2020 is over, which is great by itself, but it also means I get to write my favorite blog post of the year: the reading recap.
Minor interlude about creative writing pursuits ~
The first few years I updated you on my writing adventures alongside my reading ones. I stopped doing that once I stopped writing creatively as much because of my arms. However, this year I do have a few small writer-ly things to note (proof that God was still doing good things in 2020). First, I finished a novella this summer! I think it’s my first completed writing project since my tendinitis reappeared in 2016. It feels so good to have finished something. In 2019 I started a sci-fi retelling of Perseus and Andromeda. It has far to go, but it’s fun to have something that I can work on (supposing I had free time—what’s that again?). Lastly, I’m hoping to do NaPoWriMo this year! April is a few months off but I’m saying it now so you guys can hold me accountable. I also still want to post the rest of the Corona Diaries, so keep an eye out for those.
Back to the books ~
A few notes about this list:
- I read 11 more books than my goal! My goal was smaller than in past years, but it’s much more fulfilling to reach it than to set one unrealistically high and feel bad about not hitting it. I also just read more in general this year. I never want it to be about the numbers, but I felt like I had more of an appetite (and time) for reading, which I’m thankful for.
- Several of the books I read were rereads, not only because I love rereading but also because I took an awesome Lewis and Tolkien class in the spring. It forced me reread Lord of the Rings and several Lewis favorites (what a bummer, right?). However, I only highlight new books on this list (see note about The Brothers K).
- The list is split up into five fiction, which includes any kind of fantasy or speculative stories, and five nonfiction, with a special section at the end for our friend Billy Shakes. There is no particular order.
- Oh yes, and there will be quotes. Plus links to my fuller goodreads reviews for each.
2020, you were a tough one, but you gave me some good reads. Let’s celebrate them …
Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
THE LONG-AWAITED CONCLUSION TO ONE OF MY FAVORITE SERIES OF ALL TIME *gasps for breath* + the Queen’s Thief series is one of my top 5 fantasy series and this conclusion was just perfect. I could read about these characters forever, but it was a fitting end. + fewer huge plot twists than the first three books, but still some trademark Turner cleverness + a handicapped narrator (whose limitations are not overly emphasized or just stuck on him to be “inclusive”)!! + the short story at the end was so good + family and mercy and “do not overreach”
“But you can fight.”
“We both can, Irene. We both will, if we have to.” She laid an arm around Attolia’s shoulder. “But the call of life is as powerful as the call of death, and it is no weakness to answer to it,” she said quietly.
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
give me a Newberry Award winner pre-2010 and there’s a 99% chance I’ll like it (don’t ask for stats to back that up) + how did I not read this before? + the tone reminds me of Narnia, which is high praise + it’s historical fiction with fantastical elements (the Fairy Folk) that make sense for the time period—it’s a fascinating picture into the beliefs and rituals of sixteenth-century Druids and the worldview of Brits at the time + a strong heroine who’s also kind, and confused, and real + the tension between Christianity and Druidism is portrayed really well + a fun romance
“We’re all of us under the mercy.”
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I want to reread this one because it’s so powerful + really tough to get through. not recommended for everyone. + but if you can, this will shake you in important ways + the best kind of ending (can’t describe it because spoilers, but if you’ve read it [or don’t plan to], I’ll tell you what I mean) + also quite relevant with the ongoing tensions in the Middle East (and America’s part in them) that won’t fade anytime soon + family and belonging; friendship and betrayal; living in a country that is no longer home but loving it still; mistakes and how we try to fix them
I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had. But I didn’t.
I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
sooo this one is a reread BUT the first time was years ago and I maybe understood 15%? this time was closer to 40%. plus it’s one of those classics that hits you just as hard no matter how many times you’ve reread it (she says knowingly, having reread it exactly once) + ANYWAY um this is a masterpiece + there’s poetry, there’s philosophy, there are courtroom battles and street fights, there’s romance and violence, there’s theology and humor and suspense + every character is so detailed (which explains why thing is so LONG) + there’s no way I can bullet point anything meaningful about this book + just … if you ever can, read it
“We are of a broad, Karamazovian nature—and this is what I am driving at—capable of containing all possible opposites and of contemplating both abysses at once, the abyss above us, an abyss of lofty ideals, and the abyss beneath us, an abyss of the lowest and foulest degradation.”
“A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it.”
The Door on Half-bald Hill by Helena Sorensen
maybe my favorite fiction read this year + her prose? stunning + the world feels both ethereal, like an isolated land in myth, but also stark and gritty and real, thanks to her vivid descriptions of nature + the setting was really cool, it felt North American although I guess it’s supposed to be Celtic? + cool art that enhances the story I AM HERE FOR IT + one huge theme is that of rituals, which I’ve been pondering a lot this year + also! the theme of balance hit me so hard. not like work-life balance but Balance, life and death, good and evil (do we really want balance?) + she’s one of those authors that speaks my language + I’ll stop. It’s good. Read it.
The Bloodmoon approaches. And what is it that I have seen? The world is wide and terrible and teeming with beauty, and there are things for which we have no names. I do not know my place. I cannot find my footing.
She is glad of her choices and full of regrets. She is brimming with passion and power, and yet she is not the bard or the ovate or the druid. For now, it is her lot to wait and tend the fire.
Honorable Mention: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (middle grade [my fave]! also the ocean!)
