Local bookstores like Loyalty have had to reinvent their business model again and again since the pandemic started.

Local bookstores like Loyalty have had to reinvent their business model again and again since the pandemic started.

This year, many of us have looked to reading for a respite from our own lives — and from the world as it is. And, if there’s one bright spot in 2020, it was, indeed, great books.

So, whether you’re looking to curl up with a new book or give the gift of reading this holiday season, tune in, listen and share your suggestions. We’re talking the very best books of the year.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Ron Charles Book World Critic, The Washington Post; @RonCharles
  • Tayla Burney Author, "Get Lit D.C." newsletter
  • Hannah Oliver Depp Owner, Loyalty Bookstores

The Books WAMU Staff and Listeners Loved Most


  • 12:00:18

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. This year many of us have looked to reading as a respite from our lives and from the world as it is. And if there's one bright spot in 2020 it is indeed great books. So what was the best book you read this year? We asked and you answered.

  • 12:00:43

    OLIVERMy name is Oliver. I'm five. My favorite book I read this year is Desmond Cole "Ghost Patrol: Ghosts Don't Ride Bikes, Do They?"

  • 12:00:53

    UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 1I really loved "A Man Called Ove" by Frederik Backman.

  • 12:00:56

    JULIAThe best book that I read in 2020 was "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel.

  • 12:01:02

    UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 2One of the best books I read this year was "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women" by Valerie Young.

  • 12:01:08

    RUTHThe best book I read this year was "Superman Smashes the Klan" by Gene Luen Yang.

  • 12:01:13

    CATHERINEI've read a lot of books this year, but I think my favorite was "Confessions of the Fox" by Jordy Rosenberg.

  • 12:01:18

    CHRISThe best thing that I read this year was "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong.

  • 12:01:22

    UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 3It's titled "Solitary" written by Albert Woodfox.

  • 12:01:26

    CHRISMy read of the year is Kim Stanley Robinson's "New York 2140".

  • 12:01:31

    AVERYThe most impactful book I read this year was "Why Buddhism is True" by Robert Wright.

  • 12:01:37

    UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 4I loved Rachel Kadish's "The Weight of Ink," a novel and mystery which toggles between modern London and London during Shakespeare's time.

  • 12:01:45

    BRUCEMy favorite was "The Splendid and the Vile" by Erik Larsen.

  • 12:01:50

    MIKAELA LEFRAKMy favorite book that I've read all year is "Disappearing Earth" by Juliet Phillips.

  • 12:01:55

    GEOFFREY"Such a Fun Age" is such a good book for our times.

  • 12:01:58

    2It deals with imposter's syndrome and it made me realize how common it is among women and provided ways to kind of stop the self-sabotage and just really embrace your own power.

  • 12:02:09

    CATHERINEAnd honestly I think the thing that kept me most engaged was the footnotes. I am such a sucker for footnotes.

  • 12:02:15

    CHRISIn this crazy trying year, it's nice to read about people actually rising to meet those challenges even if it's just fiction.

  • 12:02:20

    RUTHAnd it may look like it's for kids, but there are a lot of themes here that resonate with people of all ages and backgrounds.

  • 12:02:26

    LEFRAKThis is a book I just could not put down.

  • 12:02:29

    AVERYThat really convinced me to start on my path of meditation. I've been meditating four times a week or so throughout the pandemic. And I really think it's helped me manage what has been such a difficult time.

  • 12:02:43

    JULIAToday isn't that great, but at least I'm not roaming the earth hunting for my food or anything.

  • 12:02:48

    4Rachel Candice imagines the circumstances in which a female contemporary of Shakespeare's could find her literary voice.

  • 12:02:55

    UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 5The book pulls you forward with well-drawn characters and an engaging plot.

  • 12:03:00

    1It's just really lovable in the end. And who doesn't need that right now.

  • 12:03:06

    NNAMDIHey, a big thanks to the WAMU staff and listeners particularly five-year-old Oliver who shared their recommended reading. You can find all of the titles they shared at kojoshow.org. Joining us now to discuss the best books of 2020 is Hannah Oliver Depp, the Owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring. Hannah, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:03:28

    HANNAH OLIVER DEPPSo excited to be here.

  • 12:03:29

    NNAMDITayla Burney is an avid reader and Writer who's book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and Washington Independent Review, a longtime public radio producer. Tayla is also behind the weekly literary newsletter "Get Lit D.C." Tayla's also former producer on this broadcast. Tayla, always a pleasure.

  • 12:03:48

    TAYLA BURNEYHey, Kojo.

  • 12:03:51

    NNAMDIAnd also joining us is Ron Charles. He's a Critic for The Washington Post Book World and Host of the "Totally Hip Book Review." Ron Charles, welcome.

  • 12:04:00

    RON CHARLESI'm just wiping my eyes hear from that montage you began with. That was gorgeous.

  • 12:04:05

    NNAMDIIt really was indeed especially our very young person, who started the whole thing, Oliver. Ron, since you're the book critic, let's start with you. Of all the books you read this year, what are a few that stand apart?

