The Best Things We Read in 2020

Dear Listeners,

I’ve reached out the guests from the 2020 season of The Stacks to share with us the best book they read this year. I enjoyed talking to each and everyone of our guests, and hearing from them again is a great way to end the year. Each guest shared with me their favorite read in 2020 and one book they hope to read in 2021.

Thank you all for listening to the show, and thank you again to this group of amazing humans for sharing their reading life with all of us.


Jordan Moblo
Jordan is the reader behind @jordys.book.club on Instagram

My favorite thing I read this year is Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. I thought the writing was fantastic and the exploration of race, class and gender through the lens of a mysterious pandemic felt very appropriate for 2020. It’s one of the few books I found myself dropping everything to finish reading. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Jordan was our guest for Episode 95, and then joined us to discuss Trick Mirror:Reflections on Self-Delusion by Sally Thorne, Episode 96.


Leah Koch
Co-Owner of The Ripped Bodice a romantic bookstore in Los Angeles, CA

The Rakess: Society of Sirens, Volume 1 - Kindle edition by Peckham,  Scarlett. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

The best thing I read in 2020 was The Rakess: Society of Sirens, Volume I by Scarlet Peckham. As someone who reads a LOT of romance novels, I’m always thrilled by an author who manages to subvert and celebrate the genre at the same time! 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan (a rabbi and a sex worker fall in love!)

Leah was our guest for Episode 97, and then joined us to discuss The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, Episode 98.


August McLaughlin
Host of Girl Boner Radio and author of Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment

Review: 'Real Queer America' shines light on LGBT folks living in red  states - Los Angeles Times

I was gobsmacked by Samantha Allen’s Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red StatesAllen’s writing is deeply personal and absorbing as she takes readers on a journey, revealing just how (very, very) queer the United States is. If you’re in the LGBTQIA community or care about folks who are, this book is essential reading.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: Since I’ve been focused on non-fiction writing, I’m excited to escape into fiction in 2021—particularly by way of Happy Endings, Thien-Kim Lam’s debut novel, and any/everything by Selena Montgomery, aka Stacey Abrams.

August was our guest for Episode 99, and then joined us to discuss Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, Episode 100.


Gigi Levangie
Author of Been There, Married That

I have stacks and stacks of books by my bed and on my Audible that I’ve read and listened to this year, in a year where I needed the solace and gravity of books and the written and spoken word. It’s a tough choice, but I came back to James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk – an honest and searing account of young true love, social injustice, and survival. Spare and brutal yet sometimes funny, and always, sadly, believable. A masterful work.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: There are so many books I want to read in 2021 – but I’ll tell you this – for every three or four fiction books I read, I’ll read one on finance – I often find myself rereading: The Little Book that Still Beats the Market by Joel Greenblatt. Super slim and easy to digest, with an investment strategy that makes good sense, especially in unsteady times. (Not sexy, but hey, that’s me!)

August was our guest for Episode 103, and then joined us to discuss So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, Episode 104.


Priya Parker
Author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters and host of the Together Apart podcast

The best thing I read in 2020 was Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. It’s the haunting true story about a society falling apart and the desperately complicated, problematic attempts of repair.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: Though it came out in December 2020, I just cracked it open and will absolutely still be pouring over Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham in 2021.

Priya was our guest for Episode 108 to discuss her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters


R. Eric Thomas
Author of Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays

It’s almost incomprehensible to me how stunning Danielle Evans’s The Office of Historical Corrections is. It is one of the last books I’ll read this year and it came in like a blizzard. Evans is a master of the short story form, which I believe means, in part, possessing the ability to imbue every phrase, every sentence, every word with enough power to run the whole endeavor. And she does it, time and again. Her ability to vividly and quickly capture the physical world and the endless depths of the emotional world is stunning. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: John Paul Brammer’s memoir Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons. J.P. is so wise and so funny and everything he writes in his advice column would make me green with envy if I wasn’t cackling so hard.

Eric was our guest for Episode 112 to discuss his book, Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays.


