True story: when I used to travel with my mom, she would often lecture me about my packing because I had to take at least four books with me, no matter the length of the trip: the book I was currently reading, a book for the trip there, the trip back, and what if those books were not enough? No, I am not just a bookworm; I am a book dragon. I devour stories. I read more than one book at a time. I read. A lot. So when I came across the “2020 TBR Reading Challenge” I had to give it a go.
I posted the challenge on my Facebook page and tagged a few of my friends who are also readers. Challenges can be more fun when you are doing them with others, right? In this case, it was super true. Out of everyone tagged and everyone supposedly interested, only one friend did the challenge with me.
But don’t cue the sad music yet. We had a blast. We took turns finding a handful of suggestions for each category, shared them, saw what we could agree on, and then, most importantly, which were available at our local libraries.
I will admit that there were a handful of books that we tried to read but just could not finish. Luckily, we both agreed on which ones we could not finish or did not like, so were both eager to find replacements. Making fun of the failed reads together was just as enjoyable as discussing the completed ones.
We also added a layer to the challenge to try and pick authors who were not white males. This added to the diversity.
I read a lot of books this year that I probably would not have picked up on my own and for that I thank my friend McRib and the creators of the challenge.
So, by now you’re probably wondering what we read. The full challenge required us to read 22 books (24 really since one category was a trilogy) so I will not cover them all, though I did write a review on our read in the “Novel That Will Get a Movie Adaptation in 2020” category (and that did not come out this year — thanks, Covid — but we counted it anyway), but I will cover a few highlights here:
“I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual” by Luvvie Ajayi
Category: NYT Bestseller
•Ajayi is witty and observant. This book is brilliantly laid out as she tells the reader about things that make us all roll our eyes (that friend who orders extra items like appetizers and desserts besides their dinner then insists everyone pay the same amount) and while she is judging others you will nod and laugh. But there is a serious message here, too. And if you do pick this one up, I highly recommend the audiobook which is read by Ajayi herself.
“Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland
•What if the Civil War ended because of zombies? No, seriously. In this book, Ireland introduces us to an America where there are zombies and the Native and Negro Education Act requires children to go to school to learn how to kill the dead. This one was so much fun that we picked up the sequel, not because it checked off any challenge boxes, but because we really did not want this story to end.
“Ash” by Malinda Lo
Category: Book with One-Word Title
•So, I have a confession to make. As much as I dislike reboots and remakes when it comes to television and movies, there are some retellings in fiction that I quite enjoy, and fairy tales is one of them. This is a unique retelling of Cinderella, including a Huntress and fairies who want to steal the main character away.
“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
Category: A Booker Prize Winner
•Shifting perspectives: you either love this technique or you hate it. Let me tell you though, Evaristo knew what she was doing in choosing this format. The novel is told by twelve different characters who are diverse not only by their age and race, but by their class and sexuality. You will love each one’s story and you will learn about their cultures and lives along the way.
“The Yellow House: A Memoir” by Sarah M. Broom
Category: Historical Book
•Who doesn’t remember their childhood home? It is filled with memories and was a main character in your youth. Broom’s mother purchased the yellow house back in 1961. This novel follows the tale of the house and all who would live in it all the way up to Hurricane Katrina. This memoir includes a close look at the relationships of the siblings but also notes on race and class.
“The Stars and the Blackness Between Them” by Junauda Petrus
Category: Book Set in Different Continents
•Audre is sent from her home in Trinidad to live with her dad in America, she is understandably upset. However, she soon befriends Mabel who helps teach her the ways of their high school. I loved their relationship and appreciated the attention to detail, as you can see Audre’s accent fading the longer she is in America. This one is very well-written.
“They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei
Category: Book You Can Read in a Day
•We had to pick a book that we could read in one day, and since this is 2020, we opted for a graphic novel. Not many people learned in school that there were concentration camps in America for Japanese Americans. This graphic novel shows Takei’s childhood in these camps.
Like I said, we ended up reading 24 for the challenge (not including the ones we started and could not finish) and while we mostly enjoyed all of them, these were just some of our highlights.
In case you are interested in what else we read, here is the rest of our list:
The “Chaos Walking” trilogy by Patrick Ness (a trilogy)
“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn (movie adaptation)
“The Life and Love of a She Devil” by Fay Weldon (published in the year you were born)
“Thirteen Reasons” Why by Jay Asher (YA book)
“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (over 500 pages)
“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman
“Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” by Barack Obama (by a Nobel Prize winner)
“The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (friend recommendation)
“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
“If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin (a dead author)
“Passing” by Nella Larsen (a classic)
“Assassination Classroom Vol. 1” by Yusei Matsui (originally written in a foreign language)
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins (2020 release)
“The Opposite of Fate” by Amy Tan (Rory Gilmore)
I’m sorry that I cannot remember exactly which category some of the reads fell into. If you read any of them, let us know what you think in the comments.
Now I have to go and find next year’s reading challenge. Anyone wanna join?