Barnes & Noble just announced their finalists for Book of the Year. The mix of non-fiction and fiction titles, coffee table books and novels, has something to tempt every reader on your gift list. But are these books actually the best of 2020?
Accidentally Wes Anderson
Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval is a visual adventure inspired by the works of the quirky filmmaker. Koval’s project started life as an Instagram account sharing the images he searches for real-life locations that seem like they’re plucked out of a Wes Anderson movie.
Anderson wrote a foreword to the book, which he describes as “both a very entertaining collection of images and also an especially alluring travel guide.” The images were shot by photographers all over the world, featuring candy-colored vistas, deliberately framed compositions, and oddities from around the globe.
Leave the World Behind
In Rumaan Alam’s celebrated novel, two groups of strangers are forced to cope with a bewildering catastrophe together. It’s a paranoid thriller that builds slowly. Alam began writing the novel before the coronavirus pandemic changed our world, and his work seems especially fitting for people dealing with quarantine cabin fever.
Although professional reviewers hailed Leave the World Behind as one of the best books of 2020, individual readers seemed less convinced. People expecting a more traditional sci-fi novel were disappointed by the author’s literary fiction style.
Another glossy coffee table book from Instagram, Pieometry: Modern Tart Art Design for the Eye and the Palate by Lauren Ko is full of beautiful pictures of, well, pies. You might have seen her work online, with dizzyingly precise edible works of art shared widely on social media.
This is less a cookbook and more of a peek behind the scenes at how Ko creates her incredible pies. While you can follow along in your home kitchen, you probably won’t have the patience to cut dozens of tiny strips of pie dough.
The full title of this one is Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning. That’s quite a mouthful! Jason Reynolds adapted Dr. Ibram X Kendi’s nonfiction book Stamped from the Beginning for younger audiences.
2020 has been a year marked by civil unrest and cries for racial justice. Stamped tries to make sense of these events with an eye toward educating students. However, Reynolds does not “dumb down” complex issues but merely makes them more accessible.
Glennon Doyle’s brand of empowered self-help has amassed a huge following. Her fans include plenty of high-profile women. Reese Witherspoon picked Doyle’s latest book, Untamed, as a selection for her book club, describing it as, “Packed with incredible insight about what it means to be a woman today.”
Untamed promises to help women find themselves in the modern world. It’s also a memoir of her own experience unexpectedly falling in love with soccer star Abby Wambach.
The Vanishing Half
Brit Bennett’s novel about multiracial twin sisters is the fictional counterpoint to Stamped. The identical sisters are the fulcrum around which a generational saga unfolds. Reviewers have compared Bennett to James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. It seems especially interesting to read this novel in a post-Rachel Dolezal world where questions of race and identity are more contentious than ever.
Of all the books on this list, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, might be the most helpful as we approach a holiday season overshadowed by COVID. Katherine May’s book is described as “contemplative, hopeful, consoling” by NPR in their review. That sounds like something that we all need right about now.
Like Untamed, this is a memoir/self-help text. May includes her own insights, drawn from painful life experiences, as well as the words of famous authors and artists.
World of Wonders
Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil created a beautiful, gentle, and informative book that readers of all ages can enjoy in World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. She and illustrator Fumi Nakamura collaborated on the volume of essays that explore the wisdom that the natural world can teach us.
“When the first glimmer-pop of firefly light appears on a summer night, I always want to call my mother just to say hello,” Nezhukumatathil writes.