2020 Reading Recap

You know the old saying about quality over quantity? It came to mind as I reviewed my Goodreads list at the end of 2020 and realized I only read 7 books that year (8, if you count a re-read). By bookworm standards, that’s rather paltry. Even by my slow-reading standards, it’s minuscule! But this is the first year—perhaps ever—that all my reads were at least rated four-star. All about perspective, hrm? So, without more delay, here’s an overview of my year in books.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

This book contains some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, fiction or nonfiction, and sucked me in from the first page—so much so that I finished it within 24-hours of starting. Despite the limitations of Markham’s perspective in terms of setting and history (and appearance of prejudices that may make modern readers uncomfortable), this book showed a fascinating highlight reel of her life, complete with adventure, horse racing, bush piloting, and, most notably, the first solo flight from Great Britain to the United States, and thus earned 5/5 stars from me.

[For more details, check out my full book review.]

Rook Di Goo by Jenni Sauer

I had the immense pleasure of being a beta-reader for this book and celebrating its release this past summer, and it honestly goes to show just how much good writing can make a person step outside of their usual genres. Sauer’s characters (especially the protagonist, El) endeared me almost instantly, the storyworld intrigued me from start to finish, the theme-and-motif loving part of my brain had so much fun picking up on the subtle nods to the original Cinderella tales, and in the end, I found myself delighted and invested in this indie series (more on that later, too!). I hope to give this book a proper review later this year, but for now, know I give it 4/5 stars.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Ahh, my second-favorite book (though sometimes it gives TBK a really good shove to get to the top spot)! I first read The Idiot in April of 2020, then a second time in November for a read-along I hosted on Instagram, and my love for the story didn’t diminish in the slightest. Dostoyevsky’s adeptness at capturing the nuances and contradictions of humanity and his pointed social and religion commentary links arms with the relationship drama and social climbing of Austen and the gothic-like suspense of the Brontes  to create, I think, one of the best theme-driven classics (which is essentially to say, if you haven’t read it, give it a try). In short, a very easy and very enthusiastic 5/5 stars novel.

[For more details, check out my full book review and my Last of the Myshkins read-along posts.]

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

This book has everything I’d want from historical nonfiction/biography: beautiful writing, extensive research and sourcing, and genuine respect for historical figures. Massie captures the feeling of being in late-19th to early-20th century Russia (focusing, of course, on the royal palaces and St. Petersburg) with his vivid prose, lays the foundation for the inevitable end of the last Tsar and his family, and humanizes every person involved without romanticizing their flaws or excusing their mistakes. Although I already have an interest in Russian history and the last of the Romanovs, I think anyone who enjoys history would enjoy this book—which is why Nicholas and Alexandra also earned a solid 5/5 stars.

[For more details, check out my full book review.]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Selected Poems

At the end of 2019, I gave a tentative reading list for 2020 and said, among other things, that I wanted to read more poetry. Obviously I didn’t end up reaching that goal, but this collection of Tennyson’s poetry provided an intense dose of poetry to the middle of the year and introduced me to my favorite poem, In Memoriam. I’m still learning how to read poetry, but I thoroughly enjoyed Tennyson’s mastery of language and descriptions, which is why I rated this collection 4/5 stars.

[You guessed it! For more details, check out my full book review.]

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Even if you followed me on Instagram last year, you probably didn’t see me discuss this book except for one or two brief posts, but my lack of chattiness isn’t a reflection of my thoughts. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m not one for self-help or psychology books, but at the recommendation of a friend I picked this one up and ended up being pleasantly surprised at what I read. Peterson is quite knowledgeable about human behavior and condenses that knowledge (and tons of research) with personal anecdotes to provide specific advice for self-improvement—and while his detours into analyzing Christianity is often theologically unsound (not unexpectedly, since he isn’t a Christian), the principles found in the book are practical and memorable, and enjoyable to read. Who would’ve thought that I’d ever rate a self-help book 4/5 stars?

The Possessed [Demons] by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2020 was the year I reached my goal of reading all of Dostoyevsky’s “master works,” with The Possessed (or Demons, depending upon translations) being the last of the four. I intend to give it a proper review later on (and Crime and Punishment, as well), but I want to wait until I re-read it, because it was by far the most confusing of Dostoyevsky’s books that I’ve read, and I want to give it a fair shot in case I simply wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I picked it up. But don’t let my lack of exuberant praise fool you! I enjoyed this book very much, especially at the end when all of the threads of the plot come together for one final (tragic) climax—not to mention that Dostoyevsky predicted the rise of communism with such near-accuracy that it’s haunting to read his descriptions in the 21st century. For now, then, I give this book 4/5 stars, but hope to perhaps raise that rating in the future.

Bonus Mention: Yesterday or Long Ago by Jenni Sauer

No spoilers, of course, because this book isn’t coming out until later this year (2021), but I had the pleasure of being a beta-reader again for one of Sauer’s novels at the end of 2020, and let’s just say I was as delighted and engaged as when I read Rook Di Goo—and Yesterday or Long Ago is even more outside of my usual genre (an adorable romance novel? Who am I becoming?). I’ll also give this story a proper review or at least a happy release-day shout-out when the time comes, but know I’d also rate it 4/5 stars.

[Unsponsored plug: you can find more info on both of these indie books on Sauer’s site and her Instagram page]

Dare I kid myself with making reading goals in 2021? There’s no telling what I’ll end up reading. But I did begin a few books and receive a few books as gifts that I’d like to finish in 2021, so I’ll mention those:

  1. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (at the very least, the first of three, since I’m about ¼ of the way through, but I’d like to read all three volumes)
  2. The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism by Ken Wilson (a brief but technical theological book that I’ve wanted to read for a while—and now I own it!)
  3. A collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov that I received as a gift. I read a few of his short stories last year and really enjoyed them, so I’m excited to try more (and perhaps get more accomplished by not resolving to read only large tomes).
  4. Operation Grendel by Daniel Schwabauer (I pre-ordered this book and am very excited to read it when it releases in March)
  5. I began reading the Bible front-to-back last year, and I’m hopeful to finish (and start again) within the year!

Another goal of mine—however broad and vague it may be—is to focus on books I already own but haven’t read yet, and I have an ample supply of classics and history books that have been neglected for longer than necessary, so I anticipate going in that direction when it comes to reading this year. But, then again, when have I really followed strict reading plans?

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