2020 Notable Books List: Year’s best in fiction, nonfiction and poetry

PHILADELPHIA—The Notable Books Council, first established in 1944, has announced the 2020 selections of the Notable Books List, an annual best-of list comprised of twenty six titles written for adult readers and published in the US including fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The list was announced today during the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.

The 2020 selections are:


“Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi (Henry Holt and Company)

A performing arts high school serves as a backdrop for young love and its aftermath, exposing persistent social issues in a manner that never lets the reader off the hook.

“The Water Dancer: A Novel” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NYC)

A gifted young man, born into slavery, becomes the conduit for the emancipation of his people in this meditative testament to the power of memory.

“The Innocents: A Novel” by Michael Crummey (Doubleday a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York)

On an isolated cove along the Newfoundland coastline, the lives of two orphaned siblings unfold against a harsh, relentless, and unforgiving landscape.

“Dominicana: A Novel” by Angie Cruz (Flatiron Books)

In this vivid and timely portrait of immigration, a young woman summons the courage to carve out a place for herself in 1960s New York.

“Everything Inside: Stories” by Edwidge Danticat      (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York)

This searingly emotional collection explores the complexities of the Haitian diaspora.

“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo (Black Cat an imprint of Grove Atlantic)

A sweeping look at black British life through a symphony of female voices, young and old, conventional and iconoclastic.

“Sabrina & Corina: Stories” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NYC)

This debut collection captures and preserves the beauty in the lives of Latinas of Indigenous descent working through change, violence, love, and family in a gentrifying Denver and the American West.

“The Topeka School” by Ben Lerner. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

This stylistically complex novel opens in 1990s Kansas and delves into themes including relationships, aggression, and masculinity.

“Lost Children Archive: A Novel” by Valeria Luiselli (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NYC)

A summer road trip captures a moment when both a country and a family are in danger of splitting in two in this meditation on the immigration crisis and the role of artists bearing witness.

“Lanny: A Novel” by Max Porter (Graywolf Press)

This is the story of an English village, three people, and a child around which everything revolves. Inventive, raw and insightful, it is more to be experienced than just read.

“Normal People: A Novel” by Sally Rooney (Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, New York)

Two Irish high school students take up an intense relationship that wavers between love and friendship as they move on to college. The deceptively simple style plumbs the depths of human nature in a coming-of-age story of uncommon grace and power.

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel” Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

In a letter from a son to his mother who cannot read, Little Dog unearths a family’s history rooted in Vietnam, also revealing his journey of self discovery.

“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York)

This powerful and unforgiving portrait of a school for boys in Florida sheds light on the cruel and dehumanizing legacy of the Jim Crow Era.


“Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life” by Louise Aronson (Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.)

An examination of aging and the human condition, this call to action challenges the U.S. medical system to rethink how to care for patients.

“Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom (Grove Press an imprint of Grove Atlantic)

A memoir of family love, striving and loss in New Orleans East that exemplifies humanity and injustice.

“Thick: And Other Essays” by Tressie McMillan Cottom (The New Press)

A bold, new voice combines theory and the everyday to explore race, feminism, and culture.

“A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century” by Jason DeParle (Viking an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

Experiencing cultural differences, long separations and triumphs, a group of Filipinos leave their families and homes behind for better jobs in other countries, including the United States.

“Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Themselves” by Frans De Waal (W.W. Norton & Company)

Readers are led through research showing that other living creatures have their own range of emotions.

“Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham (Simon & Schuster)

Extensive investigation and access to new materials paint a full picture of the worst man-made accident to date, including corruption, incompetence, inexperience, secrecy, courage and heroism.

“Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York)

In this fascinating blend of true crime and history, the kidnapping of a widowed mother is the starting point for the investigation of the IRA during the conflict known as The Troubles.

“Underland: A Deep Time Journey” by Robert Macfarlane (W.W. Norton & Company)

An exploration into underground worlds, from the human made to the natural, and how they connect to our myths, beliefs, and rituals.

“Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” by Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions)

An exquisite essay collection reflects on family, place and the amazement of nature.

“The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” by David Wallace-Wells (Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York)

A dive into the climate apocalypse illuminates the myriad devastations that await us.

“The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation” by Brenda Wineapple (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York)

Congress enacts the first trial of a President after he refuses to enforce the laws and legislation for post-Civil War reconstruction, including equal rights for freed slaves.


“The Tradition” by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press)

Searing rhythmic poems examine Blackness, queerness, spirituality, and trauma with integrity and profound insight.

“Deaf Republic: Poems” by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf Press)

This single narrative begins with a soldier shooting a deaf boy and the gunshot rendering the occupied town deaf.

The winners were selected by the Notable Books Council whose members include eleven expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians. The Council considers titles based on stellar reviews published in standard library reviewing sources and other authoritative sources.

The Council includes Lizzie Gall, Jefferson County Public Library, Chair; Lynn Lobash, New York Public Library, Vice-Chair; Lillian Dabney, Seattle Athenaeum; William Patrick Kelly, Cuyahoga County Public Library; Edward Kownslar, Stephen F. Austin State University; Eve A. Nyren; Jeanessa Smith, Grand Rapids Public Library; Stephen Sposato, Chicago Public Library; Sarah Barbara Watstein, Seattle University; Hana Zittel, Denver Public Library; Mary Callaghan “Cal” Zunt, Rocky River Public Library

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers’ advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need. Learn more at www.rusaupdate.org.

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