How Books Got Me Through 2020

Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the second in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. And if you’re in the mood for more book discussion, Mary wrote a fabulous guest post for NGN earlier this month about her favorite books of 2020.

I read 22 books this year.

(Technically, it’s more like 21.99 books at the time I’m writing this, but let’s round up for the sake of simplicity.)

For me, that’s a huge number. It’s almost double the number of books I read in 2019.

And yet I still found myself slightly nervous about sharing it. I found myself writing long-winded explanations about why I don’t read more—defenses mostly centered on a job in publishing and a past as an English major who read so many books in college she burned herself out for the next decade.

I found myself comparing my reading habits to those of everyone around me—and coming up short.

That’s when I knew I had to write about it.

Because that’s been my experience through much of 2020. Comparing myself to everyone around me—and coming up short.

I didn’t become an expert chef (or even a particularly functional one). I didn’t learn a new language or meditate every day or take up running. I didn’t write more blog posts or start a new hobby or even spend that much more time outside appreciating nature.

I didn’t become a more voracious reader or a reader of more respectable literature.

And for most of this year, I beat myself up about all of it.

But then, I thought about those 21.99 books. And like they have for my entire life, the books guided me to the exact lesson I needed.

Your story doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s to be good enough. You should never feel bad about or downplay something that makes you happy. You should embrace it. And if you have the strength, you should share it.

And if the way I shared books with loved ones, talked about them with friends, and got excited to read them with my morning coffee was any indication, every single one of those precious 21.99 books I read this year made me happy.

And now I want to share it.

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Guest Post: A Year in Books

Today, we have a little treat in the form of a “Best of 2020” list from one of my favorite fellow Nerdy Girls, Mary! This deep dive into best books she read this year (which didn’t all come out in 2020) feels like a perfect way to introduce her to all of you, since Mary and I met working at a library back when we were baby fangirls still talking about Twilight. I trust Mary’s thoughts on books more than I trust my own, so I hope all of you enjoy this beautiful summary of a year in literature and a year in the life of an honest, open-hearted woman I’m lucky to call my friend.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic and unbridled anxiety to reignite a lost love of reading! We all know this year has been a lot, to put 2020 in the most reductive framing possible. I’ve been mostly stuck inside for month after month, feeling the walls closing in, physically and mentally. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were mostly thinking this would be done in a few weeks while we all baked bread and became experts in the fields of big cats and true crime, I was not thriving. My spouse and several of my family members work in healthcare. I have a sister-in-law who works as a teacher, another as a social worker. Too many relatives were vulnerable. My nieces, nephews, and my friends’ children all seemed SO young and SO fragile all of a sudden. My sleepless nights turned into weeks then months. I was not doing well. I felt like I was walking around a room inside my head, and every day the walls were closing in a little bit more. My brain was thinking too much and too fast, and I needed an escape.

Confusingly, while I felt like I was losing my mind, I was also feeling really…bored. None of my usual hobbies could keep my attention. So I charged up my Kindle, installed the Kindle app on my phone, got a second library card, signed up for Kindle Unlimited, and even signed up for Audible. I was off like a shot. I was a desperately unstoppable reading force! By the time December rolled around I realized I had read a whopping (as of writing this sentence) 85 books. Friends, I have NEVER read this many books in my entire life. Even during my book-crazed youth! So what does one do, exactly, after reading 85 books in one year? They ask their friend if they can hijack their blog to write a top 10(ish) list of the books they read!

Before I begin the list, I’d like to make it clear that I can’t in all honesty say books alone saved me. But they opened the door I needed. By escaping into fictional worlds like I used to when I was young, I got to breathe. I could open a book with certain expectations, and watch them unfold. Watch the heroine win the hero’s heart. Watch a great evil crumble. See justice played out. Look back in time and be reassured things have been this bad (or worse!) before and we persevered. So then I reached out to friends and told them honestly that I was Not Okay and we’d commiserate. I talked with my boss about my struggles to have any motivation or focus. I got in touch with a therapist. I listened to folklore a lot. (A LOT). And slowly, I began to adjust. So, without any further ado, here are the books that I’ve fallen into—the books that became my flashlight in a very dark year.

10 – The Bride Test by Helen Hoang: Do you want a book that feels like a hug? That features language and cultural differences, a neurodivergent hero and immigrant heroine written by an own voice author? The Bride Test is a sequel to The Kiss Quotenet, and this was one of the books I read earlier in the pandemic. Khai and Esme are genuinely some of the sweetest characters I’ve had the pleasure to read. Esme lives in Ho Chi Man City and works as a cleaner in a hotel. When her paths cross with Co Nga, our hero’s mother, in a hotel bathroom, she is presented with an interesting offer: move to America and marry her son. And while I’m normally not much for books where one character either doesn’t realize or doesn’t acknowledge they are in love, it made so much sense within the context of this story. Khai has autism, but Esme never sees that as a negative, instead seeing him as a whole person right from the beginning. Esme is a strong woman, but her strength is never her only characteristic. She is smart, driven, loving, vulnerable, kind, scared, focused, and shy. I cannot stress enough how utterly charmed I was by this book. The next book in this series, The Heart Principle, is expected in 2021. Read this book if you like fun contemporaries, friends to lovers, POC representation, or descriptions of a really good dress.

Quotes: “It wasn’t loneliness if it could be eradicated with work or a Netflix marathon or a good book. Real loneliness would stick with you all the time. Real loneliness would hurt you nonstop.”