  • 12:04:19

    CHARLESIt's always hard. But "Homeland Elegies" by Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. He's written this autobiographical novel about his Pakistani immigrant father who's a big Trump lover and his own life and what they went through as the country became so violent, so shrill. And it's just a beautiful book, a wise book. It just explains so much about our era. So that is my top choice for the year, but close behind would be "Transcendent Kingdom" by Yaa Gyasi, beautiful story about a neuroscientist in Stanford who has to take care of her Evangelical mother who doesn't believe in science at all and so it's this really searching exploration of the tension between spirituality and science. So those would be my two top.

  • 12:05:07

    NNAMDIAnd, Ron, this has been a big year for reading as a form of escape. Which books do you think did it best?

  • 12:05:14

    CHARLESGosh, well, some of them did it with comedy. You know, like Christopher Buckley's hilarious book "Make Russia Great Again." But that won't take you very far from the Trump era, because that's what it's all about. Other books took us far away in time. Maggie O'Farrell's beautiful book "Hamnet" about Shakespeare's only son, who died so young really takes you out of this era, but it is a very devastatingly sad book.

  • 12:05:42

    NNAMDII was thinking I saw a movie last year at an independent theater called "All is True" which was also about Hamnet, who was Shakespeare's son.

  • 12:05:52

    CHARLESYeah. It's a really sad story.

  • 12:05:53

    NNAMDIFascinating story. Ron, in your review of Lily King's "Writers & Lovers" you wrote, "Please, don't do this. Don't write a novel about trying to write a novel. It's cliché and insular and lazy, just don't do it unless it's this novel." What makes this book so joyful?

  • 12:06:11

    CHARLESI love this book. Oh, my god. When I started it I just groaned. "Oh, my gosh, another book about a novelist, who can't write a novel." But I mean, it totally won me over. And it's so beautiful. I've given it -- my wife's read it. My daughter, my friends have read it. My boss read it. Everyone loves this book. "Writers & Lovers" by Lily King. It's about a young woman in Boston who is writer, but also a waitress and overcoming the grief of losing her mother. And it is the feel good novel of the year. I mean, it starts so sad and then by the end you're just weeping with joy.

  • 12:06:39

    NNAMDIHere is Kirsten in Arlington, Virginia. Kirsten, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:06:45

    KIRSTENHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me and thank you to all your guests. I'm actually callingfor my son who's in school, but he wanted me to call you to tell you that he has loved reading "The Sky School" books. And he wanted to see if you could ever have the author of those books. His name is Stuart Gibbs.

  • 12:07:06

    NNAMDIWell, we're taking notes even as you speak. And so please tell your son -- and what's his name?

  • 12:07:13

    KIRSTENHis name is Elijah.

  • 12:07:15

    NNAMDIPlease, tell Elijah thank you very much for joining our conversation even though he couldn't do it in person. Hannah Oliver Depp is the Owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth in Silver Spring. Hannah, we'll get to the rest of Ron's list in a moment, because I know it's quite expensive. But first, another dear friend of the show is Hannah. And as an independent bookstore owner, what books are you seeing at the top of people's lists these days? And just a note, we'll go deeper into the antiracist literature in a moment. Hannah.

  • 12:07:45

    DEPPAbsolutely. I mean, several of the books that Ron mentioned are huge on people's lists. "Transcendent Kingdom" has been a runaway hit and deservedly so. It's the follow-up to her first book "Home Going" which has been a steady seller I think at Independence for the last few years, because world of mouth -- as soon as you read a book by Yaa, you immediately want to pass it on to someone. So it's a great gift and it's been I think the right amount of healing and also pushing on some tough sore spots in American culture. So that's been a big hit.

  • 12:08:20

    DEPPAnd then, you know, we've had a huge runaway hit and it's one of my favorites with the book "Legendborn" by Tracy Deonn, which is an Arthurian retelling that takes place in the Bullard's Campus in North Carolina. So it's a really unexpected magical, wonderful book as several folks, who've read it have said to me a book dealing with intergenerational racial trauma and Welsh mythology shouldn't be this fun.

  • 12:08:50

    NNAMDIYoung people in particular, Hannah, what books would you recommend for young people?

  • 12:08:54

    DEPPAbsolutely. For young people, you're talking, you know, middle school and above, I'd recommend Ben Philippe's "Charming as a Verb". It's delightful, wonderful, warm story about two young people finding themselves in a high pressure situation. A great adventure is "Song Below Water," a tale of two mermaids, which I utterly adored. And then for the kind of the picture book, your younger age, those who are just beginning to read, the Mia Mayhem series I cannot recommend highly enough. There is now nine books in the series. It's for those kids who are a little bit beyond picture books but not quite reading fully chapter books on their own.

  • 12:09:35

    DEPPAnd we've had such great picture books out this year. Some classics coming out in paperback as well as really wonderful, new picture books. "The Old Truck" has been big success for us. It's a surprisingly sweet story. And one of the things that I've very passionate about as you know, Kojo, is books that feature diverse characters that aren't necessarily about struggle. So, you know, books like that that feature characters of color or queer characters who are living their lives and having wonderful small and big adventures are important to us. So things like "The Old Truck," "Magnificent Homespun Brown." And then, of course, we have really, really beautiful book called "If I had a Sleepy Sloth" which is about a wonderful, young brown lady hanging out with a sloth. Who doesn't want to do that?

