2020 was an ahem “unprecedented” year in books just like everything else. Libraries across the country saw extended closures and drops in circulation but rises in downloadable books, and much to our absolute delight, more conversations between staff and patrons about books. Print book sales were up 8.2% in 2020 and many of us found ourselves reading outside of our usual genres or re-reading old favorites. It ignited many discussions about what draws us to certain genres, which led us to the idea for a monthly video series: Fiction 101.
In our first Fiction 101 discussion, Shelby from the Morgantown Public Library Circulation, downtown branch, and Sarah P, Library Director, talk about what library patrons have been reading in 2020. Shelby is the lead coordinator for our Staff Picks service and shares some insights about requests.
We are big fans of book lists around here and December and January are the season of the best lists. Part scorecard, part lottery ticket, did we pick winners in 2020? What new favorites await in 2021. Here are some of the lists referenced in the video as well as regularly used resources for suggesting and ordering books:
Written and compiled by: Sarah Palfrey, Library Director
Shelby Donnelly (Downtown Branch): Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Sarah Palfrey (MPLS) : All the new YA Election Lit, way too many Regency Romances, and the Wild Robot by Peter Brown
Colleen Caldwell (Cheat Area Branch): Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (2019) and Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (2020). These are from Rick Riordan Presents series. I am recommending these to all ages middle school to adult. I listened to the audiobooks on Libby which is an ideal format because of some Spanish throughout the books. Anthony Ray Perez is the narrator who gave the right voice to the young protagonist, Sal Vidon. Don’t let the language discourage you from these books because the author does a wonderful job of explaining what he means in English or using context clues to help the reader figure it out. The stories have a lot to offer- diverse likable characters, an unusual story line, humor, family values, and a happy ending. There is also a lot of weird science going on! I can’t recommend these enough.
Sandy Weston (Clinton District Branch): Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, is a beautifully and vividly written expression of love, and the grief and pain surrounding the death of a young son, Hamnet, twin brother of Judith. I frequently found myself needing to re-read many gorgeous sentences as well as passages that simply stood out for me (e.g. the eroticism of the scene in the apple store, or the tender laying out of Hamnet’s body set against the necessity for the speedy burial of victims of the plague. Just as Shakespeare’s plays still speak to us today, so too does Hamnet. Maggie O’Farrell devotes a section of the book to detailing the journey of the Bubonic Plague from Alexandria, Egypt, thousands of miles away via fleas, a monkey, glass beads, ships’ cats, a young boy working on a ship, and a piece of ‘infected’ lace that finds its way to C16th rural Warwickshire. Written long before the Covid-19 pandemic it serves to remind us that everything is connected.
Charlotte Hoelke (Cheat Area Branch): Loveboat Taipei by Abigail Hing-Wen was my favorite YA novel of the year! Fun and light summer read with a West Virginia connection (Hing-Wen was born here). It’s about a Chinese-American girl, Everett, who is struggling to find a balance between her own passion (dance) and her parents’ expectations when she graduates. She ends up going to Taiwan for an exchange program, where she finds herself (and romance) along the way!
Amanda Young (Downtown Branch): The best book that I read that came out in 2020 was a memoir: Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollet. It’s a New York Times Bestseller that we have on Libby and a hard copy. It begins as he was a child in an infamous cult and their escape and follows his childhood that was stricken with poverty, abuse and addiction. It’s written so well and the writing grows more mature as you follow him growing up in the memoir. There’s also a complimenting album by the same title from his band The Airborne Toxic Event.
Another book that stood out was a historical fiction: The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. It’s about these two orphans with extraordinary talents but with everything against them growing up and surviving and their journey to find each other again. It’s a love story written in a beautiful poetic way but is ultimately a brutally sad story told through a rose colored, magical filter.