My Year of Reading in 2020

These 24 books helped me get through the year…

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans will always be one of my favorite writers. Her death in 2019 came on the heels of the death of my grandmother. It was a time of deep mourning for two women who had spoken into my life in profound ways. I met Rachel one time when she spoke at Notre Dame. She was so kind and generous, and it will be an interaction I’ll always cherish.

This notion of continuing to love the people that still hold views that I have grown out of would become a defining trend for me in 2020.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

This book was loaned to me by my boss, Jeannine. I finished it on my last day at that particular job — one full of a whirlwind of emotions. Seasons change, and so do seasons of life. I was entering a new one at that time, while processing the fullness of my gratitude for the season I was about to leave.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Philip Roth was a genius. I knew that much after I read American Pastoral. When I finished that book, I knew I wanted to read more from this great author. Portnoy’s Complaint was another work of his about which I had heard some discussion. I heard enough to know that it might not be the easiest read. I was a little nervous to try it out. But one day, I found it at a local independent bookstore and decided to purchase it.

The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon

I started a new job this year. It’s still in the marketing/advertising field, just at a different agency. When I started, I was giving the assignment of reading this book and taking notes to be given to my supervisor for review. This was the first time since college that I had read for an assignment. At first, I thought that might be constricting, but it ended up being a great experience.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This year, I also joined a book club that some of my friends had started the year before. The first book discussion I joined in on was for American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

1776 by David McCullough

Here was another one that I read for book club. I may not have gravitated to this one had I not been a part of the book club, which is one of the joys of that practice. You get to experience new books with your friends!

Lent for Non-Lent People by Jon Swanson

This is a book that I read every year, and it always has new joys for me. It has become a rhythm in my life every year to practice Lent. By that I mean, taking the 40 days prior to Easter to prepare myself by giving up something that will help me place a greater focus on my relationship with God and reflect more fully on the meaning of Easter.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Our next book club book was the beginning of this trilogy by the great author, C.S. Lewis. One thing I love about his writing is that many of his stories begin with the ordinary and move to the fantastic — as if the dream worlds are right next to us when we do our laundry.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

The next of those books was Perelandra. As I said before, one thing I love about C.S. Lewis is his ability to make clever analogies that completely re-contextualize a complex subject for you.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

This novel was loaned to me by a coworker because I mentioned that I love Cormac McCarthy’s novels and he thought I’d also enjoy this. He was absolutely right!

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

This was the final book in the trilogy, and it was also one we discussed in book club. It took me a while to get started, but then I flew through it in a weekend.

Better by Atul Gawande

This was such a fascinating read. Written by a man who is both an incredible surgeon and and incredible writer, this book impressed upon me the importance of simple changes.

But, looking back at the history of medicine, it has often been people focusing on simple changes that has made the greatest impact.

Put another way — they help us get better.

Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland

This was one of my favorite experiences in a long time. A friend of mine put a discussion group together around this book. We came from all walks of life. We had varying beliefs and experiences. But we came together for 10 weeks to read this book and discuss it.

That’s not meant to cover over differences, mind you. But it’s to create a safe place to work through them.

This was a continuation of the trend that began with my very first read of 2020 — to love those who think differently than I do.

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Wow. Talk about impacting my thinking. This book rocked me. It flowed with a lot of the thinking and personal growth I’ve been experiencing over the last couple years, but it took things to a new level.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The next book club book was this best-selling fantasy novel. I have since come to realize that it is a beloved work in the genre, but I was completely unaware of it prior to it getting chosen as our book club book. That was one of the unique joys of being in a book club — I read some books that I otherwise would never have even known.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is one of the foremost thinkers when it comes to business and leadership. I’ve always enjoyed his Start with Why Ted Talk. As a millennial, this book impacted me in unique ways.

True leadership has humility too.

Saint John of the Mall by Jon Swanson

Here is the 2nd book by Jon Swanson that has become and annual read for me. With everything going on in my life, I actually forgot to start reading this on December 1 as normal. So later in the month, I did a bit of binge read to catch up before Christmas.

Youth; Heart of Darkness; Amy Foster; and The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad

I read these four works by Joseph Conrad mainly to engage with the source material for one of my favorite films — Apocalypse Now. But what I ended up finding was a writer with a keen awareness of human nature. The darkness of it, yes, but also just the way we make choices and hide things.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch

This book became an instant favorite. I resonated with it on so many levels. I’ve often felt, growing up in a conservative, Christian environment, that the evangelical relationship to culture at large is out of whack. This book resets that discussion. In that way, it is a literary connector with H. Richard Niebuhr’s seminal work Christ and Culture. In my mind, however, Crouch goes beyond Niebuhr’s work by making the assertion that engaging with culture is not as important as actively making cultural artifacts.

So, the path forward is to actively create culture.

One of the foremost teachings in Christianity is that we are made in God’s image. He is the Creator God. We are then imbued with creativity.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

I finally got my chance to pick the book for book club, and I went with this classic from my favorite author. This was my second time reading the novel, and it impacted me even more this time.

But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the horror is only on the surface.

In that way, this was a powerful book to read as the year came to a close. I’m very much looking forward to discussing this one with the group in the new year!

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I finished Blood Meridian about 10 minutes before finishing this one. In fact, I spent most of December 31 reading these two books. What a way to finish the year — reading my two favorite authors. This is the third in Marilynne Robinson’s acclaimed Gilead series, and it confirmed for me that she is one of the great writers.

Thank you for reading. While I barely hit this goal, I’d still like to try to read more again next year. So I’m going to increase my reading goal to 25 for 2021. Wishing you all the best in this New Year, wherever your reading takes you!

Christ-follower. Husband to @SarahLCharles. Simple moments hold great power. Connect with me at my website: www.aarondcharles.com

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