Favorite Books of 2020
I’ve been lucky to find so many books this year that helped me flourish creatively, and others that taught me how to cope with these tough times. There’s lots to take away from these wonderful books, and I hope this list helps you find your next read!
I’m always open to recommendations, so if you know of a book you think I’d love, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.
I had high expectations for this book, and somehow it still exceeded them. Gilbert’s ideas on creativity and her focus on empathy and self-compassion has really changed the way I think about creative work. My essay Why Bother? explores the purpose of sharing our work, and how keeping our talents within us is a form of pain. These ideas were directly inspired by Gilbert’s ideas shared in this book.
Gilbert has become a personal inspiration that I look toward whenever I hit creative blocks.
This book was written in 1908, and continues to be a source of wisdom today. In a world where we’re constantly surrounded by the noise of our peers (on our phones, our laptops, our TVs), it has become incredibly important to find space for ourselves.
Even in the isolation of a pandemic, I found that I can spend so much time “being online” that I no longer can hear myself think. Emerson advises on the value of solitude as well as the importance of trusting your own instincts.
We often discount our own wisdom, when it is precisely the advice we should be listening to. There are many quotes from the book I’ve taken to heart, but this one has now found a place on my wall:
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.
This was an incredible read. I had to work through it slowly, as there were so many insights. It’s one of those books I need to re-read to fully absorb. It is packed full of wisdom on the purpose and meaning of life, building self-awareness, and so much more.
De Mello gets straight to the point in each chapter, which makes it a compelling read throughout. I don’t think anyone would regret reading this book. Here’s a quote that stuck with me:
“We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.
That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get two different reactions.”
The idea behind this is that everything we experience is a projection driven by the nature of ourselves. Thus, if we want to understand our lives (let alone improve them), we must first understand ourselves at a deep level.
As I struggled to deal with the pandemic and the uncertainty it brought, I looked to this book for guidance, and found it rewarding. The crucial lesson here is that the more we seek stability, the more discomfort we find in our inevitable disappointment. Life is full of choppy waters — we have to find peace in riding the waves.
I shared lessons from the book in my essay, Embracing Uncertainty.
I read this book to learn about storytelling, and ended up learning a ton about human perception, and the stories we tell ourselves as we live our lives. If you’re a writer, you might enjoy my recent newsletter where I share takeaways from the book on how storytelling teaches us to write.
Even if you’re not interested in the creative advice of the book, I highly recommend reading the first chapter of the book. It is an incredible lesson on the structure of our brain, how we process events, the delusion of reality. It will change the way you think about perception itself.
This was an insightful book about the importance of rest in the creative process. Many of its ideas have stuck with me, including Pang’s thoughts on the need to re-evaluate how we think about work in society (he has since released another book proposing a four-day work week). The book is longer than it needs to be, but its ideas are crucial. We cannot take rest for granted. We must prioritize rest not to survive, but to thrive.
I shared a key takeaways from the book in a note in my digital garden.
This book is packed with lots of great tips on writing that really resonated with me. If you take away only one idea from the book, it should be Lamott’s concept of writing “shitty first drafts”. This is a powerful idea that can be applied to any creative work — we have to get over ourselves in order to get our work out into the wild.
I’ve been trying to read more fiction lately, but am still struggling to find long-form fictions books I love. I ended up re-reading two of my favorites — Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller — and am still looking for more books like it. The fiction I did read leaned toward older books — I’ve found more and more joy and value from reading classics of late.
This novella was published in January of 1759, and tells the tale of Candide’s life as he navigates significant hardships and trying times. Despite the heavy context of the story, I found it absolutely hilarious. I was pleasantly surprised by the cutting wit in this satire. The writing is fantastic, and there are single lines in the book that forced me to pause and laugh out loud. I would share a couple here, but don’t want to spoil any of the fun for you. I can’t wait to read this again.
A dark but beautiful story. Ostensibly about the lives of animals on a farm, this book is a metaphorical commentary on communism. I’ve been writing stories in the form of fables (specifically: short tales about animals with a moral embedded within them), and this book served as valuable inspiration.
A gripping tale of historical fiction exploring the story of Ana, a fictional wife of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a great story that kept me turning the page throughout (which says a lot given the conditions of these last few months in lockdown).
I hope you find a book you love from this list! If you have some recommendations for me, do send them my way! I’d love to hear from you.