Favorite books of 2020

Thanks to being a mom to two small children during a global pandemic, I didn’t get to read much last year. But quality over quantity, right?

My favorite book in 2020 was WHEN WE COLLIDED by Emery Lord. Even though I happen to know Emery in real life, I had never read any of her books until this one. What a fool I’ve been!

Given how warm and thoughtful she is, it comes as no surprise that Emery can write so brilliantly and tenderly here about grief, mental illness, and love of all kinds. Vivi, Jonah, and the whole town of Verona Cove were absolutely delightful. I felt charmed from the very start. I laughed with them, I cried with them, and best of all, I devoured their story, completely engrossed, at a time when concentrating on anything for more than ten minutes had become nearly impossible.

Fortunately I’ve been able to do a lot more reading in 2021. And you can click here for previous years’ favorites.


To be honest, I have no idea how Andy managed to read as many books as he did in 2020. He shifted into an extremely challenging new role at work just as the pandemic was starting up, and yet he also was never anything less than an A+ dad and partner.

These were his favorites of last year:

New year, still here (ish)

I think 2020 was a death of sorts for this blog.

I wonder if 2021 will see a rebirth.

Throughout the pandemic, I have taken so many notes, and started several drafts. But then the window of time to finish my thoughts disappears, and the impulse fades. By the time I come back to my words, they no longer compel me, or are simply outdated.

There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, sometimes I contribute more to the world by saying less. (And frankly, I wish more people would come to this same realization.)

But writing well is as much about practice as talent or genius — maybe more so — and I don’t want to get too rusty.

I suppose if anything is going to make it “to print,” it must be finished quickly. I must finish it. Set aside perfectionist tendencies. Seize upon the moment, rather than hoping for more time later.

Maybe, too, I should think smaller, as I advised in my most recent post for Writer Unboxed.


Speaking of small… A personal and professional highlight from 2020:

I wrote a “Tiny Love Story” and it was accepted for publication in the New York Times, appearing in both their digital and print editions!

Two very different musicals

Andy and I recently saw the touring production of Les Miserables, which is one of his favorite musicals. A few years ago when he was traveling overseas a lot for business, he would often play the Hugh Jackman movie version — or even just that soundtrack — in the background while doing work on his laptop. Thank you, Delta in-flight entertainment.

I love Les Mis too, in part because I grew up listening to it at my best friend Alex’s house. We would play the Original Broadway Recording on CD, as a lullaby when going to bed, or sometimes as an accompaniment to our make-believe games.

“On My Own,” sung by the character Eponine, holds a special place in my heart, and is possibly the ultimate ballad about unrequited love. I remember singing it to myself often during middle school. My locker was right next to my crush’s, thanks to alphabetized assignments. Hopefully he never heard me humming it under my breath.

As with everything these days, I watched Les Mis through a new lens this time. Now being a parent, I identified so strongly with Valjean’s love for Cosette, his desire to do what would make her happy, even if it put him in danger, or took her away from him.

I also found myself noticing and appreciating new things, like how the same two or three riffs dominate the music, coming in and out, like themes weaving through the story. And in fact, the songs do parallel the way that the plot winds back on itself at times, with all its “twists,” the characters crossing paths with each other in so many different iterations. These “coincidences” could feel melodramatic, like a bad soap opera, but they don’t, because the story is grounded in history, social commentary, and emotional truth.

Also a musical, but completely opposite in tone, is the new TV series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. It’s kind of like a grown-up Glee. (Or at least, the first couple seasons of Glee, which were great. I stopped watching after that.) The main actress, Jane Levy, is remarkably charming, and the supporting cast is solid too. As you can probably tell from the bright colors, it’s an overall upbeat show, but there’s a streak of somberness — primarily in the storyline about Zoey’s dad — that adds unexpected depth. Exactly what I seek in my entertainment these days: optimism and heart.

Only four episodes have aired so far, but I find myself eagerly awaiting more.

Favorite books of 2019

I was very pleased with my pace of reading in the first half of 2019, averaging 3 books a month! Then in the second half, after my son was born, I read exactly 0, haha. Oh well.

Out of 18 books, not a single one was a dud. I think because, with my time being so constrained, I’ve had to get more savvy — or maybe more ruthless — in my reading choices. Regardless, these were my favorites:

ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW was a deftly written personal examination of race, adoption, and motherhood. Completely my jam. I plan to do a “Reading Reflections” post on it later this year.

