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Best books 2020: Winners of the Goodreads Choice Awards

With tens of thousands of votes from readers across 20 categories, the Goodreads Choice Awards hoist up the most popular books of the year.
See the best books of 2020, according to Goodreads readers.
See the best books of 2020, according to Goodreads readers.Crown; Penguin Random House

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This year's Goodreads Choice Awards saw more votes than ever before, beating last year's total by roughly 1 million. In all, 5,674,480 votes were cast for the most popular books across 20 categories during the annual populist literary spectacle, in which Goodreads users are invited to vote for their favorites among finalists.

According to a spokesperson, the Goodreads editorial team curated 15 books per category, each having been published between Nov. 16, 2019 and Nov. 17, 2020 and each sporting at least a 3.5-star average rating. That was followed by several voting rounds and culminated in the Dec. 8 announcement of the winners below. To give you an idea of both winner and runners up, we include below the top voted as well as the three next-in-line books per category. Happy reading.

Fiction

1. "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig

  • 4.25-star average rating, more than 41,200 ratings

From Goodreads: This year’s Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction was the closest contest in the history of the awards. Your winner — by five votes — is The Midnight Library, author Matt Haig’s wildly inventive blend of literary and speculative fiction. The quick gist: Imagine a library in which each book represents a different path your life could have taken. Now imagine spending eternity in that library. It’s a Goodreads kind of dream…

Next three fiction finalists:

Mystery & Thriller

2. "The Guest List" by Lucy Foley

  • 3.86-star average rating, over 152,000 ratings

From Goodreads: Lucy Foley ran away with this year’s Mystery & Thriller award by inviting us to the best wedding ever! And by “best” we mean “most terrifying.” Jules and Will have chosen to hold their wedding on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Then the storm hits. Then the body is found. It’s like the old Irish adage: It’s not a party until somebody ends up dead.

Next three mystery & thriller finalists:

Historical Fiction

3. "The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

  • 4.29 star-average rating, more than 156,600 ratings

From Goodreads: Longlisted for the National Book Award, Brit Bennett’s ambitious novel follows two identical twin sisters from a small Southern town. One stays home in her Black community; the other passes for white in the wider world. Provocative and compassionate, Bennett’s book traces fascinating threads of American identity and is our hands-down winner for the 2020 Historical Fiction award.

Next three historical fiction finalists:

Fantasy

4. "House of Earth and Blood" by Sarah J. Maas

  • 4.43 star-average rating, more than 88,900 ratings

From Goodreads: Goodreads voters in the Fantasy category tended toward the dark and sticky side this year, and the 2020 win goes to House of Earth and Blood, author Sarah J. Maas’ introduction to her new Crescent City series. Stitched through with threads of romance and suspense, the novel follows complex heroine Bryce Quinlan and fallen angel Hunt Athalar as they track a lethal demon through the city.

Next three fantasy finalists:

Romance

5. "From Blood and Ash" by Jennifer L. Armentrout

  • 4.43 star-average rating, over 37,900 ratings

From Goodreads: This year’s Goodreads Choice Award for Romance comes from the exhilarating perimeters of the genre, where romance intersects with dark fantasy and paranormal intrigue. Veteran author Jennifer L. Armentrout tells the story of Poppy, a.k.a. The Maiden, a warrior destined by the gods to live a life of solitude, never to be touched. But then there’s Hawke, her fellow Guard. Forbidden passion is the best way to bust up destiny.

Next three romance finalists:

Science Fiction

6. "To Sleep in a Sea of Stars" by Christopher Paolini

  • 3.91 star-average rating, over 6,300 ratings

From Goodreads: Author Christopher Paolini earns his first Goodreads Choice Award with this sustained gaze into the future of humankind. While scouting an as-yet-uncolonized planet, scientist Kira Navárez discovers an alien relic that will change the fate of Earth and its colonies. A resounding critical and commercial success, Paolini’s innovative story brings delightful new twists to the venerable “first contact” sci-fi template.

Next three science fiction finalists:

Horror

7. "Mexican Gothic" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  • 3.75 star-average rating, more than 65,000 ratings

From Goodreads: If it seemed like everyone you knew was reading Mexican Gothic this year, that’s because they were. Author Silvia Moreno-Garcia (“Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination”) collects the Horror prize for 2020 with a pitch-perfect Gothic horror story in the old-school mode, but with contemporary perspectives on race and colonialism. Spooky mansions! Opulent decay! Bumps in the night!

Next three horror finalists:

Humor

8. "Strange Planet" by Nathan W. Pyle

  • 4.33 star-average rating, over 22,600 ratings

From Goodreads: Writer and cartoonist Nathan W. Pyle found mad success online with his Instagram series Strange Planet. Now anthologized into a series of books, Pyle’s delightful creation has a Goodreads Choice Award, too. Strange Planet features blue aliens who think and act just like us humans, but with a hilarious kind of specificity (and emotional intelligence). It’s deceptively simple and really quite brilliant.

Next three humor finalists:

Nonfiction

9. "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

  • 4.59 star-average rating, more than 23,300 ratings

From Goodreads: This year’s winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Nonfiction, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is an adaptation for middle grade readers of Ibram X. Kendi’s 2016 National Book Award–winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. An exhaustively researched and passionately argued statement on the history of racism, it’s good nutrition for young minds.

