44 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2020
Spanning genres and themes, written by exciting debut authors and some of our favorite veterans, there are some truly terrific books to look forward to in 2020. Here are 44 we’ll definitely read this year—and we suggest you do the same.
1. Topics of Conversation: A Novel by Miranda Popkey (January 7)
This moving debut is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women—the stories they tell each other and themselves—about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage. Spanning 20 years, these conversations explore the topics of desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, anger and more.
2. The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E.J. Koh (January 7)
After living in America for more than a decade, Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving the then-15-year-old and her brother behind in California. Over the years, her mother writes letters, in Korean, seeking forgiveness and love―letters Koh can’t fully understand until she finds them hidden in a box years later. It’s a moving story of family, place and language.
3. F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me by Chloe Hilliard (January 7)
By the time writer and comedian Chloé Hilliard was 12, she wore a size 12—in shoes and clothes—and stood over six feet tall. From there, she turned to fad diets, starvation, pills and workouts…all of which failed. Part cultural commentary, part confession, F*ck Your Diet pokes fun at our society’s obsession with the “perfect” body.
4. Little Gods: A Novel by Meng Jin (January 14)
Born in Beijing on the night of the government crackdown on the protesters at Tiananmen Square, Liya later grew up in America with a single mother, a brilliant but troubled physicist who refused to talk about Liya's missing father. Jin’s debut follows 17-year-old Liya on her journey to China with the ashes of her recently deceased mother, in search of her family’s story.
5. Followers: A Novel by Megan Angelo (January 14)
Orla is a budding novelist stuck in a dead-end job when she meets Floss, a wannabe A-lister who comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they dream about. Thirty-five years later, a celebrity named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Angelo’s novel traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as their stories hurtle toward one another and a cataclysmic event that has lasting national implications.
6. Cleanness by Garth Greenwell (January 14)
Greenwell’s debut, What Belongs to You, was declared “an instant classic” by The New York Times Book Review. His second novel is about an American teacher navigating life in Sofia, Bulgaria. As he prepares to leave the place he has come to call home, he grapples with the sexual encounters that have marked his years abroad.
7. Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener (January 14)
In her mid-20s, Wiener quit her book publishing job in New York City for the promise of a big-data start-up in San Francisco. Part coming-of-age-story, part snapshot of a bygone era, her memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into the high-flying, reckless start-up culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune and accelerating political power.
8. A Good Man: A Novel by Ani Katz (January 14)
Thomas has a beautiful wife and daughter, a nice home on Long Island and a job at a prestigious Manhattan advertising firm—until he commits a horrific deed that changes everything. All he ever did was try to be a good man, but maybe if he tells his version of the story, he might uncover how and why things unraveled so horribly.
9. You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples by Patricia Marx & Roz Chast (January 14)
This illustrated collection of love and relationship advice from New Yorker writer Patricia Marx and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast isn’t your typical “don’t go to bed angry” fare. Think “If you must breathe, don’t breathe so loudly” and “sexual favors in exchange for cleaning up the cat vomit is a good and fair trade.”
10. A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende (January 21)
In the late 1930s, a civil war grips Spain and hundreds of thousands are forced to flee to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life intertwined with that of Victor, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. To survive, the two get married before joining 2,000 other refugees on a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile.
11. Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (January 28)
When celebrated poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was 5 years old, his family crossed the border between Mexico and the United States. Ending up in California with his parents and siblings, he began a new life of hiding in plain sight. His timely memoir is about dealing with a system that treated his family as criminals for seeking safe, ordinary lives.
12. Black Sunday: A Novel by Tola Rotimi Abraham (February 4)
In Lagos, Nigeria, in 1996, the lives of twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike are turned upside down when their mother loses her job due to political strife. With their family now facing poverty, they turn to a suspicious spiritual institution that leads their father to wager the family home on a bet that goes up in flames. In the fallout, the inseparable sisters are forced to navigate their way on their own.
13. The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons (February 4)
When Thomas dies in a car accident, something goes wrong, and he’s stuck on earth for an additional three months. While in this surreal limbo, he’s forbidden from getting romantically involved with a member of the living. His plan is tested, though, when he meets and falls in love with Rachel—complicating his path to a happy afterlife.
14. Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West (February 4)
Teacher-turned-author West’s debut novel is about two women: Isobel, a beloved teacher whose unconventional teaching methods and in-classroom politics ruffle some parents’ feathers; and Julia, a helicopter parent who becomes the subject of a viral video when she has an altercation with a student on school grounds.
15. Verge: Stories by Lidia Yuknavitch (February 4)
In her first collection of short fiction, Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan) focuses on life on the margins, writing about an 8-year-old trauma victim who’s enlisted as an underground courier rushing frozen organs through the alleys of Eastern Europe, a child who tells off a pack of bullies by inventing an eleventh commandment and more.
16. Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Ortberg (February 11)
This witty and whip-smart collection of essays from the writer of Slate’s “Dear Prudence” column spans high- and low-brow pop-culture analyses and cultural criticisms, including an exploration of William Shatner’s beauty and a sinister reimagining of HGTV’s House Hunters.
