Books Read 2020
My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2020. Other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, within the categories they’re listed in the order that I finished them. Click on the title to find it online (affiliate link). At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.
Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems, by Tony Hoagland. I like the late Hoagland and his accessible poems.
The Confessions of X, by Suzanne M. Wolfe. Before Augustine became Saint Augustine, he had a lover and a child. This novel is told from the lover’s perspective.
Adorning the Dark, by Andrew Peterson. One of my favorite singer-songwriters reflects on what it’s like to try to create art of any kind.
On Death, by Tim Keller. A brief book on the subject of death from a Christian perspective.
On Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior. A great book on how to learn about virtuous living by reading classic novels. After finishing her book, you’ll likely want to read (or re-read) the classics she references. If so, you’ll want to know that B&H Books is releasing each of them, gorgeously-bound, with Prior’s commentary. Diane and I have the first two (Sense and Sensibility and Heart of Darkness) and we look forward to subsequent releases.
Just Mercy, by Brian Stephenson. I liked the movie, and I wanted to read the book it was based on. Inspiring.
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson. An account of Churchill’s leadership during the WW2 bombing of London.
News of the World, by Paulette Giles. Highly-regarded Texas storyteller. It has been turned into a film starring Tom Hanks.
Stormy Weather, by Paulette Giles. After News of the World I went back through Giles’ catalog. I think I like this one even better than News.
How to Reach the West Again, by Tim Keller. Not sure it belongs on a list of “Books Read,” considering it’s a very short book summarizing what Keller has said in lengthier formats about evangelizing in our current context. But I still recommend it. The link will take you to a webpage where you can access the book for free.
Do We Not Bleed? By Daniel Taylor. I’ve now read all three of Daniel Taylor’s “Jon Mote” mysteries. Mote is a most unlikely detective.
Atheist Overreach, by Christian Smith. You should start with Chapter 3 if you’re going to college or sending a child to college.
Cold-Case Christianity, by J Warner Wallace. I interviewed Wallace for our church service in the Fall 2020. The L.A. detective turned his investigative skills on the Christian story and became a believer.
God and Politics, by Mark Dever. An essential book for Christians who want to be good citizens and faithful Christians at the same time.
Confronting Christianity, by Rebecca McLaughlin. A good response to objections non-believers raise about our faith.
Faith Among the Faithless: Learning from Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad, Mike Cosper. Relevant for our times.
Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. I highly recommend this one. I quoted an excerpt here. If you want a more thorough review before deciding on the book, read Tim Keller’s thoughts here.
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M Barry. I expect a lot of folks spent some time with this one during our global pandemic in 2020.
Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural Address, by Ronald White. I really liked White’s A. Lincoln: A Biography several years ago. I’ve always considered Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address one of the most important speeches in American history.
All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. Superb writing.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks. A collection of essays by the entertaining psychiatrist.
Application for Release from the Dream, by Tony Hoagland. Another Hoagland poetry book.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan. The true account of war hero Pino Lella in Mussolini’s Italy.
He Descended to the Dead: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday, by Matthew Emerson. What did Jesus “do” between his death and resurrection?
The End of October, by Lawrence Wright. It was fortunate to have a novel about a pandemic ready for the presses in 2020. But I would have liked him to give more detail about exactly how infrastructure collapses as a pandemic spreads. Instead, we’re just about immediately without power, without ATM machines, and without gasoline. From the NYT review: “As a fiction writer, Wright will not make you forget that Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood still stride the planet. His dialogue can be a bit wooden. There is some overbearing psychological development. A major character dies without the impact the moment might have had. What he offers in compensation is a great deal of learning about viruses and their attendant political and social horrors; learning that he injects into a maniacal page-turner. He offers the joy of competence — his own as a writer, and the scientific and moral competence of many of the characters he’s invented.”
The Color of Lightning, by Paulette Giles. A Black protagonist pursues his wife and son who have been captured by Comanche.
The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, by Douglas Murray. A provocative pushback against the prevailing cultural opinion about gender, race, and identity.
Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, by academic Angela Nagle. An unsettling look into an online world I knew nothing about.
Vesper Flights, by Helen Macdonald. I loved her H is for Hawk a few years ago (and at 67% off, only $5.22, as of this posting, you really should get it). This new collection of essays about nature were okay, but I wouldn’t rank it up there with her first book.
White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement, by Christian Picciolini.
Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson (Wheaton Theology Conference). If you’re a fan of Robinson’s Gilead novels, you’ll want to read this.
All Things Left Wild, by James Wade. This entertaining writer shows a lot of promise. Some of his plot points and characterizations stretched credulity, though this may have been deliberate on his part: At times it felt as if Quentin Tarantino had edited a Cormac McCarthy novel. Such a mashup makes for entertaining reading, though it’s about as much a “western” as Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is a WW2 drama.
Red Pill, by Hari Kunzru. Has the main character come face-to-face with a white supremacy plot, or is he descending in to madness?
The Outsiders, by SE Hinton. The 1960s classic was recommended to me by Karen Swallow Prior as I think about a character in a novel I’m working on.
Little Oceans, by Tony Hoagland. I’m a Hoagland fan, but this was not his strongest collection.
The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. Decent storytelling. I really did try to sympathize with Roth’s paranoia, but without success.
Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, by Andrew Greer. Each chapter is a reflection by a different person on how Rich Mullins’ music impacted them. I guess I was hoping it was going to be a book about those who knew Mullins.
Light from Distant Stars, Shawn Smucker. High ratings on Goodreads, and Christianity Today awarded it their 2019 Fiction Book of the Year, but I couldn’t stay with it.
Lists from Previous Years