The seven best books I read in 2020

Hello, my friends. First of all, before I begin this post, I want to say thank you to so many of you who reached out to me after I shared about the loss of my dad last week. I received so many emails, messages, comments and texts from you that were incredibly sweet and heartfelt. My family is doing okay right now, and we have appreciated your kind words, whether you’ve met us in real life or not. Please know that I read everything sent to me, responded to most and received and appreciated it all. If you’ve ever wondered whether you should reach out to someone who is going through grief, just do it. You don’t have to say the right thing, it just feels nice to hear that you are thinking about them. It really does.

Moving on, I’m back with a new post today, and I’m rounding up the best books I read this year. I read a lot of books this year, ranging from heavy educational books to light fiction to memoirs.

As a note, these books weren’t necessarily written in 2020, but that’s when I read them. I checked out almost all of these books from the library, which is my favorite way to get a book.

I read for about 20 minutes most nights before I go to bed, but sometimes longer than that, depending on if the book pulls me in. Let’s get to the books …

The seven best books I read in 2020

The seven best books I read in 2020 by A Lady Goes West

“Everything is Figureoutable” by Marie Forleo – Nonfiction

I was on the waiting list for this book, “Everything is Figureoutable” by Marie Forleo, for weeks and weeks, so I was very excited when it finally became my turn to pick it up at the library. Marie Forleo is a successful life coach and the creator of the popular B-School series for business. She’s also a dancer and the person who coined the term “multi-passionate entrepreneur” — a descriptor that I can certainly relate to.

This book is all about Forleo’s belief that everything is figureoutable. From the mundane daily problems we face, to the much bigger ideas we have for our future. She says that all problems can be figured out, and if they can’t, then they are facts of life or acts of nature — not actual problems.

Everything is Figureoutable book by A Lady Goes West - January 2020

(“Everything is Figureoutable“)

The book is fairly conversational in style (she’s not quite as funny as Rachel Hollis, but definitely uses humor here and there), it includes stories from Forleo’s life and client testimonials (which are a little vague and light, but prove the point that people have been taking her advice and overcoming things that they needed to figure out) and a lot of writing exercises, which she recommends writing down on paper. I have to admit, as much as I know that writing things down on paper works best (I even wrote this post about the practice of writing), I didn’t complete the exercises, because I always read in bed at night when I’m winding down. But I still feel like I took a lot away from the book.

You can control two things: your work ethic and your attitude about anything.” – Ali Krieger

These ideas stuck out to me as important to share:

  • A very destructive way of thinking is that “I know this already.” This closes us off and doesn’t allow our brains to grow. A better way to think is “What can I learn from this?”
  • Another destructive thought is “This won’t work for me.” But instead we should say, “How can this work for me?”
  • Our brains reinforce what we already believe: So if you think something is some way, you will often find evidence to support it, because that’s what you already believe. And all beliefs are a choice, and choices can be changed.
  • When you say you “can’t” do something, what you usually mean is you “won’t” do something. Change your terminology, and you’ll feel more powerful over what happens in your life.
  • There are two kinds of people in this world: those with reasons and those with results.
  • Do you want to know how to make a decision? Try this one: Ask yourself, “Does saying yes to this make me feel expansive or contracted?”
  • Or ask yourself “In 10 years, will I regret NOT doing this?”
  • Real change is practically invisible as it’s happening. 

Forleo’s big suggestion is to free up two hours a day. Wow! That’s a lot, right? She says everyone can do this by eliminating TV, social media, the internet, meetings and non-essential errands and more. With this two hours, you can work toward your goal or dream little by little. Using this free time, she recommends that you stop fearing failure and know that failure is just a thing that happens, a person cannot be a failure. She also totally stands by the idea that we should all start before we’re ready and never disguise our procrastination as “research and planning.”

As a content creator, the very best piece of advice from this book that spoke to me was this … “The world needs a special gift that only you have.” Because we are all so different, and we each have something different to share. I love that. In this saturated blogger/writer/influencer market, sometimes it’s hard to keep sharing when it seems like there’s so much noise, but Forleo thinks we all need to be heard.

Who would benefit from this book? Anyone who needs a little kick in the pants and some motivation to look past the word “no” and change your life. I really enjoyed it!

The most powerful words in the universe are the words you say to yourself.” – Marie Forleo

“Forget ‘Having it All’: How America Messed Up Motherhood and How to Fix It” by Amy Westervelt — Nonfiction

This book was eye opening, and I can’t un-know any of the things that I learned …

I saw “Forget ‘Having it All’: How America Messed Up Motherhood and How to Fix It” by Amy Westervelt listed on a must-read list on The Every Mom website and decided to reserve it online at my library.

I really didn’t know what I was getting into with this book.

In fact, I learned so much that I thought about writing a stand-alone post about it. But I realized that may get a little political, so here we are with a brief overview. And you can pick up a copy of this book if you’re interested in more.

