Our 2020 Reading Goals

On this mini-episode of The Desk Set, we're talking about reading in the new year! We share our personal reading goals, discuss this year's 10 to Try challenge, and talk about 2020 titles we're looking forward to.

We also announce that the podcast is going on a hiatus - we'll be back with new episodes this summer. To stay up to date on 10 to Try in the meantime, follow us on Twitter or Instagram, sign up for the newsletter, or visit kcls.org/10toTry.


Download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify, or stream the episode using the media player below.

A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.

Recommended Reading

Because the books we talked about are coming later in 2020, not all of them are available for this list! Here's a selection of what KCLS has already ordered - place your holds now!

Our 2020 Reading Goals

View Full List


If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to deskset@kcls.org.


The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.


Emily Calkins: You're listening to The Desk Set.

Britta Barrett: A bookish podcast for reading broadly.

Emily Calkins: We're your hosts, Emily Calkins.

Britta Barrett: And Britta Barrett.

Emily Calkins: And we're here for a New Year's episode, so Happy New Year.

Britta Barrett: Happy New Year.

Emily Calkins: It is well into January, but that's okay.

Britta Barrett: There's no bad time for reading.

Emily Calkins: That's right. And it's still the new year so we're going to start by talking about reading resolutions and what we hope to get out of our reading this year. Then we'll talk about the 2020 10 to Try challenge and what the categories are, and then we'll talk about some titles that we're looking forward to reading in the new year.

Britta Barrett: So do you have any reading goals for 2020?

Emily Calkins: I do. I set a number goal again this year, it's 75, which is half of what I challenged myself to read last year. And I'm on my way. I'm currently ahead of schedule, so feeling good about 75. How about you?

Britta Barrett: Last year I set my goal for a hundred and I ended up reading over 150.

Emily Calkins: Oh my God.

Britta Barrett: And so my goal this year is actually to read fewer books.

Emily Calkins: Interesting.

Britta Barrett: I've set it at a very reasonable 50.

Emily Calkins: Okay.

Britta Barrett: I've already accomplished seven so we'll see how that all shakes out.

Emily Calkins: So are you going to be reading different things?

Britta Barrett: Different things than I did last year?

Emily Calkins: I know you read a ton of graphic novels last year and that's part of how you racked up that high number count.

Britta Barrett: I think that trend will continue. I probably won't be reading quite as many chapbooks of poetry as I did last year as part of the reading challenge. It's a subject that I didn't know much about so I really dove into poetry and those tend to be quick reads.

Emily Calkins: Yeah.

Britta Barrett: One way you can approach your reading goal is to set a number, but another one is to try to get out of your comfort zone, which is exactly what 10 to Try does for participants.

Emily Calkins: Yeah, exactly. So, if you're intimidated by a number, like 200 books in a year, the thing that's nice about 10 to Try is it's only 10 titles, but it does still feel like a goal because of the different categories, some of which are always going to be a little easier and some of which are going to be trickier. Can I tell you what the categories are?

Britta Barrett: Please.

Emily Calkins: All right. So, without further ado, the 10 to Try 2020 categories are: read a book that is a retelling of a fairy tale or myth, read a book that teaches you a new skill, read a book about a journey, read a book with a friend, read a book about a person you'd like to meet, read a book about nature, read a book about music or a musician, read a book about current events, read a book recommended by KCLS staff, and read a book by an author whose gender is different from yours.

Britta Barrett: Those are so exciting.

Emily Calkins: They are exciting.

Britta Barrett: Is there one that you're like, "I just cannot wait to cross this one off."

Emily Calkins: I'm excited about a retelling of a fairy tale or myth because, even though I don't read nearly as much fantasy as I used to, when I was a kid, I was like a deep, deep fantasy reader, so I think that one's going to be fun for me. How about you?

Britta Barrett: I think that's the one that's going to be a challenge for me, but I've already got 20 books that I've got my eye on that I want to check out and try.

