42 Books That Made 2020 A Little Less Awful

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In a recent callout, hundreds of BuzzFeed readers submitted responses about what their reading lives were like in 2020. Here are 42 books that helped people get through the year.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller


Publisher’s blurb: Madeline Miller’s unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War is a tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart. (Ecco)

“I had been saving Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles to pull me out of my slump. I loved Circe so much and just knew this book would work like medicine when I needed it. Sure enough, I couldn’t put it down, and that was such a welcome change of pace.” —Sarah Jean Grimm

The Song of Achilles was the pure escapism I needed, with beautiful writing and story. It led me to The Iliad and now I’m working my way through The Odyssey. It’s comforting to know that we have always been dealing with plague and war and losing loved ones.” —Lauren Farris

“It is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read and it was just really moving and meaningful during an otherwise pretty shitty month.” —Katelyn

The Dread Nation series by Justina Ireland

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen

Publisher’s blurb: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, she’s caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. (Balzer & Bray)

Dread Nation and Deathless Divide tell such a fun story while tackling serious issues of racism, sexism, ableism, all while being daring and funny and heartbreaking. I loved it. I made all of my friends read it.” —Stephanie T.

“I read Dread Nation (and it’s sequel Deathless Divide) because I liked that the protagonist was a woman just trying to survive and eke out what life she can get. It’s not some typical setup of a teenager with the task of saving The World. It’s not a story of heroism and triumph over the dystopia, but how you triumph over your circumstances within the dystopia.” —Jordan F.

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton


Publisher’s blurb: When Conor Knighton set off to explore America’s “best idea,” he worried the whole thing could end up being his worst idea. A broken engagement and a broken heart had left him longing for a change of scenery, but the plan he’d cooked up in response had gone a bit overboard in that department: Over the course of a single year, Knighton would visit every national park in the country, from Acadia to Zion. In Leave Only Footprints, he shares informative and entertaining dispatches from what turned out to be the road trip of a lifetime. (Crown)

Leave Only Footprints was my favorite book by far this year. I never really gave much thought to any of the National Parks across the US, but Knighton did such an incredible job weaving modern human stories together with the history of the parks that I now have a burning desire to go to several of them! In addition, it truly activated my long dormant wanderlust to travel and was my ticket in my mind to places all across the US. I googled the location of every single park and looked at pictures. It was a great August because of that book!” —Ayanna E. Jackson

Hello I Want To Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person by Anna Mehler Paperny

The Experiment

Publisher’s blurb: After a major suicide attempt in her early twenties, Anna Mehler Paperny resolved to put her reporter’s skills to use to get to know her enemy, setting off on a journey to understand her condition, the dizzying array of medical treatments on offer, and a medical profession in search of answers. Charting the way depression wrecks so many lives, she maps competing schools of therapy, pharmacology, cutting-edge medicine, the pill-popping pitfalls of long-term treatment, the glaring unknowns and the institutional shortcomings that both patients and practitioners are up against. (The Experiment)

“As we all know, this year was a challenge for our mental health and I was no exception — but I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for about two decades now, since I was a teen. This book helped me to understand my disease, and how it works and affects me.” —Nicole C.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


Publisher’s blurb: France, 1714: In a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever — and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. (Tor Books)

“I found The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue to be hauntingly, achingly beautiful, and the story of a girl trying to make a mark on the world while everyone forgets her really resonated with me this year. I’m a communications manager for a rabbit rescue and all of my work is behind the scenes — this year more than ever! And while I’m so grateful to have a place of work that is flexible and takes the pandemic seriously, it’s been lonely. From my little kitchen table I’m crafting social media posts and campaign emails and trying to make a difference in my little corner of the world, so I really connected with Addie in that way.” —Larissa Church

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was the best book I have read this year; it helped me feel more at peace and patient with my life. It helped me feel less pressure to be someone I was not, and also helped me accept that things may take longer than I initially anticipated.” —Darcie

“Its ultimate theme is that even through all the bad stuff, good moments make everything worth it. I struggle with depression and am no stranger to wondering if things will ever not feel bad, but this book helped me see how things do always swing up eventually, and wading through the lows are worth it when you get to the highs of life.” —Alisha

