While most families were exchanging gifts this month, my family was swapping COVID-19. This meant not leaving the house pretty much from my wedding anniversary on December 14th thru the New Year (and beyond), which meant having quite a bit of time on my hands to read. Therefore, I finished my 2020 reading list in a flurry. As you prep your reading list for 2021, here are my suggestions from this month, and here is a longer post with links to all my reading lists from the year.
The Memoir Project by Marion Roach
I really liked this book, which is in some ways a delightful memoir in its own right while also providing tremendous writing counsel for anyone seeking it. It falls right in line after On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott as a part of the small handful of books on writing advice that I will re-read again and again. If you are thinking about writing, this would be a great little book to have on your list for the New Year.
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
If this wasn’t my favorite book I read this year, it was right up there with the top two or three. Written by the delightfully gifted Wendell Berry (who I had never read before 2020 and will read everything he has written as fast as possible moving forward), Jayber Crow follows the life of a small town barber and, well, to tell you anything else would sort of ruin the fun. This is a fantastic novel, and should be at the top of your list for 2021.
Echo Burning by Lee Child
Continuing through the Jack Reacher series, I really don’t feel the need to outline this one. They’re all the same — tough guy, damsel in distress, guns, plot twists, and a whole lot of fun.
The Sin of Certainty by Pete Enns
Pete Enns is at the forefront of the whole “I’ve deconstructed my faith” community of the last decade or so, and fortunately for us he’s a thoughtful, experienced, reasonable academic who has written a terrific book that asks all the right questions. If you are one who idolizes your certainty and finds great danger in doubt and asking questions, do not read this book (although you may need to most of all). But if you have been seeking language for the nagging sense that your faith has changed, deepened, and does not look like it used to, this is one of the standards of the previous five years. It is sort of a literary sherpa for anyone looking for a path forward.
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
It was Christmas time. I was stuck in my house. I felt like reading a Christmas book. The book foundation for the movie Christmas with the Kranks, I read it, laughed out loud a couple times, and then watched the movie. If you haven’t read it, I think you’ll like it, and you can put it on your list for next Christmas.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
My counselor recommended this book almost a year ago, and I’d just never gotten around to reading it. This is a great primer or reminder on the importance of contemplative practice. It outlines some foundational realities and then spends the balance of the book unpacking practices. It might be the perfect book to read early in 2021 if you’re looking to deepen your own spiritual disciplines in the New Year. Plus, Barton is a gifted writer and storyteller, so you’ll enjoy it, too.
The Racketeer by John Grisham
As I’ve said before, I own every John Grisham book (except the brand new one, it’s on my 2021 list) and I re-read them when I’m in between Amazon deliveries or library holds being released. The Racketeer is one I did not remember much about (it’s from 2012), and I was reminded of how good it is. Frankly, it would make a great screenplay and I’m not sure why a film adaptation has not been made yet. Super fun read for if you get snowed in or can get to a beach early in the New Year.
Activists Ally by The Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society
Activism that is unrooted in personal depth usual devolves into rage-filled shouting. The roots of contemplation provide a foundation for activism that will (number one) endure and (number two) save space for love for all. This is a very practical, very short little e-book which provides great insight to individuals and groups that practice activism and seek stability in that tumultuous work.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I had never read any Kurt Vonnegut, and I found this book on our bookshelf with no clue how it got there. Still, I was enamored with this anti-war, Vietnam-era novel from one of countries most prolific and provocative authors. Somewhat in the mold of Catcher in the Rye, this book follows Billy Pilgrim as he travels through time, with particular emphasis on his life as a prisoner of war in WWII Germany. The narrative is heightened by Vonnegut’s own experience in the war, and in fact he writes himself into the narrative on a few occasions, tethering an otherwise fictional novel to reality. This one is not for everyone — it’s as realistic a critique of war as could be found, with all the accompanying horrific details — but it was masterful writing indeed.