  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDIHere's Marshall in Baltimore, who can't linger for long. So ahead, please, Marshall, you're on the air.

  • 12:10:34

    MARSHALLHi. I actually read "The Stand" by Stephen King this year for the very first time. I actually have about 100 pages left. And when I was younger the cover of that book always terrified me. And reading it now, I think it's terrifying for a whole different set of reasons than the author originally intended. But it turned to out to be quite prescient in a lot of weird ways.

  • 12:10:55

    NNAMDIWell, his character Cujo also terrified me, but that's because he shared a name similar to mine, but that was a dog. But thank you very much for your call. Tayla Burney, tell me about some of the best books you read this year starting with literary fiction and, of course, Tayla's literary newsletter called "Get Lit D.C." not "Get It Lit D.C." like I might have said earlier. Go ahead, Tayla.

  • 12:11:17

    BURNEYI really loved "The Vanishing Half" Brit Bennet's sophomore novel that came out this year. It's a beautiful story about family. It's these two twin sisters who grew up in the small southern that's a Black town, but where being light skinned is really praised and they run away from home. One ends up coming back and the other never comes back and ends up passing for white. And I thought it was just a really beautiful novel and I so loved Bennet's debut "The Mothers" and thought this really lived up to that, which has be an anxious thing for a second time novelist. So loved that so much.

  • 12:11:53

    BURNEYI know that Ron has mentioned "Hamnet," which I will say when I read his review I was like, "I don't know, Ron, plague, dead kid, not sold on this. This is not necessarily what I want to do this year." But I will tell you it is going to stay with me for a really long time. I loved that novel so much, and especially loved that effectively Shakespeare is this like secondary almost non-character in it. And really the light shines on his wife in that novel. And I also loved Courtney Sullivan's "Friends and Strangers."

  • 12:12:25

    NNAMDIOkay. Whatever happened to plague this year not this year, well, she overcame that. Read the book and loved it. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:49

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about winter reading or frankly year round reading given the kind of year we've had. We're talking with Ron Charles. He's a Critic for The Washington Post Book World and Host of the "Totally Hip Book Review." Hannah Oliver Depp is the Owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring. And Tayla Burney is an avid reader and Writer whose book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and Washington Independent Review, a long time public radio producer. Tayla is also behind the weekly literary newsletter "Get Lit D.C."

  • 12:13:16

    NNAMDITayla, we need to talk about short stories. There were a couple of local authors in particular you wanted to give shout-outs to. And I know one of them was on this show quite recently.

  • 12:13:27

    BURNEYYes. Danielle Evans, I really love her writing so much. "The Office of Historical Corrections" is her newest collection of short stories and a novella which shares the title with the book. And her characters are just so beautiful. She's incredibly talented and what I love about her characters in particular is that they are people you may not ever encounter in your day to day life. They may not be people in your orbit. Yet there's something relatable about them in most circumstances. And I just -- I'm so thrilled to have another book of hers in hand and have enjoyed it so much.

  • 12:14:03

    NNAMDII am now personally lobbying for an "Office of Historical Corrections" here in Washington, but that's another story.

  • 12:14:10

    BURNEYI mean, that is though such a timely idea, right? Like when I started that novella I was like, oh, yes, the idea of having some sort of arm that is responsible for correcting mistruth is a really compelling idea at this particular moment in time. And something I had actually been thinking a lot about before picking the book up, which is a funny sort of thing.

  • 12:14:32

    NNAMDIThey can be deployed all over public transportation.

  • 12:14:36

    BURNEYI mean, we have so much use for them.

  • 12:14:38


  • 12:14:39

    BURNEYAnd the other collection that I loved that I started right as everything was sort of shutting down this spring which seemed like incredible timing is "And I Do Not Forgive You" by Amber Sparks. It is a fierce book. I would describe Amber as fierce writer. And these are stories that are strange and sublime and angry and ridiculous. I love her as a writer, because she's not afraid to write really short. Some of the stories are only maybe three pages long, which I think was particularly good for a reader this spring and maybe at any moment this year. But she's just so, so good and sharp and witty and clever. And, you know, in some cases really angry, which I think again sort of has fit some of our moods this year.

  • 12:15:26

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from S who tweets, "For the second time this decade, the best book I read this year was by Isabel Wilkerson. In 2020 it was "Cast," which explained a lot about this country. So has obviously her previous book "The Warmth of Other Suns." Hannah, while a lot of people have looked to books for respite I think there are many of us who struggle especially early on to find the time or energy for reading. What helped you get out of your own reading rut?

  • 12:15:56

    DEPPWhat a question. It really was tough. Someone who lives for a living suddenly not being able to read was quite difficult. I was lucky enough to judge the National Book Award for non-fiction this year with four other incredible judges. So I was sort of -- didn't have a choice. There was several hundred books bearing down on me that needed to be read. I found reading outside of genres that I normally read to actually really jumpstart my brain back into reading. I am not a young adult fiction reader, but I found myself reading some young adults and that really helped to get me back into the groove of reading.

