The Power of Words - My Favorite Books of 2020

Amidst the final days before Christmas, I find myself reflecting upon the year. While 2020 has been unique, I began this practice of reflective thinking years ago. My last few posts have been about traditions, and this one will follow suit. Making (and talking about) resolutions for the upcoming year is a common New Year’s Eve tradition, but in an unofficial poll last year, I could not find anyone who enjoyed this tradition. Apparently, I am the odd one, because I make resolutions each year, and some years I make several. With 2020 nearly in the rear view, making a resolution for 2021 seems especially appropriate. Perhaps resolutions could even be viewed as a deliberate expression of hope. While life is unsettled in many ways, I have much hope for goodness in 2021. 

I have thought a lot about why people typically dislike or don’t bother with making resolutions. The most logical seems to be that people dislike failure. I get it, I don’t like to fail either. Here’s the thing though, if the resolutions are attainable and measurable, they can bring so much satisfaction. WAIT! If you disagree, please keep reading, I promise not to push you in this direction and there are some excellent books you really need to read about. 

Several years ago I resolved to read 12 books each year (ideally one per month). In subsequent years I have kept this benchmark in the back of my mind, but my consistency varied. In January, I decided to re-use this resolution for 2020, as it met the criteria of being measurable, attainable, and something that I wanted to change about myself. 

I completed my first book over about a six-week period (not impressive I know). I knew I needed to pick up the pace if I wanted to attain my goal. Fortunately, the second book was a quick read, and I was back on track. Then, my progress severely plummeted. Between the end of February and the better part of June, I had not finished a single book. Like so many other aspects of 2020, I was disappointed. I felt that sense of failure and was considering giving up on the resolution completely. During a morning commute, a potential solution came to me. I enjoyed podcasts at home, maybe Audible would be a good option. Loading the app was quick. I was able to quickly select a title from my Goodreads “To Read” shelf, and suddenly my 22-minute commute became storytime. Okay, if you want to get technical, I fully recognize that this is not “reading” in the traditional sense, but “listening” to consume the stories and information achieves the same goal. I credit Audible with allowing me to fall back in love with reading. As of yesterday, I have completed 20 books! Oh, and the books I have read, my goodness, some have been amazing! A few were mediocre, and one was a full-on dud, but the top books I feel compelled to share. Because the content is so varied (i.e. not all fiction books), I cannot find a suitable way to rank them. As a result, my favorite books of 2020 are listed in the order that I enjoyed them. Just below the title of each, you will find a favorite quote to provide a little take of the book, as well as the writing style. 

Finding Chica: A Little Girl, and Earthquake, and the Making of a Family, by Mitch Albom

“Hopelessness can be contagious, but hope can be too. And there is no medicine to match it.”

Several years ago (ok, probably a decade or more) my Dad introduced me to Mitch Albom by sharing Tuesdays with Morrie. We have shared a mutual appreciation for Mitch Albom books ever since. Finding Chica was released in November 2019 and was the perfect Christmas gift from my Dad last year. What to say about the book...there isn’t a surprise ending, as the synopsis is given in the first chapter, it is sad and beautiful. Mitch Albom’s vulnerability about life and lessons he learned from a 5 year old enduring the evils of a brain tumor craft such an exceptional tribute to the life of Chica. If you have read Mitch Albom before, you are aware that he is able to convey a tremendous amount of wisdom in every novel. Read this if you are looking for a story about life lessons, or just love Mitch Albom.

A Most Beautiful Thing, by Arshay Cooper

“It’s like a bank account: You have nothing to withdraw if you don’t make a deposit. A lot of times teachers and parents just want to withdraw from us. They want to know our problems, secrets, and the things that are going on in our lives. They wonder why we never tell them anything, and the reason is because they’ve never made any deposits. Ken is excellent at making trust and faith deposits in our lives.”