THE LAST BEST STORY was also completely my jam, but in a different way. A teen rom-com featuring two high school newspaper nerds, with witty dialogue and great character depth.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE is a dense but straightforward guide for people who want to do better. I appreciated how practical it was, and I felt like I could immediately make use of things that I learned from it.

And finally, OTHER WORDS FOR HOME is the third published novel by my dear friend Jasmine Warga, and I truly think she has leveled up once again. Told in verse, this book is the story of a young girl forced to leave her home in Syria and make a new one here in America. Full of insight and emotion, humor and heart.

As for 2020, I’m off to a slow start, but I know that as my son gets older and eventually joins his sister at daycare/school, I’ll get my reading time back.

Click here for previous years’ favorites.


My husband’s love of reading continues to flourish, and I take great pleasure in having helped to foster that. It’s so fun to talk about books and authors with him now — and about the thoughts they inspire, and the way various stories intersect with our lives.

These were his favorite reads of 2019:

EVERYONE KNOWS YOU GO HOME by Natalia Sylvester

It has been months since I read this book, but I can still vividly recall so much of it. Beautifully written without being overwrought, the story is full of insights about family, love, immigration, aging, and more. My copy is littered with Post-It flags marking favorite passages. 

This book also happens to be written by my friend Natalia Sylvester, who I greatly admire for her talent, her intelligence, her kindness, and her advocacy.

“You’ll grow slowly, and then all at once.”

“Remember how you used to blow bubbles into your drink through a straw? That’s how the first few kicks will feel.”

“After you give birth, every inch of you will be exhausted and in pain except for your heart.”

“When he cries, remember your body used to be his whole world. Cherish the moments he cries for you, but let him go a little more each day.”

This rings so true to my experiences with pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. A good reminder, as I approach the arrival of my second child.

“Who do you think he’ll be like?” he had asked Elda that day at the hospital. “More you or me?”

“Both. And neither. I think that’s the whole point,” she’d said.

So many people — including myself — like to play this game with children. Who are they more like, mom or dad? Well she’s got mom’s eyes, but dad’s nose. Or dad’s stubbornness, and mom’s fondness for sweets.

But what I find so amazing now — watching my own daughter grow up, as well as my friends’ kids — is how the combination of two people creates something entirely new and unique. IB is not a mini-me or a mini-Andy. She’s herself. More and more each day.

“‘Some people have holes in their hearts not even time can fill, but that doesn’t mean they’re broken.'”

Beautiful and true.

Isabel wondered if wanting to be happy for someone counted as being happy for them.

Intentions versus reality. I’m necessarily not proud to say, I’ve felt this gap in my own emotions many times. Less so, the older I get. But still.

“Decisions are not the same as choices.”

I don’t know if I ever contemplated that distinction quite so clearly before, but I thought about it a lot after reading this line.

Sometimes you have to make a decision even when all your choices are bad. Sometimes you have to make a decision even when you have no choices at all.

“I’m proud of you,” he said.

“For what? I haven’t done anything yet.”

“You’ve done everything. You are everything.”

In a society that often seems obsessed with accomplishment, this feels like such a radical expression of love and worth. It really affected me.

Grief is never really gone; it is just a darkness you eventually adjust to.

Grief is one of the themes of my work-in-progress, so I’m always interested in how other people experience and describe it.

“Life is shit, but it’s fucking beautiful.”


I also really enjoyed this: “Can You Just Trust That We’re Human? The Millions Interviews Natalia Sylvester”

There is so much responsibility to writing. Even when you’re saying, I just want to write a book that’s fun for someone. A book can have the power, while being entertaining, to change how a person thinks or lay the groundwork for it or make them say, “I never thought of that before. Let me delve into that a little more.” So, it’s something that needs to be done very carefully. I know there’s some resistance to that, as if it’s telling someone what to think. People tend to react against it as if it’s censorship.

This is art, but it’s a powerful art, and so how about wielding it well? It’s about the craft, too. It’s going to make all of the book stronger. In the revision, it’s a step back, of thinking, what am I trying to say and what have I said? You can never know completely, obviously, because people are going to interpret everything a lot of different ways, but you try to do your best.

On her exploration of immigration, both as a writer and as an immigrant herself:

You leave a whole country, you leave your home. Immigration also means a death. You’re leaving one life for another. You’re ending this whole life and existence that you had in order to hopefully live this new one. So, what’s the tradeoff. What’s lost in that trade?