Favorite Books of 2020: Part 2

I wrote my halfway-point list of favorite books back at the end of June. (You can check it out here.) Therefore, what follows is my list of favorites that I have read since then, not necessarily the best of the entire year.  I enjoy tracking my reading and looking back at what my 5-star reads were, and if you’re looking for a good book to jump-start 2021, hopefully one of these will be of interest to you.

Unlike book lists I’ve done in the past, a couple of these are not explicitly Christian, and for the first time, I’ve included a novel. I hesitate to recommend works of fiction because we each draw lines in different places when it comes to objectionable elements, and I would certainly hate to be a stumbling block to you for this reason. [1]

Enough intro stuff, let’s get to the list.

What Is a Girl Worth: My Story About Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth About Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics, by Rachael Denhollander
This book is mostly uncomfortable to read (or listen to, in my case), but it is important. As the title suggests, Rachael Denhollander tells her story of being the first whistle-blower to make public the prolific and atrocious sexual assault committed by USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar over the course of his decades in the sport. She lets the reader inside the mind of an abuse survivor and even gently shares how her church failed her when she needed them. Though it was difficult to read Rachael’s story, I hope that I’ve gained a bit of compassion for abuse survivors and that, if it becomes necessary, my church will navigate these murky waters with mercy and compassion.

 Denhollander writes with clarity as well as with grace. While she never, for a second, condones the wickedness perpetrated against her, she doesn’t write from a place of bitterness. In fact, as you may remember, when given the opportunity at his trial, Rachael shared the gospel with her abuser and offered him forgiveness. Denhollander wants her story to be heard, not so that she can gain notoriety or book royalties, but so that the next little girl won’t have to suffer what she did. May we listen and change.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
I must admit that I was skeptical when I started this one, but by the end of the first chapter, I realized what all the fuss was about. Lukianoff and Haidt walk the reader through three major fallacies that are being preached everywhere in our society today and help us think about the dangers they pose. Though it was written well before the events of 2020, I was listening to this one in the thick of the riots and protests, both about race and COVID restrictions. I was stunned by how spot-on Lukianoff and Haidt’s analysis is.

If you interact with high school or college students at all (or if you follow the news), I highly recommend this book. The authors’ examination of these three pervasive ideas will help you in conversations with the next generation. These authors are not Christians, they’re secular sociologists; and it’s important to keep that in mind as you read. However, their insights are timely, relevant, and cogent. Also, the book does contain some strong language in a few direct quotations cited by the authors.

J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life, by Paul Miller
I’ve read and enjoyed a couple other books by this author, so I was excited for a new one. While I was a bit surprised to find it a bit more technical than his other works, J-Curve is still accessible for any reader. Miller teaches how our lives often follow a J-curve: a trajectory of death and resurrection. Understanding this course can help give perspective in moments of suffering, whether minor (like getting benched during a basketball game) or major (like a heartbreaking diagnosis). This concept is simple enough to teach children as they encounter everyday suffering as well. I think you’ll appreciate the kind, winsome tone of Paul Miller, who clearly writes with a counselor’s heart.

Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles, by David Powlison
If you’re not up for a long read, reach for this one. The final work by one of my personal heroes, this book examines spiritual warfare from a counselor’s perspective. Powlison, while staring death in the face, wrote this book for biblical counselors looking for help navigating spiritual warfare. While you may not have formal training in biblical counseling, you have opportunities every day to counsel your friend or neighbor as they share their heart with you. Powlison deals with topics like anger, occultism, and death in this brief, 100-page volume. If you have any interest at all in counseling, I think you will appreciate Safe & Sound. Even if you don’t share that interest, Powlison’s brilliant writing, warmth, and love of Scripture will be a balm to you this winter.

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
Though I’ve never recommended one online before, I greatly enjoy reading novels. However, I find that most of them fall into the 3- or 4-star category: they’re fine, or even good, but not great. I suppose that’s good because if all books were great, then we’d have to add another star to our scale for exceptional books. The Dutch House, in my opinion, is exceptional (all except the cover). Patchett focuses primarily on the relationship between brother and sister Danny and Maeve Conroy as they navigate life both in “the Dutch House” and out of it. We learn how the Conroys came to live in the house and how their wicked stepmother threw them out. The two land on their feet (mostly) and learn to make it on their own, and use their inheritance from their father to get a little revenge on their stepmother. Though the house acts as an anchor for much of the story’s plot, the novel is character-driven. Spanning decades, this novel builds a deep love for its main characters as it unfolds their story.

[1] Please know that I do not wholesale endorse all of the content in any book, especially the work of fiction I’m about to commend; however, I did read and enjoy the work. Please read conscientiously if you choose to pick it up.

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