Next three nonfiction finalists:

Memoir & Autobiography

10. "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama

  • 4.49 star-average rating, over 6,300 ratings

From Goodreads: Former president Barack Obama has led a rather accomplished life, it can be said, and now he’s got a Goodreads Choice Award to add to the shelf. Hugely anticipated around the globe, A Promised Land delivers with a surprisingly intimate look back at Obama’s historic journey from young community organizer to 44th president of the United States—the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office. Hail to the chief.

Next three memoir & autobiography finalists:

History & Biography

11. "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents" by Isabel Wilkerson

  • 4.63 star-average rating, more than 19,000 ratings

From Goodreads: From Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents continues a discernible theme in this year’s awards: books that take a long, hard look at America itself. Wilkerson argues, persuasively, that Americans are mired in an outdated and dangerous hierarchy system that goes even deeper than race and class. The silver lining: It’s not too late for meaningful change.

Next three history & biography finalists:

Science & Technology

12. "A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future" by David Attenborough

  • 4.62 star-average rating, over 1,500 ratings

From Goodreads: With his definitive witness statement of life on planet Earth, naturalist, journalist, and planetary defender David Attenborough wins this year’s Goodreads Choice Award in Science & Technology. Sir Attenborough’s book is part testimony, part memoir, and part urgent call to arms. It provides a vision for the future in which, through collective action, we can still save Earth’s wild places. But we’ll have to act fast.

Next three science & technology finalists:

Food & Cookbooks

13. "Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten

  • 4.38 star-average rating, 580 ratings

From Goodreads: Author and alpha foodie Ina Garten takes the Food & Cookbooks prize with a collection of recipes perfect for the quarantined lifestyle of 2020. The 85 dishes featured here—many of them childhood favorites—are easy to make and meant to provide culinary comfort in this strangest of times. Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese! Creamy Tomato Bisque! Banana Rum Trifle! We’re feeling better already.

Next three food & cookbooks finalists:

Graphic Novels & Comics

14. "Heartstopper: Volume Three" by Alice Oseman

  • 4.65 star-average rating, more than 26,400 ratings

From Goodreads: Winner of the 2020 Goodreads Choice Award for Graphic Novel & Comics, Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper: Volume Three continues the love story of Charlie and Nick, now open and out and ready to meet the world. Oseman’s ongoing serialized webcomic has won universal praise for its insightful exploration of LGBTQ+ themes and its quiet celebration of those universal mysteries: love, friendship, and loyalty.

Next three graphic novels & comics finalists:

Poetry

15. "Dearly: New Poems" by Margaret Atwood

  • 3.89 star-average rating, more than 995 ratings

From Goodreads: This year’s Goodreads Choice Award for Poetry goes to the indefatigable Margaret Atwood, who is surely one of our planet’s most priceless commodities. Her first collection of poetry in more than a decade, Dearly is like a sustained twinkle in Atwood’s ever-observant eye. The poems carom about inside Atwood’s fertile imagination, bouncing from the personal to political to genuinely funny.

Next three poetry finalists:

Debut Novel

16. "Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid

  • 3.85 star-average rating, more than 188,000 ratings

From Goodreads: Author Kiley Reid’s fascinating debut brings dry and sometimes dark humor to a story about the “everyday domestic biases that we don’t even know we have.” African American babysitter Emira encounters escalating weirdness when her upper-crust white employer finds disastrous new ways to deploy her good intentions. Reid’s assured debut has won her rave reviews, chart-topping sales, and now a coveted Goodreads Choice Award.

Next three debut novel finalists:

Young Adult Fiction

17. "Clap When You Land" by Elizabeth Acevedo

  • 4.37 star-average rating, more than 31,500 ratings

From Goodreads: Elizabeth Acevedo wins this year’s Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction with a powerful novel-in-verse about love, loss, and family. Camino and Yahaira Rios didn’t even know they were sisters until their father died in a plane crash. Now they’re learning more than they want to know about the ties (and knots) that bind families together. Bonus trivia: Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion, too.

Next three young adult fiction finalists:

Young Adult Fantasy

18. "The Queen of Nothing" by Holly Black

  • 4.35 star-average rating, more than 115,500 ratings

From Goodreads: Author Holly Black celebrates back-to-back wins in the YA Fiction category with The Queen of Nothing, her follow-up to last year’s winner The Wicked King. This final installment in Black’s wildly popular series reveals the ultimate fate of Jude, exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, and a girl with extremely interesting problems. Shakespeare can tell you: Politics is lethal in the world of the Fae.

Next three young adult fantasy finalists:

Middle Grade & Children's

19. "The Tower of Nero" by Rick Riordan

  • 4.58 star-average rating, more than 10,770 ratings

From Goodreads: Category godfather Rick Riordan once again takes the prize for Middle Grade and Children’s Books with the final installment of The Trials of Apollo series. Inspired by Greco-Roman mythology, The Tower of Nero chronicles the final adventures of the Greek god Apollo, incarnated on Earth as hapless teenager Lester Papadopoulos. For those keeping score at home, this is Riordan’s 10th consecutive victory in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

Next three Middle Grade & Children's finalists:

Picture Books

20. "Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi

  • 4.24 star-average rating, more than 2,290 ratings

From Goodreads: Author Ibram X. Kendi reaches out to the youngest of readers—and the grown-ups in their lives—with this innovative picture book dedicated to creating a more equitable future for everyone. This is Kendi’s second 2020 Goodreads Choice Award; he also picked up the Nonfiction prize for his similarly themed book for middle grade readers. Illustrator Ashley Lukashevsky provides the bold and lovely art. Hey, babies! Check this out!

Next three Picture Books finalists:

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