A Year in Books (2020)

This year was the year of story. I clung to the narratives I found veined across paper when it felt like my own was crumbling like so much sand between my fingers. In the midst of the wilderness — silences, lengthy depressive episodes, pixels, temptation, lonely nights and lonely walks, difficult but needed good-byes, a new coffee addiction, family illness — there was solace in story. Books served to remind me of meaning, and God met me there as the words tumbled over themselves in their eagerness to tell me what they’d seen of the world. Reading is, in many ways, communion — between us and the world and between us and God. Language is such a gift, and this year only deepened my gratitude that we get to use it.

I read 24,113 pages across 90 books in 2020. Per tradition, I’ve assembled some of the most meaningful here (in the order read), to serve as a glance back and, hopefully, an outward gesture with open hands to give you some of the stories that helped me do battle against darkness. God be with you.

Virgil Wander | Leif Enger
My heart soared with the kites and beat in the awkward rib cages of this love story built into a search for meaning and purpose. Little did I know, when I read the book in January, how desperately I would need those lessons in longing and patience.

Soul Keeping | John Ortberg
A friend gave his copy of this book to me before he moved, and I scribbled reams of penciled notes in the margins next to the black pen annotations already there. These meditations are filled with honesty and hope, and opened my eyes to the beauty of the soul. What does it mean to be on a collision course of souls, bumping into one another, helping each other home?

A Grief Observed | C.S. Lewis
Death stuck close to my mind this year, in many forms. It was a great comfort to know that this incredible soldier of faith also made the same laments and floundered in the same darkness. He fought to discover and know truth, and this is one such candid example.

Franny and Zooey | J.D. Salinger
One of those books that had me twisting my forehead in confusion all the way through, but one which ultimately sung of those sacred words, “This is not of yourselves. It is a gift of God.”

Home | Marilynne Robinson
The pain of grace and forgiveness, of love that does not know how to be shared, of reaching out one’s hands only to have them be battered and broken. Yet through it all: kindness.

Lila | Marilynne Robinson
Technically I read this twice in 2020, poring over paragraphs that multiplied meanings each time I traced my mind around them. I cry every time I read about baptism, about birth.

Whiter Than Snow | Paul David Tripp
Sin smells suspiciously like so much burning salt, melting into the periphery the holy love of mercy. Keep fighting, friends. We must.

Glass, Irony, & God | Anne Carson
Really, only one essay of this collection lingers with me: “The Glass Essay.” Heartbreak is a fickle thing. I don’t think we ever truly recover, but we step closer toward healing each day.

The Secret History | Donna Tartt
I remember reading The Goldfinch my freshman year of college and not being able to make heads or tails of the sprawling narrative. But this one? A work of art. Very edgy but in the best ways. Think dark academia, dangerous obsession, and insidious lies.

The Museum of Small Bones | Miho Nonaka
Dr. Nonaka is one of my professors at college, and I am utterly in awe of her poems. They leave me breathless, checking my heart rate, muttering swear words under my breath when no other language will suffice, staring in existential wonder at my ceiling, crying with the book across my face at the words “You are abandoned. You have been dearly loved.” One of my favorite images was “a jar of marmalade just shattered / inside your sister’s eyes.” The poems beckon readers to look twice, to reconsider what meaning is, to love and love again.

Being Disciples | Rowan Williams
This re-instilled in me the earnest desire to look up from my constant introspection, to wait for the Lord like a watch guard in the night, to hold my light carefully, to pay attention. Williams likens waiting for God to bird-watching, and I’m in love with that image.

He Held Radical Light | Christian Wiman
I mean, I love most things written by this poet/essayist/thinker.

Frankenstein | Mary Shelley
I somehow managed to miss this classic in my high school education, and I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Being someone who thinks very deeply (sometimes too deeply) about our human nature and fallenness, I was drawn to and invigorated by the intensely layered tensions Shelley addresses through her characters.

G’Morning, G’Night | Lin Manuel Miranda
A companionable little collection that takes “books are my best friends” to an entirely new level.

A Door in the Hive | Denise Levertov
We read the poem “Flickering Mind” in my senior seminar writing class, and I immediately went looking for the volume it came from. Kindly, this used copy was available for purchase (shoutout to Thriftbooks, which got most of my money this year). I was reminded of the gift that beautiful words are, passed between fragile human hands, from Creator God. Some books were always meant to make their way to us in time. I think this was one such book for me. Except that I found a small dead spider pressed into page 96, golden and spindly, next to a poem about the setting sun’s unhurried creeping over the mountains.

Rebecca | Daphne du Maurier
K really hyped this one up and it exceeded all my wildest expectations of what a good story should be. The kind of story that you simply must read over again once you reach the end. Maybe after I get through my endless TBR, whenever that will be.

Bird by Bird | Anne Lamott
A delightful read — blunt and witty and wise. Renewed my hope for having a writer’s life.

Blue Nights | Joan Didion
Read this in one sitting to find that Joan Didion, my new-journalism hero, never disappoints.

Devotions | Mary Oliver
Someday, in the new earth, I would like to go for a walk with Mary Oliver and see, with our sanctified eyes, more beauty than we ever thought possible.

Some notable mentions:

Forsaken | Thomas K. McCall
Remembering | Wendell Berry
Les Misérables | Victor Hugo
Adorning the Dark | Andrew Peterson
West Wind | Mary Oliver
Persuasion | Jane Austen
Flowers for Algernon | Daniel Keyes
Letters to a Young Poet | Rainer Maria Rilke
O Pioneers! | Willa Cather

Happy New Year! Happy reading. 🙂

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