top reads of 2020

With 2020 being the year that it was, I was able to nearly polish off my ‘life’s library,’ or my collection of books that I’ve been moving from home to home with me over the years. However, my top reads this year seemed to come from thrift finds, were borrowed to me, or they quite literally fell into my lap at the store and my intuition told me I had to buy them. (I’ll explain shortly.)

My top reads of 2020 were:

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

This. Book. Gave. Me. Chills.

I cannot stress this enough.

I have been told about this book by multiple friends over the years, all of whom I admire for their positive outlooks on life — no wonder they all had this book in common. This *fictional* book is my new Bible.

The Celestine Prophecy tells a tale of a man who travels to Peru in search of a missing and ancient Manuscript. This Manuscript gives key insights into perceiving and living life to the fullest, in one’s most purest form. The Peruvian government tries to keep the Manuscript from the public, using fear to keep those with secret copies of Manuscript at a lower vibration, thus keeping them from figuring out the missing Ninth Insight. As the man stumbles his way into coincidence after coincidence (which, readers learn, there is no such thing) he learns the lessons of the Manuscript, and how the Universe works.

It’s the craziest book I’ve ever read. I found it one day at Value Village, and I’m so glad it landed in my lap when it did. The themes and insights oddly correlate to how our world operates today.

11/10 recommend the read.

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

This novel tells the tale of Athena, a free-spirited woman with the ability to teach others important things about themselves. Her story is told from the point of view of those she meets on her journeys, from journalists, friends, doctors, and lovers. Athena is quite restless and is always on the move, looking to expand her mind and knowledge of the bigger world around her. I found I resonated with her character and many of the lessons she learns throughout the novel.

One can never go wrong reading anything by Paulo Coelho, though. He has a way of simplifying all of life’s biggest secrets.

the nickel boys by colson whitehead

Tallahassee in the 1960s; a young Black boy is wrongfully sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, where boys of colour go “missing” without explanation. Ran away, they say.

This novel is based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and tells the tale of Elwood Curtis, a boy trying to do well by his grandmother, peers turned friends, and his superiors at the reform. It is Elwood’s quiet empathy and thoughtfulness that tears at your heart strings, and the ending will have you in tears. A must read.

nice recovery by susan juby

Alright, story time:

Susan was my favourite professor while I took creative writing courses in university. I had her all four years of my degree, often in multiple classes a semester. We spent a lot of time together, and this is her memoir.

I always told myself I wanted to read her memoir, which talks of her battle with alcoholism, after I graduated. However, I graduated and kinda forgot. A few weeks ago, I had a dream where I was sitting in a classroom with a few of my peers from class, and Susan was giving us advice on how to get our novels published. I am currently working on a novel, an idea that was developed in a class I took with Susan, Writing For Young Adults, and it’s actually because of her that I continued to write it after graduating, when she told me I should. Anyways, I woke up and opened my laptop to my unpublished piece of work and continued to type away, taking it as a sign to get to work.

A couple days later, I went to MacLeod’s books, an amazing second-hand bookstore in downtown Vancouver. I was kneeling on the floor of the self-help section, browsing the titles on the shelf when I accidentally knocked two books off the shelf. One of them *literally* fell into my lap: Nice Recovery.

I was so stunned in that moment, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Out of all the second-hand books in the world, let alone in the bookstore… Then from behind me, I thought I heard somebody whisper my name, “Jesse.” It actually tripped me out so hard that I turned around, but nobody was there. I wish I could make this up.

I ran to the counter and paid for my book. When I got home, I read it in two days, absolutely devouring it. Susan has a way of writing that is humorous and so full of life, I can basically hear her telling her life story. And if I’m being quite honest with myself, a lot of the lessons she writes of, I had to learn for myself, too. I found myself having many ‘aha’ moments while reading.

Also, if I learned anything from The Celestine Prophecy, it’s that coincidences are not coincidences. I was meant to read this book for a reason, whether it be to connect with Susan again, or to absorb her words because of their relation to my life, or to continue writing my own story. Or maybe it’s all three. Who knows, the Universe works in mysterious ways.

lost girls: an unsolved american mystery by robert kolker

Also a Netflix original, this true documentation about a string of murders that took place around New York is a devastating look at how sex workers are exploited, murdered, and tossed aside when it comes to police investigations.

Kolker writes of each of the real missing women with such grace and beauty, painting vivid pictures of their big personalities aside from what they do to make money. This book humanizes sex workers and shows the real side of those who are meant to protect us.

This book does have a million-and-one characters, and each of the missing women have second names in which they used for prostitution. It gets confusing and I was constantly flipping back and forth to reference who was who, but it was worth the read.

What were some of your favourite books of 2020?