My Top Books of 2020

There’s a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that I love:

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

And so each year’s tally of books read make up my year as well. I’m always excited to look back and remember what I’ve read and how it’s shaped me.

Not surprisingly, 2020 was a pretty chaotic reading year for me. Only 37 books read, which might be an all-time low. Mostly this is because I spent nearly as much of my reading time thinking as reading—which is a testament to the books.

I didn’t move the needle tremendously on any of my reading challenges. No Pulitzer Prize winners read. And the only classics were Lord of the Rings. But I did read a few books on my histories-of-all-the-countries list, including books on Iraq and (currently) Egypt.

Most of what I read this year was research for my upcoming blog series on archetypal character arcs. It’s one of those subjects that, one you get started down the rabbit hole, you don’t want to stop. But I’ve nearly finished my pile. I’ve mentioned a few of my faves below.

Following you can find my top books of 2020: 5 Fiction Books, 3 Writing Books, and 5 General Non-Fiction Books.

But, first, the stats:

Total books read: 37

Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 10:25

Male to female author ratio: 15:22

Top 5 genres: Social Science (with 16 books), History (with 6), Fantasy (with 4), Romance (with 4), and Writing (with 4).

Number of books per rating: 5 stars (5), 4 stars (24), 3 stars (5), 2 stars (2), 1 star (0).

Top 5 Fiction Books

This wasn’t my best fiction year by any means. I sought out a lot of comfort reads, which although nice weren’t particularly memorable. Those that will be remembered are as follows (all links are affiliate links):

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling—Read 2-13-20 Four and Half Stars

Excellent, beautiful, amazing ending to an incredible series. The ending, especially, is fantastic.

2. The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O’Brian—3-13-20

Wandering, as most of the books in the series are at this point, but still utterly beguiling and wonderful.

3. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien—8-27-20

Lacks something of the film’s multimedia majesty and some of the characters come off as less dimensional that I’d like—and, frankly, it’s a bit dull—but it’s a charmingly written and undeniably powerful entry into the trilogy.

4. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien—11-20-20

While totally bowing to the majesty of the story as a rightful and beautiful classic, I have to admit the first half about the Battle of Helms Deep did not live up to what I was expecting. The second half, however, chronicling Frodo and Sam’s quest with Gollum gripped me on every page.

5. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab—5-28-20

Everything about this book is delicious—the setting, the characters, the magic. That said, it did feel a bit underserved and rushed. I felt like I read the first act, rather than an entire story.

Top 3 Writing Books

Although I always try to have bookmark in a writing-craft book, this year I counted all my archetype research as “writing,” even though most of the books were about psychology or personal development rather than writing. Those books included Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey. Of the books I read that were specifically about writing, I have three to recommend:

1. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron—2-19-20

A transformative and wise book that speaks to healing and growth that goes far beyond any particular pursuit of an art form.

2. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland—11-12-20 Four and Half Stars

Such a beautifully inspiring book on so many levels beyond just writing. The middle chapters get a little boggy with examples from Ueland’s writing students, but even they have insights to offer.

3. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass—10-21-20

Solid as ever from Maass and full of great advice. One thing I always appreciate from him is that he never softsoaps the truth about what makes a story engaging—or not.

Top 5 General Non-Fiction

My non-fiction interests these days—aside from the archetype research—tend toward depth psychology, philosophy, and history—all of which are reflected in my favorites from this year.

1. A Little Book on the Human Shadow by Robert Bly—10-16-20

It is indeed a little book, but packed full of interesting psychological insights from the unique viewpoint of a poet. Chock full of thought-worthy ideas.

2. The Doctor and the Soul by Victor E. Frankl—11-22-20

The book in a nutshell: Life always has meaning. As so many have over the decades, I found this book deeply inspiring, thought-provoking, and reassuring. The (translated-from-German) language is dense and the subject is often technical, but I found it extremely readable and enjoyable.

3. Awakening the Heroes Within by Carol S. Pearson—8-9-20

Excellent. Twice as good as her first book The Hero Within. Full of insight into life archetypes and arcs.

4. The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb—3-16-20 Four and Half Stars

Interesting and informative overview of early philosophy. Highly enjoyable.

5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown—1-4-20

An incredibly exciting and charismatic story that is very well-told. It’s begging to be a movie.

My Books

And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile this year, here’s a few more! 🙂

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2020? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. 59 books read for 2020. Top two were You by Caroline Kepnes and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. There were many others I labeled as Very good, Great, and Wow. The Chain by Adrian McKinty – very good. The Last Astronaut by David Wellington – very good. The Shadow over Innsmouth – by HP Lovecraft – Great! Looking forward to my 2021 reading list!

  2. I always love to hear people’s end of year report on how much reading they did. It’s comforting somehow to know people still take advantage of this opportunity.