Here’s a blurb from the official description that sums this book up so well:

From inadequate maternity leave to gender-based double standards, emotional labor to the “motherhood penalty” wage gap, racist devaluing of some mothers and overvaluing of others, and our tendency to consider women’s value only in terms of their reproductive capacity, Westervelt became determined to understand how we got here and how the promise of “having it all” ever even became a thing when it was so far from reality for American women.

Basically … the content is a lot.

The author, Amy Westervelt, is an American journalist mother who decided to do some research on other cultures, and U.S. history, laws and trends on how motherhood in America (and parenthood in general actually) has ended up being the way that it is. After giving us the overview of how things got to where they are, she also explains some ideas for how to fix the situation.

Forget Having it All Book by A Lady Goes West - July 2020

(“Forget ‘Having it All’: How America Messed Up Motherhood and How to Fix It“)

She talks about discrimination against working mothers; how the modern workforce in America is not friendly to anyone who is a caretaker; how women are expected to do it all in their little nuclear-family silo (whereas parenting used to have a more community feel); how men are not taught to be caregivers (even though many men would love to step deeper into that role); and she gives examples of better part-time and flexible working situations in other countries, such as Sweden. 

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve talked about how being a mom (especially with no family nearby and a husband who works crazy hours) is incredibly hard so many, many times. And reading this book made me realize that I’m not alone.

I’m so lucky that I didn’t have to go back to an office a couple months after Brady was born and I got to work from home (in a slow and fragmented way). But I know plenty of women who have continued in the corporate world and have not had an easy time of it after having kids. Things could and should be easier for parents with reasonable flexibility. And this is a systemic problem.

Westervelt also talks about racial disparities between the situations of moms, how the patriarchal society we’re in is doing us all a disservice and even how women who choose not to have children are discriminated against in the workplace and in life. 

It took me about three weeks to read this 250-page book, because I only got through a bit at at time. I also found myself re-reading some of the research sections that I wanted to understand more fully. Basically, this was not a pleasure read, but it was an enlightening one for sure.

If you’re a mom, a working mother or stay-at-home mom, I would highly recommend reading this book and sharing your learnings with your friends and family too. And remember, everyone’s reproductive choices are their own, and we need to respect and appreciate that

“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens – Fiction

Believe it or not, I picked up this book, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” off the lucky day shelf at the library without knowing it was the number-one book on the New York Times Bestsellers list at the time.

When I posted a picture of it on Instagram stories, I got so many responses that you guys have read and loved this book, which made me excited.

Where the Crawdads Sing by A Lady Goes West - February 2020

(“Where the Crawdads Sing“)

But here’s the deal: For the first maybe 100 pages of the book, I was enjoying it … but I felt like it was NOT enjoyable to read at all, if you know what I mean. Sometimes I had to go back and re-read sentences that didn’t make sense to me describing the setting. And I was having trouble picturing the marsh where the main character of the story lives, because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a marsh. I also felt a little sad and slightly agitated by parts of the book that were just hard to imagine with a poor little girl isolated and alone. Is the story a good one? YES. Did I love this book? Yes, but not the whole time.

The last 200 pages of the book were so amazing and totally pulled me in though, so by the end, I decided I loved it, especially the conclusion. During the story, we go back and forth from the childhood of the main character, Kya, or the “Marsh Girl,” to the present day happenings of a crime — the murder of one of the town’s most popular guys. It was very interesting how we skipped back and forth between times, yet it all made sense. It’s a mystery, and we don’t know the outcome or the truth until the very end, which kept me totally engaged. In fact, once I got to the last 150 pages, I started staying up a little later than usual to read more, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

I won’t spoil it for you. But if you’re into fiction, nature and good storytelling, this one is for you. It’s deep. And although I didn’t cry at the end (like I sometimes do), I was moved. This one’s a piece of art. 

“A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts” by Therese Anne Fowler – Fiction

I also picked this book off the “lucky day” section from the library and totally enjoyed it.

I’m not really one for historical fiction, but after reading this, it makes me want to read more. The lead character is Alva Vanderbilt, who was part of the super-rich and powerful Vanderbilt family in the 19th century and made some unpopular decisions that she felt were right for her and the cause of women overall — an early feminist, if you will. The novel follows her life from first marrying into the Vanderbilt family, to finding her place in society and then going through quite a few struggles.

A Well-Behaved Woman book by A Lady Goes West - 2020

(“A Well-Behaved Woman“)

The best part about this book is that I believe it is based quite a bit off true accounts of the Vanderbilt family, with a ton of research and interviews going into it. I loved learning about customs and practices and ways of life in the Gilded Age — so incredibly different from life nowadays, that’s for sure. It’s truly interesting to me.

I’d recommend this book. Although it was long, I never got bored and was pulled into the narrative until the very end. 

“Educated” by Tara Westover – Memoir

This book, “Educated” by Tara Westover, is super popular, and I had seen the name circulating for the last year or so and knew I should give it a try.

I was on the waiting list for it at the library for a long time. Well, I read it SO quickly … I’m talking more than 300 pages in about five nights. I stayed up until almost midnight four nights in a row reading, because I couldn’t put it down, which is something I never do.