  • 12:16:38

    DEPPAnd then another time when I was struggling I read an old favorite. I went back to T.H. White and read "The Once and Future King" which is a constant fav or mine. Then suddenly I was able to read again. So different tricks for different moments, but I do recommend getting outside of your comfort zone or getting way into it, one of the two.

  • 12:16:58

    NNAMDIIndeed. Tayla, I'm wondering if you faced this struggle as well and what recommendations you have for readers who felt kind of stuck and exhausted by this moment we're living in.

  • 12:17:08

    BURNEYYeah. You know, I think it is challenging to find a book that matches your mood right now when you're mood is sort vacillating moment to moment. And I will say "Weather" by Jenny Offill, which got a lot of attention earlier in the year was a great read, because it sort of captures the head spinning nature of modern life, but in a much more elegant and organized literary way than our brains are sort of working right now.

  • 12:17:34

    BURNEYSo I thought that was a great fit. I also like Hannah sort of pushed myself into genres I don't normally read. I've read a lot of romance this year. "Beach Read" was a particular favorite by Emily Henry. And then similarly as well, I went to some old standbys and old favorites. I love short stories. I love mysteries. There's some great series out there like all the Louise Penny books, the Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series, which is a ton of fun. Things like that that I knew I would love and sort of feel at home in. I sort of tried to go to both the trusted and to push myself a little bit. Short stories are also great for this moment.

  • 12:18:16

    NNAMDIHere now is 10 year old Karem in Maryland. You're on the air. Go ahead, please. It is Karem or Kirem?

  • 12:18:24


  • 12:18:27

    NNAMDIHi, Kirem.

  • 12:18:27

    KIREMMy favorite book was -- I kind of read a series this year called Percy Jackson. It's really good. I recommend it a lot. But it's really good for people especially if they like mythology. It's kind of action packed this year. Since like we're stuck in our homes and all, I usually -- I've gotten a bit into reading.

  • 12:18:52

    NNAMDIAs a result of being stuck at home?

  • 12:18:55


  • 12:18:56

    NNAMDIWell, we're very glad to hear that even though when you're not stuck at home it would be great if you would continue reading. Do you plan on doing that?

  • 12:19:03


  • 12:19:05

    NNAMDIWell, good.

  • 12:19:05

    KIREMI'm kind of reading the Narnia too.

  • 12:19:07

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call and your recommendation. But, Ron Charles, if one is looking for escapism then one should probably not read "A Children's Bible." Why not?

  • 12:19:19

    CHARLESNo. It's a great book. And it's one of my favorites "The Children's Bible" By Lydia Millet. She is always so smart and witty. This is a book about climate change, but it really sneaks up on you. It's about a bunch of families that get together and rent a big house and go on vacation, but then the weather turns terribly bad and the adults are separated from the children. And it becomes this very strange metaphor for the way we adults have completely screwed up the climate and left this mess for our kids to fix.

  • 12:19:49

    NNAMDIWhoa. Here is Lorrie in Washington D.C. Lorrie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:56

    LORRIEHi, Kojo and Hannah and Ron and Tayla. I just wanted to give a shout-out to two books that I really loved, two fiction books. I've had a lot of trouble reading as well this year. But I loved "Valentine" by Elizabeth Wetmore and "Deacon King Kong" by James McBride. I don't know if anybody has some feedback on those.

  • 12:20:27

    NNAMDII loved "Deacon King Kong." I loved "Deacon King Kong." I read that.

  • 12:20:31

    LORRIEYeah. Just a -- great characters, great rhythm, great redemptive ending, which I really appreciate at this point. And "Valentine" is very different. It's set in West Texas in the 70s in an oil boom. And that's where I grew up in the 70s in West Texas during an oil boom and it is a fiercely, violent feminist novel that just grabbed everything about it. It was a debut from Elizabeth Wetmore.

  • 12:21:10

    NNAMDILorrie, you have been a guest on this show before. Tell us the name of your bookstore.

  • 12:21:14

    LORRIEEast City Book Shop on Capitol Hill.

  • 12:21:17

    NNAMDIOkay, good. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Lorrie. Didn't want to let you go without that. Our own Margaret Barthel who is a former producer on this show and now works for WAMU in the news department, she tweeted to us, "My favorite book of the year was "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. The prose may be from the 1870s, but wow. They were moments where I felt like I was reading a painting."

  • 12:21:41

    NNAMDIA listener tweets, "Just finished the "Long Flight Home" about carrier pigeons in occupied France. I've been drawn to fiction set during World War II as it helps keep my current hardship in perspective." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:22:11

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We've been discussing books and reading. Ron Charles, at the start of the pandemic some readers gravitated toward dystopian fiction books. Like Emily St. John Mandel "Station Eleven" became very popular once again. That author has a new book out this year, but another kind of apocalypse. What can you tell us about "The Glass Hotel?"

  • 12:22:32

    CHARLESYeah, Emily St. John Mandel always has her finger on the news. I don't know how. The books take years to write. But they seem to come out at just the right moment. "The Glass Hotel" is a really cool thriller inspired by the Bernie Madoff scam. And so it's about how we are deceived, how we deceive each other and financial calamities. And it was published just as the stock market collapsed and the economy went into that tailspin. It's entirely different than her last book, which was about a plague, but again, it seems right off the news.

