One of the upsides of 2020 having a lot of “downtime” (albeit nonetheless quite busy for those of us with kids at home) was that there was more time to read. While I’m not a bibliophile who reads 100+ books a year, I do enjoy diving into other people’s words for at least a few minutes on most days.
I also like talking about books, and so I figured, why not do that here on my blog? Perhaps you’ll be inspired, perhaps you’ll think my tastes are weird; I’m not too swayed either way. I like what I like.
Related: Must-Read Books for Christian Moms: My Recommended Reading List
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A Note on My Approaches to My Reading Life
Some people make goals for how many books they want to read in a year. While there’s value in that if you find that motivating, I only like to do it if I have a good reason to. For example, one of my 2021 goals is to dig into the prophets, and so I’d like to (loosely) read at least one related theology book per quarter.
Otherwise, I don’t set reading goals for a couple of reasons. First, it makes reading more of a chore than I’d like it to be. Second, I have no problem with leaving a book unfinished if I don’t enjoy it. I could hypothetically pick up 50 bad books in a year and not finish one of them, and that would be okay with me.
I read more than 10 books in 2020, but these are the ones that stood out to me most. I didn’t finish a few more!
Some people also like to know what medium I prefer for books: hard copy, digital or audio. The answer: all of them! Sometimes it depends what I can get my hands on from the digital library or my Scribd subscription, or if I get a good deal. It also depends on the genre; I love hearing fiction and lighter reads on audio so I can listen while multi-tasking, while with heavier reads I require text so I can highlight, reread, etc.
Okay, with no further ado, here are my favorite reads from 2020, divided into categories.
The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright
I picked up this book because I have become a huge N.T. Wright fan in recent years. This isn’t his easiest book to read, but it’s not his hardest either. It does get a little repetitive, but I actually liked that because it helped me internalize the bigger points of the book.
This book summarizes a lot of what he has written elsewhere about the full meaning of Christ’s atonement. He challenges the popular idea along the lines that “Jesus stepped into the sinner’s place to take on the punishment they deserve” and offers a much more robust and biblically supported case for the beautiful and powerful ritual that Jesus’ death on the cross represents.
The Beast That Crouches at the Door by Rabbi David Fohrman
This was a fascinating account of the fall of mankind from a renowned American Rabbi, recommended in one of my favorite theology podcasts, BEMA. Fohrman presents the story we’ve all heard a million times about the serpent, the temptation and the murder of Abel and leads the reader through a series of questions they’ve probably never thought before.
This was the freshest look at the early chapters of Genesis that I’ve read in a long time. It helped me see the relationship between God and mankind in a whole new light.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
I’d seen her TED talk and even her Netflix special, as well as her quotes on social media, but I never actually read Brene Brown’s work until fairly recently.
It was good. Really good.
I appreciate her dedication to research as well as her articulate and humorous communication skills. This book spoke to me personally as a perfectionist, since it demonstrated just how powerful our “weaknesses” are in making us fully human. (And it’s not a big stretch to see how her research is backed up by biblical teaching, when you examine it.)
The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I had heard of it a few years ago but never got around to it. Perhaps I was skeptical that it was going to be a feel-good Christianese read, which I have very little interest in these days.
For whatever reason (I think it popped up on my audiobook suggestions), I finally delved in and was delighted by the author’s easygoing writing style. She challenges the idea that Christians aren’t meant to be happy and presents several different ways we can approach and understand happiness. The lessons stuck with me—my “Happiness Style” is “doer.”
Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy by Jamie C. Martin
My main response to reading this book was, “I feel seen.”
I have studied a lot about introversion and personality types over the years and am aware of this tendency in myself, yet I still found this book to be remarkably refreshing and affirming. The author offers some very practical insight to how to not only cope with introversion as a mom, but thrive in it.
The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin
This title of this book is almost misleading; it is NOT a “feel-good” read about how you should be happy just as things are and embrace your day-to-day existence. That depends on what your day-to-day existence looks like.
This book could easily fall under the next category of my reading list (“social awareness”). The author’s day-to-day existence is in an urban working class neighborhood, and her days are filled with hosting drug addicts, school drop-outs and literally people of every nation. While that might not be everyone’s reality, her challenge is to seek out those who are marginalized in your ordinary places, and to make that your ministry.
White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker
With all of the social upheaval of 2020 in the U.S., I dedicated myself to more education about privilege, culture, race and class divisions. This book is a memoir from a white, middle class woman’s perspective, trying to bridge the gap between the world she grew up in and, well, the rest of the world.
I appreciate the author’s humility in this book. She’s not offering answers; she just asks a lot of good questions. Her experience raising a child with significant special needs gives her a unique perspective about approaching differences in a more compassionate way.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I confess that I probably wouldn’t have read this book if a friend of mine hadn’t invited me to an online study group. But wow. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to be educated in American history, socioeconomics or public policy. Even if you don’t agree with all of Alexander’s conclusions, you cannot argue with her compelling research about the damage that the war on drugs and the U.S. approach to incarceration has done to Black communities.
Get Money Do Good by J.D. Vermaas
A friend of a friend asked me to review this book as part of its independent launch. I was in early pregnancy at the time (i.e. exhausted) and thus fell waaaaay behind. But I did eventually finish the book, and its compelling story still sticks with me.
It’s a crazy-sounding but true story about a couple with a gift for making a lot of money and also a strong drive to use that money to fight poverty and “do good.” They end up adopting…let’s just say A LOT of kids. The book challenges the reader to think outside the box when it comes to wealth. I appreciate how it doesn’t sugarcoat the tough realities about international adoption. It also demonstrates how children with trauma and special needs don’t need to be fixed or rescued; like anyone, they need love and an opportunity to shine.
The Sisters Grimm Series by Michael Buckley
Wow, I really didn’t read much fiction last year! It was mostly accomplished during read-aloud time with my kids.
And that’s where the Sisters Grimm comes in. We actually started this series a couple of years ago and came back around to it. Imagine that all the fairy tale characters from around the world are real and live immortally in a small town in upstate New York.
And two girls, who are descendants of the Brothers Grimm, are learning how to be “fairy tale detectives.” They eventually carry the responsibility of saving the world from magic-induced chaos.
It’s no Harry Potter, but this series was a lot of fun. We all enjoyed it when stuck at home for much of the year.
What I’m Reading Next…
I always have a ton of books on my “to read” list, and here are a few that are currently loaded on my devices or sitting on my nightstand.
Emma by Jane Austin: I listen to this on audio whenever I need a British chick lit infusion.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: A heart-wrenching story about love torn apart by racial injustice.
The Powerful Purpose of Introverts by Holley Gerth: A follow-up read recommended by Jamie C. Martin.
Fall in Love with God’s Word: Practical Strategies for Busy Women by Brittany Ann: This is the first book by a friend of mine from Equipping Godly Women, and I’m honored to be on her launch team.
All the Feels: Discover Why Emotions Are (Mostly) Awesome and How to Untangle Them When They’re Not by Elizabeth Laing Thompson: I have all the feels about this book.
All Things to All People—The Power of Cultural Humility by Michael Burns: I am mostly through this book and have been listening to Michael Burns’ podcast. I highly recommend it for church small groups.
The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann: I am studying the prophets this year, and Brueggemann is kind of the man when it comes to the prophets. It’s dense, but I think I like it.
Interested in more about what I’m reading? You can also follow me on Goodreads (though honestly I’m not very disciplined about keeping it current or leaving detailed reviews there).
What have you read or what are you looking forward to reading next?