“In a split second, she redefined perfection for him. His standards aligned to her exact proportions and measurements. No one else would ever live up to her.”

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Nerdy Girl Reads: Every Day

Title: Every Day

Author: David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, How They Met and Other Stories, The Lover’s Dictionary)

Genre: Young adult/romance

Page Count: 322

The Basics: Every Day is told from the point of view of A, a 16-year-old who wakes up in the body of a different 16-year-old every day. Some days, A is a girl; some days A is a boy. Some days A lives a happy life; some days A inhabits a body that is depressed, addicted to drugs, or suicidal. A has learned to live with this existence, trying to refrain from interfering with any aspect of the lives he inhabits, until the day he wakes up in the body of a boy named Justin and falls in love with Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that day on, A is determined to find Rhiannon again, with far-reaching consequences. And once A does find her again, can she truly love a person whose appearance, whose life, changes every day?

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Beach Reading Cheat Sheet

August is right around the corner, and that means it’s time to enjoy these last few weeks of summer with some sunshine and a good book. Summer reading has been an essential part of my life since I was a kid, and the urge to pick up a good book by the pool, on the beach, or on a road trip didn’t go away after the high school reading assignments ended.

There’s a great summer book out there for everyone—from those who love romance to sci-fi and fantasy fans. And I’m happy to take some of the guesswork out of it for you. So before you drive to the library or visit the bookstore, take a look at this list. These selections are all Nerdy Girl-approved for an enjoyable end-of-summer reading binge.

For the Nonfiction Fan: Summer can be a great time to learn about different people, places, and historical events. It’s also a fantastic time to sit in the sun with a fascinating memoir or a collection of comedic essays.

My Recommendations:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling) – No book has made me laugh harder than this one.
  • The Game (Ken Dryden) – If you’re a sports fan (especially a hockey fan), this is a must-read.
  • Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. (Sam Wasson) – This behind-the-scenes look at the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a compelling book for anyone interested in feminism, 1960s culture, or film history.

For the Series Addict: There’s no time like the summer to start (and probably finish) a great book series. From mystery to fantasy, there are plenty of captivating series to get hooked on before the summer is done.

My Recommendations:

  • A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin) – The books may be long, but the detail and depth behind each of the characters and their interactions makes this a series that transcends the fantasy genre to appeal to a broad range of readers.
  • The Nikki Heat series (Richard Castle) – I’ll admit it; the first two books in this three (soon to be four) book series were not exactly great pieces of literature, but they’re fun and fast reads (which is exactly what most people look for in a beach book). And for fans of the TV show Castle, these books (meant to be the ones written by the show’s titular character) are not to be missed.
  • The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins) and the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling) – If you haven’t read either one of these series, you’re missing out on two massive cultural phenomena and some great literature as well. If you’ve already read them, I highly recommend a summer reread; it’ll open your eyes to new things to love and appreciate in these books.

For the Classics Lover: Summertime is a great time to visit the “Reading List” section of your local library or bookstore and pick up one of the classics that you always meant to read but never did in high school or college.

My Recommendations:

  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) – What it lacks in length (which makes it a great plane or road-trip book) it more than makes up for in depth. This is the ultimate American classic that truly stands the test of time. Read it before the movie comes out this winter.
  • Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) – Summer is the perfect time to find a shady spot under a tree and truly understand the beauty and freedom that Whitman’s poems are about.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – This novel should be required reading for all members of the human race, and I don’t say that lightly.

For the Literature Snob: For some people, the summer affords enough time to explore depths one can only find in great literature. The long days of summer are the perfect backdrop for hours spent analyzing the language and meaning behind contemporary masterpieces by world-renowned writers.

My Recommendations:

  • Atonement (Ian McEwan) – With its sweeping love story, lush language, and intricate plotting, this gorgeous novel is one to dive headfirst into and get lost in for hours.
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – A post-apocalyptic novel that is more drama than action, this novel touches on topics as deep as parent-child relationships, innocence in the face of pure evil, and the value of hope in situations that define hopelessness. In other words, it’s not your average beach read.
  • Brokeback Mountain (E. Annie Proulx) – A novella that can be read in the span of one lazy summer afternoon, this is a truly breathtaking piece of writing. Its style, its themes, and its content manage to be both timeless and groundbreaking, grandiose and intimate.

For the Hopeless Romantic: For many (including myself on many occasions), a summer book is only as good as its love story. But before you pick up Fifty Shades of Grey, give these a try.

My Recommendations:

  • The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) – This love story features some of the most exquisite prose I’ve ever read. Have your tissues ready because there will be tears, caused by the novel’s beauty as well as its heartbreaking subject matter.
  • Dedication (Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus) – This novel about first love and the struggle to move beyond it is creative in its plot and captivating in its execution. It’s sweet, it’s surprisingly sexy, and it’s ultimately a very empowering story.
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) – One of the original “chick lit” classics, this novel is one that most single girls can relate to…whether we want to admit to it or not. Its quick pacing and sharp sense of humor make it a great beach read.

Summertime is the perfect time to give literature a chance, even if you’re not usually a voracious reader. Take some time to peruse the aisles of a bookstore or the pages of and see what stands out to you.

What will I be reading for the rest of this summer? In my beach bag, I’ve packed The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky), Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk), and Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter). I’ve also got the last two-thirds of Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) waiting in the wings.

What’s on your ultimate summer reading list?