Favorite Nonfiction Reads of 2020

I love the way good fiction swallows you. I always get far too emotionally involved in the stories. Due to pregnancy and postpartum emotional ups and downs, fiction was difficult to pick up this year. I lost sleep over stories that I was too worried to pick up and finish. I eventually put aside most fiction and spent a good chunk of my year reading nonfiction. Here are my favorite reads of 2020 from number 10 to number 1.

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones

I find the history of British monarchs so fascinating. This overview of the Plantagenet dynasty was another one of many amazing history reads I devoured this year. I’m hoping to read Jones’ book on the Wars of the Roses next year.

Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life by Sarah Edmondson

I’ve find myself drawn to the stories of cult victims. Their trials and struggles often resonate somewhere with my past. Sarah’s story of getting trapped inside the NXIVM cult was both distressing and empowering to read. I admire abuse victims who are brave enough to tell their stories.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

This memoir by a young man who was pressed into service as a solider when war ripped across his country was so hard to read, so heartbreaking. Unexpected side effect of reading it: my anti-gun sentiments strengthened.

Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien

I picked up this collection of Tolkien’s short stories and poetry mostly for the essay, “On Fairy-stories” at the end. The chapters that led up to it were delightful, especially “Leaf by Niggle.”

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

This beautiful poetry memoir is written by the author of Speak, the bestseller about a girl dealing with the trauma of rape. In SHOUT, Anderson sorts through her own childhood trauma, bringing new hope and encouragement to survivors of abuse.

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

I read a few books about the life of Mary Stuart this year. I thought this one the most balanced. Also, it read lightly, almost like a novel and not in the plodding fashion of a poorly written history textbook.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

This comparison of the caste systems in India, Nazi Germany, and American slavery was a fascinating read. It was convicting and, in my mind, should be required reading for high schoolers.

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Loconte

This book looked into the life and works of Tolkien and Lewis in relation to their traumatic experiences on the frontlines of WWI. It showed how the stress of their lifetime and the strength of their faith wove its way through the narrative of their most loved stories.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

This was my first read from Joan Didion and I think I’m in love. Her prose is just exquisite. This collection of essays covers topics from varied subjects including John Wayne and reminiscences of living in NYC.

A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 by Wendell Berry

My longing for an older, simpler time where family and community are king increases with age. Wendell Berry’s evocative language makes me yearn for fields and birds and clear starry skies. These poems were just lovely. Their themes mostly dwelled on going back to a simpler time and protecting the natural beauty of our world. I adored them.

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