2020 Reading List

2020 was a lot. You all know what happened, I don’t need to reiterate. In times like these, sometimes all you can do to keep yourself sane is escape between the pages of a good book.

The format of this one is the same as last year. There was less that landed in my top category this time around. There’s a few things that I could see leading to that:

  • A 5 month vacation made 2019 a big year for books.
  • I picked up a couple of long biographies (John D. Rockefeller and Ike Eisenhower), that together sucked up a lot of my reading time.
  • I picked up several novellas and collections of short stories this year. Many of these were great, but they were often more experimental and less balanced than a full novel, and that kept them out of the top ranking.
  • My 2019 strategy of “find books that made it onto both Obama’s and Bill Gates’ reading lists in the last 5 years” has started to run out.

That’s not to say that what I read in 2020 wasn’t good, it’s just not the sort of thing where I’m urgently excited to share it.

Anyway, here’s the books.

Read Right Now

These books have it all. Delightful prose, fascinating content, a meaningful message. Once you’ve picked it up you’re loathe to put it down, and once you’ve finished you feel a better person for it. There is no reason that one of these shouldn’t be your next read.

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

It’s 2020, check out how woke I am with this best-seller at the top of my list!

Seriously though, if you haven’t done some reading and some self-reflection on the topic of racial justice this year, and especially if you’re white, you should probably get on that. This book is a good place to start.

Above all I was impressed by how accessible this book felt – you don’t need to be a social justice warrior or have read a bunch of theory to get something out of it. Taking a step to educate yourself can feel intimidating, but while this book was a lot, reading it didn’t feel like work. I honestly believe that any human would benefit from reading it.

If it still feels like too much, go check out Trevor Noah’s autobiography (see last year’s list), then come back to this.

Ought To Read

These are the ones I enjoyed, and maybe thought were important, but for one reason or another I couldn’t quite give them top honors. Still highly recommended, especially if the seem like your cup of tea.

  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers
    • Becky Chambers is one of my favorite modern sci-fi authors, and this novella about a crew of explorers on a distant world is fantastic. If you’re into sci-fi at all, go check it out!
  • Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
  • The Nonexistent Knight, by Italo Calvino
    • Italo Calvino is weird. The Nonexistent Knight is weird. It’s silly and absurd and almost begs to be read aloud. If that sounds good to you, you’ll probably enjoy it.
  • The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
  • The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
    • Somehow I had never read this! I love Hemingway, and this delivered.
  • The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
    • Serenity! This delightful little novel gets props because
      1. It’s an excellent bit of political drama with a side of unique world-building
      2. It’s the rare standalone fantasy novel (no trilogy required)
      3. I read it aloud on the Wonderland trail and we got a lot of mileage out of doing the voices
  • Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
    • Fantasy pirates on sentient ships! What more could you ask for? I picked this up at the end of October as a distraction from election season, and it definitely did its job. It’s incredibly well-written, I blazed through the three books in about a month and a half, and the characters and events stayed with me long afterwards.
    • Fair warning: it does involve rape. It serves to advance all three of plot, character and setting, and it’s handled with what to me seems an appropriate amount of gravity. But if that’s going to trigger you, maybe skip this one.

Read If You’re Into It

  • Titan: The Life of John D Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow
  • Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith
  • The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
  • The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Ambercrombie


  • The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
    • Read this with a work book club. I didn’t get a lot out of it. Oh well.

2 thoughts on “2020 Reading List

  1. Steve Roberts

    I might’ve brought this up sometime before, but the book I read last year that most affected my worldview was “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s the true story, told by a journalist, of the great migration by Blacks out of the south to the north and west during the 20th Century. It really put a human face on the lived experience of African Americans for me and it brought home that Jim Crow was still a thing during *my* lifetime…and all that implies.

    She released a new book, “Caste,” last year which has received high praise and I’m going to have to read that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2021 Reading List – Dan Roberts

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