• Constance M, A Well-Read Wanderer

2020 Book Recommendations from an Avid Reader

Updated: Dec 30, 2020


Book recommendations best Non-fiction books best literary fiction best classic novels
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No matter where you live or what your circumstances, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one hell of a year.


I really can't claim to be in a place mentally or emotionally to reflect on it all or assign any meaning to the madness. What I can say with confidence, though, is that through it all, I've taken much solace, edification, enjoyment, escape, and delight in reading this year.


Still, this post has been surprisingly difficult to write. At first, I thought I'd divide my top book recommendations into sections and choose my favorite from each category, giving it a nice little "best of" award: "Best Fiction Book I Read this Year," "Best Non-Fiction Book," etc. Sounds nice and neat, right? A Virgo's dream.


What I found was that it was IMPOSSIBLE for me to do so! I read too many noteworthy books in each genre, I felt I was betraying the books (and myself) to only select one in each.


I tortured myself over it for an embarrassing amount of time until I remembered... I make the rules here. Whatever I say, it shall be done. This isn't the Pulitzer or the Booker prize. I can choose however many "winners" I like. I'm mad with power.


So here is my very messy, in no particular order, round-up of my very favorite books I read in 2020, who must read them, and where to buy them.


I get asked for reading recommendations all the time, so here are my book recommendations in Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, the Classics, and Non-Fiction from my 2020 reading.


Knowing that not every book is for every reader, I've listed my best advice for who will most enjoy each book recommendation. I really think there's something here for everyone.


You can also find the entire list of these books in my Bookshop.org profile.




Contemporary Fiction



Circe by Madeline Miller


After reading The Song of Achilles last year and absolutely loving it, I was thrilled to read another by Madeline Miller. Circe did not disappoint! Madeline, I think we are all ready for another!


Read this one if: you love beautifully written fiction with a strong, complex female lead. Bonus stars if you enjoy ancient mythology.


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon.




The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante


I fell in love with Elena Ferrante when I devoured her My Brilliant Friend/Neapolitan Novels series. This stand-alone novel is just as good. I read it in two days because I couldn't put it down. I may just choose this one for an upcoming book and tea pairing.


Read this one if: you can handle a little psychological darkness and like diving deep into the human psyche


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon.




The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera


This book really took me by surprise with how quickly I tore through it and how captivating I found it. I'm so glad my book club picked this read, or I don't know if I'd have ever gotten around to it!


Read this one if: you enjoy lyrical writing and don't shy away from an open-minded dissection of themes such as marriage, fidelity, and love.


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon.




Historical Fiction



The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See


I have read a LOT of Lisa See novels, and there's not one that I haven't enjoyed. This one is up there among her very best.


Read this one if: you enjoy being transported into places and cultures about which you previously knew little or nothing. Also, if you love to read about strong female characters and friendships.


But it at Bookshop or Amazon.




Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


I know, I know, I know. I'm late to the party on this one. But what a party it is! I'm so glad I waited to watch the STARZ series before reading this one, because it's such a fun ride.


Read this one if: you love Scotland, time travel, adventure, and romance. While this book certainly isn't ALL about the love story, don't pick it up if you can't handle a little steamy sexiness mixed in with all the adventure.


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon.




The Classics


The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton


This year, I dove into a lot of Edith Wharton novels I'd never read before, and this was my favorite (I even preferred it to The House of Mirth, which is also excellent). If you've never picked up an Edith Wharton novel, you're missing out. Think of her as askin to Jane Austen but of New York Society.


Read this one if: you love high society period pieces but also a good, deep character dive


Purchase it at Bookshop or Amazon.




Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens


I read this one for my Dickens December challenge, and while it was a slow burn, it was also witty and reliably peppered with humor and excitement. A reader's patience certainly pays off with this one.


Read this one if: you're not scared away by an 800-page novel, you've got lots of patience, a good sense of humor, and want the bad guys to get what's coming to them.


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon.




Non-Fiction


Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright


If ever there were a book you just have to read right now, it's this one. Surprisingly entertaining and eerily relevant, you've never had so much fun reading about plagues and pandemics throughout history. Please pay extra special attention to the end bit about vaccinations, thanks.


Read this one if: you are a human being residing on planet earth


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon (it's particularly enjoyable in audiobook format).



Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read


This one is a few decades old, but I'm so glad I stumbled across it this year. Talk about a page turner! An incredible true story told by an engaging author who manages to remain objective while writing about very controversial topics.


Read this one if: you love to read incredible, true adventure and survival stories or simply want to marvel at the human will to survive.


Buy it at Bookshop or Amazon.



Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Absolutely essential anti-racist reading. Beautifully written truth telling.


Read this one if: you can commit yourself to anti-racist work and can open yourself to discomfort and growth


Buy it on Bookshop or Amazon.




Well, that ended up being my top 10 books I read in 2020. It almost sounds intentional. We can pretend it was.



What was your favorite read this year?





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I'm an avid reader and traveler, writing all about literary travel, books, tea, and chocolate.