My Top 20 Books of 2020
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Despite (or perhaps because of) the tumults of 2020, books have been a huge solace for me this year.
How I did on my 2020 reading goals:
- Goal 1: To Read 220 books in 2020. I didn’t accomplish this borderline insane goal, but I did manage to have my most productive reading year on record, weighing in at just over 100 books. I frankly don’t know how this happened, given that there were large swathes of the year during which I was mentally unwell and not able to read much. When I was reading, though, I was reading.
- Goals 2 and 3: To Read more YA and Canadian Lit. I did read a few in each category. Not much but more than the 0 I’d read in previous years. I win.
- Goal 4: Don’t get any library fines. It’s a pandemic miracle! Not only have the lockdowns meant reading almost exclusively by ebook, but my local library also suspended all fines for books returned late. So even though I have not been a perfect angel this year, I have not incurred fines.
My favorite books of this year are an eclectic mix of fiction, memoir, self-improvement, dystopian, history, theology, and more…
My Top 20 Books of 2020
(Listed in alphabetical order. NOTE: I’ll be doing a special follow-up posts of my favorite books of 2020 for writers with books not included in this list. Stay tuned.)
1. Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
Sometimes you just need to lose yourself in a prolific family saga that spans multiple generations and tons of pages. This one didn’t disappoint.
2. Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them, Jennifer Wright
I’ve always wanted to read Jane Austen while visiting Bath. Instead, I read about pandemics in a pandemic. A wry journey through the past; turns out humans pretty much behave the same during a pandemic regardless of what century they are in.
3. Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship, Laurence Heller and Aline LaPierre
This book changed my life and lent insight into my lifelong quest to control reality and please people. For anyone who suspects unresolved trauma in their formative years (no matter how seemingly minor) may be robbing them of their ability to be present in life and relationships.
4. Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Dani Shapiro
An honest yet positive memoir on marriage, with Shapiro’s literary, compulsively readable style. Bonus points for being short and sweet.
5. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, Michelle McNamara
An unabashedly addictive true crime read with an added layer of intrigue because the author died unexpectedly while writing it (of natural causes, but still).
6. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
A necessary book for Christians in the North American racialized context. A brave, captivating, and eye-opening memoir we would do well to read and heed.
7. Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, Nir Eyal
Sometimes it’s not about (just) avoiding distractions, but about figuring out what it is you’re being distracted from. Which sounds simple, but isn’t. If you’ve ever read one of the popular productivity or self-improvement books and felt like something was missing in their strategies, this book might be for you.
8. It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear, Gregg Easterbrook
The economy, climate, crime, technology… the world’s going to hell in a handbasket. Or is it? This book was more thorough and balanced than I expected, and has made me a more scrupulous consumer of both news and doomsday prophecies.
9. On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s, Greg O’Brien
Haunting and unforgettable. With almost literary lucidity, O’Brien manages to weave beauty and meaning into his gradual erosion of memory and awareness. For anyone who has ever looked at a loved one ravaged by Alzheimer’s and wondered where they are.
10. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, NT Wright
This year of doom was a good time to figure out what hope actually is. As usual, NT Wright delivered. Now I just need to figure out how to put it into practice.
11. The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
A spellbinding YA dystopia in which the length of days begins to grow longer and longer, and society’s sense of time gets messed up. I read this in early 2020 but in a weird way it was a good, if vaguely apocalyptic, preparation for the Covid-19 Pandemic.
12. The Existentialist’s Survival Guide: How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age, Gary Marino
If there were a syllabus for 2020, this would be required reading. Part memoir, part pop philosophy, part scholarly lecture. This sentence from the back cover description sums it up wonderfully: “From negotiating angst, depression, despair, and death to practicing faith, morality, and love, Marino dispenses wisdom on how to face existence head-on while keeping our hearts intact, especially when the universe feels like it’s working against us and nothing seems to matter.”
13. The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir, Steffanie Strathdee
Another strangely fortuitous pre-Covid read. A wife races to figure out why her husband is sick and how to save him. Reads like a mystery novel AND you learn a ton about phage therapy.
15. The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, W. Chris Winter
A book about how to sleep better that made me laugh instead of have a panic attack.
16. This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story, Jackie Shannon Hollis
A memoir about how one author found purpose and connection despite not being able to have children. We need more stories like this.
17. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, Mary L. Trump
I don’t normally read about politics–especially in this dumpster fire of current context–but this was about more than that. Ultimately a harrowing history of the Trump family and the destruction that can come of emotionally negligent family dynamics. While Trump portrays her uncle in a way that is poignant and humanizing, she does not excuse or gloss over the choices he has made as an adult and their implications for America and the world.
18. Treasure in Earthen Vessels, Stephen Muse
A desperately needed reminder of the embodied nature of Christian prayer in a year that has prompted me to live in my head, worries, and ruminations more than ever. This book is rather deep and takes some time to read and absorb slowly, but it’s by far worth it: Dcn. Stephen Muse is among the wisest Orthodox pastoral theologians alive today.
18. Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope, Megan Phelps-Roper
In late October, I binge-read all the memoirs in existence by folks who’ve left the Westboro Baptist Church (as one does in 2020). This was my favorite. Phelps-Roper’s honest effort to make sense of her time in the WBC is a cautionary tale of how rigid fundamentalism can devalue human communities regardless of their religion.
19. When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People, Jeannie Gaffigan
This book was delightful, a word I do not use often enough to describe books. Light and funny yet profound. An existential pleasure to read.
20. Who Killed Mom?: A Delinquent Son’s Meditation on Family, Mortality, and Very Tacky Candles, Steve Burgess
An unexpectedly hilarious and brilliantly articulated memoir by one of Canada’s celebrated storytellers. Though there is nothing particularly exceptional about Burgess’s family or the story he tells, his writing draws you right into the middle of his mother’s cozy, tackily decorated living room.