  • 12:23:02

    NNAMDIYes, especially when those of us who remember Bernie Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme.

  • 12:23:10

    CHARLESIt's just hard to imagine isn't it?

  • 12:23:11

    NNAMDIThat was a kind of horror story of its own. You may have mentioned this before, but you probably need to talk about it again. "Transcendent Kingdom" about it you wrote, "A double helix of wisdom and rage twists through the quiet lines of this novel." What makes this book so remarkable?

  • 12:23:29

    CHARLESWell, I'm always interested in the way literary fiction deals with spirituality, particularly when it treats it seriously and not condescendingly. And this book really does that. I mean, it's about, as I said, this neuroscientist at Stanford who's trying to figure out the neurological sources of addiction and depression. And, at the same time, she's dealing with her mother, who is severely depressed and has to come live with her to recover. But her mother won't go to therapy, won't take any psychotropic drugs, won't get any -- you know, the kind of help that her daughter wants her to get, because she just wants to pray about this. She wants to rely on her faith.

  • 12:24:02

    CHARLESAnd so, both sides disagree, the mother and the daughter, but they treat each other with love and respect. And what I love is that the novel treats both sides with love and respect, too. I thought it was a really -- and, of course, she's such a gorgeous writer, and it's totally different than her previous book, which I always loved. But that was more of a "I'm going with more of a collection of short stories tied together." This is just a few weeks in one place, very thoughtful and beautifully done.

  • 12:24:29

    NNAMDIHere's Robin in Albany, New York. Robin, your turn.

  • 12:24:34

    ROBINHi. It's so great to hear all these great suggestions. I've done a lot of reading in the pandemic. I think it's just really helped me center, and I just wanted to mention a few. The book "Shuggie Bain," which just recently won the Booker. It's a debut novel that's just a masterpiece. It's this man wrote about -- very autobiographical about his time growing up in Glasgow, in poverty. The son of his mother was very -- a severe alcoholic, and he is also kind of an "other," because he is queer. It's so well written. It just grabbed me.

  • 12:25:16

    ROBINAnother book that's a new book is "The Boy in the Field," by Margot Livesey. And it's the first one I've ever read by her. And the thing that just really warmed my heart was later, one of the characters, the three siblings, he adopts a dog, and just how she treated that rescue dog and how that dog kind of affected their lives.

  • 12:25:39

    ROBINI also read the book "The Exiles." My father got really ill during the pandemic, and this book was kind of an anchor to me when I was down in Baltimore and helping to care for him. And it's a beautiful book to hold and you have, like, the beveled edges. And it's about these women who are sent to Australia from England in the criminal colony in the 1800s, I think.

  • 12:26:07


  • 12:26:08

    ROBINAnd then the last book I wanted to share is "Enchanted April." And it's from 1922, and my book club picked it, and they were like, oh, it's a light book, which didn't really entice me, but it was lovely. And it's about four very different women in England and sharing a house and how that affects their lives.

  • 12:26:28

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for sharing those with us. Tayla and Ron, I'd like to talk genres. How do you describe fiction about love, marriage and family? Some call it romance, but really, most of these are dramas about, well, life. First you, Tayla.

  • 12:26:44

    BURNEYYeah, I mean, I think that they are dramas about life. I think, you know, life is full of falling in and out of love and families that are varying degrees of messy, perhaps. And, you know, I think that I love a messy fictional family and I love -- you know, I have gravitated more towards romance. I mentioned "Beach Read," earlier.

  • 12:27:05

    BURNEYFor me, I also love mystery, and actually read a really great ghost story, which was a backlist pick. But "The Woman in Black" by Susan Hill, if you love ghost stories. It had slipped by me before, but it's so atmospheric and transporting. But, yeah, these are about the things that we all experience. And, you know, whether they sort of get put into a genre category or a literary fiction, you know, I think we've talked so many times about what do these categories even mean, you know. But they're wonderful reads.

  • 12:27:36

    BURNEYI think, you know, Lisa Cole, who's known for her romance, wrote a thriller this year that's going to stick with me for a long time, "When No One is Watching." Kojo, when I worked for you on the show, I think when I started, we used to talk about the plan here in D.C., this idea of gentrification, and especially east of the river, with this sort of like, okay, you know, conspiracy theory.

  • 12:27:56

    BURNEYAnd I think, you know, as time has gone on, you see more and more how that came to be and how people still sort of believe that idea and where that comes from. I think, you know, this novel that Cole has written really takes that idea and runs with it, and it's so compelling and gripping. So, I think that, you know, a lot of genre fiction really is just amplifying what we experience and see in our lives.

  • 12:28:20

    NNAMDIIt's fascinating. Ron, same question to you. What's your approach to genres? How do you describe fiction about love, marriage, families?

  • 12:28:27

    CHARLESWell, we used to call that women's fiction, but then a number of very smart women began to say, wait a minute, these are just books about life. They're the same stories the men are telling. You don't call those women's fiction. And so that term was, fortunately, retired a long time ago. Yeah, those are just books about (laugh) -- I guess we could still call it domestic fiction, but those kind of labels just don't work anymore. I agree with Tayla.

  • 12:28:52

    NNAMDIAnd, Hannah, this was a remarkable year for nonfiction. What titles are you recommending?

