2020 may have been a year like no other in so many ways, but there is one thing that remained consistent… I read a whole lot of books. Because the library was closed for a portion of the year, this year’s reading list looks a little different than other years, and includes a re-reading of the Harry Potter series. In a twist that has surprised even me, my top books list this year also looks a little different than normal, consisting primarily of non-fiction, and only one novel.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett Graff
I have no idea how one even begins to write an oral history – it seems like an overwhelming process – but luckily for all of us, Garrett Graff is an expert at it. The Only Plane in the Sky takes us through everything that happened on September 11, 2001, weaving together personal stories of those who worked in the Twin Towers, the first responders, air traffic controllers, relatives of those on the hijacked planes, politicians, and so many more voices. I was only 11 when the Twin Towers fell, so there’s a lot I don’t remember or never knew. This book is a remarkable blend of personal stories and facts that had me bawling over and over again.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s 1940, and 19-year-old Vivian Morris has just been sent to live with her aunt in New York City after being kicked out of college. Her aunt is a little unconventional for the times, and runs a playhouse in the City. The book documents how Vivian makes a life for herself in the city, and how one mistake brings that all crashing down. I don’t even know that I can explain what I loved so much about this story, but this was a coming-of-age, reconciling-with-self book that I could not put down.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
While you might not know the name Chanel Miller, I guarantee you have already heard of her story – Chanel is the Jane Doe in the Brock Turner story. In this memoir, Chanel takes us into her side of the story, sharing her experience that night, and in the years that followed. Her story is heartbreaking and infuriating, but even more, her writing style truly draws you into a story that should never have happened.
This is one version of the Harvey Weinstein story, and takes us on a deep dive of just how far high powered people will go to cover up their actions. This book was well-told and well-researched (I mean, Farrow is a journalist, after all), and paints a truly terrifying picture of how often sexualized violence occurs in the entertainment industry, and how often people are able to get away with things that are widely known.
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib
I’m going to be honest here. I read this book near the beginning of 2020, rated it five stars, said I highly recommended it and that “the way she writes made me want to just keep reading,” and yet, I don’t really remember this book. Yikes. That being said, this is the story of a queer Muslim refugee living in Canada who struggles to find her place in the world, and these are stories that we need to hear and understand so that we can create a better world.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
So many books are on the list this year because the authors are such brilliant writers, and this book by Glennon Doyle is no exception. This book was very Brené Brown-esque, sharing stories and lessons that made me think more deeply about the way I live my life. I have to say, the fact that parts of the book detailed how she met and married soccer player Abby Wambach probably made me like the book even more!
The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole
So many books that I’ve read about race, and social issues in general, are written from the American perspective. Cole tells us a similar tale, but through the Canadian lens, sharing Canadian stories of racism and resistance. This book is a great way to shut down the superiority complex that Canadians can sometimes have (because we’re really not that much better than our American neighbours). Cole also wrote in a style and structure that made the book interesting and engaging to read – I honestly had a hard time putting it down!
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
In terms of shifting how I view racism, oppression, and all the work we have to do, this was the book of the year for me. Kendi covers so many different topics in this book, and I have so, so many notes, but ultimately, he drives home that point that neutral just isn’t good enough – a message I think everyone needs, including me.