My 10 Favorite Reads of 2020

Here it is, a list of my ten favorite reads of 2020. No, not every book in the list was published in 2020, but yes, every book on this list is superb. They’re presented here in alphabetical order with a few thoughts about each book. For more detailed reviews please check out The Stacks page on Instagram.

I did keep track of everything I read. Mostly because I’m a huge nerd and love a good spreadsheet, but also because I like to stay accountable to my reading goals.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2020. I read a total of 95 books, which blew my goal of 36 out of the water. Though my goal was purposefully low because I didn’t know what to expect with the addition of The Mini Stacks this year.

  • 64 were by authors of color (67%)
  • 62 books were by women or nonbinary authors (65%)
  • 48 books were by women/femme authors of color (50%)
  • 45 books were published in 2020 (47%)
  • 52 books were acquired by me in 2020 (55%)
  • 59 books were nonfiction (62%)
  • 15 books received five stars (16%)
  • 1 books received one star (1%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2020.


Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee (2020)

A modern retelling of Anna Karenina set in current day NYC with socialite teenagers. Think “Gossip Girl” with amazing storytelling and wonderful characters.

I loved this book. Jenny Lee really creates something fun and exciting that I didn’t want to put down. I found myself so invested in the characters and their journeys. There’s a central love story that doesn’t feel corny, which is hard to do, especially with teenagers. This one comes highly recommended.


The Autobiography of Malcom X as told to Alex Haley (1965)

The story of one of our most important and influential leaders, Malcolm X. This book changed my life and the ways in which I see and relate to the world around me. I can credit it with helping me begin to understand racism as something systemic in America and not something only “bad” people do. This book is revolutionary.

One of the most impressive parts of this book is how Malcolm is able to stand in his truth and share that with the world and say it fully with his chest, and then learn something new and change his mind. That kind of courage is tough to imagine. His commitment to seeking justice and equality for Black folks was not to be interfered with, even if it was he who was getting in the way.

The Stacks Book Club discussion of The Autobiography of Malcom X can be found here.


Black Futures edited by Kimberley Drew and Jenna Wortham (2020)

Easily my most immersive and unique reading experience of 2020. Black Futures is a collection of essays, art, memes, conversations, recipes, lyrics, and more that attempt to detail and encompass the experience of Blackness today. This book is a time capsule of Blackness and a dream for our future.

I loved this book so much. It is massive and rich and full of wisdom and joy and creativity and activism and defiance and beauty. It is the embodiment of the saying “Blackness is not a monolith”. The topics range from Black Indigeneity to self-care, from Ocean preservation to Colin Kaepernick. And it’s not just about each of these things the book connects the many seemingly disparate dots and exposes the multitudes we, Black folks, contain. Drew & Wortham clearly poured so much love into this collection and into telling our stories. A blessing.


Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry (2019)

A deeply personal examination of life, family, gender, race, memory, and violence Breathe is a lush and layered addition to the epistolary tradition in Black American writing.

Perry has created something that is both complex and direct. A combination that is nearly impossible to do well. She is audacious and generous in allowing the reader into her relationship with her sons. I kept asking myself where does she get off writing with this much skill and emotion? The care and love in these pages are unmistakable. I can barely scratch the surface of what I want to say about this book here.

The Stacks Book Club discussion of Breathe can be found here.


Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (2018)

This book was on this same list in 2018, but in 2020 I reread the book before Laymon was a guest on The Stacks. This time I listened on audio. This book holds up and is maybe even better the second time around. Heavy is an emotional memoir of Laymon’s life as a young Black man in Jackson, Mississippi.

The book is brutally honest and unyieldingly vulnerable. We are told of struggles and successes, addictions and abuses. Throughout Heavy there is blank space for the reader to connect to Laymon and to connect his life to a bigger picture of being Black in America. Laymon’s dedication to the written word and to the power of revision is striking.

You can hear Kiese Laymon on The Stacks on Episode 118 and Episode 122.


Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (2020)

When Natasha Trethewey was 19 her stepfather murdered her mother. Memorial Drive is the examination of that event, Trethewey’s childhood, and the ways trauma and memory are in a constant struggle.

This book is incredible. I had visceral reactions through out my reading. Tears. Gasps. Tightening of my chest. This story is painful, powerful, and beautifully told. The kind of bravery Trethewey mustered to put this story on the page is something I cannot comprehend. There are depictions of domestic violence in this book that are haunting. They are difficult to read (despite the fact that Trethewey is careful to protect her reader). These sections are necessary. They are not gratuitous. To tell this story without these details is to protect abusers and the systems that enable them.


Othello by William Shakespeare (1603)

This play is extraordinary. It might be my most favorite Shakespeare play (and at this point I’ve read almost all of them). It is smart and complex and feels timely every time I read it. Mostly because racism, sexism, and violent white boys never seem to go out of fashion. And yes, this was already on my 2018 list of favorite reads.

Iago’s rage and jealousy stuck out during this read more than anything else. He lies so convincingly and so consistently, the parallels to the party in power in America are haunting. The fearlessness with which white men take and destroy is front and center in Othello. Also Act 4 Scene 3 is a scene that I love so much as it shows the way women fight against instinct and intuition to love toxic men. It is beautiful and devastating.


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (2020)

This short story collection is so good. It’s funny. It’s depressing. It’s complex. It’s rich. It’s Southern. It’s sobering. It’s sexy and violent. It’s specific. It’s surprising. It’s delicious. It’s Black and free and brilliant. Philyaw snapped on each and every story. They’re short and pack a major punch. There is no apology. There is no white gaze and for that I feel entirely grateful. I don’t want to tell you more. Just read this book.


Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream by Mychal Denzel Smith (2020)

A masterful work that calls into question the dissonance of The American Dream and the reality that is The United States. Smith asks for reflection and reimagining in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Abolition, justice, reform, and redistribution are all on the table in this brutal and searing call to action.

Smith is an incredible writer. He distills the contradictions of America and Americanness down to its true, immoral, and predatory essence. I was impressed by the ways Smith kept Stakes Is High in the current moment (the book is not afraid of confronting the here and now) and also rooted in a history that reminds us that none of this is new. The book is in conversation with the great texts on race and liberation in America, and is part of the tradition of abolition, revision, and rigorous curiosity.


Sula by Toni Morrison (1973)

The simple synopsis: the story of best friends, Sula and Nel, the town they grow up in, their families and their bond. The complicated synopsis: everything.

Sula is an incredible feat of storytelling. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s tragic. Morrison says all she needs to say without any excess. The ways Morrison captures the joy and trauma and complexity of Blackness is what will always stick with me from this book. The humor that is an integral part of Blackness is not overlooked, it is the foundation of this story.

Find The Stacks episode on Sula here.


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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 135 The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley– The Stacks Book Club (Marc Lamont Hill)

Today is The Stacks Book Club conversation of The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told Alex Haley. We are joined again by Marc Lamont Hill, author, professor, activist, podcast host, and bookseller for this discussion of one of the important works on nonfiction in American history. We talk about the ways this book transformed us, the bravery of changing one’s mind, and the ways in which this book still feels relevant fifty-five years later.
There are no spoilers on this episode.

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — October 2020

On October 29, 1965 Alex Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm, eight months and eight days after the assassination of the Muslim minister and Civil Rights activist. Fifty-five years later, almost to the day, we will discuss this iconic work of nonfiction for The Stacks Book Club.

Malcolm X is one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. His life was cut short but his message lives on and is as relevant now as it was over fifty years ago. The Autobiography of Malcolm spans Malcolm X’s life, from his youth in Michigan to his hustling days in Boston to his murder in Harlem, all in his own words. The reader follows along as Malcolm X undergoes multiple transformations to become one of the most important leaders for Black empowerment.

We will be discussing The Autobiography of Malcolm on the podcast on Wednesday, October 28th. You can find out who our guest will be by listening to the podcast on September 7th. If you’d like even more discussion around the book consider joining The Stacks Pack on Patreon and participating in The Stacks’ monthly virtual book club.