Read an excerpt from The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

One to Watch by Kate Staymon-London

Dial Press

Publisher’s blurb: Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers — and a massively broken heart. Like the rest of America, Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call: Main Squeeze wants her to be its next star, surrounded by men vying for her affections. Bea agrees, on one condition — under no circumstances will she actually fall in love. (Dial Press)

“I can’t wait to read One to Watch again. As a plus-sized woman, it was such a joy to read. Reading more books about fat women and written by fat women was a game-changer this year.” —Danielle James

The Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan


Publisher’s blurb: When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. (Anchor)

“It was light-hearted and funny and just what I needed to be distracted.” —Catherine Martin

“The Crazy Rich Asians series was such a bright spot this year for me. It falls outside of my typical genres, but it has been so fun to read.” —CJ P.

“On the surface, they’re light, fun reads. But it was fascinating to learn about a culture I have no connection to, which the author does a beautiful job of throughout.” —Stephanie B.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


Publisher’s blurb: Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, and realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist, Nora Seed must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place. (Viking)

“I was feeling very low for a long time during this year. I could not find joy or direction in life. This book took a weight off my shoulders and made me able to breathe again, and helped me realize that I have to focus on living my life in the moment and not worry about things that haven’t happened yet.” —Laia N.

The Midnight Library was greatly helpful in terms of decision-making and making peace with how life turns out.” —Sabrina

Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle

Wave Books

Publisher’s blurb: Over the course of 15 years, Mary Ruefle delivered a lecture every six months to a group of poetry graduate students. Collected here for the first time, these lectures include “Poetry and the Moon,” “Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World,” and “Lectures I Will Never Give.” (Wave Books)

“Most of what I read this year was sort of in one eyeball and out the other; looking at my reading list, I barely remember half the books. But Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey is full of dogeared pages and notes, and in my mind it conjures up a sort of stillness that I’d like more of in my days. It felt so singular, so distant from the ways life felt this year.” —Molly Templeton

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


Publisher’s blurb: Fifteen-year-old Will has a gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. But the whole long way down, the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. (Atheneum)

“I taught Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down to my high school freshmen virtually and they LOVED it!! It increased online engagement dramatically.” —Katharine

The Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas


Publisher’s blurb: When 19-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a terrifying creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not truly a beast, but one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world. As she adapts to her new home, her feelings for the faerie, Tamlin, transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But something is not right in the faerie lands. (Bloomsbury)

A Court of Thorns and Roses was something I just clung to. It’s about someone who goes through several traumatic things and pulls herself out of it. I found it inspiring — several times.” —Kaycee

“Rereading an old favorite, A Court of Thorns and Roses, pulled me out of my reading slump. Reading about the resilient young women Maas creates — and how they always push through to the end, no matter what the sacrifice may be — always helps me during tough times.” —Elizabeth R.

“It made me feel like I was in another world.” —Madison Mooney

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman


Publisher’s blurb: Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? (Biblioasis)

Ducks, Newburyport helped a lot. It took me into another world, one that was also scary and hard but that I could manage more easily.” —Roz Milner

Ducks, Newburyport was one of the best books that I read this year, mostly because the narrator’s fears so strikingly paralleled my own views about the United States right now.” —Rosanna

Publisher’s blurb: In 1965, the US government helped the Indonesian military kill approximately one million innocent civilians. This was one of the most important turning points of the 20th century, eliminating the largest communist party outside China and the Soviet Union and inspiring copycat terror programs in faraway countries like Brazil and Chile. Vincent Bevins uses recently declassified documents, archival research, and eye-witness testimony collected across 12 countries to reveal a shocking legacy that spans the globe. (PublicAffairs)

The Jakarta Method was the book I recommended to anyone curious about US imperialism and capitalism. The rich reporting and history drew me in and pulled me out of my initial reading slump.” —Eva Sotomayor

Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby


Publisher’s blurb: Irby is 40, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin despite what Inspirational Instagram Infographics have promised her. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and has been friendzoned by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife in a Blue town in the middle of a Red state where she now hosts book clubs and makes mason jar salads. The essays in this collection draw on the raw, hilarious particulars of Irby’s new life. (Vintage)

