We can all agree 2020 was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic shut schools, curtailed after-school activities and limited travel. All of this gave me more time than ever to explore other worlds through books. Here are the top five books I read in 2020.
5 “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote” by Ellen Carol DuBois
Published on the centennial of the 19th Amendment, “Suffrage” is a refreshing addition to the literature on the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. This book spans all 75 years of the suffrage movement, starting with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and ending with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. “Suffrage” avoids the pitfall of being weighed down by superfluous details while giving the reader an ample overview of the entire suffrage movement. While this book does not necessarily add more “new” information to the literature on women’s suffrage, it is much more engaging than many others in its genre. If you want to read a nonfiction book, but do not have the mental capacity to slog through hundreds of pages filled with size six font footnotes, this is the book for you.
4 “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich
“Love Medicine” is an enchanting novel that follows multiple generations of two Ojibwa families living on fictional reservations in the Upper Midwest in the wake of the disappearance of a shared family member during a snowstorm. Initially published in 1985, the beautiful writing and gripping plot make this novel a great way to distract yourself during a crazy new year.
3 “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang
Normally a 700-page memoir would seem too taxing to even approach, but quarantine provided the perfect opportunity for me to read this fascinating book about three generations of women in China. Chang begins by telling the story of her grandmother, who was a concubine to a general at the turn of the 20th century. Chang’s grandmother then left the general to lead a more independent life, and lived through the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. The book then progresses to tell the story of Chang’s mother, who was a communist at the beginning of the Communist Revolution in China. In the last part, the book details Chang’s experience living in China during the Cultural Revolution. One of my favorite aspects of “Wild Swans” was that it gave me a deeper understanding of many events in recent Chinese history in a format that is more engaging than traditional nonfiction. Who knew that 700 pages could go by so quickly?
2 “The Yield” by Tara June Winch
Written by a Wiradjuri Australian author and published in the US in 2020, this book combines three narratives: the story of August, a young woman who returns to her homeland after the death of her grandfather; a series of dictionary entries from the Wiradjuri language that begins with Z and works its way towards A; and a group letters from a British colonist in Australia. When reading this book, I found the beautifully written backwards dictionary entries to be especially unique and captivating. “The Yield” is an obscure yet memorable novel that is a perfect way to escape the drudgery of quarantine.
1 “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson’s newest work is a poignant book that argues that there is an unstated caste system in the United States. This book is both extremely well-argued and artfully written. Since the book was published this summer, it includes recent political developments and the pandemic, making the book feel both more pertinent and impactful. “Caste” is a powerful lens to help us view racism in America that should be at the top of everyone’s to-read list.