    I hope to get at least one more finished before the end of the year, but I “started” 102 books this year, finishing 57 of them. Starting a lot but not being able to finish is not uncommon. I read a lot of non-fiction, and due to budget, much of that is library loans. Since I read a lot of historical reference, the loan often expires before I can finish taking notes or reading. And there’s so much history I want to read I bounce around a lot.

    What HAS been unusual for my reading habits this year is that I read a LOT of fiction. My fiction reading is usually miniscule compared to non-fiction consumption. This year it was flip-flopped. For two reasons mainly:

    #1 I was trying to find some historical mysteries to read set in the U.S. in the early 1900’s, and came across Victoria Thompson’s “The Gaslamp Mysteries” series, which was 24 books.

    #2 I decided to re-read the Left Behind Series.

    So of the books I finished, the top 3 categories were fiction, personal development/self-help, and historical reference, Plus a few memoir and writing books.

    I hope I get more historical reading done in 2021.

  3. Favorite fictional books of 2020: Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo; the Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa; Court of Fives, by Kate…something.
    Favorite Writing Books: Story, by Robert McGee; Writing the Breakout Novel, by…someone; So You Want to Write a Screenplay, by Taylor Gains (I think)
    Favorite Movies: the Crimes of Grindelwald, the fellowship of the ring, gladiator, Mr. Peabody and Sherman.
    Favorite TV show: Avatar the Last Airbender, the X-files
    I wish I could count how many books I read this year. Hey thanks, Katie, for that prompt! I was sulking about 2020, but from this angle, 2020 doesn’t look so bad!

    • Love “Writing the Breakout Novel”. One of my long-time favorites. Which reminds me of something else. I’ve long wanted to compile an inventory of my books (ebook and physical) to get a handle on what I do and don’t have by category–especially so I don’t accidently purchase another copy of a historical reference book–the best historical reference books for my research were typically written in the 1940’s-60’s, so they’re more expensive to buy).

      So in December I started that process, logging all the e-books (will get to the physical ones later). One of my discoveries during that process was that I buy way, way, way too many books on writing. Nothing wrong with buying books on writing, per se, but when I have more books on writing then I have books of my own written–well then I’ve got an issue. LOL! Books on writing have become a crutch and distraction to actually getting the work done. Need to see if I can start reversing that in 2021. 😎

      • Well, if it makes you feel better, I’ve bought 4 creative writing books and written only 3 books. However, I get most of my creative writing books from my local library! I highly recommend this practice – I’ve no idea how much money I’ve saved by loaning instead of buying creative writing books!

      • Totally agree here. Addicted to reading writing craft books. It’s my favorite form of procrastination.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Goodreads is a good way to keep track of the books you’ve read. They even send you a fun stats email at the end of the year.

  4. Eric Troyer says

    Fun post. Thanks, Katie. Though, is this the first time you’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy? I’m a bit surprised by that. Also, I’ve got a tiny bit of math nerd in me. Your fiction to non-fiction ratio only adds up to 35, but your total is 37. If you are going to keep 10:25 for some reason, you really should reduce that to 2:5. 😁

    P.S. I agree that “The Boys in the Boat” needs to be a movie!

  5. Christopher Renna says

    #1 THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS Micah Nemerever #2 THE WHISPERS Greg Howard #3 THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS Lisa Jewell #4 DEADFALL Stephen Wallenfels #5 THE WILLOUGHBYS Lois Lowry

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That first title grabs me…

      • It’s Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet, specifically:)

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          When in doubt, it’s usually Shakes. 😉

          • Due to the getting married and the general craziness of the “we’re ready for this to be over already so we can talk about something else” pandemic and associates, I didn’t read as much this year either. Of the few books I did get to finish, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. Van Der Kolk was really helpful. Lisa Wade’s American Hookup was pretty interesting. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was a fun escape. I read the Wizards of Once (first in the series) by Cressida Cowell and will probably try to track down the rest of the series. To make it an even 5, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, on the recommendation of my now MIL, was quite enjoyable and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel (currently in my TBR pile). That’s my best reads from 2020!

  6. All those books sound interesting! I read a few books this year that really liked: The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Study in Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Phantom of the Opera, and all but one of Booth Tarkington’s novels, who is my new second favorite author (Tolkien still tops the list 🙂 ). I also read more writing books this year than ever before. I don’t regret it!

  7. Angelica R Meade says

    I didn’t get the chance to read a whole lot this year (yipes!). But I was very excited to read Anna Lee Huber’s latest Lady Darby mystery, “A Stroke of Malice” this year! I spent a lot of this year reading the “What to Expect in the First Year” as my infant daughter grew over the latter half of the year. Making bigger reading goals for next year!

  8. Wait, wait, wait!

    37 books read, but only 34 were listed in genres, and 36 listed in the ratings.

