Thoughts on Reading in 2020

My Favorite Books of the Year, Reading With My Children and Rediscovering Picture Books as an Adult

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. The first series of books I remember diving into was the Ramona and Beezus series by Beverly Cleary. I remember feeling so mature for reading Ramona Quimby Age 8 before I had turned eight. I set up a bookshelf full of picture books for my eldest child before he was even born. 

Fast forward more than 30 years and I have my own 8 year old reader (as well as a 9 year old one and an almost 4 year old one) The library is part of our weekly routine. Reading is a huge part of my life and our family’s life. But like a lot of working mothers, reading for myself became something I’ve had less and less time for. After all of the hours allocated to work and parenting (and, let’s be honest, scrolling social media and falling asleep in front of Netflix) the hours devoted to reading ended up getting squeezed out.  In 2015 I started to use the Goodreads app to track reading, discover new books, and participate in the annual reading challenge. I’ve loved it, because it allows me to push myself towards my goal of reading. I’ve loved the ability to track what I read, and hear recommendations from others. 

For 2020, I set a goal of reading 40 books. It seemed entirely reasonable at the time. Low, in fact, for what I was anticipating I’d read. And then, Covid-19. In the early weeks and months of the global pandemic, the only thing I read was the news, Twitter, a book or two for church, and picture books for my children before bedtime. I couldn’t read books or listen to audiobooks at all. Every time I tried to open a book or play an audiobook, my mind would wander. I couldn’t focus. It felt like a very specific kind of grief. As the months went by, I realized how far away I was from my goal of reading and as summer turned to fall, I wondered what I would do about it. Perhaps I should change my goal to something more manageable. That didn’t feel right. Perhaps I would double down and read nonstop in an effort to plow through and reach the goal. That didn’t seem right either. 

I kept my reading goal in the back of my mind as I brought the children to the library every week. Often I strolled through the picture book section trying to convince my children to check out the ones that caught my eye. “No thanks, mom” they would say as they scurried off to their beloved graphic novels and fantasy sections. While waiting for them to settle on their choices, I started to read the picture books myself.  I got lost in many of those picture books and checked them out to read again, myself. With the reading challenge in the back of my mind, I wondered if I should log these picture books as part of the challenge. Is that cheating? I wondered. I had set out to read 40 books in 2020, and when I started that challenge, I had imagined 40 “full size’ books, not picture books. But as I made my way through some incredible selections, I was reminded of all of the effort that goes into creating picture books, and all of the knowledge crammed in there. 

I read, once, that a Jeopardy! champion had attributed some of his success to picture books because they gave the essential information about a variety of topics that would come up on the show. It was a great reminder to me of the gift that picture books can be. 

I decided that “counting” some of the picture books that had the greatest impact on me in 2020 wasn’t cheating. I learned just as much from some of those books as I have the “full sized” ones. It was picture books that brought me back to reading in 2020, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. Because of this experience, I’ve decided to increase my reading goal to 100 books for 2021, knowing that it’s more attainable if some (many?) of them are picture books. Who knows what 2021 will bring in terms of reading, but I can’t wait to find out. 

Here are my nine favorites books from 2020. Two of them are picture books (both about writing, interestingly enough.)  

See if any of them catch your eye.  

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri —  This is a story about Syrian refugees and their journey to safety. It was one of those books that I came to via random browsing in the library and couldn’t put down. 

Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell — I’ve long appreciated Rob Bell and feel like I’ve “grown up” spiritually alongside him. He was pastor at Mars Hill when I was at Calvin, and I would put him on a very short list of people I would consider spiritual “gurus” of mine. I wasn’t planning to read this one, though, because I felt like I had probably heard everything he had to say before. I was wrong. This book is excellent, as usual. 

We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, one Meal at a Time  by Jose Andres — Our town has a community book every year, sponsored by our local library. This was the 2020 book. I was drawn in by chef Andres’ “can do” attitude, his efficiency, and the way he kept at his goal. A great story of inspiration for leaders. 

Write! Write! Write! By Amy Vandewater — This is a book of poems about writing. Written for children, it was a great inspiration to me and I enjoyed reading many of the poems out loud to my children a well. It tackles writing, editing and the creative process. 

This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel —  A story about a transgender child and her family. The writing is fantastic, and rings true in so many marvelous ways. 

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre  by Anika Denise — A lovely story of a remarkable woman who had something to say and her journey to getting published. Inspiring and hopeful. 

Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan  — A challenging and prophetic read. My congregation was challenged by many of the words in this book, which is the point. 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline — Dystopian fiction about a video game contest. Lots of fun 80s trivia in here as well. I listened to this one on audiobook and was captivated. 

Hamnet:A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell — Historical fiction about Shakespeare’s son Hamnet. Absolutely captivating. I was given this as a Christmas present and plowed through it in 3 days. 

Happy Reading in 2021 and beyond!


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