The Best Books of 2020 (So Far)


Spring break is in the air, and so is a flood of highly-anticipated books from the era’s defining authors. From the quiet anxiety of Jenny Offill and Otessa Moshfegh to laugh-out-loud collections from Samantha Irby and ELLE’s own R. Eric Thomas, 2020’s sole upside is an embarrassment of literary riches. Your next beach read is below.


Weather by Jenny Offill


$17.96 (25% off)

Cutting right to the heart of what it feels like to be alive in 2020, Jenny Offill’s Weather is a novel of both anxiety and love. A librarian with a young son reckons with what climate change means both in this moment and in the future while coming to terms with what she wants the world to look like for her child. Offill knows what it’s like to face the end of the world and a grocery list—how the enormous concerns and the minor annoyances can fuse together, rendering us exhausted and helpless. —Adrienne Gaffney


The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin



$18.39 (34% off)

Fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin is the only person to have won a Hugo Award (science fiction’s most prestigious prize) three years in a row. In March, the author creates a new world for the first time since 2015. In The City We Became, human avatars of New York’s five boroughs must battle a force of intergalactic evil called the Woman in White to save their city. Like 2018’s Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the novel leans into social commentary—the foe presents as a literal white woman whom some mistakenly deem harmless—without slowing the action sequences that drive the plot forward. —Bri Kovan

March 24.


Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby


The only writer who can make me laugh with abandon in public, Samantha Irby follows her breakout collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life with high-speed treatises on everything from relentless menstruation to “raising” her stepchildren and the stress of making friends in adulthood. Her signature irreverence is intact, of course, but it can’t mask the heart she leaves bleeding on the page. —Julie Kosin

March 31.


Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong


You may be tempted to rush through the seven essays in Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings; her prose, at turns accusatory, complicit, and castigating, is so urgent, there’s a fear the book will catch fire if you put it down for a moment. But Minor Feelings begs to be read and re-read, highlighted and underlined and margianalia-ed for decades to come. A scorching exploration of what Hong calls “minor feelings”—“the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed”—this collection cuts to the heart of the Korean-American experience, calling on everything from Richard Pryor’s body of work to a long-overdue elegy for the late artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha to document the cumulative effect of prejudice on generations of Asian Americans. —JK


Godshot by Chelsea Bieker


Boasting arguably the most eye-catching cover of the year, Godshot, from debut author Chelsea Bieker, is an unnerving tour de force. Exploring the gritty, confounding ways innocence—especially girlhood—clash with spirituality, family, love, and gender, the story follows 14-year-old Lacey, who lives in a Californian town paralyzed by drought. The community is swept up in the words of a “pastor” who doles out “assignments” that promise to bring back the rain, and as Lacey navigates the confusion and horror of this false prophecy, she turns to a community of women to teach her the truth. —Lauren Puckett

April 7.


The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel


$18.00 (40% off)

Hilary Mantel concludes her long-gestating Wolf Hall trilogy with the final installment in Thomas Cromwell’s saga. Following the execution of Anne Boleyn, the chief advisor to the king is safe—for now. But given the instability of Henry VIII’s court, nothing is certain except more death. —JK

March 10.


The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel


$17.92 (34% off)

It’s surprising to learn that such a mysterious and delicate book was inspired by something so loud and sensational as the Bernie Madoff saga. The Glass Hotel beautifully depicts the many lives impacted by the collapse of an ambitious Ponzi scheme, most notably a woman who escaped her haunted past in rugged Canada for a gilded existence as the much younger wife of a financial kingpin. —AG

March 24.


Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo


$17.79 (39% off)

Acclaimed poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo left Mexico with his family when he was five years old and grew up navigating the tenuous existence of life undocumented in the U.S. His California upbringing is full of fear and worry that come to a head when he witnesses his father’s arrest and deportation. Children of the Land depicts life on both sides of the border and the feeling of living between two nations and cultures; Hernandez Castillo’s depiction of the current crisis is vivid, empathetic and real. —AG


My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell


$19.59 (30% off)

If we tell ourselves stories in order to live, what happens when those narratives miss the truth? Kate Elizabeth Russell probes this question in 
her debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, which reads like a contemporary reimagining of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The story begins in 2000 at a New England boarding school, where 15-year-old Vanessa Wye falls for her charismatic English teacher and re- counts their romance. The author alternates between the past and a present in which an adult Vanessa is forced to confront the limitations of her own story. —BK

March 10.


Here for It by R. Eric Thomas


$16.99 (35% off)

You know R. Eric Thomas from his must-read column “Eric Reads the News,” but his first book—a read-in-one sitting memoir about battling loneliness and finding your voice—will make you laugh out loud and break your heart in equal measure before leaving you with that oft-elusive desire: hope. —JK


Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh


$18.99 (30% off)

Ottessa Moshfegh follows her beloved 2018 title, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, with a fresh take on the archetypal murder mystery. The novel tracks an isolated widow’s descent into madness after finding a mysterious note in the woods. —AG

April 21.


