It should come as no surprise that the CLiF team loves to read. After all, we spend our days sharing that love with low-income, at-risk, and rural kids in the region. Here were our favorite books we read in 2020:


  • I’m a big fan of the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brien.  When he heard that, CLiF volunteer Jim Comley suggested I try the Bolitho books by Alexander Kent about a British naval officer during the period of the Napoleonic wars.  I have read 6 of them this year and have enjoyed them.
  • I enjoy rereading favorite books from the past, and as a lover of language and linguistics I’m rereading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It’s a murder mystery set in an abbey in the 1300s. Each page is full ideas, history, symbols, and a smattering of Latin, French, Italian, and random arcane clues.
  • My wife and I have mothers who are in their 90s, and I wanted to understand more about what’s involved in having a good end of life, so I’m reading The Art of Dying Well.
  • I’m not a huge reader of mysteries, but Louise Penny writes about an area I know well —  Quebec — and her books about Chief Inspector Gamache are fun to read on several levels.
  • Local author, and our good friend, David Goodman, just came out with his 3rd and latest edition of the Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast.  It’s highly recommended for any backcountry skiers in your life.
  • Due to COVID, our son Jesse has moved back home from Toronto where he is in the middle of his 2nd year at the University of Toronto.  He will complete the rest of the year here with online classes.  Among other things he’s studying Spanish, so he and I are reading Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal aloud to each other. 
  • One of our very favorite family reads is Lost in the Barrens, a story of two young boys who get lost and have to spend the winter alone trying to survive in the Canadian north. It’s written by Canadian author Farley Mowat.  We’re read it aloud 4 or 5 times over the years, and we hope to read it again this winter.
  • One of the great benefits of working with CLiF is that I get to ‘sample’ some of the many thousands of books in our giveaway collection. Vermonter David Macaulay is one of my favorite author and illustrators, and I’m enjoying his book City about the design and construction of a Roman City around 200 BC.


I usually have a few books going at once – a short story collection, a memoir, a novel, perhaps poetry or essays. I try to read diversely, in terms of genre, style, author background, and content. A few of my favorites this year included:

  • Evidence of V by Sheila O’Connor: This hybrid book uses artifacts, records, and family stories to imagine the incredible life of the author’s grandmother, a dancer and wild child of the early 20th century.
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: It had been a while since I’d read a whole book in a day, but I couldn’t put this one down. Recommended for readers who love Little Fires Everywhere (one of my favorites from recent years). It follows the aftermath of a viral video of store employees who accost a Black nanny when they question her custody of her young white charge. A very readable examination of privilege and race today.
  • I Hold A Wolf By The Ears by Laura Van Den Berg: Van Den Berg’s much-anticipated new short story collection does not disappoint. Her stories are gripping and moving. As a short story writer myself, I appreciated the intricate weaving of the author’s words.
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Another compelling exploration of race, policing, and bias. A young couple’s life is thrown into chaos when the husband is wrongly accused of a heinous crime.
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: I love Ocean Vuong’s poetry, which was evident in his first novel about being an immigrant in America.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Another new release I’d been looking forward to after reading her first novel, The Mothers. The novel tells the story of Black twins who live very different lives, one of whom poses as white and rejects her upbringing and heritage. A look at colorism and perceptions of race within the Black community.


This year my son Finn (6) discovered the graphic novel Dogman series by Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame).  I’m currently enjoying the new Tana French book.  All her books are great!


The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate was one of my favorites, unsurprisingly as I really like historical fiction.  It’s a novel based on real-life post-Civil War newspaper advertisements of lost family members and friends, due to slavery tearing people apart.  The book brings together two storylines from two different time periods; three young women traveling together on separate quests in the 1870s, and a first-year teacher in a small southern town in the 1980s.

Miles (11) liked the Five Kingdom Series, by Brandon Mull because of its great suspense. He’s also re-reading Percy Jackson: The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan, this time on audio.  Miles said “it’s really cool how all kinds of pieces from the book come together at the end unexpectedly.”

Evie (11) liked Almost American Girl, by Robin Ha because it shows some of the troubles that a lot of people go through, while not everyone knows their whole story.  She also enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, which was recommended by her 6th grade teacher and is about a group of friends that, for the first time ever, “won’t be spending the summer together and they come up with a plan of how to stay connected through a pair of jeans and written letters.”


I read and listened to so many good books this year! I am thankful for audible and for my public library – both helped when I needed new and engaging material during these challenging times. I try to read books by people of color or different circumstances and to read both adult and middle level/young adult books, so all my recommendations reflect those 2020 goals. 

Adult: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – about an Arab woman whose arranged marriage brings her to live in Brooklyn

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam – maybe wait until after the pandemic, but this is a very thought-provoking story about our dependence on information

I also recommend Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (also recommended by Erika), and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, Patron Saints of Nothin by Randy Ribay – about a Filipino-American high school student who investigates his cousin’s death in the Philippines, The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman – about homeless Indian children finding temporary and permanent homes.

7th grade Zoey recommends Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga and Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker. Her beloved school librarian recommended the first and she read the second with her school book group. She says she liked them because “they taught her about different communities and shows struggles she is just starting to learn more about.”

Fern’s (pictured) seasonal favorite is The Bears’ Christmas – she appreciates their outdoor antics and the rhymes. 

One response to “The Best Books We Read in 2020

  1. I love reading CLiF staff (and family) picks! Thank you for sharing your favorites with your trusting and adoring fans!

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