The Best Books I Read in 2020

I used to keep a small paperback book with me to read on public transportation or while waiting for my next scheduled appointment. Lately, I’ve gotten more into audiobooks read by the author and podcasts. I sometimes listen when I’m just waking up, going to the bathroom, or while I drive.

This past year has been a journey for the world and me. My mom recovered from cancer a second time. I left my job back in March. COVID-19 ravaged the world and is still ongoing. Politics is a headache. I moved back home with my parents. Needless to say, I’ve been working on my mental wellness and self-love.

In 2020, I consumed more books, media, and news than in recent years. I borrowed books from Libby, a free app to borrow and read ebooks and audiobooks from my local public library. I also use Audible for newer books or books I wanted to keep.

I’m currently reading Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness and How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. As such, they aren’t on this list, but perhaps for best of 2021. The following are the best books that I’ve read in 2020. Enjoy.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

In 2018, I received this book as a gift from my mentor during a fellowship at Interactive Mechanics, a Philadelphia-based digital design company. Two years later, I read it.

Brené Brown is a courage and vulnerability researcher at the University of Houston. Her daughter is also named Ellen. In this book, she encourages the reader to embrace their vulnerability and imperfection. She asks the reader to engage with life wholeheartedly. In this past year, I was reminded that I have a supportive group of friends to dare greatly with.

Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
This book has helped me love myself more and to accept myself. The quote above speaks to numerous moments in my life where I was pressured to fit in and that isn't healthy. I was burying own identity instead of standing for my authentic self. Belonging starts with me.

This year, I will be looking into more books and media from Brené Brown. She even has a Netflix special, Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. I've also listened to her on several podcasts and interviews. She hosts Dare to Lead, a podcast where she has conversations on leadership in our everyday lives.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

In 2020, there was surge of protests demanding racial justice following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. Conversations on Black Lives Matter (BLM), systemic racism, race, and race relations were throughout the news, protests, and in the classroom. Books on these subjects topped The New York Times Best Sellers list.

This book is a great introduction to be more comfortable talking about race. Ijeoma Oluo, a Seattle-based writer and speaker, guides readers into having more honest conversations about race and racism with clear and constructive dialogue. She reinforces that the experiences of people of color are real and that they matter. In the last chapter, she takes the knowledge from the rest of the book and applies it to actions that we can take towards anti-racism efforts.

I wanted to continue to develop these conversations and advocate for racial justice. In high school and college, I was deeply involved in social justice and diversity discussions. I was a student leader at the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH) for Asian Students Promoting Identity, Reflection and Education (ASPIRE). It was a program where local Philadelphia high school students attended monthly workshops to discuss the Asian American culture and Asian American Diaspora. We talked about current events, culture, history, politics, and social issues.

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Good Morning! This is a now familiar text I send to my friend Sharisse nearly every day. We briefly say what we are up to that day and follow up on the last. These simple texts has helped ground me and is something that I really appreciate.

Gmorning, Gnight! is a touchstone that bookends the day with lil pep talks and brings a sense of we're doing this all together. Lin Manual Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton, would tweet these messages out at the beginning and at the end of the day. He also narrates the book along side quirky illustrations. This book reminds me that we are all human.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found a Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

I have done meditation on and off for years and I wanted to get back into it. Meditation can reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. It also promotes general wellness and happiness. I felt like I was not successful at meditating and that I couldn't commit to it.

In this book, Dan Harris, co-anchor of both Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America ABC News, describes his journey with meditation. His journey is not all bells and whistles. He had a panic attack on live television and subsequently went on adventure to make changes in his life while stumbling upon meditation.

After reading 10% Happier, I branched into the 10% Happier universe. I read Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren with Carlye Adler. This book explores the myths, misconceptions, and self-deceptions that stop people from meditating. I use the Ten Percent Happier Meditation app for guided meditations. Currently, I am participating in the New Year's Challenge and have encouraged my friends to do it as well.

I also listen to their podcast which features guests like Karamo Brown (culture expert on Queer Eye) and Laurie Santos (Professor of Psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast). I think Ten Percent does a good job of responding to current events and the times we live in. They released a Coronavirus Sanity Guide and address the pandemic.

You Belong: A Call for Connection by Sebene Selassie

Sebene Selassie is a author, speaker, and meditation teacher. She teaches on the 10 Percent Happier Meditation app where I first encountered her. She explores themes of belonging and identity through meditation and spirituality. She assures the reader that we do all belong.

I read this book after Daring Greatly to continue to explore belonging. It's absolutely beautiful and full of self-love. It's an inspiring book especially during these turbulent times. She explores some of the major challenges we face as individuals and as a culture.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

This book is a guide to live in the present moment and how to deal with anxiety and depression. Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and best-selling author, introduces the concept of the the pain-body which is old emotional pain that we hold. He explains that by understanding the pain-body we can learn how to deal with our anxiety when it arises.

I held many regrets and anxieties over the past and thought frequently about what I could have done differently. Other times, I'd think of my dystopian future. I think this book helped me understand the choices I've made given the information I had. I do think I live more presently now.

While I am recommending this book, I would also recommend skipping some parts. This book was published in the late 1990s and is slightly outdated with how it talks about gender. He talks about the female pain-body that tends to be activated just prior to the time of menstruation. He also explains the differences between the female and male ego. These sweeping gender generalizations are dismissive of the our experiences that go against the grain.