We know we’ve all moved on from 2020, and none of us really want to revisit it in any way, shape, or form. But here’s the thing: despite…everything… 2020 was a really, really good year for books. And though a lot of us were reading less, we still read! We still escaped from time to time into new worlds and different galaxies, past and future, and the magic of stories.
We know that our staff picks are some of the most beloved shelves in our store. And since many of you are still staying home, and browsing is limited, we figured we would bring our staff shelves to you once again. Here is the first of the now-annual Top Ten Reads of Last Year posts that we know many of you look forward to.
We’re starting with Elliot, stalwart delivery driver, ten-year veteran of the bookstore, resident poet, go-to for those looking for recommendations that skew horror/fantasy/scif-fi/poetry. If you want a book that will definitely get your brain out of the real world and into somewhere far away, these are ten fantastic reads that do just that.
Elliot’s Top Ten Reads of 2020
Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse
If I had to pick one book as my favorite of the year (please don’t make me do this) it would probably be Black Sun. This one has it all. The world-building is rich and well-realized, and the characters come to life in aching detail. After reading countless epic fantasy novels with strong European influences, Black Sun brings a refreshing take to the genre with a story influenced by indigenous cultures of the Americas. It is a world filled with subtle magic, cities in cliffs, oceanic canoes, giant crows, intriguing politics, and vengeful gods. It’s absolutely wonderful.
Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire
Come Tumbling Down is the fifth book in the Wayward Children series. In this slender volume you get: The continuation, and closure, of Jack and Jill’s story. Another trip to the Moors. Horror movie-esque aesthetics, viscera, necromantic vibes, and monsters. Kade, Christopher, Sumi, and Cora. Creepy as hell ocean stuff. Good OCD and queer rep. Lots and lots and lots of lightning. And, despite Eleanor West’s rules, a quest. And I loved it. Not reading the Wayward Children series yet and want a jumping in point? Across the Green Grass Fields comes out January 12th and is a new standalone novella – it’s the perfect entry point for the curious.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab
This book is a melancholy and elegiac departure from Schwab’s usual fast paced offerings…and I couldn’t be more delighted. A meditation on what makes a life worth living, the fleeting quality of time, and how we connect with each other and the world around us. This book is a the crown jewel in Schwab’s oeuvre and the perfect read for cool weather.
The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones
I don’t want to say too much about this one because I’m so glad I went into it blind, and I recommend avoiding spoilers as much as possible. All you need to know is this is a uniquely Native American take on the horror genre and it is chock full of tragedy, humanity, striking visuals, creeping dread, and a supernatural element that will chill you to your core. I was gritting my teeth and fighting the urge to look away, even as I read past my bedtime.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow
Harrow has a real way with words and this book is utterly charming. The language is poetic without being purple, and lends a dreamy sumptuous quality to the story. The characters are well drawn and sympathetic even when they blunder. The narrative has a mystery, but its real strength is its ability to throughly transport you to the world Harrow has created, and a few beyond. This book is a respite, and I enjoyed sinking into it and escaping for a while. If you like portal fiction you should absolutely give this one a try.
Aurora Burning, by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
Looking for a fast-paced and fun teen read? Look no farther. Here’s what you need to know:
This book defies expectation by actually being even better than the already fantastic first one in the series, Aurora Rising (which you should absolutely read first). It is absolutely non-stop with stakes through the roof. It has a heist, time wonkery, derring do, aliens and critters, psionic powers, hopeless odds, found family, twists, and All The Feels. It also has a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. I haven’t had this much fun reading a book in a long time.
Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza
Politics were inescapable in 2020, so it might seem strange to find solace in this now three year old coffee table book, yet I found it had all new context this tumultuous year. This book lends such a unique view into the Obama presidency. It was particularly interesting seeing so many familiar faces and knowing where some of those stories would go now years later. If you ever wondered what it would have been like to be the fly on a wall for those eight years wonder no more – Souza was the invisible man in the room capturing every moment. This is a wonderful work of photojournalism and a window through time that also informs out present.
Recollections of my Nonexistence, by Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit has long been a treasure of the essay world, with books like Men Explain Things To Me and Hope in the Dark propelling her to the forefront of the current cultural dialogue. In this highly anticipated memoir she chronicles her life in San Fransisco and her ascension as a writer. Deeply vulnerable, unflinchingly honest, and fiercely feminist this memoir has the raw and astute writing Solnit has become known for in her essays mixed with the revealing and sometimes raw story of how she has hop-scotched her way from there to here. I remain eternally grateful for her voice and clear sight.
Black Queer Hoe, by Britteney Black Rose Kapri
This recommendation is for the poetry lovers out there. These poems are rooted very much in the body, specifically a Black body. A female body. A large body. A queer body. These are poems speaking to both the pain and the pleasure of existing in this space. The language is evocative, the metaphors spark, and uses the page as a canvass. If you’ve been wanting to read more work by Black authors, women authors, queer authors, this collection speaks frankly about all these experiences. More than that it’s just plain good poetry – raw, honest, emotional, and illuminating the human experience.
Sex Criminals #6: Six Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
This one is for the graphic novel fans. After six wild years Sex Criminals wraps up with a bang. Literally. Am I talking about sex? Explosions? Both? You’ll just have to read it to find out. The art is, as always, fantastic and there is some incredible color work. This final volume has room to breathe without dragging, and finishes out the series with the same clear-eyed and astute observations that made the title a bestseller.
Remember, you can purchase any or all of these amazing books online by clicking on their titles above. And you can check out 2019’s and 2018’s Staff Top Ten lists here.