    Well, any way you look at it, you read a lot of books! I don’t know how you do it; you write books, keep a weekly blog, and answer all our questions.

  9. Thank you. Some great writing books that I don’t know.
    I love how you breakdown the list: male/female, genre, and fiction/non-fiction. I am going to do that too. I noticed no authors of color. There’s an abundance of excellent material out there.
    I love reading your newsletters.

  10. My top five fiction books of the year are Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham, Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson, On Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M White, Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano, and Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. 4 by contemporary authors (which may be a first), 3 historical, 1 fantasy, 1 mystery.

  11. I’m part of a monthly book club; it keeps me honest by forcing me to read books I wouldn’t normally read. Total reads: 32. Standouts include:

    Mink River (Doyle)
    Kindred (Butler)
    Nothing to See Here (Wilson)
    Too Much and Never Enough (Trump)
    House of Leaves (Danielewski)
    The Seas (Hunt)
    The Player of Games (Banks)

    And as I told you earlier, one of my short stories was published this year! Despite the, well, you know, stuff going on, not a bad year from that perspective 🙂

  12. I used to read only at bed-time, and only fiction because non-fiction sent me to sleep… And even so, I often I just fell asleep on the page.
    In 2020, I started setting some time in the morning for reading, mostly on writing, This way I’ve almost doubled the number of books I’ve read! I’ll definitely try to keep this habit in 2021 🙂
    My top discoveries in 2020 were non-fiction: Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way is my favourite, but I also loved Stephen King’s On Writing and Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction.
    Few outstanding fiction reads this year, apart from Fred Vargas and Erik Orsenna (both in French). I’m currently finishing Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth, which will probably be my best fiction read for the year (if I get to the end before Friday!)
    Happy new reading piles for 2021!

    • I think that’s so cool that people continue to discover Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” after all these years.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ironically, I can’t read non-fiction before bed–because it gets my brain going too much. :p

  13. I struggle to find reading time, particularly to wade through some of the epic fantasy books that are part of my genre. 37 books would be amazing for me. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see I’d gotten to 27. 12 of those were non-fiction, and most of these were writing help.

    I was interested to see the Victor Frankl on Katie’s list, and I’ll definitely look into that one. His “Man’s Search for Meaning” was transformative for me, and I’d strongly recommend it if you haven’t already read it. Frankl’s one of my heroes.

  14. What romance books did you read?

  15. Your post forced me to go back and make a 2020 list! (2021 Resolution: start the list in January!). We have Free Little Library boxes all over town and I grab a bunch to add to the TBR pile all the time. In fact, I have the first 4 Harry Potter books ready to go from that source! I’m a very picky reader so if the book doesn’t do much for me in the first 3 chapters, it’s gone! I never leave a bad review, either. My plan last year was to read one ebook and one hardback (or paperback) each month. I fell short of that goal, but I came close! I missed the classics ‘back in the day’ so I’m having fun catching up. I appreciate your honest review of Tolkien’s books versus the movies. I feel a bit like that about the Outlander series, but those were not my 2020 list. I’m not sure I have a top 10 but reading C. S. Lewis’s “The Magician’s Nephew” has to rank up there. My first time to read anything by this prolific author. Amazing talent and timeless story teller. I read the Artist’s Way years ago and liked it a lot. Cameron has a new book releasing in January. Hope it is just as good! Thanks for all you do to help us writers on our journey.

  16. Almost done reading gone girl now (free! via audiobook from my library Overdrive program) which is older but I had never read despite hearing about it several times. Enjoying it so much. Often audio is irritating for me but am greatly enjoying the reading of the story on this one, plus I can get stories in in otherwise dead time, like driving time. Another favorite read this year was behind her eyes by sarah pinborough.

  17. Peter Linton says

    Interesting take on Tolkien. Much of what you say, particularly about FotR I agree with. As for the movie interpretations, I always looked at the two mediums as different ways to know the same story.
    I wonder if you could expand a little on the books. Specifically for the Chapters “The Shadow of the Past” & “Strider.” These are my favorite from FotR. Taking what you said about character dimensionality, what do you think of character development within these chapters? Also, how do they fit into your theory of story structure?
    I’m interested, but a long answer is not necessary (unless you want to lay the foundation for a whole writer’s series on LotR).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d have to go back to look. But if inspiration strikes, I’ll post about it.

      • I agree with Mr. Linton that Tolkien’s novel and Jackson’s masterful interpretation are essentially different takes, no matter how closely Jackson “hews” to the novels in most ways …

        Where Jackson departs is often his biggest strengths.

