top 10 books of 2020

Why is this post 11 months late? I plead old age and a diminishing desire to learn how new technology works. In other words: I didn’t know how to post here anymore. But take heart! I applied myself and figured it out in a not-unembarrassing amount of time and here we are.

10. Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope by Jasmine L. Holmes
How does someone my age have so much wisdom to share? This is an exceptional testament to maternal love, to unity, to astounding grace, to boldness that looks like Christ’s boldness. I needed to hear what Holmes has to say about being a black woman, a black mother, and a black Christian. In the book, she talks about how she admires Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and wants to sit across a table from her and just talk. I want to do that with Jasmine Holmes. 

9. The River by Peter Heller
I am an indoorsy type and I was spellbound by the descriptions of nature here…along with the plot. It’s like a survivalist thriller meets friendship story. It raises big questions of morality, too, which means everyone needs to read it so we can talk about it. 

8. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Whoa. That had a last act I did not see coming. Well worth reading and now I want to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy.

7. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
Fantastic, easy to read, worth buying to read more slowly in the hope of absorbing the lessons. This book earned Jacobs a spot on my running list of authors whose works I want to read in their entirety. Indeed, four more authors on this list are also on that list.

6. Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
Not a “woman’s book!” Just needed to clear that up. This is, in fact, a fascinating book of applied philosophy. What does the post-modern idea of dualism (mind is better than/dominant over body) do to the major moral questions of our time? SO MUCH. Clear, accessible, enormously foot-noted–and my copy is annotated to the hilt with thoughts, questions, and all the things I learned.

5. The Land by Mildred D. Taylor
Excellent. This story of a mixed-race man’s quest for something of his own in the time directly following the Civil War does more than a dozen textbooks on the Reconstruction era and a thousand online hot takes on racial history could do. I’m eager to read this series all the way through. My library copy had a sticker on it that said, “children’s.” I wouldn’t hand this to anyone younger than 16. But I’d like to hand it to everyone older than that.

4. The Wednesday Wars (and bonus pick: Okay for Now) by Gary D. Schmidt
Am I turning into a Gary Schmidt superfan? Yep. His characters have so much voice and personality, and his themes are grounded. Plus, they’re just good stories. Can’t wait to hand these to my nephews and nieces. (In case you’re wondering, he’s on the “read the complete works” list.)

3. Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry
I thought the first story, “Pray Without Ceasing,” was the best short story I’ve ever read. Then I read “Making It Home.” Then I read “Fidelity.” (Berry is on the list, duh.)

2. Culture Making by Andy Crouch
Required reading for understanding what culture really is and how to create it. For Christians, this is an encouraging and paradigm-shifting explanation of our God-given role in culture. [Updated to add: As of this posting, I’m STILL thinking about this book and have it in my stack to re-read already. Crouch is on the list.]

1. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Stunning. A perfect book. Paton is on the list but boy, I’ve read one other book by him and it was amazing, but hard. So it will probably take me all my life to get through Paton’s canon.

Honorary mentions:
Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
How to Teach your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Bonus favorite kids’ book discovery:
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant (Delightful! Charming! Replete with tasty-sounding food made of flowers!)

And an unasked-for update: This year [2020] I did watch the War & Peace miniseries despite Paul Dano’s creepface and it’s a gorgeous and dramatic portrayal of the major plot points. I love it for that. But you’d need about 400 episodes to get as deep into the world as Tolstoy does. After watching the series, I started reading War & Peace AGAIN because I’m that kind of nerd and it’s that good. I might be perpetually reading it all my life. Desert island book? Just read it.

My year-end reading recaps, previously:
// Top 10 Books of 2019
// Top Ten of 2018
// Top Five for the First Half of 2015
// Top Five for the Second Half of 2015
// Top Ten of 2014
// Best Books of the Summer, 2013
// Top Five for the First Half of 2012
// Top Five for the First Half of 2011
// Top Five for the Second Half of 2011

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