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To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed. For more information click here.

Ten Non-Fiction Books for Fiction Lovers

AB2EBDFE-7E76-4563-941D-06EB3B3B0AA9As I have become more engaged with the book world, and I have been outed as a non-fiction lover, I have had lots of conversations with many of you on what are some good non-fiction books. So I put together my list of top 10 non-fiction books for people who don’t read non-fiction.

This isn’t a list of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read, but books that I think those of you who love a good novel will enjoy. Those of you looking for a way in. Most of these books are more narrative driven, and use rich language to develop characters and events. While there are a variety of types of non-fiction books on this list, they are all captivating.

This list is presented in alphabetical order, I simply can not play favorites with these books.

Between The World and Me Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) is known for his work on dissecting the experience of Black Americans. Between The World and Me written to Coates’ son, is a powerful look at the history and practices that have created a culture in America, where Black people are not valued as full citizens. He looks at slavery, discrimination, mass incarceration, and the murder of Black citizens by the police. Coates asks us not only how did this happen? But also, where do we go from here?

 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood This is the story of Trevor Noah’s upbringing as a mixed child in Apartheid South Africa. It is at once funny and poignant. You learn so much about his life, and gain a new appreciation for his success. I laughed at loud at parts and felt my self tearing up here and there.

Columbine In this deeply emotional reexamination of one of the most famous school shootings in American history. Author, David Cullen looks at the facts of the shooting and uses forensic experts, the killers’ own words, and all the evidence to figure out what really happened on April 20, 1999.

Jesus Land: A Memoir In this memoir by Julia Scheeres, we learn of her childhood with her adopted brother, David who is black, in racist rural Indiana. We see her life in the Mid-West and also her experience in a religious camp in the Dominican Republic. Scheeres’ story is heartrending and emotional. You can’t imagine the world she comes from and the stories she has to share.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption The story of a lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and his journey as an activist and advocate on behalf of those who are sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Not only is this book a memoir of Stevenson’s early days as a appeals lawyer, it is also a searing indictment of the United States criminal justice system.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Over the course of five years, author Jesmyn Ward loses five young black men in her life. This book is her examination of why something like this could happen. It is a look at what it means to be young and black in America. Written with all her skill as a fiction writer, and all the truth of her lived experience. This is a really special book. We cover this book on The Stacks Podcast and you can listen to our episode here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After In her memoir, Clemantine Wamariya (with co-author Elizabeth Weil) tells her unimaginable journey of life as a refugee from Rwanda in 1994. Clemantine and her sister Claire, travel through eight African countries, before they ultimately end up in America. While the book is about their journey, it is also about finding one’s voice and strength to carry on and to thrive. It is both devastating and empowering. The writing is beautiful.

Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption This is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie (and guess what, this book is now a movie).  Laura Hillenbrand writes this story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII pilot, turned prisoner of war, turned survivor. Its almost more than you can handle, and then you remember what Zamperini went through, and you remember you’re just reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith When it comes to non-fiction, author John Krakauer is my favorite. I can highly recommend any of his books (Where Men Win Glory is a personal favorite). In Under the Banner of Heaven Krakauer dives deep into the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. He examines the religion, their traditions, believes, and brings up many questions about Mormonism. This book is not to be missed.

Zeitoun Dave Eggers tells the story of a Muslim man caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book takes place at the intersection of natural disaster response and The War on Terror. The story is almost beyond believe, and the storytelling is illuminating.

63439241-927F-48C9-B6A5-67C450C9950AThis list is a great starting place if you think you’re not so much of a non-fiction person. And if you make your way through this and think maybe you want a little more, here are ten bonus books. While some of these may be less accessible (more niche topics, more clinical writing) for pure fiction lovers, the stories are inescapably engrossing and the writing is of course delicious.

I hope that these books help you add a little non-fiction to your world of reading. And if you already love non-fiction I hope you find something here that sparks your interests. Tell me what you think of my list, and add any of your favorite non-fiction books.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.