I could not put this book down. Based upon a true story, this book documents America’s first all Black high school rowing team. The story is powerful and multi-faceted. It’s about ignoring naysayers and saying yes to opportunities. It’s about learning to trust and the power of a coach’s role. It’s about having the odds stacked against you, fear, and success. It’s about all of this and so much more. Arshay’s book is captivating and truly inspiring. I understand that this has recently been adapted to film, and while I have yet to view it personally, anticipate that it is equally captivating. This book is filled with emotion. Not gonna lie, it is emotionally intense (at least for this empath), but oh so good! Read this if you enjoy stories about the underdog succeeding.

The Help, by Katheryn Stocktt

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

I know, I know, I’m late to the boat on this one. I sheepishly admitted to two dear friends that I hadn’t read this book when they were referencing it in conversation. From the look on their faces, you would have thought I had told them I had never eaten toast for breakfast. I had heard of it, of course, but in my defense, it was published in 2009, which is the same year that my daughter was born. I spent the better part of 2009 and the following three years in severe sleep deprivation. (Maybe I did read the book but haven’t any recollection?) All that aside, it was clear that this was the time to read this book. Set in Mississippi in the 1960s, this is a story of three ladies. Two black maids and a white journalist who documents the maid’s experiences. Don’t let the 451 pages scare you, the story develops quickly, and the character development draws you into the story. Read this if you want a good fiction book...or if you want to know about the infamous chocolate pie incident.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eban Alexander

“To say that there is still a chasm between our current scientific understanding of the universe and the truth as I saw it is a considerable understatement. I still love physics and cosmology, still love studying our vast and wonderful universe. Only I now have a greatly enlarged conception of what “vast” and “wonderful” really mean. The physical side of the universe is as a speck of dust compared to the invisible and spiritual part. In my past view, spiritual wasn’t a word that I would have employed during a scientific conversation. Now I believe it is a word that we cannot afford to leave out.”

The subtitle provides an excellent synopsis of this book. Prior to his own personal experience, this highly regarded neurosurgeon, believed that near-death experiences were manifestations caused by extreme stress. It took a virus inexplicably attacking his brain, falling into a coma, and a near-death experience of his own to change his opinion. While the expectancy of recovery was dismal at best, it probably isn’t a spoiler to tell you that he miraculously lives (he wrote a novel about the experience after all!). More intriguing in this story is that his recovery exceeded the best-case scenario. His recovery would be a great story on its own, but his account of his near-death experience was fascinating. Reading about the connection between science and spirituality was refreshing. Read this if you are curious about spirituality.

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories #1), by Chris Colfer

“Sometimes we forget about our own advantages because we focus on what we don't have. Just because you have to work a little harder at something that seems easier to others doesn't mean you're without your own talents.”

Yes, this series is targeted at tweens, and it was indeed a tween (my favorite one in fact) who insisted that I read this novel. While fantasy has not typically been a genre that I have gravitated toward, my tween was absolutely captivated by this series, and her desire to share it with me was quite special. 

You might recognize the author as “Kurt” from Glee. After reading this book it is evident that his creative talent spans several mediums. This tale follows the experiences of twins who travel to another dimension and find themselves among fairytales (think Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, etc.). Colfer carefully intertwines beloved fairy tales in a most enjoyable way. As a parent, I appreciate both the delightful story, as well as the underlying messages about loving your family, understanding how experiences shape people, and that hard times don’t last forever. Read this if you appreciate a fairytale, and digging deeper. If you loved Wicked, this is for you, but adjust your literary expectations to be suitable for tweens. 

I’ll say what you are likely thinking, this list is random. At first glance, I would agree, but if you have read, or choose to read (or listen to) these books, I think you will find that the main characters in each are vulnerable. It is their vulnerability that makes them endearing and interesting. I find myself thinking about these characters long after finishing the books. That might seem odd, since in most cases they aren’t even real, but they have each left an impression that helps me to better understand people. These characters affirm having faith in the goodness of people and hope for 2021.

As I begin to consider a New Year's resolution to adopt for 2021, I intend to keep my reading resolution. With that in mind, I would be curious to hear if you have any favorite books that I should include on my reading list. Please DM me via Instagram @semi_crunchy_life. 

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