Summary of reading in 2020:
After a few years of heavy reading (100+ books in 2019, 75+ books in 2018), 2020 clocked in at just over 50 titles finished. A big part of this was because we spent a lot of the year up in New Hampshire at my parents, all together, all the time. Gone were my mornings at the gym listening to audiobooks. Gone were my quiet evenings after the kids were in bed.
I did read a few more physical books this year (4 compared to 0 the year before).
I also read quite a few fewer hard, heavy books. 2020 was not the year I could fill my blank spaces with more heavy and hard.
Disclaimer: I do not espouse all the values/ teachings/ principles included in each of these books. I enjoyed them, I learned from them, or they had a big impact.
One thing I started working on more closely in 2020 was not absorbing everything I read but being able to hold it at length and consider it. This is easier for me to do with things I have a lot of experience with (ie: parenting books) and much harder to do with things I have less experience with.
Best Books I Read in 2020
Stop reading this post and go read this book. “Why We Sleep” was the most impactful book for me in the year of 2020. It’ll be one my children have to read before they leave the house. You can guess the takeaway: get more sleep. I do think learning the devastating and calculable impacts of less sleep will make you far more likely to prioritize sleep than justing generally knowing you should sleep more, at least it has for me.
Summary: Sleep enhances our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Lack of sleep is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, immune system failure, stroke, heart failure, cancer, dementia, skin problems, and overeating.
I listened to this for book club, just before we all went to see the movie together right after New Years. The audio production of Little Women is fantastic. With added sound effects and a full cast of voices, the story comes alive.
I read this book by my friend Miranda about her family’s journey of “less stuff, more adventure” as they stopped buying all non-consumables for one year. I started 2020 off with this book and a spending freeze in January and I was surprised by how much mental space the rule of “no acquiring any stuff” brought. I recommend the audio version because Miranda narrates it herself.
This is the statistics driven parenting book that I wish I had before Lincoln was born. This economist teaches you a bit about understanding studies, what makes a good study, and then takes each popular parenting topic and gives you the facts. I was particularly interested in how it handled the breastfeeding and sleep training issues. This would be a great one to read while pregnant (it also handles a lot of things about pregnancy and delivery).
From Audible: Economics is the science of decision-making, and Cribsheet is a thinking-parent’s guide to the chaos and frequent misinformation of the early years. Emily Oster is a trained expert – and mom of two – who can empower us to make better, less fraught decisions – and stay sane in the years before preschool.
“The Christ Who Heals,” “The God Who Weeps,” “The Crucible of Doubt” : 2020 upped my religious reading game quite a bit and this trio was my favorite. The Christ Who Heals gave me a new appreciation for the nature of Christ restored by Joseph Smith (and a really interesting timeline of how teachings about Jesus changed over the centuries after His death). The Crucible of Doubt does a wonderful job holding hard questions and faith simultaneously. All three audiobooks are narrated by the co-author, Fiona Givens who has the most soothing voice.
Most Surprising: The Coddling of the American Mind
“The Coddling of the American Mind” has been on my list for a few years after a couple of Ben’s classmates recommended it at the beginning of business school. I read it expecting a more parenting focused book and was surprised with the timely social commentary.
Summary from Audible:
A timely investigation into the new “safety culture” on campus and the dangers it poses to free speech, mental health, education, and ultimately democracy.
The generation now coming of age has been taught three Great Untruths: their feelings are always right; they should avoid pain and discomfort; and they should look for faults in others and not themselves. These three Great Untruths are part of a larger philosophy that sees young people as fragile creatures who must be protected and supervised by adults. But despite the good intentions of the adults who impart them, the Great Untruths are harming kids by teaching them the opposite of ancient wisdom and the opposite of modern psychological findings on grit, growth, and antifragility.
This is a book for anyone who is confused by what’s happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live and work and cooperate across party lines.
Another book recommended by a few people I respect, 12 Rules for Life was (is, I have a few chapters left to finish in 2021) fascinating. In part, because it seems to be written by an author not constrained by social norms or what is “acceptable” to say. Here are the rules:
- “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”
- “Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping”
- “Make friends with people who want the best for you”
- “Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today”
- “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them”
- “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”
- “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”
- “Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie”
- “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
- “Be precise in your speech”
- “Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding”
- “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”
Based on an alternate past where George Washington accepted the request to be king and America has monarch as the executive branch instead of a president, “American Royals” was light and fun. There was lots of drama, plenty of romance, and quite a bit of me wishing people would just be straightforward and honest about how they feel.
A few other books I read in 2020 that I would recommend:
- The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (powerful, hard to read at times, and hard to keep the characters straight all the time)
- The Giver of Stars Jo Jo Moyes (historical fiction)
- The Mother-in-law by Sally Hepworth (a twist I didn’t see coming)
- It’s Okay Not to Share by Heather Shumaker (a good parenting read)
- The Huntress by Kate Quinn
- The Power of Stillness by Jacob Hess (mindful meditation for a more meaningful worship experience)
- Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (a fun, light read that was reminiscent of less racy Gossip Girl)
- Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski (female sexuality)
- Made to Stick by Chip Heath (storytelling)
- 1984 for George Orwell
- The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (sometimes fact is stranger than fiction)
- Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett (parenting + emotional intelligene)
- I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy (light murder mystery)
- The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey (parenting)