“I read all of Samantha Irby’s books this year and they were so incredibly hilarious, they took me right out of all the stress and anxiety.” —Dana J. Ernest

“I picked up Wow, No Thank You when I really needed to laugh and it helped me get through a low moment this year.” —Emily Fishman

“It actually had me audibly laughing. Samantha Irby will say all of the things about bodies that no one else wants to tell you and if you’re someone who always packs the exact amount of clothing you need for a vacation, please hear from Irby who knows the other side of emergency PJ pants and underwear.” —Anita

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

W. W. Norton & Company

Publisher’s blurb: Armed with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre, Caitlin Doughty took a job at a crematory and turned morbid curiosity into her life’s work. She cared for bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, and became an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. In this best-selling memoir, brimming with gallows humor and vivid characters, she marvels at the gruesome history of undertaking and relates her unique coming-of-age story with bold curiosity and mordant wit. (W. W. Norton & Company)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes explores death rituals in America and of other cultures. A large portion of the book is about confronting death. In 2020, the potential and reality of death (mine, my loved ones, strangers) has been on the forefront of my mind. This book didn’t necessarily cure any anxieties, but it helped me kind of confront and surrender to the inevitability of death.” —Rachel Benton

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publisher’s blurb: After her mother dies in an accident, 16-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC-Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape — until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus. A mysterious teenage mage attempts — and fails — to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw, but his failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth. (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Legendborn was a book I had really been looking forward to and it just knocked my socks off. A powerful Black girl finding her place in the world and kicking total ass? I loved it so much I cried. YA books are so powerful and so many of them are brimming with hope, it’s hard to feel hopeless and depressed while reading them.” —Larissa Church

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publisher’s blurb: High school sophomore Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth. The result is catastrophic. How can her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis are wiping out the coasts, earthquakes are rocking the continents, and volcanic ash is blocking out the sun? (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“I read Life As We Knew It in high school and when the pandemic started it was all I could think about. Hearing the stories about people stockpiling during the first weeks reminded me so much of the book. Everything seemed to be getting worse and worse, and I was so worried my family would be like the families in the book who hadn’t prepared. After a couple months, I actually reread it. It calmed me down to know 2020 was (shockingly) way better than the scenario in the book.” —Jenna Lester

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

William Morrow & Company

Publisher’s blurb: On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed. And then someone turns up dead. (William Morrow & Company)

“It’s a murder mystery that unfolds so well, and the character development is so good. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and then talking about it with everyone — which was just a great break from the non-stop focus on the COVID news. —Ashling

The Guest List reminded me how much I love a mystery that keeps me second-guessing everything.” —Kristin

Sourdough by Robin Sloan


Publisher’s blurb: Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her. Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. (MCDxFSG)

“I read Sourdough over the summer when everyone was baking bread, and it is a crazy story that somehow both helped me feel connected to the real world and also let me feel completely engulfed in the story.” —Morgan Vermillion

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Publisher’s blurb: Ghana, 18th century: Two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. (Knopf)

Homegoing was my #1 book of the year — I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It was long, detailed, expansive, and beautifully interwoven. I learned so much about African and African American history, more than from any textbook or class I’ve ever taken. It was enjoyable to read but also gave me a lot of context about the world today. Just the best.” —Margaret E.

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld


Publisher’s blurb: Sarah, accused of being a witch, is fleeing for her life. Ruth, in the aftermath of World War II, is navigating a new marriage and the strange waters of the local community. Six decades later, Viv, still mourning the death of her father, is cataloging Ruth’s belongings in Ruth’s now-empty house. As each woman’s story unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that their choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men who seek to control them. But in sisterhood there is also the possibility of survival and a new way of life. (Pantheon)

The Bass Rock made me feel understood on a deep level as a woman who lives with PTSD. It’s not necessarily about PTSD, but it does address femicide and the social weight it can have on generations of women.” —Ella Rivers

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


Publisher’s blurb: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome — but that will define his life forever. (Doubleday)

A Little Life made me feel awful tbh but also gave me the tools to see beauty and love in hopeless spaces.” —Rachel B.