17. Weather: A Novel by Jenny Offill (February 11)
In Offill’s third book (after the best-selling Dept. of Speculation), Lizzie is a university librarian in Brooklyn, New York. Already overwhelmed with guiding her son through NYC’s school system and dealing with her addict brother’s constant crises, she takes a second job answering emails for a former mentor who is now the host of a popular podcast about futurism. That’s when she becomes convinced that doomsday is approaching.
18. Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas (February 18)
Thomas is known for his hilarious Elle.com column, “Eric Reads the News.” His debut memoir-in-essays covers growing up in a Baltimore neighborhood while attending a majority-white private school, landing his dream job, dealing with impostor syndrome, and grappling with love, breakups and other setbacks in between.
19. Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin (February 18)
In this examination of race, privilege, family and self, a teenage girl vanishes during her family’s luxury Caribbean vacation on the island of Saint X. Though the lives of the privileged tourists and the island locals are seemingly unrelated, in the aftermath of this single dramatic event, they’re inextricably bound to each other forever.
20. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (February 18)
In 1982, Viv wants to move from upstate New York to Manhattan. To help pay for the move, she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. Then she disappears. In 2017, Viv’s niece Carly moves to Fell and visits the motel, desperate for answers about her aunt’s life. There, she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982, and she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
21. Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, From Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster (February 18)
By the time she was in her late 20s, Schuster was a rising TV executive who had worked for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and helped launch Key & Peele. But beneath the successful exterior, she was a chronically anxious, self-medicating mess. Her debut book is the story of her path to becoming a “ninja of self-love” through simple daily rituals, from faking gratitude until you feel gratitude to shielding yourself from your inner frenemy.
22. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (March 3)
This powerful novel is based on the National Book Award–winning author’s grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota to Washington, D.C. It explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity through a young Chippewa woman and her uncle, who are trying to halt the Termination Act of 1953.
23. My Dark Vanessa: A Novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell (March 10)
When 30-something Vanessa discovers that her high school English teacher has been publicly accused of sexual assault by a former student, she’s horrified: She, too, had a sexual relationship with the teacher when she was a teenager. But she’s sure it wasn’t abuse—it was love. Alternating between Vanessa’s past and her present, Russell covers memory, trauma and a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield.
24. Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir by Rebecca Solnit (March 10)
In this searing memoir, Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me) describes her coming-of-age as a writer and feminist in 1980s San Francisco. She recounts how she came to recognize the epidemic of violence against women, street harassment, trauma and the authority figures who routinely disdained and disbelieved girls and women, including her.
25. Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (March 17)
For the first 18 years of her life, Rose Gold believed she was seriously ill. But it turns out that her mom, Patty, was just a really good liar. After serving five years in prison for conning people out of money under the guise of raising funds for her not-actually-sick daughter, Patty gets out and begs her daughter to take her back in. Patty insists that all she wants is to reconcile their differences, and that she's forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows that her mother always settles a score.
26. The Upside of Being Down: How Mental Health Struggles Led to My Greatest Successes in Work and Life by Jen Gotch (March 24)
Gotch is a mental health advocate, a podcast host and the cofounder and chief creative officer of the brand Ban.dō. Her memoir is about destigmatizing mental illness, deglamorizing success and helping others feel a little bit less alone in achieving their personal and professional goals.
27. Hex: A Novel by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight (March 31)
Nell is an expelled Ph.D. candidate in biological science who is trying to set a speed record for the detoxification of poisonous plants. She’s mesmerized by her mentor, Joan, and the woman’s elegance and success. Surrounded by Nell’s ex, her best friend, her best friend’s boyfriend and Joan’s husband, the two scientists are tangled together at the center of a web of illicit relationships, grudges and obsessions.
28. Wow, No Thank You: Essays by Samantha Irby (March 31)
Irby (We Are Never Meeting in Real Life) left her job at a veterinary clinic, published successful books, left Chicago and moved into a house in a blue town in a red state, where she hosts book clubs and makes mason jar salads. This collection of funny essays is about bad dates with new friends, spending time in L.A. as a “cheese fry–eating slightly damp Midwest person” and more.
29. Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person by Anna Mehler Paperny (March 31)
In her early 20s, journalist Mehler Paperny had already landed her dream job. On the surface, her life was great. Still, she spiraled, attempted suicide (the first of multiple attempts) and landed in a psych ward. Here, she turns her journalist’s eye on depression. She interviews psychiatrists and other experts, and provides an invaluable guide to a system struggling—and often failing—to help those in need.
30. How Much of These Hills Is Gold: A Novel by C Pam Zhang (April 7)
Newly orphaned children of immigrants Lucy and Sam suddenly find themselves alone in a land that refutes their existence. As they flee from their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Broadly, the story explores race and the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong. But on a micro level, it’s about the memories that bind and divide families, and the desperate search for home.
