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.


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 here. For more information click here.

The 2020 Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books

Its back! The 3rd Annual The Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books!

We did it in 2018 and 2019 and honestly, its the best tradition and I hope you’re all as thrilled for round three as I am.

To refresh your memory, The Battle of The Books is a March Madness style bracket where you vote to pick the book club book of the year. You also get a chance to win one of TSBC books by predicting the most accurate bracket over on https://challonge.com/thestacks2020 or click here. You create your account put your predictions in for who you think will win. Then on The Stacks Instagram Stories, you’ll vote (starting 12/22) for your favorite books in head to head battles, until we crown one winner, The Stacks Book Club Book of the Year. The results of each round will be updated over on Challonge (our bracket site) and on our Instagram @thestackspod.

You have until Tuesday, December 22nd at 8:00am PST to put in your predictions. The winner will be whoever has the most accurate bracket, and they will win one of our TSBC books from 2020 (winner’s choice). We will announce the winner of the tournament and the winner of the giveaway on Thursday, December 31st once all the results are in.

Here is the important stuff.

  1. Make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram @thestackspod.
  2. Register for the bracket if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Tuesday December 22nd . All voting on Instagram!
  4. Spread the word!

If you want all the nerdy details of how the seeding was figure out, you’ve come to the right place. Mostly I created a bunch of my own calculations to rank the books based on many factors. The rankings are full of biases and assumptions, and honestly, thats what makes this fun. You all ultimately get to vote, which means you get to decide. Here is how I ranked these books, and below find a more detailed description of what that means. 

  • Podcast Downloads– Raw number of downloads that episode received according to my data (I know older episodes will be at a disadvantage as the podcast grew over time, but also newer episodes suffer because they haven’t been up as long, I’m hoping it all evens out). It is worth noting that I excluded Citizen: An American Lyric  from this calculation since that episode is not out yet.
  • iTunes Episode Popularity– iTunes lets me see how popular each episode is. Its slight different than raw downloads, because they take into account listeners at the time of recording, but they also only include people listening through iTunes. Again, Citizen: An American Lyric was excluded from this category, see above.
  • Goodreads Scores– I looked up each book on Goodreads and took that score.
  • Goodreads Reviews– I took the raw number of Goodreads reviews for each book.
  • Test of Time– The older a book is, the more credit it got, because it has withstood the test of time. 
  • Social Media Input– I’ve asked The Stacks Instagram followers to tell me their favorite book we read this year, and those responses are incorporated.
  • Traci’s Personal Ranking– Thats right, I’m influencing this competition a little. Its my podcast, so why not?

There are 16 books in the competition, so in each of those categories the books are rated on a scale of 1-16. Each book received a score from each category, 1 being the best, 16 the worst. I then tallied all the scores and divided by 7 (in the case of Citizen: An American Lyric only 5). The lower the score, the higher the ranking.

I know that sounds like a lot, but just trust me, it makes sense. Here are the rankings based on these calculations, and their total overall raw scores, remember lower is better. Where there was a tie, I broke the tie.

  1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X – 3.28
  2. Sula – 3.85
  3. The Giver – 5.14
  4. Citizen 5.8
  5. The Undocumented Americans – 6.14
  6. Breathe – 6.57
  7. Sister Outsider – 7.57
  8. Trick Mirror – 7.71
  9. The Hating Game – 8.71
  10. Trust Exercise – 9.71
  11. Savage Appetites -9.85
  12. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – 10.14
  13. Three Women 10.28
  14. The Butterfly Effect – 11.14
  15. Cribsheet – 11.28
  16. Number One Chinese Restaurant – 12.28

Voting begins Tuesday December 22nd, shortly after 8:00am PST for the first round, and will follow the schedule below. Remember you vote on The Stacks Instagram stories. You just click your favorite book in each round’s head to head matchup. Once the results are in, I’ll share the winners with you and we get ready for the next round. The schedule is below.

Round 1 – December 22nd – Sweet Sixteen 16

Round 2 – December 26th – Elite 8

Round 3 – December 28th – Final 4

Round 4 – December 30th – Championship

That feels like a lot, trust me, it’ll be fun and worth it.
Here is the important stuff.

  1. Make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram @thestackspod.
  2. Register for the bracket if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Tuesday December 22.
  4. Spread the word!

For those of you curious who won in previous years, 2018 was The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and 2019 was Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. Who will ascend the throne in 2020?


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. 126 Sula by Toni Morrison — The Stacks Book Club (Brit Bennett)

Brit Bennett (The Vanishing Half, The Mothers) is back for our annual discussion of a Toni Morrison novel. This year, we’re taking on Sula, Morrison’s novel about the bonds between women. Our conversation dives into feminist commentary throughout the book, the desire to create lasting communal art, and the ways Morrison uses gruesome violence and unexpected humor to show us a world that is deeply human and uniquely Black.
There are spoilers in this episode.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. You can also find everything we talked about on Amazon.

Connect with Brit: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

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Get your copy of Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West wherever books are sold.

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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.

The Stacks Book Club — August 2020

Its time for a favorite annual tradition around these parts. Every year we read a Toni Morrison novel for The Stacks Book Club, and this year we’re reading Sula.

Sula, written in 1973, is the story of a relationship between two girls, Nel Wright and Sula Peace, and the ways their friendship evolves and complicates as they grow up. The book asks questions about betrayal and loyalty, and how these ideas are often more complex than they appear. Sula is not only about the relationships between the two women, but also the family trauma they come from, the community they are raised in, and the societal expectations of Black femininity.

We will be discussing Sula on the podcast on Wednesday, August 26th, and you can find out who our guest will be buy listening to the podcast on August 5th. 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.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out through Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copy of our July book on Bookshop.org or Amazon.


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.