Keltie Knight
Co-host of LadyGang podcast and author of Act Like a Lady: Questionable Advice, Ridiculous Opinions, and Humiliating Tales from Three Undignified Women

The best thing I read in 2020 was A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, it is an inside look at the conservative Arab women living in America, that I didn’t know much about, and the book plays around with the question “What Is A Woman Worth?” I loved it so much that I sent my paperback copy all the way to Canada for my mom to read, and she would call me and we would gush over how rich the storytelling was. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: I have no idea, I usually just wait to see what Traci tells me to read on The Stacks and then read that!

Keltie was our guest on a special two part episode discussing White Fragility by Robin Diangelo with the entire LadyGang, you can hear part one here.


Liara Tamani
Author of All the Things We Never Knew

The best novel I read in 2020 was Luster by Raven Leilani. I loved the sense of freedom Raven Leilani affords her main character, Edie, a depressive painter having an affair with a married man. She narrates her story with raw, illuminating honesty. I was hooked from the very first line. The book is truly a thing of beauty.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi.

Liara was our guest for Episode 124 to discuss her book, All the Things We Never Knew


Brit Bennett
Author of The Vanishing Half

I loved Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, a smart, propulsive, and funny novel about a black babysitter navigating the complicated and cringeworthy good intentions of her white boss. Reid writes about the complexity of navigating the relationship between race and labor with precision and wit; this book made me uncomfortable in the best way, and I couldn’t put it down. 

Brit was our guest for Episode 123, and then joined us to discuss Sula by Toni Morrison, Episode 126.


Lupita Aquino
Lupita is the reader behind @lupita.reads on Instagram

A World Between: A Novel: Hashimoto, Emily: 9781936932955: Amazon.com: Books

The best book I read in 2020 is a tie between The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and A World Between by Emily Hashimoto. In The Undocumented Americans, I was able to take a moment and reflect on my own life experience. It gave me the language to do so and though much of that felt chaotic and scary, it led to a much-needed acknowledgment of areas in me that need attention and healing. A World Between is the queer love story I needed to help me get out of a spiraling mentality that all is doom. Hashimoto’s characters feel so alive in this novel that it’ll make it impossible to set the book down. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Lupita was our guest for Episode 127, and then joined us to discuss The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Episode 131.


Angela Chen
Author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex

The best book I read in 2020 was Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov. I know, I know, it’s an old Russian novel, but it was my first time returning to Russian classics since studying them in college and that made me all kinds of nostalgic. I chose it almost as a joke—we can’t leave the house, the character of Oblomov doesn’t even want to leave the house!—but it turned out to be an emotionally powerful book about motivation and nostalgia and love.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: I am very excited for two upcoming books that I think (hope?) are 2021 releases: One is Elif Batuman’s Either/Or, a sequel to The Idiot. The other is Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv.

Angela was our guest for Episode 130 to discuss her book, Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex.


The Kid Mero
Co-host of Desus & Mero, Bodega Boys podcast, and co-author of God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx

BASKETBALL (AND OTHER THINGS): A COLLECTION OF QUESTIONS ASKED, ANSWERED, ILLUSTRATED BY SHEA SERRANO IS A BOOK THAT IS FIRE BECAUSE IT DOES WHAT ALL MY FAVORITE BOOKS DO, TALK TO ME IN THE AUTHOR’S VOICE. I CAN 10000% HEAR SHEA IN EVERY SENTENCE. I’M A FAN OF BASKETBALL AND A FAN OF HYPOTHETICALS, AND THERE ARE A TON OF THEM HERE. IF YOU GET DRUNK ENOUGH YOU CAN HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH BAOT AND THAT ALONE MAKES IT BRILLIANT. ALSO SHEA IS FUNNY AS FUCK AND THIS BOOK IS A DELICIOUS SANDWICH OF BASKETBALL, JOKES, AND POP CULTURE REFERENCES THAT I HAVE READ AT LEAST 10X OVER.

Mero was our guest for Episode 133 to discuss his book, God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx.