Emily Calkins: Excellent.

Britta Barrett: For me, I think teaches you a new skill is always really fun.

Emily Calkins: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Britta Barrett: Last year I also had a goal of not killing my house plant. That is singular, I have one house plant. It is a pothos, it is not dead yet so I think it's going to get a slightly more ambitious friend.

Emily Calkins: Nice.

Britta Barrett: And I'd like to learn how best to take care of it.

Emily Calkins: I think that's a great one. I like that new skill category because I know it'll push me. I'm so often a fiction reader.

Britta Barrett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emily Calkins: You have to read nonfiction for that category. A lot of them are really flexible, nature, music, even current events. I think you could go either way, but I think to learn a new skill you probably have to read nonfiction so...

Britta Barrett: And again, these are such simple things, but I recently learned how to sew a button.

Emily Calkins: That is so useful.

Britta Barrett: It took this long. I'd really love to expand my mending skills.

Emily Calkins: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Britta Barrett: Especially as I'm thinking more about being a conscientious consumer and how to take care of your closet and all that kind of stuff.

Emily Calkins: I like that. I think that's a great goal.

Britta Barrett: Is there anything you want to learn this year?

Emily Calkins: Oh gosh. Well, I am facing down what promises to be an interesting and exciting year, and we can talk a little bit about that later, but I guess a lot of the goals that I tend to normally have are ambitious cooking goals and I don't think this is a year that that's going to happen, so I haven't decided what I'm going to try and tackle for this one yet. Any others that you're excited about?

Britta Barrett: Read a book about music or a musician. There are so many books in this nonfiction genre that I've been meaning to get around to and I feel like this is just the perfect excuse.

Emily Calkins: That's one of the things I love about this challenge is that it often encourages me to pick up stuff that I missed the first time around. It gives me that extra nudge that I need to get them read, and I'm always glad that I did. I'm looking forward to something in that category too.

Britta Barrett: Also, read a book with a friend. Could you describe what that might look like?

Emily Calkins: Sure. So I'm really excited about this one, it's kind of different than any other challenge category we've done before in that it's a process instead of a topic. There are lots of different ways that you can read with someone. You could read out loud to them. I think that's sort of the most literal interpretation, sit down and, with someone in your life, read a book out loud together. You could also be in a book club, you read the same book and then you discuss it. You can do that in an informal way. I know you're a big fan of sending your favorite books to people and then making them read them and connecting.

Britta Barrett: It's so low pressure. I feel like trying to connect around a book group and there's wine and there's cheese and we have to have thoughtful things to say all in the same magical day - it just doesn't necessarily work for adult schedules and lives.

Emily Calkins: Yeah.

Britta Barrett: If I can just be like, "Here's this gift, I think you're going to love it. When you're done we can talk about it, but that can happen anytime."

Emily Calkins: Yeah, as long as it's before December 31.

Britta Barrett: Ideally. You've got one year.

Emily Calkins: Yeah. So that's the goal. That's that category. Even if you're a commuter and you have a commuting buddy and you listen to audiobooks in the car, that counts.

Britta Barrett: Totally.

Emily Calkins: Are you going on a road trip? There's lots of ways to interpret that one.

Britta Barrett: Well, read a book with a friend transitions really nicely into some anticipated titles that we're excited that are coming out in 2020. One that I just cannot wait to read is from Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, who are co-hosts of a podcast I adore called Call Your Girlfriend, which is a show for a long-distance besties everywhere, and so they wrote a book called Big Friendship, which is all about those chosen families, nurturing those relationships in your life, mourning the ones that end. I can't wait to see what they had to say.

Emily Calkins: That sounds fun. What else is on your most anticipated list?

Britta Barrett: I feel like I'm getting so many presents from my favorite authors. When I was looking at what's coming out this year, I was like, "No, are you serious? I get another one from my favorite person?" Pretty soon Rebecca Solnit is coming out with Recollections of My Non-Existence, which is a very provocative title. It's about growing up in the San Francisco punk scene and queer scene and finding her voice in a world that would prefer women be quiet. You may know her from Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, Hope in the Dark. I think she's an incredible author and I can't wait to see how she became the person she is.

