The Best Books I Read in 2020

I’m no Oprah or Bill Gates, but like them, I create a yearend list of books that have impacted me. Most years, doing so is easy. Not this year.

Thanks to the pandemic, instead of reading a book a week, I read more than twice that. These are a few that I found particularly absorbing, entertaining, thought-provoking or behavior-changing.

Nonfiction

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins. Despite the fact that she has a huge social media following and regularly appears on CNN, I’d never heard of Robbins until one of my friends sent me this book. The premise is simple: You need a get-started ritual to overcome your inertia. For Robbins, that ritual is simple: just count 5-4-3-2-1 and then act … get out of bed, send that email, clean the dirty sink. I’m amazed at how often the ritual has transformed my to-dos into ta-dones.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg. I was familiar with Fogg because I write a lot about behavior change, but I had no idea how powerful his approach could be. Essentially it’s a simple recipe: After I _________, I will __________. After I brush my teeth, I will do five pushups. After I get into bed, I will name three things I’m grateful for.

Die with Zero: Getting All You Can From Your Money and Your Life by Bill Perkins. As a lifelong saver who has often put my future self ahead of my present self, this book opened my eyes to maximizing the value of my life experiences now, not at some distant point in the future when I may no longer have my health. And while I used to think that running out of money would be awful, I now think that having piles of it that I never got to enjoy would be even worse.

Fiction

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. A fast-paced romp that made me slightly uncomfortable yet kept me laughing, this debut novel brought me face to face with inequities I, as a white woman in my 60s, barely have reason to notice. I enjoyed the flashbacks to high school and could relate to both the anger and embarrassment main character Alix experiences after having sex for the first time, and I walked away with newfound appreciation for all the nuances of discrimination.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven.The first in a series of three, this book, which I listened to rather than read, captured my heart as Velva Jean follows her mother’s dying wish that she “live out there in the great wide world.” In doing so, Velva Jean travels from an abusive marriage in Appalachia (the audiobook narrator does a great job of bringing the area’s accents to life) to the Grand Ole Opry. Along the way, she teaches herself to drive the bright yellow truck gifted to her by her brother Johnny Clay, who is also featured in the two subsequent books in which Velva Jean learns to fly and becomes a World War II spy.

Stars Over Clear Lake by Loretta Ellsworth. Another historical novel, this book is set in the 1940s in Clear Lake, Iowa, where I used to gather with girlfriends each summer for an annual “no guys, no kids, no dogs” weekend that included a Saturday night dinner at the Surf Ballroom where much of the book takes place. The book—half love story, half mystery—explores the impact of buried secrets and the courage it takes to follow one’s heart.

What books are on your best of 2020 list? I and my fellow Word Sisters would love to hear. Please share.

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