Witness by Whittaker Chambers
as I was reading this, I knew it’d be on this list + basically: normal American turned Communist turned UNDERGROUND Communist working in D.C. turned defector turned witness against another underground Communist high up in the U. S. government + it’s got everything: MORAL DILEMMAS, psychology, fascinating history, court room drama, investigative suspense, even a lovely romance + his prose is amazing + powerful, clear insight into the fundamental issues of our age + also did I mention it’s a court room drama and involves the underground Communist party?? it’s as suspenseful as the best novel
I am only incidentally a witness to a weak man’s sins and misdeeds or even the crimes that are implicit in the practice of Communism. And so far as I am a true witness, is because twice in my life I came, not alone, for I had my wife and children by the hands, to a dark tower, and, in a storm of the spirit, listened to the question that was both within and without me: Who, if I cried out, would hear me from among the orders of the angels? And because each time the question was answered.
But I was also thinking that it would take more than modulated voices, graciousness and candlelight to save a world that prized those things.
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel
this man’s PROSE is like POETRY + some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read + something I’ve been wanting to research and support more seriously is sustainable agriculture, and this book lays out an argument for its necessity that is eloquent and powerful. It’s a little frightening, but that’s good. We need to be shaken up and change how we’re doing things. + this earth is beautiful and I notice it and value it too little but this book helps change that + guys, it’s science and art and I can’t articulate enough how much that combination calls to me
Boxing day night. A maudlin mood beside the log burner. I look at the pictures in my 1970s Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds. Run my fingers over the plates in longing. Because that is all I can do. I never see half of the birds in the book in the wild anymore. Turtle doves? Quail? Cirl buntings? Corn buntings? I cannot remember when I last saw any of these.
But then I think. One field, just one field, made a difference.
If we had a thousand fields…
Educated by Tara Westover
what. a. story. + this one is similar to Hillbilly Elegy, which I also read this year, but I found it more impactful because of its emphasis on story over analysis + it’s equal parts about education and family, about our connection to our broader role in the world and history as well as our connection to our loved ones, and what happens when those conflict + it’s tough to read. she goes through a lot. but she’s also respectful of both her family and her readers in the way she talks about it. + her prose is really good (noticing a theme?) + it opened my eyes to the gifts I’ve been given, both my education and my family
I returned to the university, to the auditorium, where I had watched human history unfold and wondered at my place in it.
I knew I should be drunk with gratitude that I, an ignorant girl who crawled out of a scrap heap, should be allowed to study there [Harvard], but I couldn’t summon the fervor. I had begun to conceive of what my education might cost me, and I had begun to resent it.
What is a Girl Worth? by Rachael Denhollander
I listened to this as an audiobook on one of my bus rides home from school and I cried. Tears on my cheeks, on the bus. + thank you, Rachael, for telling this story and for living it. + such a balanced perspective: uncompromising about justice, unflinching about the evil done and about the poor way the church handled it, but also radically forgiving, trusting in Jesus both to save the worst of sinners and to avenge the innocent + hard but very important read
I had to remind myself of the truth of who I was and the reality that success wasn’t defined by a result but by faithfulness. I had to remember that my identity and healing weren’t dependent on the voices that surrounded me and that the truth wasn’t dependent on popular opinion or cultural responses. I had to focus on what was real and true. The straight line instead of the crooked.
Perfectly Human by Sarah Williams
I got to talk with Sarah Williams over Zoom through a college event this spring. She was just as gracious, thoughtful, and loving in person as she sounds in this book. a true role model (and reflector of Christ) + this story of her pregnancy with Cerian, diagnosed in utero with a fatal defect, is heart-breaking and inspiring. + I hadn’t thought before how hard such a pregnancy would be. Obviously the birth would be difficult, but her story of learning to love the few months she had with her daughter, despite knowing how it would end, shook me in good, hard ways. + she is an academic, and I love her thoughtful, articulate critique of how we view human worth and dignity in the modern world + moves both the heart and mind
All the privilege of my education, my skills as a teacher and a thinker, being here in Oxford, the talents and attributes I possess, my healthy body, my husband, my children—all the things out of which I had composed my identity, my sense of self, and my sense of worth—were good gifts but they do not define who I am, nor do they define my worth. Cerian had none of these things, but the absence of them makes her no less a person than me.
Ultimately, this fragile freedom of autonomy depends on us and it is, therefore, as limited as we are. But true human freedom comes from the limitless love of God, in which we live and move and have our being. … It was his choice to lay aside his freedom and to limit himself for us which enables us to enjoy God’s love forever. Nothing—not even death can limit this love. Our choices may be limited but our freedom is not.
Eleven of my books were really plays for my Shakespeare class. I figured ol’ Billy Boy should get his own section (I don’t know why it’s so fun to play around with his name). I loved the class, the plays, the close readings we had to do for each, all of it. Words! History! Poetry! Characters! Themes! He really is as brilliant as he’s hyped up to be. (But also, if his stuff just isn’t your thing—you’re not dumb or a fake reader or something. Don’t let my nerdy excitement make you feel bad. There are too many great authors out there to get hung up trying to force yourself to like one.)
I discovered that my favorite plays are the histories. Macbeth is also a favorite, and I waxed philosophic on why I think that’s so on goodreads. Other favorites were Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry V (it probably helped that I have watched The King multiple times this year and love it to death). I’ll forever love reformation themes, Falstaff is a gem, and Henry’s speeches are stunning.
FALSTAFF: Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon … (Henry IV, Part 1)
Go therefore, tell thy master: here I am.
My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,
My army but a weak and sickly guard,
Yet, God before, tell him we will come on
Though France himself and such another neighbor
Stand in our way. (Henry V)
There you have it, friends! Now I’d love to hear from you—favorite reads of 2020? Favorite quotes? Have you read any of the ones I picked?
Also—would anyone be interested in a movie version of this post? I’ve been watching more movies, to my great delight, and I’d love to chat about them more on here. Let me know, and happy 2021! Our God is forever good. ❤