“I really wanted to read books that exposed me to different stories and voices. A Little Life provided really good escapism, but also dealt with some very complex and pertinent subject matter.” —Rebecca Vineberg

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


Publisher’s blurb: Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: Its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. There is one other person in the house — a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known. (Bloomsbury)

“The visual imagery has stayed with me since I read that book. I find myself using it during meditation and to fall asleep.” —Ellen Omark

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publisher’s blurb: Former BuzzFeed staffer Anne Helen Petersen argues that burnout is a definitional condition for the millennial generation, born out of distrust in the institutions that have failed us, the unrealistic expectations of the modern workplace, and a sharp uptick in anxiety and hopelessness exacerbated by the constant pressure to “perform” our lives online. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“It made me feel validated in the intense burnout I have been feeling for years, and helped me reflect on where it comes from.” —Rachel K.

“At some point, I felt like I was burned out with all of the work piling up during the pandemic. I liked Anne’s book because it helped me make sense of my situation.” —Julio G.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land


Publisher’s blurb: At 28, Stephanie Land’s dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer quickly dissolved when a summer fling turned into an unplanned pregnancy. Before long, she found herself a single mother, scraping by as a housekeeper to make ends meet. Maid is an emotionally raw, masterful account of Stephanie’s years spent in service to upper middle class America as a “nameless ghost” who quietly shared in her clients’ triumphs, tragedies, and deepest secrets. (Hachette)

“I went through a divorce last year and thought 2020 was going to be ‘my year.’ It didn’t quite work out. Maid helped remind me that you never know what others are going through — that a simple thing like a happy meal can be a huge treat to a 5-year-old who never gets one; that my own children are beyond privileged in their middle class lives and we need to do more. After reading this, I started a mobile library with gently used titles that I have collected over the past few months, to help kids who can’t access books at this time.” —Mallory Rochester

Greenwood by Michael Christie


Publisher’s blurb: It’s 2038 and Jacinda (Jake) Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world’s last remaining forests. It’s 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, sprawled on his back after a workplace fall, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion. It’s 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests. It’s 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime, secrets, and betrayal that will cling to his family for decades. And throughout, there are trees working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival. (Hogarth)

“I read Greenwood at the exact time I needed it. The characters were so vivid; I felt like I wasn’t alone. It completely transported me to another a life, and I will always have a special place for it in my heart. Reading about a family going through these difficulties generation after generation — but still surviving — gave me such hope when it felt like 2020 was too much. Just a really beautiful story about family, resiliency, and hope.” —Amanda B.

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Inkyard Press

Publisher’s blurb: When demons kill half-kitsune Yumeko’s adoptive family, she’s forced to flee her home with one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of mysterious samurai Kage Tatsumi, who is Yumeko’s best hope for survival. But he’s under orders to retrieve the scroll. An uneasy alliance forms, and Yumeko begins the deception of a lifetime, knowing her secrets are more than a matter of life or death — they’re the key to the fate of the world. (Inkyard Press)

Shadow of the Fox, and in fact all of Kagawa’s books, are trope-heavy and fun while still having intense emotional scenes and thrilling plots, making them perfect for escapism.” —Elizabeth R.

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-Five Paintings to Change the Way You Live by Christophe André

Blue Rider Press

Publisher’s blurb: Looking at Mindfulness collects classic and esoteric paintings, from Rembrandt to Hopper to Magritte, and offers a lucid commentary on the inner workings of each. André describes the dynamic on the canvas, and turns to the viewer’s own reactions, exploring the connection between what we see and what we feel. Moving beyond the art on the page, André teaches us what it means to consider our surroundings, our daily interactions and obligations, and their effect on our inner well-being and mental clarity. (Blue Rider Press)

“The mix of art and wise interpretations helped me relax.” —Pamela Gutierrez

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn


Publisher’s blurb: A beautifully layered portrait of motherhood, immigration, and the sacrifices we make in the name of love. (Liveright)

“I loved Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn. It’s a queer love story, a story of an immigrant finding her way in America, and a story set largely in New York City — some of my favorite things. It helps to read about the smaller, more day-to-day struggles of women who might be like me, women of color trying to make it in NYC while also shaping their identity.” —Shehtaz Huq

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Tor Books

Publisher’s blurb: Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn, and his secrets will come to light. (Tor Books)

The House in the Cerulean Sea was so wholesome and wonderful to counter the negative in the real world. It’s an uplifting story that really pulls you in.” —Cassandra Z.

