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. Looking for an older great book to read right now (and impatient with preorders)? Check out our list of great books from the past few years (or longer) that you can read now.
Rest and Be Thankful by Emma Glass
Rest and Be Thankful, the achingly beautiful second novel by Emma Glass, is a glimpse into the innermost thoughts of Laura, a pediatric nurse teetering on the edge of burnout. While the story is brief, Glass, who’s a practicing nurse herself, convincingly details what it’s like to be pushed to exhaustion and still willing to sacrifice anything, possibly even yourself, for your patients.
Take It Back by Kia Abdullah
Zara Kaleel is a brilliant London attorney who left her prestigious career to be a caseworker at a sexual assault center. When she takes on a new client, a white teenage girl with facial deformities who’s accused four Muslim classmates of rape, Zara finds herself at the center of a high-profile case. A fast-paced courtroom drama, Take It Back by Kia Abdullah asks tough questions about race, class, and gender while keeping you guessing until the (truly shocking) last page.
To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss
The 10 stories in To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss, set in locations around the world, feature some of life’s most intimate moments—a young woman discovers her sexual power, a daughter visits her father’s home after his death. All the stories explore a central theme: What makes us who we are? They’re intriguing, familiar, and ripe for discussion. In other words, they’re book-club gold.
Survival of the Thickest by Michelle Buteau
Survival of the Thickest, the new memoir by comedian and actor Michelle Buteau, is hilarious—like, snap-a-photo-of-a-page-and-send-it-to-friends funny. But this bracingly honest essay collection, in which Buteau insightfully reflects on everything from her body image to her interracial marriage to her difficult road to motherhood, is ultimately about the brave act of learning to love yourself.
The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia
In teensy Merinac, Kansas, two fried chicken shacks have had a longstanding rivalry. Nobody knows it better than Amanda, who grew up in one restaurant before marrying into the other. When a reality TV competition pits the two— as well as Amanda and her sister, Mae—against each other, the sisters discover that the stakes are much higher than the $100,000 prize. The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia is a delightful look at sibling relationships and the unbreakable bonds of family.
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
Danielle Evans’s The Office of Historical Corrections is a powerful novella and short-story collection that zeroes in on transformative moments for various characters—like when a white college student discovers that a photo of herself in a Confederate-flag bikini has gone viral. The result is a piercing look at race and culture, revealing how we all must reckon with our personal and shared histories.
I’ll Be Seeing You by Elizabeth Berg
I’ll Be Seeing You is Elizabeth Berg’s memoir of moving her parents out of their home and into assisted living due to her father’s Alzheimer’s. It beautifully recounts her mom and dad’s final years while sharing the story of their seven-decade romance. This is Berg’s loving portrait of her family over time, and a bracingly honest exploration of the emotions that arise when caring for aging parents.
White Ivy by Susie Yang
Ivy Lin knows how she’s perceived: She’s a quiet, obedient Chinese American teen. Nobody would suspect her of shoplifting, much less harboring a crush on Gideon Speyer, the son of a wealthy political family. When fate brings them together years later, her obsession with having him—and everything that comes with his privilege—grows dark and all-consuming. Susie Yang’s White Ivy cleverly overturns the “model minority” stereotype with a deliciously twisty story that will leave you breathless.
Cobble Hill by Cecily von Ziegesar
A school nurse, a boy band alum, a mom who fakes an illness so she can stay in bed all day, and a husband who refuses to remove his noise-canceling headphones are just a few of the wacky, lovable characters in Cobble Hill by Cecily von Ziegesar, author of the Gossip Girl series. The novel reads like literary people-watching, chronicling the lives of four families in a Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood where the picture-perfect brownstones belie what’s really going on.
Memorial by Bryan Washington
In Memorial, the debut novel by Bryan Washington (whose story collection, Lot, was a favorite of President Obama’s), Mike and Benson are in a withering relationship they’re not sure is worth saving. When Mike suddenly leaves for Japan to be with his dying father, the separation forces both men to wonder whether the people they’re becoming are meant to be together. This sensitive novel illustrates the deeply individual ways we search for a sense of home.
Just Like You by Nick Hornby
Lucy is a 40-something white mother of two. Joseph is a 22-year-old Black aspiring DJ. When they meet at the London butcher shop where Joseph works, they’re caught off-guard by their feelings for each other, and nearly as baffled by their awkward courtship as their wide-eyed friends and family are. Just Like You by Nick Hornby is a sweet and funny testament to the wonderful things that happen when you allow yourself to follow your heart.
Once I Was You by Maria Hinojosa
Once I Was You is a candid, timely autobiography by Emmy Award–winning journalist and NPR anchor Maria Hinojosa. Drawing on her Mexican family’s relocation to the U.S. and her experience in media, Hinojosa tells the searing story of how our immigration policy came to be—and what it means for every single American. Intimate and unflinching, this memoir is packed with teachable moments.
The Talented Miss Farwell by Emily Gray Tedrowe
Rebecca Farwell is leading a double life. In Pierson, Illinois, she’s Becky, the diligent, kind of dull town treasurer who lives alone in her family’s farmhouse. But her creative number crunching with the town’s money funds her alter ego’s obsession for acquiring art. As Reba, she’s a champagne-sipping, couture-wearing shark who’s made millions in the art scene in New York and Chicago. Inspired by a true story, Emily Gray Tedrowe’s The Talented Miss Farwell is a read-it-to-believe-it page-turner about a con artist whose luck can’t last.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, a fantasy novel by V.E. Schwab, a young woman in 18th-century France escapes an arranged marriage by making a bargain with the devil for the ultimate freedom: She’ll be immortal...but no one she meets will ever remember her. Then one day in a bookstore, after 300 years of loneliness, she meets a man who recognizes her. Everything changes, revealing just how much we need connection after all.
Dear Child by Romy Hausmann
This chilling, clever mystery begins where most suspense stories end: with the escape. When a woman flees the windowless shack where she’s been held captive, she says she’s Lena, who disappeared almost 14 years ago—she even has the distinctive scar to prove it. But her parents insist she’s not their missing daughter. The deliciously creepy Dear Child by Romy Hausmann is deftly crafted and keeps you guessing until the very last page.
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.