I have to admit—I’ve had a lot of trouble reading this year. Usually, I read about 80 books in a given year and due to everything (*gestures around wildly*) going on, I’ve had a tough time focusing. However, when I have had the opportunity to settle into a great read, it has served to transport me to a different time and place, or jump into another character’s shoes. I love recommending books, so if you’re looking for some of the must-read books of 2020 (IMHO) to either add to your own wish list or to gift to a friend or family member, look no further. And for even more great gift ideas from bookish experts, check out this round-up of 25 Authors on the Best Books They’ve Ever Received.
The Beauty in Breaking
This memoir will break your heart and mend it again. Growing up in an upper-class African American family didn’t shield Dr. Michele Harper from her father’s physical abuse, nor from the racism and sexism she faced as a Black woman entering the white- and male-dominated field of emergency medicine. When she finished med school at Harvard and took a job in Philadelphia, she was dealt another blow: her husband chose not to follow her. Newly single in a strange city, finally practicing medicine like she’d wanted to for so long, Harper must reckon not only with her patients’ physical and psychic wounds but also her own. I had the good fortune of getting to interview Dr. Harper this year and it was one of the highlights of my year.
Long Bright River
This thriller gripped from the first page and did not let go. Mickey Fitzpatrick is a policewoman and single mom to 4-year-old Thomas. Her sister, Kacey, has been living on the streets of Philadelphia with a substance-use disorder. The sisters’ parents died of opiate overdoses, and their ways of responding diverged—where Kacey found herself gripped with the same illness, Mickey became the intensive rule-follower, lonely and fearful in her own ways. Now Kacey has disappeared, and women are turning up murdered in Mickey’s district. Mickey becomes obsessed with the case, determined to find Kacey before it’s too late.
Here for It
R. Eric Thomas
Is R. Eric Thomas my best friend, or did it just feel like that after reading this book? The ELLE.com columnist, prolific tweeter and ultra-funnyman looks back at his upbringing and education to mesh and meld identities in a demanding world. In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas reexamines what it means to be an “other” through the lens of his own life experience, then urges us all to place ourselves at the centers of our own stories. Oh, and to avoid the Elf on the Shelf at all costs, thanks very much.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue
I am the President of the Fiona Davis fan club, and will read anything she writes, but her latest work of historical fiction is a real treat, especially for book lovers. It’s set 80 years apart in the New York Public Library and revolves around Laura Lyons, the wife of the library’s superintendent, whose insular world is blown open when she attends journalism school, and Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie, the NYPL’s latest curator.
If you loved Diksha Basu’s debut novel, The Windfall, as much as I did, you need to read Destination Wedding (Um, Mindy Kaling is also a huge fan!). It’s a riotous story of Tina Das’s trip to her cousin’s nuptials in New Delhi, complete with her divorced parents (each with dates), an old fling of hers suddenly reappearing, and her friend Marianne’s terrible penchant for international playboys. Oh, and lots of top-shelf booze. A fun romp that will having you aching to travel internationally again.
The Sober Lush
Amanda Eyre Ward
Does having a lush, decadent, adventurous, sober life sound like an oxymoron to you? I promise it’s not. I live one every day! Authors and fellow sober gals Jardine Libaire and Amanda Eyre Ward tell readers how to live an extravagant, rich, sexy lifestyle without the champagne, Cosmos, and martinis. Their advice ranges from indulging in small extravagances like heady perfume to beekeeping to backyard fireworks—not a single minute dulled by booze or the next day’s headache. Sounds pretty good, right?
Little Fires Everywhere (Movie Tie-In)
I absolutely loved revisiting Little Fires Everywhere this year as I rewatched Celeste Ng’s novel come to life on Hulu and I recapped it on our podcast, The Adaptables. Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon absolutely crackle as Mia Warren and Elena Richardson, two women at odds when one moves to Shaker Heights, Ohio and their households get involved in an intricate web. If you haven’t read this one yet, please do so immediately.
Friends and Strangers
J. Courtney Sullivan
J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel, Friends and Strangers, is perfect for anyone wanting a juicy follow-up to Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. Elisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly twenty years in New York City. She spends her sleepless nights mostly on her phone, obsessed with her influencer sister’s IG feed and a Brooklyn moms’ Facebook group. When she hires college senior, Sam, to babysit, she finally feels like she has a friend. But when she begins to disapprove of the path Sam wants to take after college, how close were they, after all?
Wow, No Thank You.
If I could press one book into your hands, this would be it. Sam Irby is side-splittingly hilarious and her essays are such a treat to read. With ribald honesty, she discloses her exile from Hollywood, why Instagram marketing doesn’t seem to be working on her, and why, yes, she’s still hiding bills under her pillow. Consider this read a treat for getting through 2020.
I’ve loved Leigh Stein’s writing since her first novel, The Fallback Plan, and this latest reaffirms what a fantastic writer she is. Her satirical novel centers on Maren Gelb and Devin Avery, the female co-founders of a wellness start-up, Richual, who are struggling to find balance between being good people and doing good business, while trying to stay BFFs. It’s not as easy as they’d like it to look.
Party of Two
How fitting that Jasmine Guillory would give us another delicious romance novel, smack dab in the midst of an election year. When Olivia Monroe has chance meeting—and subsequent hot fling—with a handsome stranger who turns turns out to be hotshot junior senator Max Powell, well, she assumes it’s going to be brief. But it morphs into a whirlwind affair that gets everyone talking after they decide to go public. Was the scrutiny she’s put under now that she’s in the spotlight worth it or was it a total mistake?