An unforeseen benefit of a pandemic requiring social distancing and some extended time working from home is that I have found significantly more time to read books this year than in previous years. My “To Be Read” pile visible diminished this year. Of that pile of books, what ones really stood out to me? This is not a top 10 list of new books this year, nor my all-time favorite books. These are books I read in 2020 that impacted me personally, no matter when they were originally published. Why did these books have such and impact and thus stand out for the year? As I share about my standout books of 2020, I hope you will gain some insights into my interests and passions.
Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century by Dennis Showalter
I actually finished this book before the pandemic got into full swing in Indiana. From Goodwill and other used bookstores, I have an ongoing pile of biographies and autobiographies that I occasionally pull a book from to better understand history and the impact individual people have had on the world. This book fascinated me with its parallel biographies of two famous generals, comparing and contrasting their personal histories and their impacts on modern warfare. I had known quite a bit about Patton, but very little about Rommel except from small excerpts in school history books and movies. This book also helped me gain deeper insights into World War II, a time in world history that I feel we often gloss over with too much patriotism in our US history books, missing some of the depth and nuances that occurred in other nations and people who were involved.
Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Edited by Kevin Anderson
After finishing a serious book (like a thick and serious biography), I often reach for a lighter book for fun. I had watched season 1 of The Mandalorian at the end of 2019 had Star Wars rattling around in my head so I pulled this off my TBR pile and was instantly a kid again, watching the original Star Wars movies. These short stories utilize characters you just saw in passing in the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine in Star Wars IV: A New Hope. While we were all focused on Obi-Wan and Luke hiring Han Solo, there was an entire cantina full of unique characters, and this book delves into their stories. When I was a kid, I had the toys for many of these characters including the Greedo, and this book tells his story and others who were there at the one scene in the movie. What a fascinating challenge for these authors and a joy for lovers of the Star Wars universe to delve more in that galaxy.
Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson
Being creative in times of solitude brings me peace. As the pandemic started impacting the world, I had become very introspective and seeking new outlets for creativity. So, when my wife recommended we read a book together from a writer, singer, and songwriter we both enjoy, I was intrigued. Andrew Peterson’s music and his Wingfeather Saga captured our attention with their simplicity of words yet depth of meaning. This book turned out to be a simple yet deep discussion of the intersection of faith and creativity. Angie and I enjoyed reading a section of this book every evening before bed then discussing it, sometimes for days. It challenged my preconceptions about creative writing and encouraged my passion for storytelling even more.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
After a few lighter books, I reached for another serious and expansive book, one about my favorite US president. Even though my nickname is T.R., Theodore Roosevelt is not my namesake. That is a coincidence of nickname and favorite president. I love him for his passion for the great outdoors and his championing the national parks and preserves, for being a young sickly nerd growing up that became a strong and passionate leader, and for being such a chivalrous romantic. This book, though very slow at times, delves deeper into the life of Theodore Roosevelt than I have even been, making me favor him even more. Reading this book also has given me an interest to take the time over the next decades to slowly read more about all our US presidents, beyond what I learned in history classes in school.
Audible books of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
My wife and I started the Audible books of the Dresden files in late 2019, with plans to finish many of the books on our road trip to Prince Edward Island. That trip was sidelined halfway there by a hurricane that hit the island, then upon coming home I injured my back and needed surgery. So these audible books languished for a while. As the pandemic slogged onward, we picked these back up to listen to during meals and drives for curbside groceries as a bit of escapism. The stories are pulpy, push us a bit, but they have been exciting fluff and have characters we have fallen in love with like Karen, Waldo, Mouse, and Michael Carpenter. These books also fascinate us with their unabashed and powerful depiction of the true God centered faith of Michael, his family, Father Forthill, and the Knights of the Cross.
Dune by Frank Herbert
When early images and trailers of the new Dune movie were released, my passion for that story rekindled and I asked for a hardcover copy for my birthday in October. I was gifted with this amazing colored copy and quickly devoured the story once again. Much like the books by J.R.R. Tolkien set in Middle Earth, Dune and its following books have this deep history developed by Frank Herbert. You can physically and emotionally feel the universe, and the weight of it on the main characters. This classic of science fiction inspires me as a storyteller.
The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
My wife and I have been enjoying the Father Brown series on BBC and I remembered having read a few of the stories back in college. Enjoying the BBC series and desiring to better understand how mysteries are written, I picked up this complete collection and have been intrigued by Chesterton’s mystery writing style. I enjoy classic mysteries with some of my favorites being the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Cat Who mysteries, and the Agatha Christie Poirot novels. Chesterton follows most of the standard mystery tropes but has his own unique twists and turns with his priest as a main character who cares more about saving souls than serving justice.
What books stood out for you in 2020, and what made them stand out? I am curious what makes a game special to you.