In a year when we needed the distraction more than ever, books were there for us. Here are the library staff's top reads of 2020.
The best fiction book I read that was published in 2020 was Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell. I felt absolutely transported back in time to watch Anne (Agnes) Hathaway and William Shakespeare cope with complicated familial relationships and ultimately the loss of a child.
I also need to mention my favorite cookbook of 2020: Dinner in French by Melissa Clark. Cooking from this book got me through many nights and weekends when there was nothing to do. Croque Monsieur Casserole, anyone? I mean, really.
Jake Vail, Info Services
In this most contrary of years, I nominate four Best of 2020 nonfiction titles, not just one. And to continue the contrariness -- whales, not birds; neanderthalensis, not sapiens; Rebels, not Yanks (!); and carbon dioxide, not oxygen(!!). That is, Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs, Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson, and Breath by James Nestor.
Hazlett, Info Services
Not my favorite OVERALL book of 2020, but my favorite book published in 2020 was Failed State by Christopher Brown, a dystopian sci-fi legal thriller that is also about climate change and the earth in ~50-100 years. It sounds ambitious when I write all of that out, but Failed State is really a quick and somewhat redemptive read. It illuminates the issues of justice and reparation (perma-timely, but especially so in 2020) through the inexplicable lens of the post-carbon courtroom. Also, Christopher Brown sends out weekly "Field Notes" emails about walking around forgotten thoroughfares and unused public spaces in Houston, and they are even more of a delight to read. ALSO, his first novel was called "Tropic of Kansas" (that's us).
Ian, Materials Handling Coordinator
Eat the Buddha by Barbara Demick - A fascinating and compelling history of Ngaba, a Tibetan town known for its high volume of self immolating monks. Focusing on a handful of Tibetans who lived through the CCP’s takeover, Eat the Buddha grounds Tibet’s tragedy in the personal. One of the best books I’ve read all year.
Piranesi by Susanna Clark - Piranesi’s world is one of seemingly infinite grand classical halls. The lower levels are flooded. The highest touch the clouds. Innumerable statues populate “the House,” but innocent Piranesi and the enigmatic “Other” are its only known human residents. Until now. A beautiful, atmospheric, awe-inspiring, and mysterious book.
Kristin, Events Coordinator
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was my favorite read of 2020, but I had a hard deciding between this and Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline. Both were my first foray into horror in a long time and they were both were spooky, creepy, and a comment on western imperialism! On the heartwarming front, I also really enjoyed Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by If you need a memoir/manifesto on the power of kindness and empathy, I would certainly suggest that one.
Randi, Sub Squad
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Ann Tyler. As always, Tyler tells a small story that turns out to be a big story. And she does with an economy of exquisitely chosen words.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. A writer of extraordinary insight, humor and intelligence who manages to weave, seamlessly, both the depth of human idiocy and the height of human compassion into the same story.
Mary, Youth Services
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez. We Are Not From Here follows three Guatemalan teens along their treacherous journey to the United States as they flee the violence of their homeland. Unforgettable—the squealing brakes of La Bestia are the screams of migrant children, demanding to be heard.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart - Shuggie Bain is sad, but there’s so much more to it than that. Hugh “Shuggie” Bain is different—he’s gentle and polite and lonely, a poor boy growing up in 1980’s Glasgow. His glamorous mother, Agnes, is an alcoholic, but she embodies her dignity when she needs it most. Shuggie will never be like other boys, and his mother will never stop drinking. Their relationship is beautiful and overflowing with love, deeply humanizing those who struggle with substance abuse. I’ll never forget Shuggie Bain.
Aaron, IT Coordinator
The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought (Jonathan Rauch, 1992). This book is the finest defense I have read of the principle of freedom of speech and the necessity of this principle for the continued functioning of liberal society and the enlightenment tradition of liberal science.
Cynical Theories How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—And Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the dysfunctional academic foundations underlying modern Social Justice movements.
William, Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator
Real Life by Brandon Taylor. This beautifully written #ownvoices debut novel about black, gay doctoral student a midwestern university brought me out of my pandemic reading slump. Highly recommended.
Kimberly, Readers' Services Assistant
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune - Reading The House in the Cerulean Sea reminded me of what it was like to open up a book as a child, and encounter a fantastical place within the pages that surprised me, delighted me, kept me awake late at night to discover more, more, more. This story captures all of the light in the universe and holds it aloft, like a present you didn't know that you needed. Months later, I'm still aglow with hope after reading it - I recommend this book to *everyone*.
Dan, Collection Development Librarian
The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson. American and European eels are some of the most mysterious animals on Earth, and our knowledge of their life cycle still has many gaps. This fantastic nature memoir explores what we know about them and how it was discovered, as well as the author's experiences fishing for eels with his father growing up in Sweden.
Little Fox by Edward van de Velde. An early chapter book for young readers, this Dutch import tells a dreamlike tale of a fox's life in a natural setting near people. It strikes a wonderful balance between the realities of nature and anthropomorphism, with its human character, a child observing the fox, on the edges of the action, as the fox explores its world, lives its life, and passes on.
Lauren, Children's Librarian
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Ruby, Info Services Assistant
American Oligarchs by Andrea Bernstein
Gregor, Book Van Coordinator
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Subtitled "The Origin of Our Discontents" it examines the origins of racism and caste divisions.
Leah, Readers' Services Assistant
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse - Inspired by pre-Columbian Indigenous folklore, it has all the makings of the next big fantasy series. Effortless world building, complex and memorable characters, great queer representation, a plot that unfurls in a most satisfying way to an epic conclusion that left me yearning for book 2 of the Between Earth and Sky series.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow - Witchcraft meets the suffragist movement in this dazzling tale from my favorite up-and-coming fantasy she-ro.
Shirley, Readers' Services Assistant
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is a mystical and insightful coming-of-age tale of one community in the heartbreaking eras of antebellum and reconstruction (before and after the U.S. Civil War). Earth-bound natural elements are revealed in vivid scenes as May Belle sends her daughter Rue to search for medicinal plants and mysterious foxes wonder the woods!
Two acclaimed emeritus Kansas Poet Laureates gave us impressive works this fall: Northern Cheyenne Ledger Art by Fort Robinson Breakout Survivors co-written by Dr. Denise Low and Ramon Powers is an inspiring celebration of Northern Cheyenne resilience! And How Time Moves by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is an alchemical magnum opus of lyrical verse!