Award-Winning Books 2020

Posted on January 22, 2021

by Eric P

The transition from an old year to a new one carries with it many benefits. A chance to reflect. A chance to try new things. A chance to pretend that you’re going to start exercising and stop eating all-cheese meals.

But one advantage of the new year too often goes overlooked: it’s also a chance to read some of the books that won prizes and topped best-of lists last year. I mean, sure, you could read brand new books as they come out, but then you run the risk of discovering later that the books you read didn’t get singled out by any prize-granting institution or accredited gatekeeper. And then there you are, sitting there, having enjoyed all the wrong books like a chump.

But if, in January, you turn your attention instead to acclaimed books of the previous year, you’re secure in knowing that you’re enjoying something that other people have said it’s okay to enjoy. Or, failing that, you get to rage against how wrong the critics were for praising such a rotten piece of garbage. And that’s almost as fun.

To help you along, here are some selected recipients of just a few 2020 literary praise and prizes.


The winner of the fiction prize from the National Book Award is Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, which appropriates the format of a screenplay and the conventions of a TV police procedural to explore, to alternately hilarious and devastating effect, the ramifications on its Asian-American characters of being marginalized as outsiders in their own country. Some other winners and finalists are below.

Cover of Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of The Dead Are Arising: the Life of Malcolm X

The Dead Are Arising: the Life of Malcolm X

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of DMZ Colony

DMZ Colony

Cover of Tokyo Ueno Station

Tokyo Ueno Station

Cover of King and the Dragonflies

King and the Dragonflies

Cover of A Children’s Bible

A Children’s Bible

eBook   |   eAudiobook


The top fiction prize from the folks at Kirkus this year goes to Raven Leilani’s Luster, which might seem like just another novel of sexual misadventure – paging Emma Bovary! – until you notice it’s also a brilliant investigation of race, class, and gender politics, with additional commentary on the suburbs, art, the publishing industry, and popular music, all embedded in a briskly readable story with a savage sense of humor and a cutting way with language.

Cover of Luster


eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream

Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream

Cover of I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing

eBook   |   eAudiobook


The top prize from the Booker judges goes to Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, which is reportedly a wrenching and unsentimental novel about growing up working-class in 1980s Glasgow. The only titles on the Booker shortlist I can vouch for are Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body, a Kafkaesque story of an unemployed woman confronting poverty and the effects of colonialism in 1990s Zimbabwe; and Brandon Taylor’s Real Life, a campus novel about race, sexuality, and experimental biochemistry. Both are remarkable.

Cover of Shuggie Bain

Shuggie Bain

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   hoopla eBook   |   hoopla audio
Cover of The New Wilderness

The New Wilderness

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of This Mournable Body

This Mournable Body

BODC   |   eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   hoopla audio
Cover of The Shadow King

The Shadow King

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of Burnt Sugar

Burnt Sugar

Cover of Real Life

Real Life

eBook   |   eAudiobook


The only thing a book critic loves more than eviscerating a bad book is showering attention on a bunch of good ones, and the end of 2020 brought the usual proliferation of superlatives not only from the usual suspects like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and NPR’s Book Concierge, but also assorted websites, blogs, bookstores, public libraries, pancake houses, accounting firms, and garden centers.

What follows is an unscientific assortment of the titles that keep popping up on these lists again and again. Reading even a few of these should give you ample conversational fodder for your next Zoom-based social gathering, especially if it’s with people who work at NPR.

Cover of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   BOCD
Cover of The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   Large print   |   Playaway
Cover of Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   Large print   |   BOCD
Cover of Hamnet


eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   Large print   |   Playaway   |   BOCD
Cover of Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   Large print
Cover of

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of Homeland Elegies

Homeland Elegies

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   BOCD
Cover of Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Valley

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of The Glass Hotel

The Glass Hotel

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   Large print   |   BOCD
Cover of The Office of Historical Corrections

The Office of Historical Corrections

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of Just Us

Just Us

Cover of Minor Feelings

Minor Feelings

Cover of A Burning

A Burning

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   Large print
Cover of The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   BOCD   |   Large print
Cover of Vesper Flights

Vesper Flights

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   hoopla
Cover of The Only Good Indians

The Only Good Indians

eBook   |   eAudiobook
Cover of Postcolonial Love Poem

Postcolonial Love Poem

There’s probably enough reading material here to keep you busy until January of next year, when – good news! – we’ll officially know what the best books of this year were.

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