        Opening the FELLOWSHIP film with the sublime and wistful lines (spoken by Treebeard) lifted from the closing chapters of Tolkien’s trilogy was brilliant. Those lines (“The world has changed …) audaciously open the film trilogy with a core theme Tolkien weaves through both his world-building/rendering of Middle Earth and in the arc of his hobbit protagonists …

        I’m guessing that genius move was probably Jackson’s wife Fran’s idea 🙂

        Similarly, my favorite scene in Jackson’s film trilogy may be Fran’s take on Smeagol standing up out of the shadows of his own self and standing up for himself against his own bullying side, Gollum … A scene where Fran’s writing, Peter’s directing and Andy Serkis’s acting all soared to the summit of their crafts.

        But there’s one thing Tolkien’s trilogy offers that I believe Jackson was terribly mistaken to leave out (no, I don’t mean Bombadil) …

        In the final scenes of Jackson’s RETURN OF THE KING we see the four hobbits return to the pub they frequented in Hobbiton—and it’s as if nothing had changed at all. Hobbiton seems utterly unaffected by the events of the great war against Sauron. It’s as if our four hobbit protags went on their monumental journey and are right back at square one, nothing’s changed.

        Tolkien’s ending is far more powerful and more to the point, far more TRUE. He understood that wars change everything, affect everyone, especially wars for the world (JRR’s experiences in WWI and his son’s experiences in WWII are clearly visible influences throughout his trilogy.)

        When the four transformed hobbit-heroes return to a devastated Shire, that impact hits hard … And feels far more truthful thematically and plotwise.

        I feel Jackson’s ending was a watering down of Tolkien’s power conclusion (though thankfully Jackson skipped the countless pages of the hobbits saying goodbye to everyone on their way back home!)


        • Peter Linton says

          Paddy ~
          I enjoyed your lengthy commentary.
          Let me address what you call P Jackson’s mistake.
          I agree fully with you. The “Scouring of the Shire” is something I miss from the flick. It shows how the hobbits have changed AND are prepared for their post-LotR roles. WIth the death of Saruman in the TT flick, it was a given the best Jackson could do was make Sam confident enough to kiss Rose.
          I’ll compliment your observation with my own. I have several issues in the story telling that I think Jackson should have included or interpreted closer to Tolkien canon. These include the Bombadil/Barrow scene where the hobbits get their swords (Merry’s sword in particular has a specific importance) and the splitting up Frodo & Sam should not have happened. There are other smaller details but these are not my biggest issue.
          It’s Aragorn.
          Aragorn in the books is an active character. He is not (as portrayed in the flicks) in exile, he is not fleeing from his love for Arwen, he does not keep the broken artifacts of his heritage hidden in Rivendale, nor does he fear his ancestry. Jackson has him as a too random a character, like a Dungeons and Dragons adventurer, wandering from conflict to conflict, but not too sure of where it will take him. This I believe is personified by the “surprise” of Arwen appearing at the time of his crowning.
          In canon Tolkien, Aragorn in fact seeks the fall of Sauron. He seeks the crown of Gondor and the scepter of Arnor. This he must do at the demand (questing) of Elrond for Arwen’s hand. In short, he carries the broken sword in faith of its reforging. Arwen is in his sights from beginning to end, but the intensity he has for the Ring’s destruction is better extrapolated. (His hero journey mirrors Beren in the Silmarillion. Tolkien references the connection between the two several times.) More could be said, but to conclude, I think Jackson’s interpretation of Aragorn fails to frame the whole of his trilogy in another powerful way.

  18. Thank you for your list. As a magician, Tolkien fan, and, at one point, a history major, I appreciate your choices.

    Thank you for sharing A Darker Shade of Magic, I am always looking for new magical books. Patrick Rothfuss has a series out that is very good, The King Killer series, I recommend it if you haven’t read it, although the final book is still in the works.

    Since you liked The Yellow Admiral, may I suggest the Bolitho series by Alexander Kent. I found the Kent books were more ‘historical’ than O’Brien’s but that is just my humble opinion.

    I hope that you have a blessed New Year, please keep up your wonderful work!

  19. Thanks for asking, and sharing.


    **** “The Midnight Assassin” by

    after listening to “Tom Brown’s Body”

    **** “Camino Winds”

    ***** “The Fatal Gift of Beauty”

    *** “The Dutch House”


    “Strongmen” by

  20. Archie Kregear says

    For 2020 I managed to read 13 published books and 8 beta reads of unpublished work, although many of the latter are now available.
    Best of the published:
    Flight by Katherine McDonald
    Caliban’s War by James Corey

    Best of the beta reads:
    The Song of Saigon by Meghan Skye
    The Book of Cursed Objects by Carrie Lawerence
    Raider Bride by Joanna Wittenberg
    Like Ashes in the Winid by Denise Moreno

  21. I think that reading, like many things, is about quality, not quantity. So if you read even 37 books this year and got something from it, good job!
    According to Goodreads I’ve read 196 books this year! I am currently reading a good one about writing; if you haven’t already read it you might be interested. It’s called “Write Away: One Novelists Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life,” by Elizabeth George.
    One I read a few months ago, and was completely amazing and changed forever the way I think about poetry and my writing, is “The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets,” by Ted Kooser.
    Lastly, thank you for quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson! He’s one of my favorites; I’ve been writing down his quotes and poems ever since I read his poem Success when I was in high school. I hadn’t seen the one you quoted, so into my journal it went!
    Happy New Year, and I look forward to reading your posts next year!