Britta Barrett: Also, Samantha Irby is just one of the funniest people on the planet. If you have not yet read We Are Never Meeting in Real Life or Meaty, she just has me laugh-crying in the car anytime I listen to her audiobooks. I'm so excited about Wow, No Thank You is the title of her upcoming collection. And then I just read this morning that Lisa Hanawalt, who is the creator of Tuca & Bertie and a producer on BoJack Horseman, is coming out with a collection called I Want You, which is all of her very early drawing work. Some of my favorite work from her are her earliest stuff like My Dirty Dumb Eyes and Hotdog Taste Test, which have this very chaotic, wonderful quality to her drawing and humor before it really got firmed up, so I can't wait to see what has been floating around her brain all this time.

Britta Barrett: Later in the year we're getting a new book from Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want To Talk About Race, she's bringing us Mediocre: the Dangerous Legacy of White Male America.

Emily Calkins: Oh boy.

Britta Barrett: Christmas present for 2020, comes out in December. I will pre-order it. And then finally a subject that last year's reading challenge inspired me to learn more about, there's a book coming out called Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami. This is something I've always wondered about. He's such a singular author and it's hard to tell is this maybe very different in translation? Is it super faithful? What is the process? Because if it is faithful, I feel like there's still so much to negotiate, moving from Japanese to English. It's a book that looks at that whole process. So, can't wait to read those.

Emily Calkins: Fascinating.

Britta Barrett: What about you?

Emily Calkins: Those all sound great. My first pick is a teeny tiny bit of a cheat because it came out on December 31.

Britta Barrett: Totally counts.

Emily Calkins: It missed all of the the 2019 hullabaloo, and I've seen it on lots of anticipated for 2020 lists so I'm going with it. It's called Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. You probably have seen this book everywhere. It was Reese Witherspoon's book club pick, it's the Buzzfeed pick for February. I actually read it way last summer and just really, really liked it. It's about a young black woman in Philadelphia, she's 25, she has a part-time nannying job, and all of her friends are moving up and moving on in their careers, and she doesn't know what she wants to do. And then she gets a call late one night, she's out with friends, from her employer. They are having an emergency and they want to know she can come and take the three-year-old to just get her out of the house.

Emily Calkins: So Emira goes together, they walk down the block to the grocery store, and while they're at the grocery store, she is accused of kidnapping this little girl and somebody films the incident. So it's super timely, and this sort of spirals, it changes her relationship with her employer, it changes her relationship with the guy who did the videoing, and it's just both compulsively readable, such a good story, and also just really timely, really sharp. I thought the dialogue was really great. As a white person who's trying to be a good - a force for good in the world, I think there's some uncomfortable moments of, what does it really mean to have this kind of relationship with someone who's a person of color, where you're employing them, but they're also in some ways almost part of your family. It's a very complicated relationship and she does such a good job of teasing out all of the nuances.

Emily Calkins: So there's that. That's Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Next up is The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel.

Britta Barrett: Which I think you'd just finished.

Emily Calkins: I did just finish it, yeah.

Britta Barrett: I feel like we should just mention one of the wonderful perks of Emily's job is that she often gets advanced readers copies, so if you're wondering, "How did you read this book that just came out months ago?" This is how.

Emily Calkins: Yes, it is a great perk. So Emily St. John Mandel wrote one of all-time favorites, which is Station Eleven, which many of our listeners have probably read, and this is her next book and it is very different in some ways and very similar in others. Station Eleven is sort of sci-fi, it's set after a pandemic apocalypse. This is a much more contemporary story, it doesn't have as many of those speculative elements, but she is such a fascinating writer, the way that she thinks about a story and the way that she opens all of these different doors and different timelines through different characters to let you in on different pieces of the story. I just really loved it. I was so worried. You know sometimes when you have a favorite, can they live up to their last work? And I think that this one really does. So I'm excited for everyone else to read that one and talk to me about it.