  • 12:29:00

    DEPPOoh, good question. It was a remarkable year for nonfiction. There's a few different things that I've been recommending very highly, one of which is "White Tears/Brown Scars" by Ruby Hamad. She's actually an Australian scholar, but the book is really about white feminism and the limitations thereof when dealing with liberating everyone. It's an incredibly engaging, well-written read that I think really gets into a lot of what we're struggling here with in terms of working together on the left.

  • 12:29:37

    DEPPAnother thing we recommend really, really highly has been "Chocolate City" which is not a new book. It's from a couple years ago, but speaking, you know, to what Tayla was talking about. It's a history of race and democracy in D.C. It's a book about why D.C. is the way it is. It's an incredible history book. It's a big 'un. It's a tome, but people really seem to enjoy it.

  • 12:30:02

    NNAMDIIndeed. Here, now, is Jerrod in Bethesda, Maryland. Jerrod, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:09

    JERRODHi, Kojo. Yeah, I'm just calling in to share that my wife and I are giving books for the holidays as gifts to people to give them a bit of time to escape from the monotony that we're all kind of stuck in at the moment. And we were lucky enough to go by Politics and Prose here in the District and come upon about a dozen copies of "The Truths We Hold," by Kamala Harris, that she had actually signed from an event here in the District. So, we're excited to share, as gifts over the holidays, with the strong women in our lives, a piece of history moving into this sort of new chapter of our country.

  • 12:30:46

    NNAMDIHey, thank you very much for sharing that with us, Jerrod. Elana emails: One of my favorite book resources this year has been the Howard County Library system's book bundles. You sign up for a genre on their website, and a librarian selects books for you to pick up via contactless pickup. It has an element of surprise, and I've gotten some books I've really enjoyed, but maybe wouldn't have picked up for myself. It's also great for parents. It's wonderful when you get those kinds of surprises. Here now is Renee in Annapolis, Maryland. Renee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:31:21

    RENEEYeah, hi, Kojo. I've been reading a lot, and really enjoyed reading "My Dear Mrs. Hamilton." That was one of the more recent ones that I've read. You know, it was one of those books you just wish wouldn't end. And, right now, I'm reading "Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas and the Start of a New Nation." That's by David Price.

  • 12:31:48

    RENEEMy husband's reading "Squeeze Me," by Carl Hiaasen. I've already read it.

  • 12:31:54

    NNAMDI(overlapping) I'm reading it right now, even as we speak. It really is a fun read. And it's dedicated to his brother, who was, as many people may know, his brother Rob Hiaasen. I think his brother's first name is Rob, who was one of those journalists who was killed in the Capitol Newspaper shootings.

  • 12:32:14

    RENEEWhat a loss.

  • 12:32:16

    NNAMDIYes, indeed. But anything else you're reading right now, Renee?

  • 12:32:22

    RENEEWell, there's one book that I had written up on my bulletin board, and I can't even remember why I wrote it, but I think it's from a show on NPR. And the name of the book is "To Redeem One Person," and it's the bio of Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. And it's written by Gail Hornstein. And has anybody read it? What do they know about it? I'm curious, because I think that's the next one I'm going to try.

  • 12:32:55

    NNAMDIWhat's the name of it, again?

  • 12:32:57

    RENEE"To Redeem One Person: The Bio of Frieda Fromm."

  • 12:33:04

    NNAMDIIf any of our panelists have read it, we'll make sure that they write a little short something that you can read on our website. Tayla, I want to get back to nonfiction, because you've got quite a few recommendations in that area, and not all of them are from 2020. What nonfiction reading really resonated with you this year?

  • 12:33:22

    BURNEYYeah, so, Kojo, it's funny. I think when I stopped working for this show, I stopped reading nonfiction for a while, (laugh) which is an embarrassing admission. But, you know, I think, really, my natural inclination is toward fiction. I read so much nonfiction as a producer that I sort of took a break from it for too long of a time, so I've been doing some catching up. I actually am embarrassed to admit, but I finally read "The Warmth of Other Suns" this year. (unintelligible) definitely in my to-be-read pile, but I loved that novel so much.

  • 12:33:51

    BURNEYAnd we were talking a little bit before about how some of these books can seem daunting and intimidating. That's a huge book, right, but it's so digestible and so engaging and so compelling and wonderful and vital to read. So, I enjoyed that so much and won't wait another 10 years before I read her newest book.

  • 12:34:11

    BURNEYAnother that is a little bit of a backlist, a newer one, I read "Motherhood So White" which is "A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America" by Nefertiti Austin. I had my second child this year and, you know, reading about motherhood, I think, is compelling in and of itself. But reading about a mother who became a mom in very different circumstances than my own, Austin's a single adoptive mother of two kids. She's a black woman who went through the foster care system to grow her family, and just, you know, listening to her, through this book, talk about her experiences and the challenges that were structural and social and cultural that she went up against to bring these children into her life was really wonderful and compelling, and eye-opening to Hannah's earlier point about some of the nonfiction titles that they've been selling, as well.