  22. I’ll give my three favorites from this year!

    The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow was absolutely breathtaking for me. It was so beautifully and wistfully written that I kept tearing up as I read it. It so perfectly touches that exciting liminal space that comes just after a character’s brush with fantasy, when you’re charged by the excitement of the new but you can’t quite plunge into Narnia yet, so to speak. It also explores the magic of the “mundane” so well, showing relationships between people to be just as magical as a portal to another realm. I loved it. My favorite of 2020.

    I also loved Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn. I wasn’t initially interested in it because books connected to tabletop game lore tend to be…not so good. But holy cow did it not only turn out to be a beautifully-written space-Gothic with an amazing plot and strong characters, but also one of the best science fiction pieces I’ve read in years.

    Lastly, I adored the Books of Babel series by Josiah Bancroft. The author is a poet, and it shows in his writing, and my goodness does he have IMAGINATION. The vertical world the protagonist has to wind his way through is incredible and detailed. The setting is touched by steampunk-esque imagery, but is also wholly unique, and the story itself is wonderful and compelling. I think you might especially enjoy this series.

    By the way, I’m glad you got to read The Artist’s Way! I really enjoyed it when I read it a few years ago. I interviewed Julia Cameron twice over the years concerning some of her previous work; she’s very focused on actually helping and teaching people in a way I appreciate. She’s also an absolute joy to speak with. I recently asked her to write the foreword for my own writing book–I can think of no better endorsement, so I hope it works out.

    Also, I’m SO glad to hear your thoughts about A Darker Shade of Magic. Everyone else I know was over the moon for it, but I felt a little empty at the end, as if something were missing. I don’t think I got to know the characters well enough for my taste because the plot just kept pushing relentlessly forward. The setting, though, and the general idea of the characters were so intriguing that I still plowed through the entire book in about three days because I couldn’t learn enough about it. I think the book really speaks to the power of setting, ideas, and lore.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I put Ten Thousand Doors of January on my wishlist after you recommended it earlier.

    • Colleen Janik says

      Wow, what a wonderful list of books for me to explore in 2021!!! I am so looking forward to that. I don’t have such a long list of books, but have to say that having a good book to read has been such a blessing in this difficult year.
      I so much enjoyed reading Wayfarer and also Daphne du Maurier’s “The House on the Strand.” Wow, that one left a huge impression. What a gifted writer she was and her novels keep on giving years after her passing.

  23. I just started following your blog a few months ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed your series on the circular structure of stories! Very excited for the archetypes series!

    Probably the two best books I read this year are:

    Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities
    Wow! So beautiful. His symbolism is incredible and compelling. And I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and his poetic way of writing.

    Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making
    by Andrew Peterson

    I’ll admit that it felt slightly off-topic at times, but this book is so lovely, encouraging, and convicting that I didn’t care. I devoured it and am looking forward to reading it again to mull it over a bit more.

  24. Victoria Marie Lees says

    I loved the Boys in the Boat. Wonderful book. Thanks for these writing and philosophy book recommendations. I’ll add them to my to-read list. Thank you for all you do to assist your fellow writer! May you have a healthy and happy 2021.

  25. My favorite novel of the year is one that I ordered after watching an addictive Netflix series a lot of people have fallen deeply into:

    THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT by Walter Tevis is the source material the fabulous new series is based on. This novel is short, fast-paced, a thriller despite being about chess (that alone renders it remarkable, astonishing!) … What impressed me most about Tevis’s novel is that most of the dialogue in the TV series is taken word for word from the pages of this slim book.

    (The character of the mother is expanded and richer in the Netflix series, so some of her lines are new). Virtually all the knock-out lines delivered by Anya Taylor-Joy have been waiting for her to voice them for 37 years.

    As for on-writing guides: an outstanding example that I read this year for the first time (again it’s an older book) is WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George.

    What’s unusual about her guide is that it’s written by a bestselling novelist.
    Those are rare indeed; and yes, I have read King’s ON WRITING …

    But while King is one of my all-time favourite novelists, I found very little of use in ON WRITING.

    Whereas Elizabeth George’s book is jampacked with insights and useful instructive passages on story creation. (Her take on opening novels is one of the best sections in her book).

    WRITE AWAY is simply the best guide I’ve ever read composed by a professional writer.