Emily Calkins: The next three, I haven't read yet, but I'm looking forward to them. So first up is The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg, who's a Seattle writer. This one comes in May and it's a memoir. People probably mostly know her from Orangette, which is her food blog, and then some memoirs that she wrote about that in the restaurant Delancey, which she opened with her husband. Not too long after her second book came out, she and her husband got divorced and she began a relationship with a woman and she had never thought of herself as bisexual, she thought of sexuality as this fixed thing, and this is a memoir all about how that relationship happened. She's a wonderful writer, she's very engaging, and so I'm just really looking forward to getting that story.

Emily Calkins: My next pick is Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner. This one's also coming in May. I've seen this compared to Red, White and Royal Blue, favorite of last year, so that's why I'm excited about this one. It's about a Hollywood showrunner and her assistant, and what starts out as a fake relationship between these two women then evolves into something else. So it should be fun and frothy and have that kind of glamour, insider-y a vibe that I really loved in Red, White and Royal Blue.

Emily Calkins: And then my last pick for the first half of the year is called The Vanishing Half. It's by Brit Bennett who wrote The Mothers, which came out a few years ago. This is about twin sisters growing up in the south. They're African-American and one of them stays in the small town where they have been born and lives her whole life there, and the other one goes out into the broader world and starts passing for white. So some interesting racial dynamics there. She's a fascinating writer.

Emily Calkins: So those are the five that I picked, but I feel like I have to say, just like you did when I was starting to look at all of the stuff that's coming this year, we have new novels from Imbolo Mbue and Curtis Sittenfeld and David Mitchell and Emma Straub and Louise Erdrich and James McBride and Stephen Graham Jones. It seems like an extra big year.

Britta Barrett: Totally. I think my current anticipated titles list is around 40, and it just keeps growing.

Emily Calkins: Right. It is January, so lots of things have not even been announced.

Britta Barrett: It's going to be an exciting year.

Emily Calkins: It is going to be an exciting year.

Britta Barrett: But you mentioned earlier you alluded to the fact that it's also personally exciting. Do you want to tell our readers a little bit about that?

Emily Calkins: Sure. So the podcast is, after this episode, going to go on a hiatus because I am heading out on maternity leave. Baby number two due sometime soon and I should be back late in the spring and we should have new episodes for you sometime in the summer. So keep us in your feed and we'll be back to talk more about 10 to Try.

Britta Barrett: Until then there are a few other ways to stay connected to the challenge.

Emily Calkins: Yeah, absolutely. So you can visit us online at kcls.org/10totry, and we'll be adding new recommended lists and blog posts and all that kind of stuff all through the spring. You can also follow us on social media. Our Instagram in particular is a great place to get 10 to Try recommendations.

Britta Barrett: Our Instagram handle is King County Library and you can see book recommendations from Emily, myself, and some other librarians here at KCLS. And you can also get personalized reading recommendations by trying out BookMatch.

Emily Calkins: Yeah, so go to kcls.org/bookmatch. You fill out a little form online and within a week or two you'll get a list of personalized recommendations created just for you by a library staff member.

Britta Barrett: You can also get a newsletter directly into your inbox.

Emily Calkins: Yep. So there's a 10 to Try newsletter that comes out quarterly with links to all of our most recent lists and blog posts or reminders about the podcast. You can sign up for that at kcls.org/newsletters.

Britta Barrett: And if you'd like a more in-person interaction, there are book groups at our local KCLS libraries.

Emily Calkins: Absolutely. So you can see all of those on our calendar.

Britta Barrett: All right, well I think this is a great way to kick off the new year. Can't wait to start reading.

Emily Calkins: Get going. 50 books aren't going to read themselves.

Britta Barrett: And we'll be back with you again soon.

Emily Calkins: Happy reading.