It’s the most wonderful time of the year for curling up by the fire with a glass of eggnog — and a great book.
With all of the changes wrought by pandemic, many people have taken up new habits or rediscovered old ones, and reading is at the top of the list for many.
If you’re looking to find your next great read or maybe stuff a stocking or two, Amazon has you covered: The digital giant is out with its list of the best books of the year, with tomes in every genre, from personal memoirs about the injustices of the criminal justice system and navigating the world of group therapy, to thought-provoking novels about the bonds of family.
Coming in as the No. 1 book of the year, according to Amazon, is “A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice and Freedom,” by Brittany K. Barnett, an attorney and criminal justice reform advocate.
“She wrote this book to correct false narratives about those impacted by the war on drugs,” said Amazon Books editor Erin Kodicek. “So she really wanted to open a window for the world to know her clients, the way that she knows them, these kind, generous, brilliant men and women. And she wanted everybody to see that the victims of mass incarceration are not statistics, but human beings.”
The memoir is more than about just Barnett’s quest for justice for clients. “This is something that was really personal for her because her mother was in jail for drug offenses,” Kodicek said.
In the end, the reader may be left frustrated with the state of the criminal justice system, but inspired by Barnett’s activism, Kodicek said.
While Amazon may be famously known for its algorithm, the company’s list of top books is compiled by “living, breathing bookworms that just love to read,” said Kodicek, who is one of six Amazon Books editors, all with very different taste in books, who weighed in on the final list.
“We like to say we make these decisions the old-fashioned way — we argue,” she said.
The books included in the top 10 list were all previously selected by Amazon editors as “best books of the month” throughout the year.
“We have no idea how these books are going to sell. We have no idea how they’re going to be received,” Kodicek said. “And so the only charter that we have is to pick the books that we love.”
The year’s best novel, according to Amazon, is Australian writer Charlotte McConaghy’s “Migrations,” which is set in a dystopian future where most wild animals have gone extinct and follows the journey of a woman named Franny Stone. The novel ranked No. 2 on the list.
Other books making the top 10 list were “Blacktop Wasteland,” by S.A. Cosby, a crime thriller set in rural Virginia; “Group,” by Christie Tate, a memoir about the author’s experiences in group therapy; “The Vanishing Half” a novel about twins by Brit Bennett, the author of 2016’s well-received “The Mothers”; and “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, a history of the origins of inequality in American society and around the world.
There is likely something for nearly every taste on the final list.
“People read for different reasons, and we’re really cognizant of that,’ Kodicek said. “There are some people that want to read because they want to learn something, or there’s people that … want an escape. So when we’re putting this list together, we want to make sure that both those types of books are on this list.’
This year in particular, books have been a refuge for many. “I do think that a lot of people have turned to comfort reading this year,” Kodicek said.
There has also been increased focus on spotlighting the voices of Black writers and other writers of color.
“It’s a particularly diverse list this year,” Kodicek said, adding, “People are just more interested, I think, in diverse stories, and it has been a great year for that. And this list definitely reflects that.”
In addition to the top 10 list, Amazon puts out a list of top books across a range of genres, from biographies, to literary fiction, to romance and sci-fi.
You can see more on the Amazon Books website.