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7 Favorite Books of Past That Made me a Better Reader

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

I'm a little bit worried that this is going to be repetitive because writing this up I feel like I've already said a lot about all of these books, but then they're my favorites so of course, you're going to have heard a lot about them already.

These are books that I read for the first time in 2020 but not necessarily books that were published in 2020. I read a pretty good amount of books in 2020 that I rated five stars, but seven of those were re-reads, so I'm not counting them – I didn't read them for the first time in 2020 so that sort of seems unfair.

So 25 books that were 5 stars, I've narrowed it down to 7 plus one bonus book. No particular reason it seemed like the right number. So in no particular order, because I could not possibly try and rank these, my 7 favorite books from 2020! The first book that I knew from the very beginning that was going to have to be on this list.

7 Favorite Books of Past that made me a Better Reader
7 Favorite Books of Past that made me a Better Reader

1) The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubinhold

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I read it in 2020, it exceeded the hype instead of being a let-down because it was so hyped up, which is what I was worried about. I thought it was so incredibly well-researched well-written and well-constructed - how many more times can I say the word well?

Something I really enjoy is learning about “normal” people and learning about people who aren't hugely famous or in positions of power or whatever, but what was the everyday person doing in history?

This book not only offers such an amazing view into the specific lives of the five women discussed but also into the life of women of their social class in general and does such a good job of portraying how the world worked for these people. I adored it so much, you don't need to hear me talk about it anymore but it had to be on the list of favorites because it blew me away.

2) Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ This is a short story collection about life in a town in the far north of Canada with a large indigenous population. It's a really small town, basically stories about the people who live there and what's going on with them and how this town works. It was amazing, I found Van Camp had captured the sense of place and the sense of small-town so incredibly well.

The people who live there are exactly what you would expect if you've ever spent much time in a small town, the sort of relationships they have with each other and the situations people find themselves in were hilarious, touching, and incredible. So many of the stories were simultaneously heartwarming and emotional and also quite hilarious, which is something I adore I didn’t know what to expect from this book going in and it impressed me.

3) A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Short Stories by Lucia Berlin

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was amazing, I read it in I think it was in March, I think I read it very early in lockdown, and it was so incredible.

I would not have called myself a short story reader before reading this book and after reading it I have actively sought out more collections of short stories because I loved the style so much, and I've liked a lot of the ones I've read since.

I guess it was one of those things of just the right book at the right time to make me go “Oh yeah this is great why don't I read more of this?” This sounds a bit repetitive from the last short story collection but this was heart-warming and funny sad bleak and hopeful, and so full of what I can only describe as real life but turned way up. I don’t even know how to put it it's like it's mega real or more real than real - not in a magical realism way or in a fantasy way or anything like that, everything is super grounded in reality but almost more vibrant than it is in real life.

You should check this book out for yourself and see that I am not doing it justice at all, but I had to try because I adore it so much.

4) Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Speaking of absolutely beautifully written real life, in this case even more real, I finally read I know I'm such a huge fan of her writing now, I can’t wait to read more. I already read the second autobiography, so this is sort of both of those combined into one, I was just stunned by I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Why? Who knows, because apparently, I think that when everyone else loves something I'm going to hate it.

And I've seen over and over this year that that's often not the case and everyone else loves something because it's an amazing work of literature or writing.

5) Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I loved reading it, It's one of those books that left me with an impression of the setting and the tone and the style but not of the actual events, which I find super interesting but I did super enjoy reading it. I loved as I said the setting and the way it was set up and this super interesting place for the events to happen, which is the town of Rotherweird which has been detached from the rest of England for the sort of hundreds of years, and now an outsider has come in which is very rare and events start to happen, intrigue unfolds.

It was so incredible, it just felt different from a lot of books that I have read. Maybe that's because I haven’t read a lot of books of this type, maybe that's because it's a different book, I don’t know. I was super into it and I can’t wait to read the sequels. Switching genres almost entirely.

6) Building on River by Jean Van Loon in 2020

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a biography in the form of a poetry collection book, which is I think the best way to describe it. I'm not usually a big poetry reader. I think I read a total of two poetry collections in 2020, of which this was one of them, and I was amazed.

I loved it, I feel like this was the first time I've appreciated poetry as I read it and been reading the text and gone “Oh that's so interesting, I love how this is done!” This is - it was just so cool. I don’t have the words to describe it because I'm not a poetry person, but the way the author used the poem structures and the styles of poetry to tell different parts of this biography was so interesting and I'm really on the lookout for more collections that are like this because I might have found my niche in poetry and I think that's cool.

The second last book I want to mention is less a single book and more an author's entire works, but I'm going to name one book because that's how this blog works :)

7) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s more what Christie as an author did for me this year than this particular book. I liked And Then There Were None, it was one of my favorite Christies that I read this year. And Then There Were None is sort of more thrillers and suspenseful than a lot of her books are, but overall Christie's writing just gave me such a feeling of safety this year.

At times when I didn’t want anything challenging, I didn’t want to read something that was going to make me think hard or surprise me or throw me into great emotional depths, sometimes I just wanted something that was almost kind of formulaic, each mystery is different, and I never guess who does it, I always have a suspicion and then I'm wrong.

I know that there are not going to be any big surprises, even the plot twist isn't going to be done in a way that makes me feel upset or stressed. I'm sure I will continue to appreciate her works in 2021, but they were just comforting and soothing in 2020 when I wanted to be reading something and I wanted to read something to keep my brain occupied and because I enjoy reading, but yeah I wasn’t feeling up to anything more challenging, that's been key this year.

I will say that I haven’t loved every plot and I like some of the mysteries I don’t like so much and some of them I like a lot more, but just the overall feel from her writing has been a favorite.


8) Sula by Toni Morrison

Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I enjoyed several Toni Morrison books this year, I think I read three, maybe even four of them, but Sula was the one that if I have to pick I think it's my favorite of the ones I read. It made me appreciate the beauty of writing and how incredibly well-written things can be. That sounds silly, I've appreciated good writing before, but I don’t know reading this book made me sort of go “I'm appreciating literature on a level that has not been done in a long time.” I kept having to pause because what I had just read was so amazing that I just had to sit there and think about it for a minute before I could keep reading and out of all the books I've read this year I think this is the one that I probably read the post out loud to my partner. After all, I'd read something and go “This is so incredible that I have to share it I can’t keep it in, I have to go share it immediately!”

Wrap up: So it was amazing, I loved it and I'm looking forward to reading more about Toni Morrison in 2023. Cutting this off at 10 books is kind of arbitrary, I could have done 20, and I could have done 5, but we're going with 10.

Please let me know down below if you read any of these books, did you like them? And also what were some of your favorite reads of 2020? Because even though I have enough to do in 2023 I'm always looking for additions to my TBR.

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