The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, the editors of The New York Times Book Review have named their top ten books of 2020. The first five titles on the list showcase the best in fiction, while the second five titles are all nonfiction picks.

To read more about these selections for 2020, visit The 10 Best Books of 2020. You can also view the New York Times’s 100 Notable Books of 2020.

All of the titles featured below we have in our collection or within the SWAN consortium. To see if an item is available to check out or place on hold, click the cover image or the button to the right.
Fiction

A Children's Bible

by Lydia Millet

Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet’s sublime new novel follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion. Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group’s ringleaders―including Eve, who narrates the story―decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside.

Deacon King Kong

by James McBride

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

Hamnet

by Maggie O'Farrell

Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.

Homeland Elegies

by Ayad Akhtar

A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home. Ayad Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation’s unhealed wounds wreak havoc around the world.

The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Non-Fiction

A Promised Land

by Barack Obama

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

by Robert Kolker

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future

by James Shapiro

In a narrative arching across the centuries, leading scholar James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare’s four-hundred-year-old tragedies and comedies in illuminating the many concerns on which American identity has turned. Reflecting on how Shakespeare has been invoked—and at times weaponized—at pivotal moments in our past, Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams’s disgust with Desdemona’s interracial marriage to Othello, to Abraham Lincoln’s and his assassin John Wilkes Booth’s competing obsessions with the plays, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations Kiss Me, Kate and Shakespeare in Love.

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir

by Anna Wiener

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener―stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial―left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.

War: How Conflict Shaped Us

by Margaret MacMillan

The instinct to fight may be innate in human nature, but war—organized violence—comes with organized society. War has shaped humanity’s history, its social and political institutions, its values and ideas. Our very language, our public spaces, our private memories, and some of our greatest cultural treasures reflect the glory and the misery of war. War is an uncomfortable and challenging subject not least because it brings out both the vilest and the noblest aspects of humanity. 

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You can check out all of our online booklists (for kids and for adults), or reach out to us! Our staff is ready and willing to make reading, listening, or viewing recommendations to you! Email us at reference@benlib.org or contact us via our online form!

Miss Kyrie’s Picks! | Fiction for Tweens & Teens

Miss Kyrie from the Youth Services Department has hand-picked a selection of her current favorite books, movies, and audiobooks for tweens & teens! Do you like fantasy reads? Graphic novels? Tried-and-true classics? Miss Kyrie has something for you! 

  •  To see if an item is available to check out or place on hold, click the cover image or button to the right of the description.

Miss Kyrie Recommends...

Cinder

by Kathryn Otoshi

As plague ravages the overcrowded Earth, observed by a ruthless lunar people, Cinder, a gifted mechanic and cyborg, becomes involved with handsome Prince Kai and must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect the world in this futuristic take on the Cinderella story.

AGES: Teens

Sailor Moon R: The Movie

Long before Mamoru found his destiny with Usagi, he gave a single rose in thanks to a lonely boy who helped him recover from the crash that claimed his parents. This long-forgotten friend, Fiore, has been searching the galaxy for a flower worthy of that sweet gesture long ago. The mysterious flower he finds is beautiful, but has a dark side- it has the power to take over planets! To make matters worse, the strange plant is tied to an ominous new asteroid near Earth!

AGES: Teens

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley — a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry — and anyone who reads about him — will find unforgettable.

AGES: Grade school & tweens

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince is a classic tale of equal appeal to children and adults. On one level it is the story of an airman’s discovery, in the desert, of a small boy from another planet – the Little Prince of the title – and his stories of intergalactic travel, while on the other hand it is a thought-provoking allegory of the human condition.

AGES: Tweens & teens

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

AGES: Teens

His Dark Materials Omnibus

by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass are available together in one volume perfect for any fan or newcomer to this modern fantasy classic series. These thrilling adventures tell the story of Lyra and Will—two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them.

AGES: Tweens & teens

5 Worlds. Book 1: The Sand Warrior

by Mark Seigel

Think Star Wars meets Avatar: The Last Airbender! The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves—and more to their worlds—than meets the eye. . . .

AGES: Grade school

Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story

by Mary Downing Hahn

The spine-chilling tale begins when twelve-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother, Michael, learn that they’ll be moving to a refurbished old church in rural Maryland with their mother’s new husband, Dave, and their younger stepsister, Heather. Heather is an insufferable brat, but that turns out to be the least of the family’s worries. When she strikes up a friendship with Helen, the malevolent ghost of a seven-year-old girl who died in a mysterious fire more than a hundred years ago, things really heat up . . . and Heather’s unsettling threat, “Wait till Helen comes,” becomes a grim reality.

AGES: Grade school

Refugee

by Alan Gratz

Although separated by continents and decades, Josef, a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany; Isabel, a Cuban girl trying to escape the riots and unrest plaguing her country in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015 whose homeland is torn apart by violence and destruction, embark on harrowing journeys in search of refuge, discovering shocking connections that tie their stories together.

AGES: Tweens & teens

Read It, Then Watch It! | Book-to-Streaming Adaptations

Did you know that some of the most popular recent streaming titles are adaptations based on books? We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite book-to-streaming adaptations, and we’ll leave you to answer… Which was better: the book or the movie/series?

All of the books featured here we have in our collection! To see if a book is available to check out or place on hold, click the image or the “Find it!” button under each book. A subscription may be required to watch the movie or TV titles below.

In the backwoods of Ohio, Willard Russell’s wife is at death’s door, no matter how much he drinks, prays, or sacrifices animals at his “prayer log.” Meanwhile, his son Arvin is growing up, form a kid bullied at school into a man who knows when to take action. Around them swirl a nefarious cast of characters–a demented team of serial killers, a spider-eating preacher, and a corrupt local sheriff–all braided into a riveting narrative of the grittiest American grain.

Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular, well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. When Connell stops by Marianne’s house, a strange connection grows between the two teenagers, one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while shy Connell hangs at the sidelines. Throughout the years, they circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Their case seems ironclad. But Maitland has an alibi, and it turns out that his story has incontrovertible evidence of its own. How can two opposing stories be true? What happens to a family when an accusation of this magnitude is delivered? When must reason be abandoned in order to explain the inexplicable? Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face?

The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy. Chicago, 1954. When his father goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George, publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite, heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors, they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits. A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism, the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area. Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called ‘the Golden State Killer.’ Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

In an extraordinary feat of narrative invention, Philip Roth imagines an alternate history where Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to heroic aviator and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh. Shortly thereafter, Lindbergh negotiates a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism. For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh’s election is the first in a series of ruptures that threaten to destroy his small, safe corner of America-and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.

In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who had previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, ‘To save the world.’ These seven children form The Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.

With one week until the end of all crime in the United States, can the last heist in American history be pulled off? In the not-too-distant future as a final response to terrorism and crime, the US government plans in secret to broadcast a signal making it impossible for anyone to knowingly commit unlawful acts.

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