I love year end book lists! I love reading yours and creating mine. The processes of looking back over the books I read in a year brings back memories of where I read them, why I liked (or disliked) a book, and what stands out from the year.
Very surprising to me, four of my top ten books are fiction. People, there are so many gems out there! Summaries from Amazon.
Best Non-fiction of 2020:
1. Atomic Habits by James Clear
I have pages of notes and in January predicted this would be on of my best books of 2020. “Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success, and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits–whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.”
2. The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whitmel Earley
If ever there was a book that as I read I thought, “Dang!!! This is the book I wish I had written.” This is it. So, if you jive with the way I think and approach life, consider this to be by Amy Young who is Justin Earley. Pages of notes (duh! Since it’s the book I didn’t write). “The answer to our contemporary chaos is to practice a rule of life that aligns our habits to our beliefs. The Common Rule offers four daily and four weekly habits, designed to help us create new routines and transform frazzled days into lives of love for God and neighbor. Justin Earley provides concrete, doable practices.”
3. Didn’t see it coming by Carey Nieuwhof
Anyone in ministry (or who works with people) should read this! The author, “wants to help you avoid and overcome life’s seven hardest and most crippling challenges: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and emptiness. These are challenges that few of us expect but that we all experience at some point.”
4. Talking with strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
I love Gladwell and his style of writing so much and this did not disappoint. “Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.”
5. Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath
Dan and his brother Chip are two of my favorite authors and I read every thing they write. This is, hands down, the best nonfiction I read this year because of the ways it has put words to thoughts I’ve had while propelling me to apply what I read. The entire Global Trellis team is reading it and I think you should too :). “Upstream delivers practical solutions for preventing problems rather than reacting to them. How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them?”
6. This too shall last: Finding grace when suffering lingers by K. J. Ramsey
In the church too often we “amplify the stories of triumph” and we need to “hear more about sustaining grace.” To say I loved a book about suffering might sound like a note sung out of tune. But that’s the point. “Our culture treats suffering like a problem to fix, a blight to hide, or the sad start of a transformation story. We silently, secretly wither under the pressure of living as though suffering is a predicament we can avoid or annihilate by having enough faith or trying harder. When your prayers for healing haven’t been answered, the fog of depression isn’t lifting, your marriage is ending in divorce, or grief won’t go away, it’s easy to feel you’ve failed God or, worse, he’s failed you. If God loves us, why does he allow us to hurt?”
Best fiction of 2020
7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
“I’m satisfied,” I said to myself at the end. Though one of the longer books I read this year, I didn’t want it to end! When asked about the theme, Towles said, “There is no theme but beauty.” and I can testify that it is some of the most beautiful writing out there. If you have not read A Gentleman in Moscow, get it right now. Right now :)!
Here’s the description: “In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.”
8. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: A Novel and the sequel A beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green
These were recommended by a Summer Reading Challenge participant (and this is why it’s good to talk about books in community. I never would have picked these up!). For both books, the entire first half I thought, “Why am I reading this? I don’t like it.” and then WHOOSH I was sucked in and had to find out where the plot was going and how it was going to be resolved.
Here’s why you might want to try it out (and keep reading past the halfway point!): “Compulsively entertaining and powerfully relevant, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing grapples with big themes, including how the social internet is changing fame, rhetoric, and radicalization; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration spring for the same dehumanization that follows a life in the public eye. The beginning of an exciting fiction career, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a bold and insightful novel of now.”
9. The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
My sister’s friend showed up on her doorstep with these two books. “You will love them! You must read them!” If you have not heard of this Newberry Honor book, picture me showing up on your doorstep with both books in hand and thrusting them at you. They are amazing!
Here’s the descrition of the first book: “Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie.”
10. Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen
In my notebook I wrote, “Harry’s Trees is beyond fantastic! It is a brilliant modern day fairy tale that has all the pieces—red coats, a wolf, magic, a young girl in the woods, and treasure—all while keeping its own story moving forward.” If you like a Gentleman in Moscow or Orleana is Totally Fine, you will love this too!
Here’s the description: “Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane works as an analyst for the US Forest Service. When his wife dies suddenly, Harry, despairing, retreats north to lose himself in the remote woods of the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She and her mother, Amanda, are struggling to pick up the pieces from their own tragic loss of Oriana’s father. Discovering Harry while roaming the forest, Oriana believes that he holds the key to righting her world.
“Harry reluctantly agrees to help Oriana carry out an astonishing scheme inspired by a book given to her by the town librarian, Olive Perkins. Together, Harry and Oriana embark on a golden adventure that will fulfill Oriana’s wild dream—and ultimately open Harry’s heart to new life.”
Honorable mention: Connected by moi and Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Doug Calhoun, Clare Loughrige, and Scott Loughrige My only caveat is that if you get this is a marvelous handbook, you want to get the physical copy. The digital copy, I read online, is very hard to read. “For those who have learned about the Enneagram and wonder ‘What’s next?’―this handbook is the answer.”
There you have it! My top ten books in 2020. Which have you read? What’s on your to-read in 2021?
You might also enjoy the lists from previous years:
Lisa Z says
Ah, I’ve only read one of these…Gladwell’s book. But, now I have a great list for 2021! I’ve got a hold in place at the library for a Gentleman in Moscow. And, I was surprised to read Harry’s Trees is set in the Endless Mountains….this is where Gramma Stella’s house is. Oddly, I only heard it called that recently and thought it was some branding effort for tourists :).
I love your lists. But I have to say, Gentleman in Moscow is the book I love to hate. :-) It claims to be set in Moscow, and there isn’t the slightest bit of Russia in it at all. I rant about it so much that people tease me about it.
Megan Smith says
I love that you got to read Hank Green’s books! It is always fun to enjoy books we never would have picked up otherwise. In that vein I am going to have to pick up Upstream!