    P.S. I noticed a number of comments on Donald Maass …

    I wholeheartedly agree that Donald Maass has an array of masterpieces on how to tackle the myriad challenges of novel writing. He also liberally sprinkles in the challenges of being a novelist (even when he’s not making that the title and prime subject of his guide! 🙂

    THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION by Maass is his crowning achievement, I feel.

    (His earlier WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL is indeed a masterpiece too—it’s Maass’s guide to the essential nuts and bolts of the craft …

    Whereas EMOTIONAL CRAFT covers more bold and commanding aspects of novel writing, offers deeper insights than any of his books, and—well, addresses the most nuanced and advanced aspects of composing irresistible novels.)

    Okay, having stated my favorite guide by an author and favorite guide by an agent, I might as well make it a trinity and name my favorite by an editor.

    THE MAGIC WORDS by Cheryl Klein is a wondrous work on writing.

    And don’t be fooled by the cover material into thinking her guide is only for Middle Grade or YA authors … This book is stunning in its scope and depth of practical advice, covering so many of the biggest challenges aspiring novelists face.

    It’s the equal to Maass’s EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, which is the best the best compliment I can think of for her guide. (Klein was for many years at editor at Scholastic).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree about Write Away and Emotional Craft of Fiction. So I guess I better check out Klein’s Magic Words. I read her Second Sight years ago.

      • Ms. Weiland, I was wowed by your series on Chiastic story structures 🙂
        And I’m in awe of your prolific dedication to helping all of us aspiring writers out here … Thank you and have a marvelous–and more hopeful, more free–writing year in 2021(a year we’re all looking yearning for).

        THE MAGIC WORDS largely tilts at the windmill of YA but glances off and instead offers inventively named and structured chapters full of universal story craft …

        I too read SECOND SIGHT, and one essay in that book stood out like the proverbial Monolith on the moon (or in Utah). It was called DEFINING GOOD WRITING, and I found myself wishing Klein had written a whole book on that subject. (She gave a summary of what five elements editors of popular fiction are really looking for in a novel, what MUST be there).

        To my delight, when I cracked open THE MAGIC WORDS, Ms. Klein had made her short essay on what keys are essential in powerful novels from SECOND SIGHT the prologue of her big new guide …

        THE MAGIC WORDS is exactly the expansion of that essay I’d hoped for.


        Is Chiastic a neologism of your own devise? I’m familiar with “chiasmus” as a rhetorical tool (from reading the hilarious and provocative THE ELEMENTS OF ELOQUENCE by Forsyth), but had not encountered your marvelous word for mirroring of novel structures!

  26. I don’t have an exact count on number of books read–25-35, maybe, including some read for the purpose of reviews. Best among them:

    Mirage, by Julie Czerneda–science fiction, continuation of her Web Shifter series. Other books in the series are also excellent
    A Diary in the Age of Water, by Nina Munteanu: A creative and chilling look at a possible future for our species if we don’t pay more attention to the environment, written by a water scientist.
    Seeds and Other Stories, by Ursula Pflug: A short story collection with some slipstream and science fiction/fantasy elements
    Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

    I got a lot out of Writing Your Story’s Theme (Weiland). Reading this and trying to apply some of the concepts really helped with my short fiction; early to say but it seems to be showing in the rate at which my science fiction short stories are being shortlisted/accepted. (Also the blog pieces about the links between the different elements of the story were helpful; how they all tie in)
    Plot and Structure (James Scott Bell)

    Best regards

    Lisa Timpf

  27. I read 3 (if you don’t count my textbooks from college…lol). Two fiction and one non-fiction:

    1. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Earnest J. Gaines
    2. Mama Flora’s Family by Alex Haley & David Stevens
    3. A Woman’s Fear: Female Abuse by Caesar Rondina

    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

    This book was smaller and shorter than I thought it would be. I’ve seen the classic movie starring Cicely Tyson several times growing up, and because of the slavery during Miss Jane Pittman’s childhood I decided to read it for inspiration of my historical novella “The Pact” even though this book spans into the 1960s Civil Rights movement. There were some changes opposite from the movie, but I enjoyed reading the similarities.

    Mama Flora’s Family

    This book had much longer chapters, but about the same length. Because I enjoyed the 1998 movie starring Cicely Tyson, I was curious about reading the book, as I like family drama stories, and my Words by Heart Saga series is pretty much like a family drama too. I have to admit, I skipped over the foul language in different chapters, but I still liked reading the book and remembering scenes from the movie, which is one of my favorites of Cicely Tyson’s films. The book was great for trying to fit a number of generations in one novel, but I still like the movie better as it was more “family-friendly” despite the love segments and tense family scenes. (I actually watched it again with my mom and sister not long ago. It was kind of a while since we seen it.)

