Favorite Books of 2020

A series 16 years running...except for the last 8.

December 30, 2020

It looks like I missed a year or, um, eight, since I last posted my favorite reading of the year. Thanks for noticing…

In some ways, reading has felt more labored this year, with all the other things going on. Like many others, I’ve felt restless at times and struggled to stay engaged with reading. But, reading has long been a place of restoration and even familiar comfort for my mind and soul, so I was still able to meet my annual goal of averaging at least a book a week.

These are my favorite books of 2020. Most of them weren’t published this year, but I read them this year, so that’s the date criteria.

As far as what makes them favorites? Well, that means they somehow stuck with me. These are books I was sad to be done reading, or they changed my thinking on something, or I felt myself thinking about them later. And as far as the order goes…here they are in the order I read them over the course of the year.

Stillness is the Key, by Ryan Halliday
The theme of slowing down, or being more present, was kind of a forced reality in 2020 (though I read this book pre-distancing.) I’ve read a number of Halliday’s books in the last couple years. I appreciate his perspective in each, but this ways my favorite.

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, by Giles Martin
History books focused on warfare aren’t my usual area of interest, but I saw it on a table at Barnes and Noble and it looked fun and interesting. It’s a well researched look that dials in more closely at a specific initiative of England in World War II that in many ways reads more like a spy novel.

Medallion Status, by John Hodgman
This was perfect weekend reading — a step away from the practical or philosophical books i often engage with. Hodgman’s humor resonates with me, and I’m not wary to say so. My kids mocked me when I read this (and the prior one) because of how often I chuckled and guffawed.

Strange Days, by Mark Sayers
Mark Sayers is one of the most helpful and thoughtful voices in Christianity today, always prompting mental fist pumps or clear new understandings as I read. This was published in 2017, but seems to be more and more relevant with each passing day. His chapter on “Polarized Politics” was especially helpful.

Scandalous Witness, by Lee C Camp
Speaking of polarized politics…we have Lee Camp’s “Political Manifesto for Christians”. This is probably the most helpful and important book I read this year, and one I shared about here and on social media in hopes that many would read it. The election in United States is over (in spite of what some want to think), but this book is still just as relevant.

Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson
I read this for my spiritual direction training. If Scandalous Witness is “probably” the most helpful and important book I read, then this is its primary contender. It certainly is my most highlighted book of the year.

Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier
I was a fairly early adopter of social media, and stayed pretty engaged for many years. The last few years, I’ve been more detached as I’ve been in a longer season of reflection. But I’m trying to determine how it might fit in my life still. There can be value in social media, but as Lanier argues, so much of that is lost to the way it is managed and filtered by the companies that control it.

The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner
Another one that I’m reading for spiritual direction training. I read this five or six years ago, but it’s clear to me that there was a lot more to get out of this short book. It’s one that could and should probably be read once a year.

Stoner, by John Williams
I still read fiction almost every day, but I struggled with it this year. I don’t know if it’s the books I chose or if it’s a season of life thing. Stoner, though, is the exception. It’s a straightforward story through a man’s life, but so well written that it was a pleasure to return to each evening.

Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
I’m cheating a little here, because I’m not done with this one yet…but I’m close. Like many, I felt compelled to read this (or other similar books) in light of some of the events of 2020. This is a straight up history book, but written to show perspectives and layers of history that I’ve never really seen before.

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