books, especially political memoirs and histories as was inevitable, for me, in an election year.

  • I volleyed back and forth between weighty topics like civil rights and back to fiction plots that followed, for example, an overworked professional who isn’t looking for a relationship but falls into one anyway.

  • I didn’t get bogged down with what I didn’t read and I stopped judging myself for what I wasn’t reading or for reading too slow.

Though I wasn’t sure I’d achieve comparable numbers to years past, I just closed my 201st book with two more weeks left to go. For a brief period in the spring I could barely clock 20 pages at a time without getting distracted by my phone, or my anxiety, and I assumed I’d be lucky if I got through 100 books in total, which would be the least I’d read in four years (since I’ve been keeping track). Instead, my mental health stabilized enough during the longer days of summer sun, allowing me to get back into reading and writing more regularly which gave me the confidence I needed to up the pace of both. Taking ever longer walks and enthusiastically doing chores allowed me extra audiobook time as well. Despite an uncertain future for me professionally, I was doing okay. Half way through the year I had “only” consumed 86 titles, but my new job allowed me much more meditative time alone with the memoirs and essay collections I craved on audio, and I easily caught up to where I could achieve last year’s goal of 200.

I haven’t yet accepted that this wasn’t the year it was supposed to be, but if I come too close to examining why I am filled with too much dread to proceed. Instead I choose to revel in the amount of time I spent at home without feeling guilty about it, either curled up against the bracing cold or relaxing in my air conditioned oasis, tucking into another book, and another, smacking my demons away with a thick paperback to their metaphorically horned foreheads.

That was, quite simply, the only way I managed to cope with the year that was 2020. I never want to bury my head in the sand and ignore the reality of America and the world at its present, though I know that many people have had to in order to get through to the next day. And, I am not trying to hand out judgment on anyone not “keeping up,” but I need balance and I think that is what I have achieved. There’s pressure online in the #bookstagram community to read as much as you can as quickly as you can and, specifically, all of the newest books–and that becomes overwhelming if you buy into the stress of trying to do so while maintaining an active presence there. I’ve found that reading according to my mood and not spending too much time on Instagram makes it so that I can keep up in a different way, one that is far more satisfying. I picked up some books I didn’t know I’d enjoy, some books I’d been putting off for too long, and only a few I wished I’d skipped altogether. Yet every minute spent between the pages was another minute that I retained a hold on myself and my sanity. And for that I am damn proud.

Without being too nostalgic for something that wasn’t, I am openly sad about how the year began but relatively fine with how it is ending. The credit goes entirely to books and the friends I’ve been lucky enough to connect with because of a shared joy for the same story. This list is a thank you note to them, the hardbacks and the galleys and people IRL or in my phone who have made a difference in my life this year. I’m cautiously optimistic that 2021 will bring us even better prose and tighter friendships. 🤓📖📚😘

To the mature person looking for a sexy page-turner, keep these on your nightstand:

  • You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria (US / UK)

  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (US / UK)

  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (US / UK)

  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (US / UK)

  • The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams (US / UK)

To the millennial ready to step up the debates around your family table:

  • The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells (US / UK)

  • American Prison by Shaun Bauer (US)

  • An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal (US)

  • Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein (US / UK)

  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (US / UK)

To the writer who wants to write more:

  • How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (US / UK)

  • Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum (US)

  • The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra (US)

  • And Then We Grew Up by Rachel Friedman (US / UK)

  • Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies by Tara Schuster (US / UK)

To the writer who wants to read more:

  • Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (US / UK)

  • Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford (US / UK)

  • Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (US / UK)

  • The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavich (US / UK)

  • Excavation by Wendy Ortiz (US)

To the non-reader who is trying to pick up the habit:

  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare (US / UK)

  • Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho (US / UK)

  • I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman (US / UK)

  • Weird But Normal by Mia Mercado (US / UK)

  • Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (US / UK)

To anyone hoping to open their own eyes and hearts with a hefty, topical nonfiction:

  • Wandering in Strange Lands by Morgan Jerkins (US / UK)

  • The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza (US / UK)

  • After the Last Border by Jessica Goudeau (US)

  • A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett (US)

  • Disability Visibility by Alice Wong (US / UK)

To the geek who knows they don’t have to “grow up”:

  • Slay by Brittney Morris (US / UK)

  • The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams (US)

  • The Mall by Megan Mcafferty (US)

  • Music from Another World by Robin Talley (US / UK)

  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (US / UK)

To share with and enjoy, while learning, alongside the youths in your life:

  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclays Moore (US / UK)

  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (US / UK)

  • Watch Us Rise by Reneé Watson and Ellen Hagan (US / UK)

  • Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju (US)

  • The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (US / UK)

To the true crime buff looking for something more:

  • I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney (US / UK)

  • No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (US / UK)

  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (US / UK)

  • The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter (US / UK)

  • I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick (US / UK)

To the anyone who misses getting their culture in-person but still can’t:

  • I’ll Be There for You by Kelsey Miller (US / UK)

  • The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan (US / UK)

  • Shit, Actually by Lindy West (US)

  • Meaty by Samantha Irby (US / UK)

  • Nothing is Wrong and Here is Why by Alexandra Petri (US / UK)

To the people who live for awards season, you might have missed but also like:

  • Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin (US / UK)

  • Qualityland by Marc Uwe Kling (US / UK)

  • Grown Ups by Emma Jane Unsworth (US / UK)

  • Want by Lynn Steiger Strong (US)

  • The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (US / UK)

The books that I believe should be on everyone’s TBR in 2021, if they aren’t already:

FICTION: Dear Martin (and Dear Justyce) by Nic Stone (US / UK)

NON-FICTION: How We Fight White Supremacy by Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin (US / UK)


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