The Best Books of 2020 (So Far)
Introducing Real Simple’s definitive list of the best books of 2020. Throughout the year, we'll be adding new books to this list at the start of each month to keep all of our favorites in one place. Expect a mix of compelling memoir, literary fiction, riveting psychological thrillers, original historical fiction, thought-provoking nonfiction, and so much more as our editors vet dozens of books each month to compile our top picks—the books we think you should buy or add to your to-read pile in 2020.
RELATED: The Best Books of 2019
From what we’ve read and researched so far, 2020 promises to be full of great new books. Kicking the year off are some of the buzziest, timeliest books we’ve encountered in a while. Among them: My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which might be the first true #MeToo-era novel to come out over these last few years, and The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel, a genre-bending novel about a Ponzi scheme. We're also looking forward to debut novels by Kiley Reid, Elizabeth Wetmore, and others. Fans of bestselling authors including Mandel (Station Eleven), Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing), Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees), and Emma Straub (The Vacationers, Modern Lovers) rejoice: These authors and plenty of other familiar names have announced new novels in 2020 that are sure to be splashy.
Here, we present Real Simple’s guide to the best books of 2020. Use this list to find your next bedside read or a commute-worthy audiobook. And be sure to check back here every month as we add to this list.
The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager
After her husband died, MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager found herself widowed at 40 and a single mom of two boys. In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, she passionately describes her struggle to balance the job that had always been her identity with her new challenges at home. It’s a beautifully written portrayal of life after loss—and the wonder that happens when you least expect it.
A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett
When she entered law school, Brittany K. Barnett had plans for a career in corporate law. But one night in the library, she read about a single mom serving a life sentence for a first-time drug offense—and knew she couldn’t ignore the reminders of her own mom’s incarceration. A Knock at Midnight, the riveting story of Barnett’s tireless work, is proof that one person can transform a broken system.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
In Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford whose family has been struck by tragedy: Her brother has died from a heroin overdose, and her mother is suicidal. Gifty copes by turning to science for answers, but in doing so, she finds herself drawn back to her childhood faith. Like Gyasi’s Homegoing, this novel will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
A failed bank robber bursts into an apartment during an open house and takes everyone hostage, but are any of the troubled strangers—now forced to get to know one another—quite who they say they are? Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People is an endlessly entertaining mood booster, with a spot-on message about showing up for others, even if you’ve just met.
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
In the 18th and 19th centuries, British convicts were shipped to Australia, and 25,000 of them were women. Christina Baker Kline’s The Exiles imagines the stories of two of them, along with that of an orphaned Aboriginal girl. Celebrating the bonds between women, the novel explores how lives that seem destined for pain might persevere.
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
In Katherine Center’s What You Wish For, school librarian Samantha Casey’s world is shaken up when the beloved principal is replaced by her former crush—now a safety-obsessed stiff. As they work together and learn about the suffering they’ve both endured, they find that even in hard times, joy is at our disposal.
Fast Girls by Elise Hooper
Fast Girls by Elise Hooper blends fact and fiction to tell the stories of three trailblazing American women and their quest to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Told in intricate detail, against the backdrop of a world on the brink of war, the novel shines a light on these long-overlooked athletes.
Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford
In Notes on a Silencing, Lacy Crawford recounts being sexually assaulted as a student at an elite New England prep school. Decades later, the school comes under investigation for its handling of such cases. Maddening and timely, this memoir reveals the cost to victims—and society at large—when powerful institutions protect their reputations, not their pupils.
The Golden Cage by Camilla Läckberg
In The Golden Cage by Camilla Läckberg, one of Europe’s best-selling crime novelists, Faye and Jack meet in business school, marry, have a kid, and build a billion-dollar business. But when the brash (and maybe diabolical) Faye discovers Jack’s affair, she shows how far she’ll go to get what is rightfully hers. Sexy, scandalous, and terrifying, this is the kind of suspense story you gobble up in one sitting.
Mother Land by Leah Franqui
Rachel Meyer is an adventurous 30-something New Yorker who has recently moved to Mumbai with her Indian-born husband when her mother-in-law leaves her decades-long marriage…and moves in with them. Leah Franqui’s Mother Land is a charming, tender examination of how two women with deeply ingrained differences find their middle ground.
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
Zaina Arafat’s debut novel, You Exist Too Much, traces an unnamed protagonist’s unexpected journey from her home in Bethlehem to a DJ booth in Brooklyn, New York; from the streets of Lebanon to a love addiction clinic. Written in the first person with a memoir feel, this international tale sheds a unique light on what it means to find love across boundaries.
The Last Flight by Julie Clark
In the thriller The Last Flight by Julie Clark, two women try to escape their lives by switching airplane tickets. Claire is married to the scion of a political dynasty, whose staff watches her every move. She swaps flights with Eva—but then Eva’s plane crashes. Claire, presumed dead by her family, is given a chance at a new life, and what unfolds brings everything she knows into question.
Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
J. Courtney Sullivan’s Friends and Strangers follows Elisabeth, who relocates from New York City to a small town with her struggling inventor husband and infant son. She hires Sam, a senior at the local women’s college, to babysit. Over the course of the school year, the two women grow close, share secrets, and ultimately betray each other.
