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Top 15 Most Impactful Books That I Read In 2020

This year will make it into the history books of the future. Kids will likely read about 2020 (let’s hope it will just be 2020) for generations to come. It was also an excellent year to be a reader for several reasons. First of all, there was more time to read than in most years, because there weren’t many places to go or to be. Second, reading allows you to change your scenery and even your life for a little while.
Mason Cooley’s quote “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” seems to have been made for this year. It wasn’t unless he’s a sort of Nostradamus, Cooley lived between 1927 and 2002. He was a professor emeritus of French, speech, and world literature and he was known for his witty aphorisms.

I used the stories in books a lot this year to get away from the sofa and to other places and worlds. 70 times to be exact. I read more this year and I wrote less. Most posts take me about 5 hours to write (and about 5 minutes to read, it’s better that I don’t dwell on that), and having to put aside 5 hours each weekend is a big investment. I’m happy with the current rhythm, so I plan to stick to it in 2021. The full list of books that I read in 2020 is listed below. For my reference as much as for yours. When I set out to select my top reads I expected it to be mostly filled with non-fiction. How wrong I was. There are only three non-fiction books in my top 15 of 2020. There are also 2 plays on it and 10 fiction books.

It feels a bit pretentious to write about my top 15 but I love reading about other people’s top reads and I often find new “to be reads” on these lists, so here we go. If you don’t care about lists you can skip the rest of this post. The books are listed in the order in which I read them.

Mindset by Carol Dweck
In Mindset, Carol Dweck explains what a growth mindset is and what a fixed mindset is, and why it’s good to have a growth mindset. The term growth mindset is used by a lot of people, not just in self-help books, but also in business. Not everyone who uses the term knows what it means though.
Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum between a growth and a fixed mindset and it can shift a bit depending on the topic or how you are feeling.
Teaching yourself to have a growth mindset is worth it. It helps both you and the people around you. The possibilities of what you can do are (almost) endless, you just have to believe in them!

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Luke Arnold’s debut novel is special. The world that he has created is imaginative and well designed and the story gripped me from the start. It has exactly the right level of darkness in it and it kept surprising me.
Arnold’s released his second novel, Dead Man in a Ditch”, also featuring Fetch Philips in 2020 and it’s definitely on my “to be read” list for 2021.

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
In this classic tale, the narrator is 15-year-old Christopher. Mark Haddon does an excellent job of taking us along Christopher’s train of thought. Christopher is very good at math and facts and not as good as people and feelings. He prefers to stay close to home but when he finds that the neighbor’s dog has been murdered wants to find out what happened and who did it. The answer is surprising to both Christopher and the reader!

The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez
The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez is the first play that I read in 2020. It’s an emotional story about difficult subjects, told in an understated way. It was powerful to read, I can only imagine how powerful it must be to watch it as a play. If I ever have the opportunity to see the play I won’t hesitate.
The story is about a group of men wanting to write a book and we are following along as their story takes shape. The writers are “young man” 1 to 8 without specific backgrounds and stories. Two of them are Eric and Toby and they also tell the story of Eric and Toby and their friends.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
The second play on this list is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. This one is a classic that has been performed by some very interesting performers (I haven’t seen it be performed, unfortunately). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two supporting characters from Hamlet and in this play, we get to experience what happens to them when they are not on stage in Hamlet. It’s clever and funny.
It will surprise no one that the version I would have most liked to see is the version with Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz in the title roles in 2013 at the Sydney Theatre Company. But the version with Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 would also have been a memorable treat.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I listened to the audiobook of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I picked this book because it’s narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda. It’s a heart-warming and heart-wrenching story and the narrating is as good as you’d expect from Miranda. It was a treat to listen to the story of Aristotle and Dante discovering who they are and what their place in the world is.

Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett
In Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett explain why we should all want there to be more equality. Instead, the world that we live in gets more and more unequal and the corona crisis is increasing the gap even further. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The poor are also facing worse consequences of the crisis in non-monetary terms. I’ve always been an economic socialist and I wish there was a way to imprint the results of the research that is referenced in this book and the summary of the book itself into the collective consciousness of everyone who has an above-average income or significant assets.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is a romance novel. It was a close call between this one and Beach Read which one would make it onto this list. Both are great reads for when you long for a book that doesn’t require your brain to fire on all cylinders.
Red, White and Royal Blue is about the son of the President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, and his nemesis, the British Prince Henry. The two of them get into an altercation and both their families demand that they publicly show that they get along perfectly fine to avoid an international incident.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
We all take hundreds of decisions every day and each decision taken differently could have led to a different life. In The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, Nora feels like all of the key decisions that she took were the wrong ones. She’s let everyone she cares about down.
One night when things are particularly bad Nora ends up in the midnight library. The library contains all the books describing the lives she could have lived had she made different choices. And she gets to try them on too! This book is another great story in which Haig plays with time in a very clever way (I can also highly recommend How To Stop Time).

