Book List

The 12 Best Books I Read in 2020

I read a lot in 2020 — even more than usual. Normally, I’m able to complete 50 or more books during a given year. But so far during 2020, I cleared more than 85 books (with a few weeks left in the year).

That was thanks in part to spending way more time inside during a global pandemic. It was also because I got four months free of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, and read quite a few books there.

During normal years, I make a list of every book I read and create a five-word summary. It’s been a fun way to recap my reading and give a high-level summary for others.

(Check out these short summaries from 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016).

Since this year was anything but normal, I chose to go a different route. For 2020, I’ve picked out the dozen of my favorite titles and written a slightly longer summary, including why I picked it.

The list is divided evenly between works of fiction and nonfiction—since I try to read a balance of both. (Oh, and all of the links are affiliate links on bookshop.org; so if you click one and buy a copy, I get a small reward.)

Non-Fiction

1. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

Sinek’s previous books — Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last — were both solid reads, so I was excited about The Infinite Game, and he didn’t disappoint. The book draws a distinction between finite games, like sporting events with winners and losers, and infinite games, like life. I even got to hear Simon speak virtually while I helped run the digital Orange Conference 2020.

2. The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff

I found this book after listening to an episode of the podcast Reply All. The very-real story fascinated me, so I had to read more. It’s all about this underappreciated South African coder who decides to become a global crime lord. He builds an empire on prescription drugs and international piracy, until the FDA starts hunting to take him down.

3. This is Marketing by Seth Godin

Seth Godin is the man when it comes to anything marketing. I’ve read a number of his books, including Linchpin, and always enjoy his short, practical writing style. This Is Marketing is no different — if anything, it’s his seminal work on marketing, which he defines as “the generous act of helping someone solve a problem.” Godin’s latest book, The Practice, is on my reading list for 2021.

4. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

Before I read anything by him, I’d heard a lot about Jordan Peterson. Some of my friends really like his works, but he’s also apparently a very controversial figure. Either way, I decided to find out more for myself and read his most popular book: 12 Rules For Life. While I didn’t agree with (or fully understand) everything he discusses, I think he makes some valid points about self-awareness and responsibility. While that doesn’t condone everything he stands for, I’ll simply say that reading it challenged me to think and live in a more conscious way.

5. Outrageous Marketing by Scott Dikkers

In 2019, I attended the Digital Summit Atlanta marketing conference, where one of the speakers was Scott Dikkers, the founder of The Onion. As a life-long Onion fan, I enjoyed hearing his marketing advice and similarly appreciated the same from his book. It essentially outlines the story of his life and how the Onion was founded. But along the way, he highlights a number of marketing lessons, particularly, how deep passion and courage are keys to creating anything of quality.

6. Analog Church by Jay Kim

I had the chance to write a full-length review for Jay Kim’s Analog Church for the Faith Tech Institute earlier this year. So I’ll skip those details here. In short, this book was an astute analysis of technology’s role in the church and how we can return to our analog roots. The irony being that the book was published in a year when that wasn’t as feasible as it once was.

Fiction

7. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is one of the strongest mixes of alternative history and magic that I’ve ever read. It seamlessly blends a few genres together — while also balancing the Dickensian tone with a wry sense of humor. At over 800 pages, it’s a lengthy tome, but one that moves at a good pace and features some memorable characters.

8. Providence by Max Barry

I’ve read and highly enjoyed every book written by Max Barry — all six of them (and eagerly awaiting his newly announced book in 2021). With that said, Providence was very different from his other books. Most of them are more light-hearted and fast-paced; whereas this book about the crew of a semi-sentient spaceship was more introspective and cerebral. It was still uniquely enjoyable and surprising in good ways.

9. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Like many young people, I originally read Ender’s Game years ago and enjoyed it — enough even to read it’s sequel, Speaker of the Dead. I hadn’t read any other in the series, but was intrigued by the ideas presented in the parallel Ender’s Shadow series. It’s a fascinating idea to fill in the backstory of a supporting character from a beloved book — but Card handles it with his unfailingly solid storytelling.

10. The Dark Tower VI: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

I’ve read dozens of books by Stephen King, and still haven’t worked my way through half of his bibliography. The Dark Tower series was always on my list and I’m slowly working my way through it. This is the fourth installation in that epic drama about the gunslinger Roland and his progress towards the titular Dark Tower. It also seems like these novels get stronger the further into the series I read, with this one being the more compelling one so far.

11. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

I bought John Dies at the End for my Kindle one day as a lark — it had a funny title and it was probably cheap. But that book — and it’s two sequels — turned out to be some of the funniest, most-well written sci-fi-esque/horror fiction I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The stand-alone Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits fits that same bill — just with more ridiculously inventive technology and violence.

12. After The Fall: A Post-Apocalyptic Anthology

So I’m a little biased on this selection — because this short-story anthology actually contains two of my own submissions. And it was published by a friend of mine, based on his awesome independent film. Nevertheless, it’s a very diverse collection of stories, poetry, and artwork all around the post-apocalyptic genre.

What were your favorite books that you read this year?

Communicator. Innovator. Storyteller. ATLien. Millennial. Tech aficionado. Bibliophile. etc.

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