31. Godshot: A Novel by Chelsea Bieker (April 7)
In Peaches, California, 14-year-old Lacey May lives with her alcoholic mother in an area that was once an agricultural paradise but is now an environmental disaster. During a disastrous drought, the town’s residents turn to a cult leader, Pastor Vern. Though Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor, her life soon implodes when her mother is exiled from the community. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandmother. As she endures the increasingly appalling acts of men, she goes on a quest to find her mother at all costs.
32. Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Love, Loss, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller (April 14)
Lulu Miller is a Peabody Award–winning journalist and cofounder of NPR’s beloved science podcast Invisibilia. Her nonfiction debut is the strange tale of 19th-century scientist David Starr Jordan, who made it his life’s work to discover and catalog as many of the world’s fish as he could. Decade by decade, he built one of the most important specimen collections in history. Then the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hit, sending more than a thousand of his fish, housed in glass jars, plummeting to the floor and shattering his life’s work. Miller digs into this obscure moment in science history while exploring the nature of persistence and of life’s purpose.
33. If I Had Your Face: A Novel by Frances Cha (April 21)
Set in contemporary Seoul, Korea, Cha’s debut novel is about four young women: Kyuri is a beautiful woman working in an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen; Miho is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York; Ara is a hairstylist obsessed with a boy-band pop star; and Wonna is a newlywed trying to have a baby.
34. Death in Her Hands: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh (April 21)
While on her normal daily walk with her dog, Moshfegh’s latest protagonist comes across a handwritten note: “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” She’s deeply shaken, and her confusion about the note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession as she devotes herself to exploring who this woman was and how she met her fate.
35. The Down Days: A Novel by Ilze Hugo (May 5)
In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak, a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria or something more sinister? During these strange days, a corpse collector and “truthologist,” a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater and more will cross paths and intertwine as they move around the city, searching for answers that may not exist.
36. All Adults Here: A Novel by Emma Straub (May 5)
The latest from Straub (Modern Lovers) is about adult siblings, aging parents, high school boyfriends, middle school mean girls, the lifelong effects of birth order and all the other things that follow us into adulthood, whether we like it or not. This one is wise, funny and startlingly relatable.
37. Stray: A Memoir by Stephanie Danler (May 5)
When her debut novel, Sweetbitter, became a huge success, Danler knew she should be happy, but she felt incapable of it. Her intimate, searingly honest memoir attempts to discover why. She writes about growing up the child of addicts, how that turbulent experience has affected her at every stage of her life and of how she’s struggled to transcend this unwanted legacy.
38. The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett (June 2)
In a small, predominantly black community in the South, the identical twin Vignes sisters were inseparable. But later, one decides to run away to California and pass as white. Her white husband and friends know nothing of her history, and her twin sister longs to find her. Weaving together generations of family history, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Bennett’s (The Mothers) latest is an emotional family story that also explores the American history of passing.
39. The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir by Wayetu Moore (June 2)
When Liberian writer Wayétu Moore (She Would Be King) was 5 years old, all she could think about was how much she missed her mother, who was working and studying in New York. Before they could be reunited, war broke out in Liberia, forcing the family to flee their home on foot, walking and hiding for three weeks before eventually settling in the United States. Moore’s memoir covers her early childhood, her years adjusting to life in Texas as a black woman and an immigrant, and her eventual return to Liberia.
40. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (June 9)
Giovanna is a meek, obedient 12-year-old growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Naples. An expert chronicler of young adulthood, Ferrante (The Neapolitan Novels) follows Giovanna’s life from age 12 to 16, charting her development from the sweet girl who adores her parents to a sulking, aggressive teenager who finds pleasure in self-abasement and making other people uncomfortable. (And yes, like Ferrante’s previous novels, the end of the book leaves the possibility of a follow-up.)
41. Broken People: A Novel by Sam Lansky (June 9)
Lansky’s debut follows a young man—also named Sam—on the verge of emotional collapse. A writer and recovering addict in his late 20s in Los Angeles, Sam is struggling to find meaning and purpose when he finds himself pulled toward a shaman who administers plant medicine over the course of a weekend. Through flashbacks, the novel explores intimacy and sobriety, materialism and mysticism, and how the body absorbs heartache and trauma.
42. How Beautiful We Were: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue (June 16)
Set in a fictional African village, Mbue’s (Behold the Dreamers) latest is about a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have made farmlands infertile, children are dying from drinking toxic water and the government is led by a brazen dictator. How Beautiful We Were is an exploration of what happens when the drive for profit and colonialism clashes against the determination of a community.
43. The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel by Akwaeke Emezi (August 4)
One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous story of the family’s struggle to understand Vivek, its now-deceased son. The Death of Vivek Oji is an emotional novel about family, friendship, loss and transcendence.
44. Transcendent Kingdom: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi (September 15)
Gifty is a Ph.D. candidate studying neuroscience at Stanford. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her mother is suicidal. Determined to turn to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, Gifty finds herself grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised and the salvation it promised.