A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

5 Great Books I Read in 2020

Illustration with five book covers of books recommended by Melinda Gates
Illustration by Hailey Coral
It’s been an extraordinary year: a global pandemic, a historic U.S. election, protests against racial injustice, and months-long retreats into our homes and ourselves. Throughout it all, I’ve turned to books.

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Books, at their best, are portals that close the distance between us. They offer us the shared experience of immersing ourselves in a new story or idea. They educate and inspire, entertain and uplift. And, in this socially distant year, these are things we need more than ever.

So, if you are looking for a book to tuck into this holiday season, here are five I recommend. At the very least, they’re a little something to bring us together.
An illustration of the book cover of Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Illustration by Hailey Coral
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s latest must-read is a richly imagined and deeply empathetic story of a young Black man unjustly sent to an abusive reform school in the Jim Crow South. While the novel is fiction, it’s based on real events that occurred over decades at Florida’s now-closed Dozier School for Boys. Whitehead has said that he wants his writings to share untold stories of the “corners of America that we never see, never think about, and never hear about.” The Nickel Boys achieves this and more—shining a light on the many ways systemic racism shows up in America’s history and works to crush human potential. The most haunting part about reading this book is to know that its story was repeated again and again.
The book cover of The Dutch Houes by Ann Patchett
Illustration by Hailey Coral
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and books like The Dutch House are why. This tale of a brother and sister making their way through life beautifully explores the bonds between siblings, the challenges and complexities of families, and the universal search for home.
Illustration of the book cover for Whistling Vivaldi by Dr. Claude M. Steele
Illustration by Hailey Coral
Whistling Vivaldi by Dr. Claude M. Steele

Bias changes our brains. It distorts our interactions and perverts our identity. It’s like a bug in the source code of society. In Whistling Vivaldi, Dr. Steele describes how bias impedes our ability to perform at work, at school, and at great cost to us all. Importantly, he also offers a roadmap to transcend it. Can you imagine the heights we’ll reach if, instead of telling people they’ll fall, we affirm they’re safe to keep reaching higher?
The book cover of "So you want to talk about race" by IIjeoma Oluo
Illustration by Hailey Coral
So You Want To Talk About Race by IIjeoma Oluo

Author and fellow Seattleite Iljeoma Oluo arms us with insight, empathy, and a new vocabulary for having difficult—but much-needed—conversations around race. In this book, she educates readers on how to bring more awareness and compassion into our interactions, so we can increase understanding. This book could not be more important or more timely.
An illustration of the book cover of "The Choice" by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
Illustration by Hailey Coral
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

This has been a difficult year, and The Choice is an essential read for anyone who is struggling. As a psychologist, Dr. Edith Eger provides expert advice on how to heal from trauma, and as a Holocaust survivor, she provides a powerful firsthand account of what that journey looks like. Dr. Eger has lived through the worst of humanity. In her book, she also shows us the best.