Empty by Susan Burton
In Empty, Susan Burton recounts how binge-eating disorder and anorexia have jeopardized her life. Despite her outward success—admission to Yale, a dream job at This American Life, a happy family—her secret made her a prisoner in her own body. After a three-decade battle, Susan finally sought help and opened up. She reveals it all in this frank, beautiful account of her mental health journey.
All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad
All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad explores how wrong we can be about those we love. After the death of her mother, Iris, Maggie returns home to discover that Iris has left five sealed envelopes for mysterious men. As Maggie embarks on a road trip to deliver the letters and cope with her grief, she finds that Iris, never comfortable with her daughter's sexuality, had a secret life all her own.
Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
Plus-size Instagrammer Daphne Berg has worked hard to love herself just as she is, and it's paid off with a devoted tribe of followers. But when her former best friend—the very one who humiliated her in high school—shows up with a favor to ask for her Cape Cod wedding, Daphne is forced to decide whether she's ready to forgive. Jennifer Weiner's Big Summer is an insightful page-turner about the power of old friendships.
The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
In this unique tale, Anna Solomon interweaves the stories of three women negotiating their places in the world: Esther, a young tribeswoman in ancient Persia; Vivian, a political wife hurt by sexism in Watergate-era D.C.; and Lily, a dissatisfied modern-day stay-at-home mom. The Book of V. asks complicated questions about power, desire, and the evolution of women's roles.
Like Crazy by Dan Mathews
Dan Mathews knew he was in for an adventure when he relocated his 78-year-old mother across the country to live with him. What he didn't know was that her often unpredictable behavior was due to an undiagnosed disorder: schizophrenia. Like Crazy is a deeply compassionate and occasionally hilarious look at what it means to care for a parent as they enter the last phase of life.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Imagine if Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton had broken up after law school. That's what bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld does in her novel Rodham. Weaving together real-life events and coulda-shoulda moments, Sittenfeld spins a compelling tale about women in politics, compromise, and the fateful pull that unites Bill and Hillary.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Ana, a whip-smart woman who wants to be a scholar and writer, meets and marries Jesus (yes, that Jesus) in The Book of Longings. Sue Monk Kidd skips historians’ 2,000-year-old “Did Jesus marry?” debate, imagines he did, and asks, “So what would his wife have been like?” Inserting Ana into biblical stories, Kidd crafts a surprising, absorbing narrative.
A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe
In Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns, Jessie has left 1930s Paris for Hanoi so her Michelin-heir husband can join the family business. She falls in with expats who tell her about workers’ deplorable conditions on Michelin’s plantations—and indulge her with opium. While confronting the source of her wealth, Jessie must parse what’s real and what’s not.
This Is Big by Marisa Meltzer
In This Is Big, journalist Marisa Meltzer interweaves her personal dieting history with a compelling biography of Jean Nidetch, the woman who founded Weight Watchers. As the author chronicles her own journey through the popular program, she describes how Nidetch—despite getting and staying thin—struggled at home and at work. In the end, Meltzer learns and grows in unexpected ways.
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
Janelle Brown’s Pretty Things is a page-turner about scammers and social media. Swindler Nina needs to score big—her mom’s medical bills are looming, and she’s still waiting on $72,000 from her last con job. She and her partner decide to target their riskiest mark yet: Vanessa, a woman from Nina’s past who is now an Instagram influencer. But there’s far more to Vanessa than what appears on her feed.
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Elizabeth Wetmore’s powerful first novel, Valentine, recounts the aftermath of a brutal rape in a Texas oil town in 1976. Via shifting perspectives—including those of Gloria, the survivor, and Mary Rose, the housewife who finds her the morning after—Valentine explores the women’s connections and traces the gossip and blame that follow the crime.
The Herd by Andrea Bartz
The glamorous founder of a women’s coworking space vanishes on the eve of a huge news conference in Andrea Bartz’s The Herd. Police initially figure Eleanor has run off to Mexico, but those closest to her suspect otherwise. This thriller offers a nonstop plot and layers of mystery—not to mention smart commentary on female friendships and social media.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
In The Mountains Sing, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai traces a half century of Vietnam’s history through the stories of Tran Dieu Lan, who loses her livelihood during the 1950s land reform, and her granddaughter Huong, who comes of age in the 1970s during the Vietnam War. This poetic novel illustrates how their sacrifices ripple through the family.
House Lessons by Erica Bauermeister
Erica Bauermeister and her husband had set out to buy a turnkey house in remote Port Townsend, Washington. They ended up falling in love with a dilapidated four-bedroom and its “Darwinian” yard. House Lessons, Bauermeister’s memoir-in-essays, details her years of renovation and the ways she changed in the process.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 hit, Station Eleven, will devour her next novel. The Glass Hotel follows the rise and fall of a Ponzi scheme, showing how two siblings’ lives entangle with that of the fraudster. With this highly readable narrative that switches perspectives, Mandel has written what might be the novel about the 2008 financial crisis—and the mentalities and greed that caused it.
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman
At 50, Judy reaches an all-time low. Cleaning out her basement, she finds her son’s old baby sling, takes one look at the dog, and pops her in for immediate comfort. Over the course of Laura Zigman’s Separation Anxiety, Judy navigates unsteadiness and grief—for her career, her marriage, her friend’s cancer, her son’s growing up and away from her—toward a deeply affecting conclusion.