Book recs

I read 50 books in 2020. Here are my top 5.

By Micaela Cashman

Micaela Cashman is a Des Moines writer, classic rock music enthusiast, and power-reading friend of Storyhouse Bookpub.

Toward the end of 2019, I naively set a goal to read 50 books in one year. That averages out to one book a week. That’s doable, right? Maybe when I was 13 and didn’t have a job, hobbies, yard work, home projects, etc. And the books I read were 150 pages, max. By the end of February, I was very much behind on my reading goal.

And then, COVID.

Thanks to the pandemic (insert huge eyeroll here), I hit my goal by the end of November. Of those 50 books, here are my five favorites.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

What a time I picked to finally read Station Eleven, in which most of the world’s population has been wiped out due to a pandemic. I definitely felt my throat dry as I read sentences like, “Jeevan was crushed by a sudden certainty that this was it…the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through his life.”

But I adored Station Eleven. The characters felt so hopeful—not necessarily about their situation—but their spirit, their perseverance…it was inspiring. When I read the last words, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

2. Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graffreleases March 2021

It’s not every day I get two pages into a novel and think “Oh, I LOVE this book!” But Andrew J. Graff inundates you with vivid, electrifying prose from beginning to end. I could practically see “Stand by Me”-esque scenes coming to life in my living room as I read. Follow two young boys as they flee into the wilderness to escape the crime they just committed in their tiny rural town. You’ll fall in love with both of them, along with the adults who try to bring them home. Put this on your pre-order list.

3. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age is at once a timely masterpiece and a classic we’ll be talking about for years. It so perfectly captures the cringe-worthiness of our society. You have a young Black woman, who nearly gets arrested when she’s caught doing her job. And the white woman, who employs the Black woman, feels the need to prove she’s not racist. I could identify with elements of both these women, thanks to Kiley Reid’s rich character development.

Reality TV fans, Kelley reminded me so much of a certain “Love Is Blind” contestant—see if you can figure out which one it is.

4. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I was going to start by saying, “If you love VH1’s ‘Behind the Music,’ you’ll love Daisy Jones and the Six.” But then I thought, even if you don’t love “Behind the Music,” have never seen “Behind the Music,” have never even listened to one second of music in your life, you’ll love Daisy Jones and the Six. Written as an oral history of a band’s meteoric rise in the 1970s, the book is all dialogue—there’s so much reading between the lines to be done. I finished it in two days.

5. My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

In the musical “Hamilton,” Eliza declares she’s taking herself “out of the narrative.” My Dear Hamilton relies heavily on research to imagine what she would have said—and thought—throughout all of Hamilton’s antics. The result? Equal parts drama, romance, political thriller, and feminist novel spanning 600+ pages just begging to be turned.

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