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a classic. And for good reason. It’s a heartbreaking and very painful story that is set in the south of the US in the 1930s. It’s told through the letters that the sisters Celie and Nettie write to each other. Somehow this way of telling the story makes it a lot easier to digest. Especially the strength and calm that Celie displays in her letters make the atrocities seem bearable. Alice Walker is a magician.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a young adult novel. I had this book on my e-reader for a long time before I started reading it. I was afraid I would be put off by the darkness and (or) the fact that it was written for young adults. Neither happened. It’s a great story and it gave me a lot of insights about living in a poor neighborhood in the US and about the impact of race on black people’s everyday life.

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
I pretty much read The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker in a single sitting. It’s a romance novel but it’s more than that. I got attached to all the characters in the book. I was very happy to discover that there’s a sequel (Wild at Heart) and I bought that immediately. So far I haven’t read it because I’m afraid I will be disappointed after enjoying The Simple Wild so much. Either by the story itself or where it takes the protagonists, Calla and Jonah. But I will read it…soon!

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
I listened to the Clap When You Land audiobook, which is narrated by the author, Elizabeth Acevedo. Another great story with valuable insights (for me) about immigration and black people’s everyday experiences. There is a lot of heartbreak in this story but it never felt too dark to continue listening. The desire to know where the story would lead Camino and Yahaira, and to listen to the beautiful phrases and storytelling always tempted me to listen just a little bit longer…

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
In the stunning novel, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, we meet Werner and Marie-Laure.
It’s 1934 and Werner is a German orphan. He and his younger sister Jutta live in an orphanage in the mining town of Zollverein.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her dad, who is the principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History. At six years old, Marie-Laure loses her eyesight.
Then the war starts…

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz & Janet Mills
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills is a short book that’s both inspiring and moving. It’s more spiritual than books that I would normally recommend or enjoy, but it’s just as powerful when you ignore all of that. This book made me feel calm and confident in a tumultuous period. It’s an excellent read for this extraordinary time.

The full list of books I read in 2020:

  1. Sand Talk – Tyson Yunkaporta
  2. #Girlboss – Sophia Amoruso
  3. Mindset – Carol Dweck
  4. The sense of an ending – Julian Barnes
  5. Daring Greatly – Brené Brown
  6. Breaking Cover – Stella Rimington
  7. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  8. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (audiobook)
  9. I is an other – James Geary
  10. The Demon-Haunted World – Carl Sagan
  11. It started with a secret – Jill Mansell
  12. Seeing what others don’t – Gary Klein
  13. Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
  14. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  15. Het water komt – Rutger Bregman
  16. The Last Smile in Sunder City – Luke Arnold
  17. Americanah – Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
  18. Fed Up – Gemma Hartley
  19. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
  20. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  21. Does the Center Hold – Donald Palmer
  22. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
  23. Quiet – Susan Cain
  24. The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
  25. The Inheritance – Matthew Lopez
  26. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead – Tom Stoppard
  27. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  28. Beach Read – Emily Henry
  29. How to Argue with a Racist – Adam Rutherford
  30. White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism – Robin DiAngelo
  31. How to be Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi
  32. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz (audiobook)
  33. Haben – Haben Girma
  34. Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo
  35. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  36. Broederschap. Op Zoek Naar Een Verloren Ideaal – Bas Heijne & Kiza Magendane
  37. Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare
  38. This Life: Why Mortality Makes Us Free – Martin Hägglund
  39. Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone – Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett
  40. Red, White and Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
  41. The End of Everything – Katie Mack
  42. Humankind – Rutger Bregman
  43. More Than a Woman – Caitlin Moran
  44. Transformational Presence – Alan Seale
  45. The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
  46. Atomic Habits – James Clear
  47. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  48. Not All Dead White Men – Donna Zuckerberg
  49. King Lear – William Shakespeare
  50. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  51. Grit – Angela Duckworth
  52. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  53. Opdrachtgever Gezocht – Jan Willem van den Brink & Maarten van Os
  54. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
  55. The Simple Wild – K.A. Tucker
  56. You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero
  57. Heartburn – Nora Ephron
  58. Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo
  59. Sula – Toni Morrison
  60. Call Me by Your Name – André Aciman (audiobook)
  61. All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
  62. Essentialism – Greg Mckeown
  63. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  64. The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz & Janet Mills
  65. The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis
  66. The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
  67. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
  68. Wait, What? – James E. Ryan
  69. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  70. 1984 – George Orwell