  • 12:35:02

    BURNEYAnd the final one that I loved that I would give to anyone as a gift, if anyone's looking for gift ideas, is actually by Ron's colleague, Gene Weingarten. His book "One Day," which was also out last year, is really just an incredible feat. He did something that would be really goofy and gimmicky, perhaps, in other hands that aren't as deft as his.

  • 12:35:22

    BURNEYBut he literally pulled a date out of a hat, it was December 28th of 1986, and he wrote about things that happened that day. And it is sort of a near history that reminds you of like how far we've come and how far we have yet to go from even just the mid-'80s, in some of the stories. And he's just such a talented writer, I think, you know, I would say that's a great gift to give, if anyone's looking for ideas.

  • 12:35:45

    NNAMDIThat book idea would never have gotten past his column editor, Tom the Butcher. (laugh)

  • 12:35:50

    BURNEYTom the Butcher would not have it.

  • 12:35:52

    NNAMDIExactly right. Julie emails: I reread Charles Dickens' "Bleak House." Victorians suffered from many of our ills, income disparity, dysfunctional government, disease. Dickens wraps it all in a great story, including a mystery. It reminded me that we aren't the only people to withstand suffering. This question for all of you, and I'll start with you, Ron Charles. Some people have taken this opportunity to read classics they might have missed out on, as did our Julie, emailer. What are some notable titles you might recommend?

  • 12:36:24

    CHARLESThis year, I read a couple classics, actually. "Walden," earlier in the year, when I was just feeling so walled in and isolated and kind of grieving. And I thought it was as beautiful as ever. I mean, I've read the book several times, taught it for years. It's a gorgeous reflection on life and your purpose and nature and all the kind of things we should be thinking about. I'm also reading "Paradise Lost" now, which I hadn't read for several years, and it is more accessible than I remembered and spectacular.

  • 12:36:57

    NNAMDIYou, Hannah -- Hannah Oliver Depp.

  • 12:37:00

    DEPPGreat question. It's actually a very exciting year, as Penguin has just re-released a bazillion great things in their classics editions. So, I suggest people check those out. There's certainly a wider range of things that are being presented as classics now than there were when I was growing up, so I'm happy about that.

  • 12:37:17

    DEPPI just reread "Passing," by Nella Larsen, which I sort of remember as a school assignment, and now just find the prose incredibly beautiful and the relationship between the sisters utterly heartbreaking and beautiful. And it's a really great companion, actually, to "Vanishing Half," by Brit Bennett. If you loved that, I recommend "Passing." And I'm also in the middle of rereading some Virginia Woolf, because, speaking of feeling fenced in, (laugh) there's something about someone who's wrestling with some enclosed spaces in their own mind. It really resonates right now.

  • 12:37:54

    NNAMDIAnd you, Tayla?

  • 12:37:55

    BURNEYI also really -- I do love Dickens. I think if you haven't actually read "A Christmas Carol," it's a great time of year to pull that out and give that a read, a nice ghost story for Christmas. And then, for me, the book that I have reread the most -- although I haven't reread it this year -- is "Rebecca," by Daphne du Maurier. I enjoy that novel. I find something different in it every time. It's so transporting. So, if you're tempted by the Netflix version, read the book instead.

  • 12:38:23

    NNAMDIA listener tweets to us: My best book this year "Braiding Sweetgrass," by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a treatise to gratitude from the perspective of a Native-American botanist. Just lovely and cheering. Hannah, there's been a lot of conversation around the surge in requests for antiracist reading material after the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed. I'm wondering what your take was on that overwhelming wave of interes,t and has it, in fact, continued?

  • 12:38:55

    DEPPHow honest do you want me to be? I feel (laugh) -- no, it's one of those interesting things that I will say, quickly, that it has continued. Certainly not at the almost zany volume that it was this summer, where it almost became a fad and, in some cases, I'm concerned of a fetish of white people to virtue signal that they were being good white folks.

  • 12:39:22

    DEPPBut I will say that the continued additional reading, we've seen a lot of follow-up orders from people or people coming in during appointment shopping and saying, hey, I did read "How To Be an Antiracist." What's next? There's a lot of research back into James Baldwin, to reading, you know, Audre Lorde, to reading Angela Davis. And that's extremely exciting. So, I would say there is genuine interest there, as well as a lot of people who purchased a copy of "White Fragility" and said, well, I'm done. It's a bit of a big fad, just like people.

  • 12:39:57

    NNAMDIHere is Danielle in Bluemont, Virginia. Danielle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:04

    DANIELLEHi. You had asked earlier about audiobooks, and I find them helpful for those big, meaty books. And I've been listening to "Reaganland" by Rick Perlstein. And I think for me it's helped sort of put the current political situation in perspective, because you kind of see the roots of what we're dealing with today. You just mentioned racism. There's a lot of that that's been going on for many, many decades, and, for me, it was just very helpful to see where that had come from.

  • 12:40:30

    NNAMDIDanielle, glad you mentioned audio books because, Hannah, some people may not know that they can buy eBooks and audio books at most independent bookstores, including Loyalty. Tell us more about that service and how important it is, especially now.

