2020 Best Reads

Though I read LOTS of nonfiction in this pandemic, antiracist, wildfire year, two exceptional novels are my top favorites. All of the winners have truly broadened my understanding of the world and the reach of my heart.

With thanks and love to our book club of 2 (my BFF and me), the Tenley-Friendship branch of the DC Public Library, and Politics & Prose bookstore—here they are, my top 12.

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom

My favorite book of the year is this glorious novel (The Washington Post review called it “a book of blazing brilliance”) by Yaa Gyasi, whose depth and strong, resonant writing has lingered in my heart.

Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations

I listened to the audiobook and was bewitched! Almost anything I could say would be a spoiler but, loosely, it’s about a fishing boat with a motley crew, the migration of arctic terns, the ocean, and a wild woman like no other. I suggest you read or, preferably, listen to this one. Magical!

Kevin Young, Book of Hours

There is so much loss in life, and this book of poetry, published a decade after the sudden passing of the author’s father, is a revelation about the depth, intensity, and tenderness of love and grief. The best book of poetry I’ve read in years and one I will refer to again and again.

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans

What an experience to read this book! Blunt, intense, heart-rending, and uniquely lyrical. I’m grateful for Villavicencio’s writing, her generous sharing, and her throwing herself into getting to know (and care for) the undocumented immigrants who comprise her narrative.

Ayya Khema, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere

This is one of the very best books ever written on the Buddhist path. Ayya Khema is deeply wise, clear, practical, specific, strong, and loving. She passed away in 1997 yet is so alive in these pages and in my heart.

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

10 stars! Eckhart Tolle puts into words the almost impossible to describe: the joy of awakened consciousness, the surrendered state, oneness with the whole. His podcast with Oprah Winfrey, with one episode per chapter, is a wonderful companion.

Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

An excellent and hair-raising read on how the data show, for example, that so many more women die so much more often than need be. This book is an invaluable assessment of how the application of women-specific data would be absolutely world-changing.

Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

A book that everyone should read—and yes, everyone says that, and for a reason. Especially well presented: the causes, conditions, and consequences of eviction told through personal stories. The audiobook is excellent.

Alice Wong, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century

An eye-opening collection that shares aspects and experiences of disability life from the heartwarming and exhilarating to vulnerabilities and unspeakable cruelties—a window into how hard it can be to be different. The growing Disability Justice movement provides hope.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist

Just as everyone says, this book is terrific. Ibram Kendi does a generous and courageous job of sharing his own evolution as an antiracist, clearly defining aspects of the term for practical understanding and use. His personal stories make this come alive. A gift.

Tracye McQuirter, Ageless Vegan

My favorite cookbook in a long time! Recipe after recipe was easy, gorgeous, delicious, comforting, and made me feel good! The fact that Tracye looks stunning and vibrantly healthy at 50, and her vegan mom likewise at 80, did not escape my notice.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer brings spirituality, wisdom, and science into closely and tenderly observing nature and our relationship to the living world. I was especially grateful to learn from the skillful Potawatomi Nation traditions she shares. A beautiful book.