A Year Less Lonely: 2020 in Books

Kristen Craft
5 min readJan 2, 2021

If you’ve ever met me, you know I’m an extrovert. My eyes light up when I meet an interesting new person or discover something we have in common. I’m most in a state of “flow” — as described by one of my favorite writers and psychologists, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — when interacting with others.

So, like many other extroverts, I found 2020 particularly challenging for emotional reasons, (alongside all of the physical, mental, and financial reasons). And yet, there were many moments of the year that brought me energy and joy. There were countless instances that made me feel closer to others, whether it was a Zoom call, an outdoor walk & talk, or a small picnic.

One surprising outcome was the companionship and connections I gained from books this year. They allowed me to connect with others, connect with new ideas, and connect more deeply with my personal priorities. Here are some of the themes that emerged for me in 2020, thanks to the 48 books below.

As with wine, you shouldn’t necessarily make your choices based on how pretty the cover or label is, but darn, if this isn’t an attractive assortment of covers!

Connecting with People I Love

2020 reminded me that I often meet and get to know people via books. During my first week at Animalz, I fell in love with our Slack #bookclub channel. It allowed me to connect with others over shared interests and seek new book recommendations.

I sought countless recommendations from other people and requested so many books from my library (via the Libby app), that I maxed out my holds list every single month. I traded physical books with my parents, husband, and close friends, creating new opportunities to text and chat with loved ones about plot twists.

Last, but not least, this was the 10th year running for my book club. I’ve met monthly with this group of women, (which has evolved over time as people have moved to and from the Boston area,) and we’ve witnessed and supported one another through countless major life events. Though we’d always met in person for our first nine years, we shifted over to Zoom early in 2020. Though I miss seeing these brilliant women in person, the new format allowed us to retain a member who’s been part of the group since the beginning but moved to North Carolina a year ago.

Connecting with Topics I Love

This year’s books allowed me to focus on and learn about what matters to me. More than three quarters of the books I read this year were written by women, and nearly one third of them were written by women of color. One of these books, American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson, takes the cake for my favorite read of the year. It feels more important than ever to make sure I’m listening to other people’s stories and perspectives. The financial side matters as well; I believe in voting with my dollars, and I vote for more diverse art and literature in our world.

I connected with topics I love, as well as topics that made me feel uncomfortable or stretched. Specifically, I learned more about the corrosive effects of colonialism and Western influences via Pachinko and Tahmima Anam’s excellent Golden Age trilogy. I learned more about the violence committed against Native American women in The Night Watchman. I thought more deeply about the ways in which women of color face an uphill battle in school, while parenting, and online, via two non-fiction books, Algorithms of Oppression and Hood Feminism.

During this year of limited travel, I went to Nigeria, Italy, Jamaica, Norway, Korea, and Japan, among other places. I explored new parts of the US, including North Dakota with the Chippewa tribe, the marshes of North Carolina, and the secret societies at Yale University. I traveled through time and space with Jitterbug Perfume and Song of Achilles.

Connecting with What’s Important to Me

This was a year of making space for what matters to me. Growing up as an only child with our nearest neighbor half a mile away, books were my constant companions. In my 20s, I’d often read two or even three books per week. At some point over the past decade, reading became less of a priority when compared to the other demands on my time. 2020 underscored the fact that I’m a happier version of myself when I make time to read.

I spent many a quiet morning, reading in bed with a mug of coffee on the bedside table, (thanks to my wonderful husband who knows how much pleasure this simple routine brings me.) This slower pace isn’t normally possible for us, amid school, camp, and social commitments. But 2020 brought some interesting silver linings, and reading in bed was a big one for me.

Reading, generally, was a silver lining in 2020. I read more than I have in recent years, and I want to carry this with me, even as we return to normal life. Therefore, my new year’s resolution for 2021 is to keep up the pace. Having been reminded of how important books are to me, I aim to read even more books this year than last. And, because I like to dream big, I intend to read at least one additional book each year than I did the year before from here on out.

I’m grateful to the authors who shared their stories and perspectives. I appreciate the friends and loved ones who shared their books and recommendations with me. And I’m hopeful that this post will spur at least a few people to either pick up one of these books or tell me about something I might like. (I actually have a hold slot or two available at the library, so help me use them up!) These books were great companions and made 2020 a little less lonely for this extrovert.

Without further ado, here’s my list of 2020 books:

  1. The Alice Network: Kate Quinn
  2. The Good Muslim: Tahmima Anam
  3. Dead Man’s Mirror: Agatha Christie
  4. Busman’s Honeymoon: Dorothy Sayers
  5. Catherine, Called Birdy: Karen Cushman
  6. Gap Creek: Robert Morgan
  7. The Woman in Cabin 10: Ruth Ware
  8. Skinny Dip: Carl Hiassen
  9. Lady Clementine: Marie Benedict
  10. The Bookshop: Penelope Fitzgerald
  11. The Keeper of Lost Things: Ruth Hogan
  12. The Girl with the Louding Voice: Abi Dare
  13. The Crow Trap: Ann Cleeves
  14. Midnight Sun: Jo Nesbo
  15. The Engineer’s Wife: Tracey Enerson Wood
  16. The Song of Achilles: Madeline Miller
  17. Wonder: R.J. Palacio
  18. Galatea: Madeline Miller
  19. Pachinko: Min Jin Lee
  20. The Great Believers: Rebecca Makkai
  21. A Golden Age: Tahmima Anam
  22. Midwives: Chris Bohjalian
  23. American Spy: Lauren Wilkinson
  24. The Bones of Grace: Tahmima Anam
  25. Holes: Louis Sachar
  26. City of Girls: Elizabeth Gilbert
  27. Florida: Lauren Groff
  28. The Dutch House: Ann Patchett
  29. The Sleepwalker: Chris Bohjalian
  30. Red at the Bone: Jacqueline Woodson
  31. Untamed: Glennon Doyle
  32. Jitterbug Perfume: Tom Robbins
  33. Patsy: Nicole Dennis-Benn
  34. The Aviator’s Wife: Melanie Benjamin
  35. Trust Exercise: Susan Choi
  36. The Night Watchman: Louise Erdrich
  37. Trick Mirror: Jia Tolentino
  38. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Gail Honeyman
  39. Hood Feminism: Mikki Kendall
  40. Ninth House: Anthony Horowitz
  41. Algorithms of Oppression: Safiya Umoja Noble
  42. The Days of Abandonment: Elena Ferrante
  43. Queenie: Candice Carty-Williams
  44. The Festival of Earthly Delights: Matt Dojny
  45. Indelicacy: Amina Cain
  46. Last Bus to Woodstock: Colin Dexter
  47. The Silent Wife: Karin Slaughter
  48. Where the Crawdads Sing: Delia Owens

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Kristen Craft

Early-stage startup advisor at Silicon Valley Bank, parent, reader, Bostonian