Marcus J. Moore
Author of The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America

The best thing I read in 2020 was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Through thorough research and fluid storytelling, Mr. Whitehead unpacks the sordid history of the Dozier School, where young boys were sent for reform but were abused and sometimes killed beyond public view. His fictionalized account puts the reader in the midst of despair, shedding light on the tragic circumstance. Ultimately, The Nickel Boys is an emotional story about the power of redemption, and how racism was, and still is, commodified in America. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle by Rob Kenner

Marcus was our guest for Episode 138 to discuss his book, The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America, we then discussed the book with Cole Cuchna on Episode 139 .


Arianna Davis
Author of What Would Frida Do?: A Guide to Living Boldly

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I can’t remember the last time a story absorbed me to the point where I didn’t want to talk to anyone or do anything until I finished. A story of womanhood and race and identity with the kind of satisfying ending that is hard to find in a novel. 

Arianna was our guest for Episode 142 to discuss her book, What Would Frida Do?: A Guide to Living Boldly.


Oscar Almonte-Espinal
Oscar is the reader behind @booksteahenny on Instagram

The best thing I read in this hectic year of 2020 was The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. From the instant that I read that introduction I was shooketh because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. As an immigrant, I saw myself in these pages like I never had before. It was everything I needed, it is safe to say that this book saved me. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Oscar was our guest for Episode 143 to help name The Best Books of 2020.


Christine Bollow
Programs and marketing manager at Loyalty Bookstore is the reader behind @readingismagical on Instagram.

My favorite book I read in 2020 is Free Food For Millionaires, the 2007 debut novel by Min Jin Lee. The book follows Casey Han, a Korean American woman in her late 20s living in NYC, and her Korean American family and friends. This is a wholly immersive novel reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, but with the Korean American immigrant community and their daily struggles at its center. Flawed characters, superb writing, and rich storytelling, Free Food For Millionaires is an excellent backlist book to add to your TBR (to-be read list), especially if you loved Pachinko.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Christine was our guest for Episode 143 to help name The Best Books of 2020.


Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

The best thing I read in in 2020 was Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream by Mychal Denzel Smith. My biggest regret is that I didn’t read this book until after recording The Stacks Best Books of 2020 episode, because this book deserves all the praise and attention. Smith critiques and confronts what it means to be American. He asks his reader to grapple with the realities and myths that make up Americaness, and ultimately asks us all, who are we choosing to be?Stakes is High is certainly of this moment, and yet the history and context Smith shares with his audience allows the book to transcend any one moment in time.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2021: Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford


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. 100 Three Women by Lisa Taddeo — The Stacks Book Club (August McLaughlin)

Sex, desire, and relationships are all part of today’s episode of The Stacks Book Club. August McLaughlin (Girl Boner) is back and we’re diving head first into Lisa Taddeo’s wildly popularThree Women. This book brings up conversations about trauma, representation, and the marketing of a book.
There are minor spoilers on this episode.

LISTEN NOW

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with August: Twitter | Instagram | Website | Girl Boner Facebook | Girl Boner Podcast

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

Book of the Month – to get your first month of BoTM for $9.99 click here

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To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.


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. 99 Getting a Girl Boner with August McLaughlin

We’re keeping it steamy all month long! Today we have August McLaughlin, author of Girl Boner and host of the Girl Boner Podcast, to talk with us about sex positivity, empowerment, why she uses the term “good girl”. Don’t worry, she also explains what a “girl boner” is. Plus books, always books.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Books

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_6262.jpg

Everything Else

Connect with August: Twitter | Instagram | Website | Girl Boner Facebook | Girl Boner Podcast

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


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.

November Reading Wrap-Up 2019

I am over here reeling, because the end of November means we’re almost at the end of the year, where has the time gone? I read seven books this month, and they were, for the most part, pretty good books. Nothing out of this world, but nothing terrible. My standout was my re-read of Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli, if you haven’t read this one you should, you really should. Below you can see mini-reviews of everything I read in November.

November by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 15

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 3

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A data driven look at the questions of parenting. Emily Oster uses studies to help parents answer questions about breastfedding, day care, screen time, and more. It is a rational way to think about decision making, especially the kind that can feel very emotional.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The first half was particularly interesting as the topics tackled and the data provided really showed clear benefits and risks with certain parenting behavior (co-sleeping, breastfeeding etc). I loved how Oster reminds her reader that they need to look at what works best for their life, and I found that to be applicable even for things outside of parenting. If you are a parent of small children (or expecting), this book might be really helpful to remind you that you’re in control and your happiness matters.