    A Woman’s Fear

    This book was very informative about the effects of abuse on women and children and based on cases/incidents the author experienced as a paramedic. As you can imagine, it was a bit difficult to get through, but the subjects discussed happen in real life, and I appreciated the author also giving helpful tips for women as well as men to be aware of for protection and prevention when out in public places, which can make going outdoors a little less scary. The author really wrote in a manner of understanding most women’s emotions, how they feel about different things, and the fact that emotional abuse is the one that lasts the longest and can be done in many different ways.

    Well, that’s all my reads, but next year, I’d like to read at least 5-10 books.

    • I’ll add these to my to-read list. We seem to share similar taste, both in writing and reading. What are you working on at the moment?

      • I’m a Christian/women’s fiction writer, but my stories tend to have other subgenres, particularly historical, urban, or suspense. Currently, I’m writing/working on the 2nd book of an Urban/Christian drama series, called ‘Hallelujah Praise’ but I’m in the process of getting critiques for my Christian/Historical fiction novella “The Pact,” which is a story about a slavemaster daughter’s opposing views on slavery, the Fugitive Slave Law of the Compromise of 1850, and her journey North with her slave friends to freedom. I’m hoping and planning for “The Pact” to be my next release.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Textbooks count too!

  28. I also read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron this year and am hosting a group for discussion. I read it back in 2007 and it launched my writing career. I’ve also gone down a rabbit hole of discovery about Mary Magdalene and it’s launched my journey to the Sacred Feminine. One of my favorite books of the year is THE MEANING OF MARY MAGDALENE by Cynthia Bourgeault. In fiction, I’ve read several Louise Penny mysteries – love Inspector Gamache. In non-fiction I started reading STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING and HOW TO BE AN ANTI-RACIST both by Dr. Ibrem X. Kendi. For writing craft I read SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL.

  29. This is a thought-provoking (in a good way) post. I haven’t read anywhere near as much as I’d have liked this year. Mostly, I’ve sought out stuff in a similar vein to my current WIP. Unfortunately not a lot of it was memorable. 🙁
    My absolute dream would to see my novel GOLD! The Kincaid Saga Pt 1 included in your list for next year. Oh well, I can dream, hey?
    Have a great 2021. Keep well and safe.

  30. C. A. Jaymes says

    35 books read so far (2020 isn’t over yet!). Fiction to non-fiction ratio = 23:12. Favorites were Story Engineering by Larry Brooks: absolutely the best book I’ve ever read on how to structure a novel. Second favorite was a re-read: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I hadn’t read it since the 80’s, so I was able to enjoy it in new ways due to the age and experience I’ve accumulated since the first reading.

  31. I love Donald Maass! Saw him speak at a conference in Chicago a few years ago and he really helps authors dig deep.

  32. I started way more than I finished this year. But… the books I did finish were all amazing! Anyways, here’s my top five (we’ll see if I’m capable of sticking to only 5 or not…) Also, these are in no particular order.

    1) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell is quickly becoming a new favorite author of mine.
    2) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I definitely didn’t expect to love this one as much as I did! The writing was absolutely beautiful and Thisby is probably my favorite setting ever.
    3) Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay. I don’t read a ton of contemporary, but Daddy Long Legs is a favorite classic of mine so I couldn’t pass up a retelling of it.
    4) Scythe by Neal Shusterman. While this was one of my favorite books this year, I honestly cannot think of a book I have more mixed feelings about. I love it simply because it made me think, something I’d been noticing a lack of in many of the other books I was reading. That being said, there were so many choices that Shusterman made for the story that really bugged me so…. I don’t know how to feel about it honestly.
    5) The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Man this book was good! I just discovered Sanderson this year and wow! just wow! that’s really all I have to say. I’m still processing the ending to that one!
    And bonus number 6, because I can’t help myself… The Well of Ascension, also by Brandon Sanderson. I absolutely adored the politics in this book! Seeing the aftermath of a rebellion was so different from what I normally read and I loved it!

  33. This was a year of classic fiction for me.
    I enjoyed a couple of short story collections that had, for the most part, superb stories. Particularly Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates.
    But for novels, Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray and Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time were standout good reads. I do think Portrait of Dorian Gray is highly overrated as a horror novel, but as for its writing, though indulgent, it’s beautifully written, which makes up for its shortcomings.
    For non-fiction, Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence is an excellent book about rhetorical devices. The writing is witty, and each rhetorical device he analyzes can be used as a writing challenge.
    Also, An Adventure by E.F. Jourdain and C.A.E. Moberly is an interesting read on timeslip experiences.
    For craft books, I found Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit a helpful read, if for nothing else than to adjust how I see and approach the editing process.

  34. My Top Six reads this year (in no particular order):
    1) Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
    2) Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
    3) The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    4-6) Regeneration (Trilogy) by Pat Barker

  35. MR ROD LAWLESS says

    One book above all others is Antkind by Andy Kaufman. Not only did I get inspired, I had a great laugh.

