My Year of Reading (2020)


My Year of Reading 2020   

Like most people, our year started out with expectations and aspirations.  The Daughter was visiting colleges and auditioning for music schools and scholarships. We were (still) unpacking boxes from our August move, working on home improvement projects on our new-to-us mid-century ranch, and getting the lay of the land in our small historic town. Then. Well, life continues! The Daughter went off to college and made the Dean’s List for the Fall Semester.  I pushed to unpack the rest of the boxes so that I could bestow them on a friend. As for getting the lay of the land, well, it’s a big change moving from an urban environment to a more rural one.  The beauty and the quiet compensate. 

Like 2017 and 2018, and 2019, I’m “catching up” on my 2020 book list with this post.  (2017 is Here) (2018 is Here) (2019 is Here) Thanks to Goodreads, my Commonplace Book, and my 2020 Planner, I’m reminded of the great books that I read last year.

Here are a few of the standouts:

Cry the Beloved Country ~ Alan Paton ~ Beautifully written book about families, and faith in South Africa.  So much pain, such amazing forgiveness and ultimately, hope. This quote: “But there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good for their country, come together to work for it… I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.”

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World  ~ Tim Marshall ~ One of the classes I taught during the 2019/2020 school year was a High School Geography class.  This book was helpful in adding depth and contour to the flat, two dimensional nature of the geography curriculum  through Marshall’s discussions of the issues and struggles both political and social that are unique to each region as a result of the mountains, seas, deserts, rivers, plains and climates within their borders. 

The War that Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War ~ Caroline Alexander ~ Alexander wrote a great book about the Shackleton Expedition, Endurance, so when I saw this at my local Bargain Books, I picked it up.  Confession: I have not read the Iliad. I have read Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff, um, many years ago. 😀  Still, I found this book an engrossing read.  Alexander’s examination of language, history, human nature and Homer, make a compelling argument that Homer is a pacifist, writing about men on both sides who do not want to fight anymore.  And this quote: “The greatest war story ever told commemorates a war that established no boundaries, won no territory, and furthered no cause.”

West with the Night ~ Beryl Markham ~  I was captivated by this memoir of a ground-breaking woman who grew up in Africa, hunting wild animals, training racehorses and learning to fly over its amazing contours in the early years of flight. Markham’s love of Africa weaves throughout her memoir. “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.”” Her passion for flying and respect for the craft of flying is the warp to the woof of her love of Africa. “One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labelled buttons, and in whose minds knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fiction.” Her memoir does not go into her personal life in the way that a recent biography does, so this book is suitable for a mature high school student. 

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams ~ Matthew Walker ~  I heard about this book via a webinar put together by Bulletproof Musician. One of the guests mentioned the book during a discussion of the effect of sleep on memorization. As it turns out, sleep, or lack of it, is a fundamental determinant of physical health, mental health, immune system strength, longevity, weight, mood, you name it. In his book, Walker clearly explains the many and varied functions of sleep and the vital work being done in our minds and bodies while we sleep. I was hoping for a little more information for those of us who are trying to get more sleep. Regardless, he offers much to compel readers (especially students) to make sleep a higher priority.  “When sleep is abundant, minds flourish. When it is deficient, they don’t.”

Genius Foods ~ Max Lugavere ~ Choose to eat good food, and be healthier!  Lots of information, easy to digest. 😀 

Animal Farm ~ George Orwell ~ I put Animal Farm on my Fundamentals of Writing class booklist, so of course I had to dust off my copy and read it (several times) to prepare for class.  It’s a clever book. Really, the more I read it, the more satire I catch, sharp but subtle.  And of course recent events have brought Animal Farm back into discussion.  Who doesn’t look at the confused but dogged obedience we see around us and think of Boxer and Clover?  

Down the Long Wind (Series) ~ Gillian Bradshaw ~ Bradshaw is a favorite historical fiction author. She has written a great variety of novels that are appropriate for teens, reveal the historical period naturally and realistically and with plots that are quite interesting. Her medieval fairytale, Wolf Hunt, has moved back and forth between my bookshelf and my daughter’s and appears on both of our lists of our top 20 books.  Curious about her interpretation of the Arthurian legends, when I found a lovely hardback (w/dustjackets) set of the three books in her trilogy:  Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer and In Winter’s Shadow, I had to get them. I loved the first two, and struggled through the third, but it’s not Bradshaw’s fault. It’s simply that I mourn when characters I have grown to admire fall to temptation, and other characters I respect are deeply wounded, and in terrible consequence, the beautiful kingdom falls apart.  

The Places In Between ~ Rory Stewart ~  A Scottish man decides to walk across Afghanistan (in 2002, ahem) along a specific route followed centuries before by a Moghul emperor, depending upon his skills as an artist (he sketches each of his hosts and shows them to subsequent hosts as a form travel documentation), the hospitality of strangers, his basic knowledge of Dari, his adept people reading, and his amazing ability to get into the zone and walk.  I was hoping for more description of the country he was crossing, but was still intrigued by his encounters with villagers (always males) and the revelation that like most places, Afghanistan is not homogenous.  

2020 being what it was, I also re-read a few favorites, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I pull an Austen off the shelf every year, because, I love her. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed Soul in Paraphrase, (and not just because the title is from my favorite Herbert poem) an anthology put together by Leland Ryken.  The Daughter and I are keenly appreciative of Leland Ryken. Through his literature guides he has served as our sherpa through important classics including The Odyssey, Paradise Lost, The Scarlet Letter, the poetry of Donne, Herbert and Milton, and the Bible via Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible.  Who better to collect the best devotional poetry and reveal the beauty of the writing, and the spiritual truths therein? I was less enamored of Thirty Poems to Memorize Before it’s Too Late, but I’m in the minority there. 

This ends my series of catch up posts on My Year of Reading.  Whew!  My Year of Reading 2021 is set to come out, well, on time. 🙂 

Thanks for following along! If you’ve read one of these books, leave a comment and let me know what you thought about it!

I am a huge fan of American Impressionism! The image at the top of the post is a 1914 painting by Frederick Childe Hassam entitled Couch on the Porch, Cos Cob. Cos Cob was a region of Greenwich, Connecticut where an artist colony thrived at the turn of last century. 


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