Some of Ashley's Favorite Reads of 2020 (So Far)
Updated: Jul 23
by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
Oh my goodness, I'm already having A LOT of trouble choosing only five books, which is the sign of a great reading year so far! (Perhaps total life chaos leads to me loving books more... I certainly suffered from a reading slump when quarantine first started, and I'm still missing audiobooks and sometimes feel distant from the books I'm reading, but I have generally gotten back into reading after the initial transition... and I've read a lot of AMAZING books!)
I've loved so many of the books I've read, and many of them have been reads that will really stay with me, which is another sign of a great book for me. I've been reading more literary fiction lately, which I've found that I'm really enjoying.
Pénélope Bagieu's Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
From the publisher:
"Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen: their indomitable spirit.
"With her characteristic wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies."
Why it made the list: This is a work unlike any other I've read. Beautifully illustrated with thoughtful narration and dialogue, it includes many vignettes of brave women throughout history (many of whom history has forgotten). I learned so much about many amazing women and absolutely loved the style and format.
Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half
From the publisher:
"From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.
"The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?
"Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
"As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise."
Why it made the list: With this brilliant book, Bennett does it again. What I love is the way that she explores the complexities of relationships and the ways that we are, and aren't, tied to our family no matter what we do in our lives. The story opens with a focus on twin sisters Stella and Desiree who are growing up together in a tiny, all-Black Louisiana town. Through her exploration of several complex characters, Bennett examines so many aspects of life including race and racism, passing, colorism, gender roles, and transitioning, just to name a few--but she does it all with nuance and finesse that show how those issues are all simply part of the rich tapestry of women's lives carrying on through multiple generations. I loved the way that Bennett explored female relationships in The Mothers, and that thoughtful, poetic examination of life and relationships is showcased here as well.
Tayari Jones's An American Marriage
From the publisher:
"Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
"This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future."
Why it made the list: I just finished this one and participated in one of @readwithtoni's read to learn buddy read discussions. (Don't miss our episode with Toni, and check out her Instagram feed to see other opportunities to read to learn!) Wow. This book looks at the way that a young Black married couple's life turns completely upside down when Roy, the husband, is wrongly convicted of rape and is sentenced to twelve years in prison. It's the study of his and Celestial's relationship and of the ways that relationship changes over time. I love the way that Jones connects the societal issues of systemic racism and mass incarceration of Black men with the personal story of these two complex, flawed people who both have dreams and goals that are pushed aside when Roy is incarcerated. In addition to finding the story riveting, I could not stop admiring the gorgeous prose and the way that each character's perspective revealed new aspects of life that speak to the human experience.
Anna Solomon's The Book of V.
From the publisher:
"For fans of The Hours and Fates and Furies, a bold, kaleidoscopic novel intertwining the lives of three women across three centuries as their stories of sex, power, and desire finally converge in the present day.
"Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires, while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife in 2016.
"Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others.
"Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the King, in the hopes that she will save them all.
"In Anna Solomon's The Book of V., these three characters' riveting stories overlap and ultimately collide, illuminating how women’s lives have and have not changed over thousands of years."
Why it made the list: This book snuck up on me. I wasn't prepared for the complex examination of women's roles and the way that those roles have (and, perhaps more importantly, haven't!) changed over time and through history. Solomon follows three women, Esther from the Old Testament, Vee from the 1970s, and Lily of modern times. These stories, each of which I found fascinating, interweave and ultimately intersect as Solomon explores the role of women over time. I love the movement through time and the unique perspective of each woman.
Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me
From the publisher:
"It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat--by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them--everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives."
Why it made the list:
I rarely find myself totally in love with middle-grade books, but this one will be an all-time favorite for sure! I love the way that Woodson shows what can happen when people open up their hearts, empathize with others, and make themselves vulnerable to each other. I also love this one because it's such a perfect fit for the classroom and is one that everyone should read!
I feel like my final five is a little arbitrary, but I certainly loved each one of these books mentioned above. It's just that I've loved SO many books this year! I couldn't help myself -- here are a few more favorites so far in 2020:
Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible (re-read; I also loved doing the @readwithtoni buddy read book discussions with this one!)
Madeline Miller's Circe
Jason Reynolds's and Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning - Be on the lookout for our upcoming book club episode about this amazing book!
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