12 Best Books to Read in 2020

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In the book publishing world, pre-sales are crucial. In addition to building buzz for an upcoming release, they’re also factored into a book’s first-week sales, which is what helps a book become an “Instant New York Times Bestseller.” So throw your favorite authors a bone—there are plenty to choose from in early 2020—and line up your winter reads.

1

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

When anyone asks for a book recommendation, this is my default pick for the new year. Reid’s brisk, darkly funny debut follows Emira, a black, underemployed 25-year-old who splits her time between babysitting for a wealthy white family and working at Philadelphia’s Green Party office. When a late-night encounter with a grocery store security guard attracts unwanted attention, Emira’s life takes several unexpected turns. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor

December 31.

2

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

When Anna Wiener moved to San Francisco at 25, the former sociology student dove headfirst into the Bay Area’s startup culture, in which twenty-somethings with little professional experience managed and stroked the egos of also-twenty-something CEOs. Her memoir reads like a literary ethnography of the rewards and risks of the sector’s early growth. —Bri Kovan

January 14.

3

We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan

Set amid the fraught intensity of a prestigious MFA program, We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan is a twisted campus novel told in the third person, which collectively expresses the perspective of three ambitious, brilliant students who take it upon themselves to present one of their professors as a plagiarist. It’s a rollicking read that offers a sharp take on the creative process, revenge, and envy. —Molly Langmuir, Staff Writer

January 14.

4

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Since she published The House of the Spirits in 1982, Isabel Allende has time and again proven herself a master of magical realism. Her latest novel, A Long Petal of the Sea—about a couple who flee the Spanish Civil War to Chile, only to later find themselves endangered once again under the Pinochet dictatorship—is about refugees, displacement, and war, but also serves as a paean to human love and endurance. —Molly Langmuir

January 21.

5

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The plot of American Dirt is set in motion by a massacre: After gunmen kill 16 at a quinceañera in Acapulco, Mexico, two survivors, a mother and her son, know they’re still targets and begin an arduous journey to the U.S. For anyone who’s ever expressed confusion about why immigrants take enormous risks to reach America, this propulsive novel offers an answer. —Molly Langmuir

January 21.

6

The Resisters by Gish Jen

Come winter, a bevy of novels use technology-gone-amuck as the premise for dystopia. In The Resisters, author Gish Jen combines that premise with the anxiety around climate change. Her America of the future, called AutoAmerica, breaks people into two groups: the Aryan “Netted” people live on dry ground, and the “Surplus” live in the flooded regions. (It’s like a twenty-first century update on H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine.) Into all of this Gish throws baseball as a means of resistance. Says Ann Patchett, “The novel should be required reading for the country both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece.” —Bri Kovan

February 4.

7

I Know You Know Who I Am: Stories by Peter Kispert

In this debut collection, Peter Kispert takes a clever premise—stories about liars—and spins an extraordinary tapestry that questions why we lie and all the ripples (good, bad, and chaotic) that come from them. It’s a particularly…fertile area to explore at this moment in history, but I Know You Know Who I Am has a higher aim than simply scoring points off our fabulist leaders. In stories that are by turns blackly comic, speculative, romantic, and wistful, Kispert toys with the ideas of personal truth, deception (of self and other), and lies from so many angles that, taken as a whole, the collection wows with its insight, its daring, and its breadth of talent. —R. Eric Thomas, Senior Staff Writer

February 11.

8

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Douglas Stuart’s debut novel steps into the literary lineage of Joyce’s Dubliners. Set nearly 70 years later, Stuart’s story tracks a mother and son as they search for social mobility and freedom in working-class Glasgow. The family battles alcoholism, sexuality taboo, and the constraints of domesticity, all packaged in the atmospheric lyricism of an epic. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor

February 11.

9

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays

You know R. Eric Thomas from his must-read ELLE.com column “Eric Reads the News,” but his first book—a read-in-one sitting memoir about battling loneliness and finding your voice—will make you laugh out loud and break your heart in equal measure before leaving you with that oft-elusive desire: hope. —Julie Kosin, Senior Culture Editor

February 18.

10

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, is a contemporary take on Lolita told from the perspective of Vanessa Wye, who recounts her memories of an abusive relationship with a high school teacher 27 years her senior. Seventeen years after their relationship—as the second coming of the #MeToo movement rocks the globe—a journalist reaches out to Vanessa about a former classmate who publicly accused the same teacher of sexual abuse, and Vanessa’s life begins to rapidly unravel. This shattering novel effectively echoes the complexities of abuse far too many young women endure. —Ann Nelson, Intern

March 10.

11

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

The only writer who can make me laugh with abandon in public, Samantha Irby follows her breakout collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life with high-speed treatises on everything from relentless menstruation to “raising” her stepchildren and the stress of making friends in adulthood. Her signature irreverence is intact, of course, but it can’t mask the heart she leaves bleeding on the page. —Julie Kosin

March 31. 

12

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Ferrante’s first novel since her Neapolitan quartet rocked book clubs around the world circa 2015 opens with this shattering sentence: “Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly.” The Lying Life of Adults returns Ferrante to Naples, this time through the eyes of Giovanna, who tasks herself with exploring the city’s dual identities as her beauty fades. —Julie Kosin

June 9.



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