Writers & Lovers by Lily King


$16.20 (40% off)

The writer’s life is brought to life with scary accuracy in the story of a young woman desperate for literary success while working in secret on a novel six years in the works. As she struggles to pay the bills with a restaurant job, grieves her mother, and juggles two very different men, the readers gets a vivid, funny and altogether real look at what living a creative life means for a woman. —AG


The Resisters by Gish Jen


$17.69 (34% off)

Come winter, a bevy of novels use technology-gone-amuck as the premise for dystopia. In The Resisters, author Gish Jen combines that premise with the anxiety around climate change. Her America of the future, called AutoAmerica, breaks people into two groups: the Aryan “Netted” people live on dry ground, and the “Surplus” live in the flooded regions. (It’s like a twenty-first century update on H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine.) Into all of this Gish throws baseball as a means of resistance. Says Ann Patchett, “The novel should be required reading for the country both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece.” —BK 


I Know You Know Who I Am: Stories by Peter Kispert


$10.99 (31% off)

In this debut collection, Peter Kispert takes a clever premise—stories about liars—and spins an extraordinary tapestry that questions why we lie and all the ripples (good, bad, and chaotic) that come from them. It’s a particularly…fertile area to explore at this moment in history, but I Know You Know Who I Am has a higher aim than simply scoring points off our fabulist leaders. In stories that are by turns blackly comic, speculative, romantic, and wistful, Kispert toys with the ideas of personal truth, deception (of self and other), and lies from so many angles that, taken as a whole, the collection wows with its insight, its daring, and its breadth of talent. —R. Eric Thomas


Long Bright River by Liz Moore


$12.24 (53% off)

A Baltimore police officer, presiding over a neighborhood that has been devastated by the opioid epidemic, searches for her missing sister, an addict. Liz Moore has crafted a literary thriller that’s rapidly paced without compromising on depth. —AG


Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster


$17.79 (32% off)

The writer of former Gawker infamy and co-founder of the trailblazing (but recently discontinued) publishing house Emily Books, Emily Gould has long been a beloved staple of Literary Twitter. This year, she’s finally returned to publishing her own fiction, and her tale of mothers and musicians, Perfect Tunes, is a delight. In early-aughts New York City, songwriter Laura falls in love with the imperfect but enthralling musician Dylan. Fourteen years later, their daughter, Marie, seeks to discover the father she lost before she was even born. —LP

April 14.


A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende


$16.29 (42% off)

Since she published The House of the Spirits in 1982, Isabel Allende has time and again proven herself a master of magical realism. Her latest novel, A Long Petal of the Sea—about a couple who flee the Spanish Civil War to Chile, only to later find themselves endangered once again under the Pinochet dictatorship—is about refugees, displacement, and war, but also serves as a paean to human love and endurance. —Molly Langmuir


The Power Notebooks by Katie Roiphe

Free Press


$18.02 (33% off)

“In my published writing, I took stands. I made arguments. But in the very early morning, before anyone was awake, I was working on these notebooks,” writes Katie Roiphe at the beginning of The Power Notebooks, a series of entries reflecting on the author’s personal relationships and the ways in which power dynamics seep into them. In “Relatable,” Roiphe maligns the tendency for women writers to perform vulnerability, which, ironically, is the book’s greatest strength: As she works her way through complex, conflicting ideas, Roiphe demonstrates the very human conundrum of searching for answers in a world without them. —BK


Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener


$19.39 (28% off)

When Anna Wiener moved to San Francisco at 25, the former sociology student dove headfirst into the Bay Area’s startup culture, in which twenty-somethings with little professional experience managed and stroked the egos of also-twenty-something CEOs. Her memoir reads like a literary ethnography of the rewards and risks of the sector’s early growth. —BK


Real Life by Brandon Taylor


$17.79 (32% off)

In his shattering debut, Electric Literature and Literary Hub‘s Brandon Taylor explores the minor catastrophes and microaggressions of academia—here, a masters biochem program at an unnamed Midwestern university—through the eyes of Wallace, a black gay student grappling with the contrast between what his life looks like to others and what he actually wants from it. —JK


Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


$20.83 (23% off)

Douglas Stuart’s first novel steps into the literary lineage of Joyce’s Dubliners. Set nearly 70 years later, Stuart’s story tracks a mother and son as they search for social mobility and freedom in working-class Glasgow. The family battles alcoholism, sexuality taboo, and the constraints of domesticity, all packaged in the atmospheric lyricism of an epic. —BK


Apartment by Teddy Wayne

Bloomsbury Publishing


Apartment, by Teddy Wayne, a deftly composed novel about an unlikely friendship that develops, then devolves, between two men at an MFA program, is easy to speed through, but its ideas about masculinity, gender, and class will rattle around your mind for ages. —ML


Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey


Like Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, Miranda Popkey’s first novel revolves around conversations with the eccentric characters who populate her narrator’s life. But unlike Cusk, Popkey turns reflective, ruminating on dissatisfying relationships, cautious motherhood, substance abuse, and privilege with unflinching candor. —JK


We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan


Set amid the fraught intensity of a prestigious MFA program, We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan is a twisted campus novel told in the third person, which collectively expresses the perspective of three ambitious, brilliant students who take it upon themselves to present one of their professors as a plagiarist. It’s a rollicking read that offers a sharp take on the creative process, revenge, and envy. —ML


Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid


$15.60 (40% off)

When anyone asks for a book recommendation, this is my default pick for the new year. Reid’s brisk, darkly funny debut follows Emira, a black, underemployed 25-year-old who splits her time between babysitting for a wealthy white family and working at Philadelphia’s Green Party office. When a late-night encounter with a grocery store security guard attracts unwanted attention, Emira’s life takes several unexpected turns. —BK


Tales of Two Planets


In this eye-opening anthology about climate change, an impressive cast of contributors including Edwidge Danticat, Mohammed Hanif, and Margaret Atwood reflect on how the grim horror of our current ecological reality is being felt around the world. —AG


The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante


Ferrante’s first novel since her Neapolitan quartet rocked book clubs around the world opens with this shattering sentence: ”Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly.” The Lying Life of Adults returns Ferrante to Naples, this time through the eyes of Giovanna, who tasks herself with exploring the city’s dual identities as her beauty fades. —JK

June 9.


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