It’s a memoir, and it’s a true account from one woman about her life growing up in the rural mountains of Idaho with an incredibly strange family dynamic. I don’t want to spoil much, but it was hard to read at times. You know that some people grow up with bad situations, but this was really bad. Her father was always preparing for the end of the world stock-piling supplies, and he didn’t even want his kids going to school.

And yet, Westover came out on top and ended up going to college and becoming a “New York Times” Bestseller with her first book.

Educated book by A Lady Goes West - August 2020

(“Educated“)

It was definitely a gripping story that pulled you in. If it had been fiction, I would have said it’s not super believable. But, it’s the truth, so that makes it even more riveting. 

After I finished “Educated,” I looked up the reviews, and apparently this book won a ton of awards and was even recommended by Former President Obama and Bill Gates to name a couple. Clearly it had an impact on a lot of people.

If you’re in the mood for an intense real-life memoir from someone who has lived a tough life, but somehow struggled their way out, then this one is for you. But beware, it may pull you in and have you reading for longer periods than you initially planned. 

“Inside Out” by Demi Moore – Memoir

I devoured this book! I got through this book faster than usual, because it was such an easy read, and I was totally into it. I stayed up WAY past my 10:30pm bedtime on three occasions reading this one too.

A friend recommended this book to me, so I put it on hold at the library and totally forgot about it, until I got the email to come pick it up.

Demi Moore Inside Out by A Lady Goes West - June 2020

(“Inside Out“)

Before reading this book, I didn’t know a ton about Demi Moore, other than the fact that she was once married to Bruce Willis and then married to Ashton Kutcher. And of course, that she has been an actress in a few movies I had seen.

So I picked up the book and went for it. And I must say, the writing style was so straightforward and conversational, I felt like Moore was telling me all the intimate details of her life like a friend talking to a friend. 

I’m not going to spoil the story for you, but I will tell you that Demi Moore did not have an easy childhood. She did not have an easy adulthood. And even though she’s had all the money in the world ever since becoming a star, she’s still struggled with body issues, addiction issues and major relationship and family issues. 

This book is a first-person narrative from Moore about her entire life, from childhood to present. She talks about some of the more public drama that we have heard of in the press, and she also talks about a lot of other things we may not have known. A lot of darkness. A bit of lightness.

I feel like she told us all the real stuff in this book, and she opened up to us about a lot of embarrassing and ugly moments she’s not proud of. She was raw. It must have felt cathartic to get it all out there, that’s for sure. Also, Ashton Kutcher cheated on her. But you may have already heard that in the press.

If you want a nonfiction memoir from a celeb, this one’s a good one. 

“What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love” by Carole Radziwill – Memoir

This is my latest read, “What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love,” which is from 2005, and is written by Carole Radziwill, who is an Emmy-winning journalist, and who also happened to appear on several seasons of “Real Housewives of New York.”

I didn’t particularly like Radziwill on “Housewives,” and I certainly didn’t know much about her life before she made her reality TV debut. Apparently her life was very hard and very sad.

“What Remains” is a super-moving story of Radziwill’s life, growing up in a working-class family, moving to New York City to pursue a career in television, meeting Anthony Radziwill, marrying into his lineage of Polish royalty (lineage that was also connected to the Kennedy family), and being at his side through cancer, death and well-known tragedy. We learn from the very beginning that Anthony dies from cancer, shortly after their best friends die in a plane crash.

What Remains book by A Lady Goes West

(“What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love“)

Carole Radziwill writes like a real writer, and she recounts sad times like a journalist. She gives every single detail in a way that feels like she is reporting it. While I’m guessing a lot of people who read this book probably felt like she was cold and brutal, I felt like perhaps the best way she knows how to process her grief is to write about it matter-of-factly.

She was very clear that she was never fully accepted by Anthony’s rich and close-knit family, treated like an outsider from day one. She was also very clear that watching someone dying from cancer takes the joy out of everything in life. I’m sure it does.

I was absolutely enthralled in this book and finished it pretty quickly, staying up super late to read it multiple nights in a row. It was so emotional. And knowing that it’s not only a true story, but also related to public tragedies like the death of JFK’s son and his wife, made it even more significant to me. However, I will say that Radziwill does not use enough commas in her writing, and I was surprised her book editor had not put more in. I love the comma, and that’s my only gripe with this memoir. 

But overall, it was a really good read.

And that concludes my list of the seven best books I read in 2020.

Other posts you may like …

Question of the day

Have you read any good books this year?

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4 Comments

  1. What a great list! I’ve read Educated, Inside Out and Crawdads from the list and loved them all.

    Hope you’re doing okay, you’ve been in my thoughts xx

  2. I had very similar thoughts and feelings when reading Where the Crawdads Sing. I really liked it overall, though! Educated is definitely on my list. I need to get back into reading, it’s definitely fallen by the wayside since my girls came 4 months ago!

    1. Hi Ashley! I didn’t read for the first year of Brady’s life, because I didn’t sleep well and just couldn’t focus. You will get back to it one day, but right now, you’re still in the thick of it! 🙂

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