This year has certainly been one for the books! Ha, but no really. There’s not much I can say about 2020 that hasn’t ready been said. The pandemic turned our lives upside down this year, but there were some bright spots. This year, I read a lot of great books, and the following five are ones that, for many reasons, stayed with me. In no particular order, here are my five picks from 2020.
Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi
This was actually one of the last books I read, and I’m so glad I did. The novel is about a Ghanaian family who immigrates to Alabama, and it follows the main character Gifty, a PHD candidate who struggles with her family’s faith and her own belief of science. This book will resonate with anyone who grew up in a religious household – the descriptions of the church life really hit home. Without giving too much away, Gifty’s family suffers several tragedies which make her question a lot of her foundational beliefs. Gyasi’s writing is so good – rich but sparse. My only issue is that I wish the ending would have been explored at little more – I thought it ended too quickly, but otherwise this was a great read for me!
More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are – Elaine Welteroth
I read this memoir by Elaine Welteroth when I needed a little inspiration. I usually stay away from non-fiction, but I have been known to enjoy a good memoir every now and then. I first heard about Welteroth when she was the Editor in Chief at Teen Vogue. She took a lot of risks at the publication, turning it into a more open minded, “woke” magazine. Today the type of stories that Teen Vogue is putting out is largely in part to Welteroth’s vision. I was intrigued by her story, and I’m so glad I picked it this book. The memoir takes readers behind the scenes of Welteroth’s rise to success and shows how there’s often so much failure and frustration that’s part of any accomplished career. But through everything, Welteroth didn’t stray from her purpose and reminds readers that their self worth isn’t dependent on a job title or any traditional societal standards. More Than Enough was also fun in a Devil Wears Prada sort of way to read about the inner workings of the media publishing world.
Untamed – Glennon Doyle
Untamed was a book that I picked up on whim at Target. For awhile, Target runs were my only source of outside entertainment! Anyway, I was drawn into the messy cover, and I had heard of the author before. The memoir centers on the author’s realization that she no longer wants to prescribe to society’s rules regarding love and happiness. Doyle leaves her marriage after falling in love with soccer superstar Abby Wambach, and writes about the fallout with her family and how she has to live her truth. I liked the book’s emphasis on following your own path. Doyle literally had to leave everything she thought she knew about love and family behind in order to pursue her own happiness, which women are rarely afforded. Many women (and men too) will stay in an unhappy marriage in order to appease family members or to fall in line with societal norms. Doyle turns that around and presents a woman who, knowing that life is too short to pretend, lives life on her own terms.
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
I didn’t really know what to expect of Such a Fun Age, and it was not the book I expected to read going into it. I mean that in a good way. The book is about a young Black college grad, Emira Tucker, who gets hired as a babysitter by Alix Chamberlain, a wealthy white middle class mom. This book is difficult to discuss without giving away the surprises, but Alix starts dating an older white guy, Kelley Copeland, who shares a history with Alix. Things come to a head later in the novel that reveal how both Alix and Kelley view Emira’s Blackness. Both Alex and Kelley see themselves as progressives, but their actions show the tendency for white people to view Black people through a certain patronizing gaze, not allowing for any personal agency. There was a lot to think about at the end, and I could see this being movie or television series.
Survival of the Thickest – Michelle Buteau
So full disclosure, I interviewed Michelle Buteau about Survival of the Thickest for Zora. You can read that interview here. I was sent a copy of the book before our interview, and I pretty much read it in one sitting. It’s funny. It’s emotional. And there’s a lot of curse words. Reading it really was like having a conversation with a familiar friend. Buteau talks about her early life in New Jersey being raised by a Haitian father and Jamaican mother, the craziness of dating in New York, and how she got to where she is today (Netflix host, actress, and stand up comedian). The book also has an uplifting message; Buteau basically encourages readers to “do you boo” because life’s too short to try to make everyone else happy. (Hmm, I think there’s a theme to the books I read this year).
So there you have it. Five great books from a not so great year. While I’m cautiously optimistic of what 2021 will bring, I know I’ll always find something good to read!
What were your best reads of 2020?