  • 12:40:45

    DEPPIt's incredibly important, and thank you for brining that up. Most independent bookstores are able to sell you eBooks and audio books right on our websites. I love our partnership with Libro.fm, which also, you can give gift memberships to folks if you're looking for a very quick and wonderful gift for people during the holidays, especially with publishers struggling to ship us books quick enough for us to then get the books out for you. eBooks and audio books make great gifts. But, for me, I tend to listen to a lot of nonfiction and then also really do enjoy listening to some romance or mysteries. Although those can cause some untimely blushes, if you're not careful. (laugh)

  • 12:41:28

    NNAMDIRon, what was the best book you listened to in 2020?

  • 12:41:33

    CHARLESI would recommend "The Night Watchman," by Louise Erdrich. She narrates it herself, which is not always a good thing for authors to do, but in this case, it works very, very well. She's a wonderful reader and a great novelist. This is a historical novel with an autobiographical element to it. It's inspired by the experience of her grandfather, and it's about a mostly forgotten chapter in American history when the U.S. government, in its wisdom, decided to cancel the treaties with Native-American tribes so that the people could be set free. And Louise Erdrich's grandfather fought that, helped fight it successfully.

  • 12:42:09

    NNAMDIAnd Tayla, we've been talking with Hannah and we just heard Ron about issues of race in this country. We're talking about antiracist material. But for white people, in particular, Tayla, what needs to be done, as you have said, to be more than performative?

  • 12:42:23

    BURNEYI mean, it's easier not to do the work, right. Like, you know, I think we see this whole spectrum, as Hannah said, where there's these performative gestures. And it's, you know, along the spectrum of just not doing it at all. And then there's this sort of midpoint, where people are maybe buying a stack of books and posting it on social media, or putting a sign on their front lawn saying, okay, I did a good thing, and really need to follow that through, right. You can't just sort of throw your hands up and say, oh, things are terrible. Gosh, how awful, and go about your day and expect anything to change, right.

  • 12:42:57

    BURNEYLike, I think that we often talk about books as being either a mirror or a window. And I think a lot of these titles that have been so popular this year, that hopefully people are reading, I think what can be challenging for people is that they demand both, right. If you're a white reader, in particular, that you are getting a window into a world other than your own and sort of need to examine your place in it. So, I think that can be really challenging and difficult for people, but it's important to do.

  • 12:43:24

    BURNEYAnd I hope that doesn't diminish the wonderful nature of a lot of these books. They're really engaging and compelling and wonderful to read. They're not just work but, you know, for a lot of white readers, it really is about you've got to do the work.

  • 12:43:38

    NNAMDIAnd here's Mattie in Montgomery County, Maryland. Mattie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:43:43

    MATTIEHi, Kojo. Well, the book that's getting me through this pandemic, to be honest with you, is "Six Women in a Cell" by Diana Tokaji. It's a person who has undergone police assault, just a story of sisterhood and survival, just getting this full understanding that no matter where it's happening, whether in Montgomery County or Baton Rouge or New York or anywhere else, these stories are happening everywhere. And it's building some consciousness around the reality of what we're facing as a nation. So, this is getting me through, right now.

  • 12:44:15

    NNAMDIAnd this is a local author, right?

  • 12:44:17

    MATTIEThat is correct. Diana is from Montgomery County, and her husband has actually started a commission in the county that's looking at policing locally. So, there's some action that has come out of this book, so it's a beautiful call-to-action in itself, so I've absolutely loved reading it.

  • 12:44:35

    NNAMDILambert tweets: My favorite book was "So You Want to Talk About Race." Quite provocative and challenging for an African immigrant like myself. And also "Trevor Goes to Africa." Speaking of Africa, here's Emmanuel in Fairfax, Virginia. Emmanuel, you're on the air, but you're going to have to be very brief, because we don't have much time.

  • 12:44:55

    EMMANUELThank you, Kojo. The History of the USA in Eritrea: From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama and How Donald Trump Changed the Course of History."

  • 12:45:05

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Okay, thank you. That's all the time we have. Thank you for sharing that. Ron Charles, Tayla Burney, Hannah Oliver Depp, thank you all for joining us. Our annual winter reading show was produced by Julie Depenbrock. I'd like to take a moment to wish a very happy 101st birthday to Brigadier General Charles McGee, who, as a Tuskegee Airman, was one of the first black military aviators in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force.

  • 12:45:29

    NNAMDIThe Bethesda resident flew more than 400 missions during three conflicts and holds many honors and flight records. I spoke with him this time last year on the occasion of his 100th birthday. To celebrate, he had just flown a Cirrus SF50 Vision jet from Frederick, Maryland to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. I asked him how it felt to be in the cockpit and in the control of an airplane again. This is what he had to say.

  • 12:45:57

    BRIGADIER GENERAL CHARLES MCGEEI guess some of my flying skills hadn't gone away, and they let me take off and land the aircraft. It was a very rewarding experience and very joyful, indeed. I've often said it's probably like the days of learning to ride a bicycle. Getting on it now may be a little shaky, but it wouldn't take you long to straighten up.

  • 12:46:17

    NNAMDIHappy birthday, Brigadier General Charles McGee. Coming up tomorrow, children across the country and our region have been doing the virtual learning thing for the better part of a year, with no end in sight. We'll talk with a panel of experts about how parents can best help kids through a difficult time. That all starts, at noon, tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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