The 20 Best Books of 2020
Coast through the remainder of this nightmare year with a perfect book.
It hasn’t been a great year for many things (i.e. the economy, mental health, leaving the house), but it’s been a stunning 12 months for books. Plus, 2020 has given many of us free time to rediscover our love of reading (like, for fun!).
Read on for a rundown of InStyle’s favorite 20 books of 2020.
Cobble Hill - Cecily von Ziegesar
Ziegesar, the woman without whom our early aughts wardrobes would be lacking in a spectrum of rainbow-hued tights and bow-bearing headbands, has struck gold among the ultra-privileged East Coast set once more. More than a decade after the final chapter in the legacy of Manhattan’s elite was inked, the Gossip Girl author pulled a Dan Humphrey and found inspiration in Brooklyn.
Cobble Hill follows a group of affluent and off-beat residents that make up the novel’s namesake neighborhood. Gossip Girl fans take note, Ziegesar’s trademark wit and skillful rendering of rich white people drama are still unmatched.
Luster - Raven Leilani
Leilani’s vivid debut novel is a feat of contemporary writing. Come for the prose (which will have you vigorously underlining and highlighting like you’re prepping for a book report), stay for the complex meditation on class, race, and what it means to be an artist.
A Star Is Bored - Byron Lane
Ever wondered what it would be like to work for the late Carrie Fisher? Lane, the actress’s former assistant, wrote a novel inspired by the years he spent with her. So much more than a love letter to the icon, A Star Is Bored is a vibrant and at times hilarious peek behind the curtain of celebrity.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir - Natasha Trethewey
In this powerful and beautifully written memoir, Trethewey recounts memories of her late mother, leading up to her murder in 1985. Trethewey plays both daughter and biographer, outlining the atrocity of the crime (and law enforcement’s fatal inaction) while also detailing the trauma it caused in her own life.
Fairest - Meredith Talusan
Talusan’s memoir, which tours the world, from her upbringing in the Philippines to her college years at Harvard, delves into matters of sexuality and gender identity with care. It’s an immigrant story, it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read its final page.
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Stray - Stephanie Danler
The Sweetbitter author switches coasts for this deeply-felt Southern California-set memoir that focuses on the challenging relationships that have defined her life.
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Leave the World Behind - Rumaan Alam
Eerily reminiscent of our current moment, Alam’s latest is both a gripping thriller and a work of searing social commentary.
The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett
This stunning sophomore novel is that rare literary treat you can’t put down — at once rushing to finish it and hoping it’ll never end. Bennett’s mastery is given the perfect showcase in this taut decade-spanning reflection on race and family.
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America - R. Eric Thomas
As always, Thomas’s witty writing is a delight. With Here for It, he’s struck the perfect balance between guffaw-inducing humor and moments of introspection and poignant cultural observation.
My Dark Vanessa - Kate Elizabeth Russell
Russell’s debut is a masterclass in fiction writing. Seriously, Kate, if you’re ever teaching a writing workshop, hit me up. Disturbing as it is elegiac, this is a novel with staying power.
All My Mother’s Lovers - Ilana Masad
Surprising and illuminating, Masad’s debut is not what I expected — it’s better. All My Mother’s Lovers brings nuance to well-worn topics of literary exploration: family, identity, and relationships.
The Son of Good Fortune - Lysley Tenorio
Tenorio has a knack for characters, and story, and, uh, words … The Son of Good Fortune defies categorization — it’s an immigrant tale, a character study, a heartfelt and hilarious adventure.
The Knockout Queen - Rufi Thorpe
I’ve never read anything like The Knockout Queen, which is at once a coming-of-age story and a cautionary tale, packaged in evocative prose and brought to life by heartbreakingly vivid characters.
Having and Being Had - Eula Biss
What better time to read a book about capitalism and class than nine months into a pandemic that has left millions jobless and millions more spiraling into credit card debt from the comfort of their newly refurnished living rooms?
Darling Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel
Unlike most of the other works on this list, Darling Rose Gold’s aim is simple and singular: to entertain. It’s compulsively readable — so much so that if you find a way to stretch this novel out for more than three days, your brain should be donated to science.
If I Had Your Face - Frances Cha
This immaculately researched Korea-set character study is one of the year’s best literary surprises. Transportive and eye-opening, Cha’s debut is a more than worthy read.
Broken People - Sam Lansky
This isn’t what I was expecting when I cracked a book about a young L.A. writer undergoing a shamanic ritual. Lansky’s novel is ambitious in scope and structure, but every risk pays off in this beautifully written ode to memory and healing.
Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation - Anne Helen Petersen
Millennial burnout is real and widely disregarded by other generations (here’s lookin’ at every boomer who’s used the word “snowflake” to describe anything other than the weather). Press pause on your doomscroll and check out Petersen’s meditation on millennial angst.
The Butterfly Lampshade - Aimee Bender
Bender’s novel, her first in 10 years, does a lot with its 300 pages. The Butterfly Lampshade, employing an appropriate sprinkle of magical realism, takes on mental illness from the perspective of a child as she transitions into adulthood.
Such a Fun Age - Kiley Reid
Technically this novel was released in late 2019, but it’s so good that it deserves 2020 recognition as well. The immensely talented Reid tackles the nuances of relationships and privilege with a light and practiced touch.