“It was just so heartwarming which is what I needed.” —Sydney M.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Ballantine Books

Publisher’s blurb: In a sleepy seaside town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her large, painfully empty house nearly a year after her husband’s death in a car crash. In New York City, Dean Tenney, former Major League pitcher and Andy’s childhood best friend can’t throw straight anymore, and, even worse, he can’t figure out why. As the media storm heats up, an invitation from Andy to stay in Maine seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button on Dean’s future. To move forward, Evvie and Dean will have to reckon with their pasts — but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance. (Ballantine Books)

Evvie Drake Starts Over was the highlight of my summer — it combined my love of baseball (which was lacking this year) with my love of heartbreak/romance stories. And it was so well-written. Between turning 30 and feeling aged by this neverending year, I loved reading a book where the narration felt more mature and realistic. I loved it so much that I took a little book hiatus after reading it, just to sit with my feelings about it for longer.” —Kim Conway

Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events by Robert J. Shiller

Princeton University Press

Publisher’s blurb: Stories people tell — about financial confidence or panic, housing booms, or Bitcoin — can go viral and powerfully affect economies, but such narratives have traditionally been ignored in economics and finance because they seem anecdotal and unscientific. Using a rich array of examples and data, Shiller argues that studying popular stories that influence individual and collective economic behavior — what he calls narrative economics — may vastly improve our ability to predict, prepare for, and lessen the damage of financial crises and other major economic events. (Princeton University Press)

“I liked this book because it talks about the power of narratives to shape policy. In a time when words also spread like an epidemic, understanding how and why narratives matter was something I appreciated.” —Julio G.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Atria Books

Publisher’s blurb: Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them — the bank robber included — desperately crave some sort of rescue. (Atria Books)

“It was a story of life, loss, joy, and human connection. It made me feel every emotion so deeply and reminded me of the importance of keeping the connections I have in my life.” —Alex Dotsey

“Fredrik Backman’s books are beautiful, thoughtful, meaningful stories about realistically human people written in such a way that you’re sucked into the world of the book within the first ten words and you can’t let go for days after you close the back cover. They make you see everyday life differently and notice the significance of seemingly simple moments.” —Becky St. Clair

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Simon & Schuster

Publisher’s blurb: As the hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman became known for frank and intimate conversations. In this book, they bring that energy to their own friendship its joys and its pitfalls. (Simon & Schuster)

Big Friendship inspired me to reach out to some of my close friends, and reflect on the friendships in my life that I value most and why they have persisted long-term.” —Rachel K.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy

Celadon Books

Publisher’s blurb: Despite living in a world where technology allows constant digital communication and opportunities to connect, it seems no one is really listening or even knows how. And it’s making us lonelier, more isolated, and less tolerant than ever before. Murphy explains why we’re not listening, what it’s doing to us, and how we can reverse the trend. She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there — including a CIA agent, focus group moderator, bartender, radio producer, and top furniture salesman. (Celadon Books)

You’re Not Listening really made me pay attention to how present I was being with my partner and kid during a time when I was feeling increasingly distant and uninterested in my surroundings.” —Amanda M.

Revolutionary Letters by Diane di Prima

City Lights Publishers

Publisher’s blurb: In 1968, Diane di Prima began writing her “revolutionary letters,” a series of poems composed of a potent blend of utopian anarchism and ecological awareness, projected through a Zen-tinged feminist lens. By turns a handbook of countercultural activity and a broadside against the repressive state apparatus, Revolutionary Letters remains one of the vital classics of American poetry. (City Lights Publishers)

“Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters have been fueling me recently — they’re a nice mix of bold and uncompromising with warm and nourishing.” —Rose Lewis

Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Berkley Books

Publisher’s blurb: Arriving in the magnificent countryside of Dorset, England, to live with her mother and new stepfather, the young and very American Jenny Gluckstein has little interest in her historic surroundings, including that of the 700-acre Stourhead Farm her stepfather is restoring. Then she meets Tamsin, a kindred spirit that has haunted the lonely estate for 300 years, trapped by a hidden trauma she can’t remember, and by a powerful evil even the spirits of night cannot name. To help her, Jenny must delve deeper into the dark world than any human has in centuries, and face a danger that will change her life forever. (Berkley Books)

“I’d like to sing the praises of Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle. That book was atmospheric. It takes place in England and pulls in a lot of folklore and fairy tales from that part of the world. It was grounded in the real world but pulled in fantasy elements and that brought a nice touch of magic back into my life.” —Chelsea

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings

New York University Press

Publisher’s blurb: Sabrina Strings weaves together an eye-opening historical narrative ranging from the Renaissance to the current moment, analyzing important works of art, newspaper and magazine articles, and scientific literature and medical journals — where fat bodies were once praised — showing that fat phobia, as it relates to Black women, did not originate with medical findings, but with the Enlightenment-era belief that fatness was evidence of “savagery” and racial inferiority. Fearing the Black Body argues that fatphobia isn’t about health at all, but rather a means of using the body to validate race, class, and gender prejudice. (New York University Press)

Fearing the Black Body helped me see how racism infects and affects all marginalized demographics, and how important intersectional feminism is.” —Cortland Jacoby

Inner Witch: A Modern Guide to the Ancient Craft by Gabriela Herstik


Publisher’s blurb: A guide to witchcraft for every woman craving a connection to something bigger, using the tools of tarot, astrology, and crystals to discover her best self. Gabriela helps readers take back their power while connecting to something larger than themselves. (Tarcherperigee)

“This book. Lemme tell you. It’s honestly one of my favorite books I’ve read all year. Herstik is so good at being detailed and informative without making the research she’s done feel dry or boring. It opened up a whole avenue of spirituality that I never knew I wanted to learn more about, and she seems like a genuinely good person, which is even better.” —Maggie Gorski

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol by Holly Whitaker

Dial Press

Publisher’s blurb: When Holly Whitaker decided to seek help after one too many benders, she embarked on a journey that led not only to her own sobriety, but revealed the insidious role alcohol plays in our society and in the lives of women in particular. Her resultant feminine-centric recovery program focuses on getting at the root causes that lead people to overindulge and provides the tools necessary to break the cycle of addiction, showing us what is possible when we remove alcohol and destroy our belief system around it. (Dial Press)

“Books about sobriety really helped me this year. I found other people I thought were funny and relatable and they made sobriety sound cool, like it was the ultimate way to rebel. Holly Whitaker has an incredibly eye-opening and nonjudgmental view of sobriety and how alcohol companies target women. I kept up my sobriety by reading every night. I would highlight passages on my Kindle and used an affirmation app to record quotes and mantras for myself. Then I would listen to them while I slept. Reading became my non-drug way of self-soothing — ” —Britt B.

Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World by Steve Brusatte

William Morrow

Publisher’s blurb: Steve Brusatte traces the evolution of dinosaurs from their inauspicious start as small shadow dwellers into the dominant array of species every wide-eyed child memorizes today. He re-creates the dinosaurs’ peak during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, when thousands of species thrived, and winged and feathered dinosaurs, the prehistoric ancestors of modern birds, emerged. The story continues to the end of the Cretaceous period, when a giant asteroid or comet struck the planet and nearly every dinosaur species (but not all) died out, in the most extraordinary extinction event in earth’s history, one full of lessons for today as we confront a “sixth extinction.” (William Morrow)

“Sounds crazy but The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs helped me through the year. It put a lot of things in true perspective for me — climate change, personal/cultural change and growth, and evolution. This book took me FOREVER to read, but it had the most lasting impact and served as a reminder thay change isn’t always a bad thing (except maybe for the dinosaurs).” —Elizabeth

And anything by Barbara Pym

Open Road Media

“Barbara Pym’s books are always my go-to comfort reading and not enough people know about her! She was a British writer who was mostly active in the 1950s and ’60s and is compared to Jane Austen. Her books are cozy and quietly funny, with the best characters. I re-read four or five Barbara Pyms this year.” —Annie Jenkins


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