In 2020, I set out to read books.
My kids reached the age of predictable bed times and moments of self-sufficiency. The book club I started in 2019 brought me joy and I longed to capture more of that feeling. So, I made a resolution to read 100 books this year.
As 2020 marched on, so many plans began to erode: dependable childcare, travel, celebrations, and routines- but I’ve held tightly to my commitment to read. Sometimes this means multi-tasking: listening to an audiobook while walking my dog or during a moment of exercise. Sometimes this looks like staying up too late or reaching for a book in the mornings before the kids wake up.
I’m about a quarter in to my goal, and I wanted to share what I’ve read so far and some of my impressions.
Here are the first 25 books of 2020- mostly fiction (my passion), some religious- and in an unpredictable twist- a few children’s books. Let’s face it, as a mom of 2 toddlers, I average 100 children’s books each week, and yet, there are a few that had a profound impact on our lives.
- There There, Freddie Orange- This novel was haunting and vivid- following a cast of characters all connected in distant ways through their involvement in the American Indian community. In the era of frequent mass shootings, I felt a sense of doom from a character wresting with rage and boredom. The book reads quickly and has stuck with me.
- Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler- If fiction is my first love, memoirs are second. This was the first book of 2020 for my book club, and Kate Bowler had piercing descriptions of parenthood and the love we have for our children. She taught me about how to savor this precious and fragile life through her own journey wrestling with terminal cancer.
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman- I loved this novel. Eleanor is on a journey of self discovery and growing to love herself. It’s a story about recovering from trauma and learning to trust people again.
- An American Marriage, Tayari Jones- The mass incarceration of black men in America is one of the most disturbing trends of my generation- and while non-fiction books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow have helped me learn, An American Marriage helped me feel the pain of this national crisis in a new way through this deeply moving and well written story.
- Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea, Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard- The first children’s book to make the list. This is a new favorite at our house- it was gifted to us by our dear friends Emily, Ethan, Cora and Sofia from Texas. It was this book that started stirring interest and longing in our house about adopting a cat.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Fred Rogers- One of my church leaders gave me this book for Christmas- and I didn’t know how much I needed it. This collection of phrases and lessons from Fred Rogers lifted my spirit every time I read it. The message at the root of this book is one we all need to hear every day: You are loved and worthy, just as you are. Thank you Mister Rogers.
- Heavy, Kiese Laymon- This memoir was painful to read. Kiese shares boldly from his experience being raised in the south as a young African American son of a single mom. He refuses to sugarcoat or pretend- and he inspires raw honesty and reflection in his readers.
- Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott- This was my 2nd read of Traveling Mercies. The first time I read this book in graduate school, with very little life under my belt. But this time, I read Anne Lamott in partnership with my book club- and her wisdom brought me to tears. She has the ability to strip away all the lies we tell about ourselves and force readers to look in the mirror- with all our fears and insecurities and inner thoughts laid bare.
- The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke- this was one of my favorite books this year so far. It is HILARIOUS and lighthearted. I needed to laugh out loud, to learn more about the animals who share this earth with us.
- Can I Be Your Dog, Troy Cummings- If Mr. Putter and Tabby got us thinking about adopting a cat, it was this new favorite kids book that sealed the deal. After reading this book 64 times, including the statistics on the back cover that remind us that only 1 in 9 dogs and cats has a forever home in the US- we adopted our new kitten Ruby.
- Shrill, Lindy West- This memoir is well written, witty and easy to read. And yet, the book deals with distorted expectations of women’s bodies, self esteem and professional aspirations- I loved it.
- The End of the Affair, Graham Greene- This was a decent novel about the ways love can hypnotize us and how everyone we love will still always be a mystery to us. But the best part is that Colin Firth reads the audio book- making the story come alive.
- Still, Lauren Winner- This was the March selection of my book club, and honestly, it did not speak to me. The author tried to share openly and vulnerably about her experience through divorce and her changing thoughts on faith but it felt wooden and insincere.
- The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brian- This classic collection of short stories about the author’s experience in the Vietnam War paint the disturbing picture of the war that shaped my parents’ generation. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it- because so many stories were gut-wrenching, but it felt important to read.
- In My Heart, Jo Witek- this children’s book reminded all of us to name our feelings and acknowledge the emotions that are swelling in the era of Covid-19
- Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders- This novel tells the story of President Lincoln grieving his son, and the experience of letting his son’s spirit go. Issues of faith, mortality, and grief are beautifully explored. I listened to the audiobook version and there are dozens of actors narrating this beautiful story- I highly recommend the audiobook version.
- The Tattoo Artist of Auschwitz-Heather Morris – Hands down, the most impactful and amazing book I have read in 2020- based on the true story of a man who survived the Holocaust by making unimaginable decisions and agreements with the enemy.
- Untamed– Glennon Doyle- This memoir spoke to me as a mother, a daughter, a woman and a human. Glennon encourages women to be brave, authentic, and wild. She invites us to stay true to our own inner voice, and to drown out the calls to conform, shrink and bend to the pressures put on women to be tame.
- The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene- Andrew and I listened to this book together by our firepit after the kids went to bed for several nights. The title has shock value and we nearly skipped the read altogether because of it- but this book gave us strategies to partner with our children in finding solutions when their young minds struggle to be flexible and adaptable. In this time of social distancing, it helped everyone in the family feel empowered.
- Where’s the Poop? –Julie Markes- How could I have predicted that this book would make my reading list and my blog? It’s a lift-the-flap book where my kids look for animal poop… and yet, it was the reading of this book night after night that seemingly inspired our 2 year old daughter to poop on the potty- so it stays on the list. It had a big impact in 2020.
- Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert- This book was a special read in April because my dad and I decided to read it together. We both listened to the audiobook version. Gilbert talks about the nature of creativity as something that is alive, looking for partnership with the human mind, and how to capture this magic- it was inspiring and fun to read with my dad- the guy who has fostered my creativity and writing since I was little.
- An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor- This was my second time reading this book, and it was our April Book Club selection. The second time through I felt deeply moved by the message that God can be found outside the walls of the church- especially as we suspend in-person worship during Covid-19
- The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo- I was brought to tears by the end of this powerful coming of age book following a young artist who finds her voice and her courage. A fast read.
- Circe– Madeline Miller- this novel tells the story of the Goddess Circe and her journey to find her powers and her courage. It is a great woman-centric telling of Greek Mythology and my mom and I decided to read it in parallel. We would call each other after big reveals and curveballs in the story and we both breezed through the pages of this adventure story.
- Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God– Karin Holsinger Sherman- our dear friends Laine, Michael and Theodore sent this to us 6 weeks in to our shelter in place order. I had confessed to Laine that no one was sleeping well and anxieties were high at our house. And, a few days later this beautiful children’s book that follows the tradition of Compline (prayers the end of the day)- arrived. She wrote an inscription in the front cover that we treasure. This book brought peace and sleep for us.
Looking ahead, more fiction, a few unusual memoirs, and good theology books. I would love to know what you’ve read and enjoyed recently, and any impressions you have of the books I listed above. Here’s to the next quarter!