Three Stars | Penguin Press | April 23, 2019 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment by August McLaughlin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Girl Boner is a podcast, a book, a general vibe, and a guide to sexual empowerment. McLaughlin uses the pages of this book to talk about all kinds of sex and how people who identify as women can embrace their sexuality without shame or fear.

I found this book to be inclusive in the best possible ways. I loved reading stories of sex workers along side the stories of women unhappy in their marriages next to advice on sex positions. McLaughlin makes a point of embracing the many forms of gender and sexual expression including trauma and mental health. She teaches her readers a lot along the way, though the book feels long winded in some sections. Girl Boner is sex positivity at its most accessible and basic, and that kind of writing around sex is rare, even in 2019. This one is refreshing and worth your time (and all you male identifying folks, there is something in here for you too).

Three Stars | Amberjack Publishing | August 7, 2018 | 368 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy with a darker side, as most of Shakespeare’s comedies tend to be. It is a fun play if you want it to be, but it can also be troubling. I enjoyed reading this one, though I thought the plot was a little sparse overall.

The idea of female reputation and purity is a huge theme throughout and feels relevant today. The way the women are discussed and shamed throughout the book felt like any given day on twitter. I was also shocked how little the main love interests, Beatrice and Benedick, actually interact with one another. All in all this was a fun little read though I imagine it will also be easily forgotten.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 98 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli

(Photo: amazon.com)

A powerful and emotional look at unaccompanied children coming to America. The book is short and so well crafted you leave it feeling full, if not sliightly devasted for hte plight of these children.

Luiselli is brilliant in how she tells this story, weaving together the children’s experiences with her own as their interpreter. She also layers the policy and politics in The United States that have landed us in this crisis. I can not recommend this book more highly, now more than ever.

Five Stars | Coffee House Press | April 4, 2017 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Tell Me How It Ends on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

(Photo: amazon.com)

My first experience in romance, aside from Fifty Shades of Grey, and I didn’t hate it. I actually rather enjoyed reading a book that felt like an escape from all the news and terrible things that happen in the world. That is not to say this book didn’t have some pretty toxic masculinity and a glaring lack of diversity. It just didn’t feel like watching an impeachment hearing, so it was a welcome relief.

The book is fun even though the plot is very thin and the characters are tropes. The sex is not gratuitous, its also not that frequent. I enjoyed the book and would consider reading more romance, because the experience of fully checking out while reading was enjoyable, even if the content was just okay.

Three Stars | William Morrow Paperbacks | August 6, 2016 | 384 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A comedic memoir about migrating from Iraq as a child and growing up different in America. Salman explores her childhood culture clashes, finding feminism, and eventually her struggles as an adult with love and life. It’s a book about where you fit in.

This is a fun one. The tone is very sarcastic and casual, and the pages are adorned with an abundance of footnotes chiming in with jokes and asides. Though there was some serious stuff in the book as well. Overall, I would’ve liked more reflection on her growth, as the book reads as a bunch of antidotal stories versus a clear narrative of who Salman is now. It felt at times as if she was holding back or worried about saying too much, or disrupting the conventionally accepted idea of a model immigrant.

Two Stars | Skyhorse Publishing | March 5, 2019 | 288 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Ayser Salman on The Stacks HERE.


Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays about what its like to be alive, and young, and female, in America in 2019. This book is super specific and in that it feels extremely relevant to this exact moment in time. It is a time capsule of what it feels like to be a millennial.

Tolentino is a great writer, though some of the essays feel can read as slightly over worked and tedious, and her arguments have dexterity. She opens up conversations on difficult women, marriage, optimization, and scammers in a way only a person of this moment could. She understand the levels and layers to these nuanced topics and works her way through, bringing us along with her. I didn’t love all the essays (the first few felt particularly slow to me), but by the end I was all in on Tolentio and Trick Mirror.

Four Stars | Random House | August 6, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


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.