The Best Books of 2020 to Add to Your Reading List in the New Year

Best Books 2020
Photo: Courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons. Riverhead Books. Design: Cierra Miller/STYLECASTER.

Let’s face it: 2020 was a dumpster fire. But that doesn’t mean that some good didn’t come out of it. Case in point: the best books of 2020. If you’re like us, 90 percent of your year was spent inside, which meant that we had more time than ever to catch up on our favorite Netflix shows and watch those movies that have been recommended to us for forever.

But, with so much screen content, most of us were bound to become tired of TV at some point. (Even if we still binge-watched The Undoing in a night.) So, if you’re like us, you turned to books for your screen-free form of entertainment in 2020. Like every year, 2020 was full of page-turners, from heart-racing thrillers to mystical fantasies to swoon-worthy romances. But what were the best books of 2020? That’s where we come in. Ahead, we rounded up our favorite fiction and non-fiction reads from the past year. From Jessica Simpson’s heart-wrenching memoir to two Reese Witherspoon Book Club picks that would also be our choice if we ever ran a book club, these books of 2020 should be added to your 2021 reading list (if they aren’t already.)

"Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid

Image: Courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age, came out on New Year’s Eve 2019, so, technically, it’s not a 2020 book, but we’ll let it slide because of how good it is. The Reese Witherspoon Book Club follows Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old Black woman who’s the 2-year-old white daughter of media personality Alix Chamberlain. The book starts with Emira at the supermarket with Briar as she’s accused of kidnapping the girl by a security guard. The interaction is filmed by a bystander, who becomes more involved with Alix and Emira’s lives than they expected.

"Leave the World Behind" by Rumaan Alam

Image: Courtesy of Ecco.

Leave the World Behind  Rumaan Alam

There is no words to describe the twists that occur Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind. The book starts with Amanda and Clay, a white couple who travel from New York City to a remote area of Long Island for a vacation with their two teenage kids. The two find a luxurious house they’ve rented for a week, but late one night, they hear a knock on their door and Ruth and G.H., an older black couple, show up at their rental and tell Amanda and Clay that their rental is actually their home. Not too long later, a blackout sweeps the nation and the two couples are forced to quarantine together, with no idea that the world around them is falling apart.

"Open Book" by Jessica Simpson

Image: Courtesy of Dey Street.

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Jessica Simpson’s Open Book is one of the most candid celebrity memoirs in a long time. The memoir takes readers through Simpson’s career and life, from when she auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake to her publicized relationship and marriage with 98 Degrees member Nick Lachey. Raw and unfiltered, Open Book is a must-read for anyone who thinks they know Simpson. (Spoiler alert: They don’t)

"Memorial" by Bryan Washington

Image: Courtesy of Riverhead Books.

Memorial by Bryan Washington

Bryan Washington’s Memorial is a beautiful tale about a gay couple in Houston: Mike, a Japanese-American chef at a Mexican restaurant, and Benson, a Black day care teacher. The book starts with the arrival of Mike’s Japanese mother, Mitsuko. Before Mistuko’s arrival, Mike learns that his estranged father is dying in Osaka. After he decides to fly to Japan to say goodbye to him, Benson is left alone with Mitsuko, a woman he’s never met. Set in both Houston and Japan, Memorial is told from both Mike and Benson’s perspectives.

"If I Had Your Face" by Frances Cha

Image: Courtesy of Ballantine Books.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face is a must-read for K-pop and Korean culture fans. The book is told via the perspectives of four Korean women: Kyuri, a beautiful “room salon” worker; Miho an artist in a relationship with a man of an esteemed reputation; Ara a hairstylist who’s obsessed with a K-pop boy band member; and Wonna, a newlywed trying to have a baby. Each of the four women’s tales intersect and weave together a riveting story about different ways Korean beauty standards and face-saving culture affect them.

"My Dark Vanessa" by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Image: Courtesy of William Morrow.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa is haunting story about Vanessa Wye, a woman who comes to realize that her relationship with her teacher, Jacob Strane, when she was 15 years old wasn’t what she remembered. The story is told in two timelines: 2000, when Vanessa is 15 and starts her affair with Strane, an English teacher at her all-girls private school, and 2017, after another student from her school accuses Strane of sexual abuse and urges Vanessa to come out as a victim as well.

"The Guest List" by Lucy Foley

Image: Courtesy of William Morrow.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley’s The Guest List is a page-turning whodunnit that will leave you guessing until the last page. The Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick is set at a wedding on a remote island off the coast of Ireland where one person has mysteriously died. The story is told via the perspectives of various wedding guests and party members: the Bride, the Plus One, the best Man, the Wedding Planner, the Bridesmaid. Only one of them is a murderer, but who? The Guest List has readers guessing not only the killer’s identity but also the victim.

"The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

Image: Courtesy of Riverhead Books.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half was one of 2020’s most successful bestsellers for a reason. The book follows the Vignes twins, a pair of sisters raised in a small, southern Black community who run away at the age of 16. When one of the sisters returns years later with a daughter, she investigates what happened to her twin, who, unbeknownst to her, has moved across the country where she secretly passes as a white woman with a white husband who knows nothing about her past. Told over various decades of the Vignes sisters’ lives, The Vanishing Half follows both twins as their secrets come to light.

"Anxious People" by Frederik Backman

Image: Courtesy of Atria Books.

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

Frederik Backman’s Anxious People isn’t your classic mystery. The book is set at an apartment open house where a failed bank robber bursts in for shelter and ends up taking the group of strangers hostage. Among the hostages is a wealthy bank director, an 87-year-old woman, a real estate agent, two couples and a mystery man who’s locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom. The story is told from two timelines: the hostage situation and afterwards, where the robber has mysteriously disappeared. The police must investigate what happened to the robber as the stories and secrets of the hostages are unveiled.

"One by One" by Ruth Ware

Image: Courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press.

One by One by Ruth Ware

The author of bestselling thrillers like The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware returned in 2020 with another banger of a mystery. One by One follows eight coworkers at the London-based tech startup, Snoop, an app that allows users stream the same music someone else is listening to in real time. While on a team bonding vacation at a chalet in French Alps, an avalanche crashes down, trapping the Snoop team and the chalet’s two employees inside. However, one Snoop member still hasn’t returned from a ski excursion earlier in the day. To make matters worse, there’s a killer among them and they need to find out who the murderer is before they’re picked off one by one.

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