  36. I have to thank you for recommending The Artist’s Way and If You Want to Write on your podcast this year — those two have become the cornerstone of my writing philosophy/goals as a creative. I was already headed in the direction they advocate (viewing writing as art from the soul/creative force rather than a cerebral exercise in manipulating readers’ emotions/experience) but their cultivated wisdom helped me see the path far more clearly and quickly than I would have this year left to my own devices. I also just wanted to thank you for your earnest search for truth/a higher understanding of art and creativity, because basically no one else in the hip circle of writing advice-givers online seems to be trying for that. I only moved away from the formulae so popularly advocated by other online writing pundits thanks to the thoughts and ideas you’ve shared on your podcast over this past year+ about what the real point of writing–*beautiful* writing–has become to you. I applaud you for your willingness to let go of your outlining norm and try out pantsing in a bid to learn more about your true self on the page (I’m also trying to do the same right now and it’s both wonderful and alarming and ultimately quite freeing) and create art that is alive, honest, and true to your present self. We’d got best capture the particular truths of our authentic experiences in this time and place and preserve it in our writing, because someone writing a hundred years from now won’t authentically be able to do it, right? 🙂 Good luck to us both, and thank you again from the bottom of my heart.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thank you so much for sharing this. So very nice to know we’re all struggling through this writing life alone–but together. 🙂 I echo your sentiments straight back at you!

  37. Lynda Courtright says

    Thanks Katie, and all of you who replied with your inspiring read lists. I don’t know how you get all that reading done. I probably only read a dozen books this year (I read slowly and savor), and that’s more than I used to read. I love reading, but a busy career and a big family, church and volunteer work, my own writing and artistic work are also important to me.

    Favorites this year were Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and one of Louise Penny’s mysteries, A Rule Against Murder (not my favorite genre but Penny writes so beautifully, lyrically, so atypical of a murder mystery!!).

    I got a kindle paper white for Christmas and spent last night organizing starting to organize what I’ve read and want to read. I appreciate all your lists—I’ll add some of them to my aspirations!


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love my Kindle–so great for storing large libraries. But I admit it’s still hard to beat the feel of a big hardcover in my hands. 🙂

  38. Linda Grace says

    I adore both Harry Potter AND the Lord of the Rings. My FAVORITE read last year was “the Boys in the Boat.” I agree – it’s begging to be a movie.

  39. Patrick K Macy says

    As suggested, I got the hard copy of Writing Your Story’s Theme so I could mark it up. I started it after my December vacation. So far, well done and insightful.
    Of the writing craft books I finished This Year, my favorites were Richie Billings’, A Fantasy Writer’s Workshop, Finished before starting Theme; 5 Editors Tackle The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing, by Larkin, Clare, Distler, Patchen and Thomson. This may be the best editing info I have read.
    If we are counting Unabridged Audiobooks, I have listened to a lot of stories, some more than once (over 80 single listens by my count.) Joe Abercrombie’s trilogy again, as well as, The Heroes, Sharp Ends (short stories), Best Served Cold were all third time listens this year. Listened to the last three books in Michael J. Sullivan’s Age of Series. Like both these authors for slightly different reasons: Sullivan’s stories are character centered, fun to listen to with snappy dialogue. Abercrombie’s stories have multiple characters (something I like, but I have noted many craft advisors say should not be done – unless you can do it well and I think Joe does it very well.) His dialogue is also a bit more adult oriented (real in a world where war and fighting is common.)

  40. Casandra Merritt says

    This year I am reading George Orwell’s 1984. Not a comforting read at all, but there couldn’t be a better time to read it.

  41. I’m a recent subscriber. Loving your blog!
    My favorite book this year would have to be ‘BEHOLD THE DAWN’!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I absolutely loved it. It has been a long time since I read a book that I couldn’t wait to pick back up again when I put it down.

    Also for those who like history I would recommend Jeff Shaara’s American Revolution books Rise to Rebellion and A Glorious Cause.

  42. Dianne Honey says

    I don’t usually keep a record of how many book I read in a year, but this year I did. There are 82 books, some for a course I completed and some for pure joy. They are mainly murder mysteries but I read some classics and poetry for the first time.
    My favourite book was The Handmaiden and Blood Guilt.

  43. Usvaldo de Leon says

    I’m so deep into my phone I’m not sure I know what a book looks like anymore. But I do know podcasts and your interviews with Joanna Penn and Alex Ferrari were both great – relaxed and informative. Thanks for them and for the past year on the blog.

  44. Jean Wilson says

    First of all , I am grateful to you for creating such a wonderful website for writers. I am really happy to see the free books you’re giving us in all usable formats. I pray for your success in every project you do. Secondly for writing such a great article on the books you read last year. I’m sure everyone want these books in their homes or do read lists. I want also contribute to this list. I came across some interesting self-esteem books for 10 year olds

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