2020 Book Recommendations

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2020 may be over, but the books I read are still on my mind. I’m a sucker for a good year-end recommendation post, so as you start making your own plans for books to read in the new year here are a few of the books I read and liked in 2020.

The Best Book from Outside my Silos

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers

I don’t remember how this book came across my radar, but I’m really glad it did. This book is a sweeping epic about trees and the people who are willing to go to any lengths to protect them.

From the beginning the book sucked me in with trees who are central and interesting characters. The sweeping breadth of the story crosses the continent and the century in a way that made me think of the early chapters of Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The book is as rich as the oldest forest and as intricate as the lives of the trees it describes. The human characters are interesting in their own rights, and are woven together into a story that raises interesting questions about technology and how we interact with the world around us.

I personally enjoyed the early chapters more than the later ones — the book becomes more political as the characters begin to go to various lengths to defend the trees they love. I found the tone of the book at this point a little simplistic (i.e. the only possible way to proceed is eco-terrorism) but what The Overstory does well is raise two questions — 1. Aren’t trees amazing, complex, and communal living creatures? and 2. Is progress that comes at the extinction of these complex creatures and their communities really progress?

The Worst Book I Read with the Highest Impact

Mastering Emacs by Mickey Petersen

Mastering Emacs by Mickey Petersen

Yes I started using a text editor called Emacs this year. Yes I read a book about it. And for most people I would not recommend that you use Emacs or read this book.

The reason this book makes my list is because of how I read it. I read it with a group of other people interested in Emacs and then for 6 or so weeks we met on Zoom to discuss the reading. Except most of the time our meetings didn’t even touch on the reading and became delightful show and tell sessions where we demonstrated new functionality we had implemented into our text editor and ooed and awed over the neat things we could do. This book was a lovely catalyst and retaught me the value of communal learning.

The Best Book about Creativity

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

I love books about creativity. For years growing up I told everyone who asked that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I love writing poetry, have several un-started novel ideas, and have developed elaborate plans for my own writing cabin one day.A small structure with its own wood stove, walls lined with book shelves, and plenty of windows, preferably about a 5-10 minute walk from my home.

In Andrew Peterson’s writing I found a kindred spirit — someone who had read the same things that I had read, pursued similar dreams, and who thinks about the world in similar ways. This book is a beautiful and imaginative exploration of what the creative life can look like. And for me it actually helped me step back from my dreams of making my full-time living as an author.

Peterson’s creative vision is robust and tied to his faith. It touches every aspect of his life from his work to the house he and his wife bought, to how they raise their children. This book has excellent advice for writers and creative people, and I would recommend it to people who want to make a living from their creativity. But for me this book helped me see some of the many ways I can live a creative life, pursuing creative projects (both written and otherwise) even if I don’t write for a living. Decoupling my hunger for a creative life from the work I do day to day has been incredibly liberating and has had a huge impact on how I talk about what I want to be when I grow up.

Favorite Reread

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I reread a lot of books in 2020. I reread Dune, several of the Narnia books, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Bronze Bow, and the third book of a long Fantasy series I was getting ready to read book 4 of the Stormlight Archive, The Rhythm of War, which would easily win the “Best 4th Book in a Long Series” award.. I enjoyed every book I reread, but the one that I enjoyed rereading the most was Watership Down.

I read this book in high school and enjoyed it, and when I had a floating audible credit at the beginning of the year I used it to get this book. I’m so glad I did. It’s just a good story complete with lovable characters, thrilling moments, and rich lore that is slowly revealed throughout the story. This book is about cute little rabbits in the countryside of England it is also about fierce warriors on a quest, about friendship, and the stories we tell.

Favorite Book

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

It’s always hard for me to choose favorite books. I love so many books and love recommending different books to different people depending on what they might like, but ultimately my favorite book in 2020 was the book that came at the right time for me and was the book that I needed to read.

I could say that 2020 was a difficult year where I felt the need to pray more strongly, and while that’s certainly true I think that I would have needed to read this book whether or not there was a life-altering pandemic going on. What this book explores so well are the practicalities of how to pray — not how you need to look, or what you need to do to “get the answer you want”, but how to come to God as you are — with your weariness, your unbelief, your anger, sadness, or any other emotion or feeling. Reading this book didn’t make me an expert at prayer, but I did leave with a better perspective on what prayer is and a few practical tips on how to approach prayer. If you are religious or curious about spiritual things I highly recommend this book.

Those were a few of the books I read in 2020. For the full list check out my Goodreads.

Other things to read

  • How I wrote in 2020
    The tools I used to write in 2020.
  • How to Understand Poetry
    A brief attempt to explain how to frame and understand poetry.
  • The Novelized Epic: Dialogue and Laughter in The Lord of the Rings
    In The Lord of the Rings the combined elements of the epic and the novel do not result in an unapproachable epic; instead, The Lord of the Rings as a novel liberates the epic genre from “all that serves as a brake on [its] unique development," creating an amalgamation of the two forms in dialogue with one another, a novelized epic.


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