The written word kept me afloat in 2020–both reading and pursuing my own writing.
I’ve read some wonderful books, and have had more time to review them throughout the year—making this exercise a bit easier as the final day of 2020 rapidly comes to conclusion! Going back through my book journal is like remembering old friends—reminiscing on enjoyable experiences, lessons learned, and wise words taken to heart.
My fiction reading varied widely from classics, Pulitzer winners, Austen-fan fiction, action dramas, psychological thrillers, and modern mysteries.
As for non-fiction, I gravitated towards theology, spiritual formation, psychology, with a bit of history thrown in. I also read several titles on cultural engagement and bioethics for my master’s degree.
I hope these notes are helpful! Several below have longer reviews that are linked. And feel free to leave comments on suggestions for 2021!
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
• This likely wins the prize as my favorite book of 2020. Doerr’s writing style is captivating and the reader can’t help but come to know and love the characters he has crafted. The vulnerable and sweet Marie-Laure. The eccentric, PTSD-suffering great-uncle Etienne. The maternal, precocious Jutta. And her brother, Werner, a sensitive, thoughtful boy, a dreamer, who “sees what other people don’t,” whose “soul glowed with some fundamental kindness,” caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with. —> Full review.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
• I listened to this on Audible which was quite enjoyable. There are so many timeless themes in this classic that traces the character development of Edmund Dantes, who was imprisoned unjustly for years and makes a daring escape, fueled by his thirst for vengeance but ultimately relenting to forgiveness and acceptance. A favorite quote from the end—“All human wisdom is summed up in these three words: wait and hope.”- Edmund Dantes
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
• A delightful tale filled with friendship that also depicts the soul-crushing effects of communism.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
• Reverend Ames’ letters reflect on the intricacies of the human soul, the purpose of life, and his wrestling with deep theological questions. One thing shines through: he loved and served his family, his wife, his son, his parishioners, and his town, well. —> Full review.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
• This book spoke to me in so many ways, bringing me to tears many times. I resonated with the main character, Kya Clark, known as the “Marsh Girl,” and was cheering her on as she rose above her harsh upbringing, educating herself, and opening herself to love and belonging.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
• I waited way too long to read this Austen classic, the last one of hers I hadn’t read. It lived up to its expectations, with complex characters and a sweet friendship between sisters that withstands many trials. The wit and insight into human character of Austen is unmatched, in my opinion!
Hannah Coulter Wendell Berry
• This was a sweet tale that provides great insight into the changes that come to family and place over time.
The Goldfinch Donna Tartt
• This Pulitzer Prize-winning tome is an interesting coming-of-age story with excellent character development and descriptive narrative. The consequences of actions that compound over time is felt.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
• This ended up being a very timely book to read during the pandemic and quarantine, as we have all been suffering from social isolation. It illustrated how checking in on people we care about can quite literally be life-saving. This time has also revealed the plague of loneliness and the dreadful effects of trauma and lack of social connections. —> Full review.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
• I came away from The Splendid and the Vile with a profound sense of admiration for Churchill and his leadership and courage during a dark time in Europe, and yet with a healthy sense of his humanity, such as his irritableness, penchant for fine cigars, and his quirk of wandering 10 Downing Street in just a dressing robe (or less, as told in a humorous anecdote of an encounter with President Roosevelt later in 1941!). —> Full review.
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith
• This book was convicting, but also beautiful and freeing. The habit-forming gifts of the church are a special grace from the Lord to mold and shape our hearts, so that we can truly become the creatures with a purpose we were meant to be. —> Full review.
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
• This was a well-researched and worthwhile read. Cain provides a wealth of research and social commentary, critiquing the way our society – particularly American culture – overvalues the “extrovert ideal” and how much of our educational and workplace settings are organized around extroversion; when 1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts. —> Full review.
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy Mark Vroegop
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
• “What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?”
This is the fundamental question posed by Tish Harrison Warren in her thought-provoking book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She relates our every day practices, such as making the bed, losing our keys, answering email, drinking tea, and sleeping to the life-giving liturgical practices of the church. She challenges the reader to allow God to work in and redeem every moment, especially the ordinary ones. —> Full review.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and An American Family in Hitler’s Europe by Erik Larson
Inheritance Dani Shapiro
Surrender to Love David Benner
• Benner writes beautifully about the steadfast and love-changing love of God. He asks some very provocative questions and points that brought me to tears as I dismantle false views of myself and iron to the acceptance of God’s deep and abiding love.
Suffering is Never for Nothing Elisabeth Elliott
Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode by Aundi Kolber
• I highly recommend this book if you are interested in a more compassionate approach to life and our human bodies, rooted in Scripture and brain science. It is a gentle reminder that the way God created the human person and intended for us to be in relationships with one another, is a beautiful thing. —> Full review.
Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling Andy Crouch
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
• I found Atomic Habits to be extremely practical and helpful with ideas and strategies for becoming a creature of good habits. Clear’s thesis is that tiny, consistent—“atomic-size”—habits aggregate to big life changes. His four laws of behavior change are a helpful framework to form healthy habits: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying (these can be inverted for breaking bad habits). —> Full review.
Happy reading in 2021!!