Books Read in 2020

I always like to read, and often have more than one book on the go at the same time. Overall, it’s probably not a good idea to have be reading too many books at once, so I’ve decided to stick with just one (with the exceptions of the Bible, a devotional book, as well as anthologies and the like). For some examples of the latter, click here and here. You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

Here’s links to the books I’ve read in 2020 (in the order of reading) since my retirement.

Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?

Reasons to Stay Alive (Matt Haig)

77 Million Paintings (Brian Eno)

The Magic of Reality (Richard Dawkins)

Caught (Harlan Coben)

Black and British (David Olusoga)

Undivided (Vicky Beeching)

Recursion (Blake Crouch)

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

Note: I’ve also read two anthologies and one yearbook making a total of twelve.

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

I’ve known the story for as long as I can remember, but I’d never actually read the book, until now (Christmas 2020) that is. It’s the classic Christmas tale by Charles Dickens, so familiar from movie adaptations, not least The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) starring Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Since it’s release I’ve considered it one of the finest versions, and having now read the book I can see how faithful to the spirit (pun intended) of the original it is.

Not having read the book was a serious omission on my part, but thankfully I’ve now corrected that. The book is in the public domain, so easily found online.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

Undivided (Vicky Beeching)

vickibeeching

I’ve just finished this excellent book, a really life-affirming contribution to the often divisive LGBTQ+ discussion within Christianity.

Vicky Beeching began writing and singing songs for the church in her teens, and by her early thirties she was a household name in Christian music, singing in America’s largest megachurches and recording a string of albums. Her songs were used by congregations around the globe. But all this time she was fighting a debilitating inner battle, knowing she was gay. The conflict was real because the churches in which she sang and ministered generally opposed same-sex relationships and saw homosexuality as sinful.

She knew that being true to herself and coming out would cost her everything. Having faced a major health crisis (quite possibly stress-related), she decided to tell the world she was gay at the age of thirty-five.

The reaction was far greater than even she imagined. She lost her music career and livelihood, faced hatred and threats from traditionalists, suffered further illness from the stress, and had to rebuild her life almost from scratch. She was despised and rejected by those she’d shared Christian ministry with and called friends.

She lost so much, but was finally able to live from a place of wholeness, vulnerability, and authenticity. She found peace with herself and God.

Read this book with an open heart of unconditional love and be prepared to be challenged and changed.

The book concludes: Freed from shame and fear, we are finally able to live, and love, from a place of wholeness. We find peace. We become complete. We become people who are, at our deepest core, undivided.

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Note: Vicky has now become a champion for others, fighting for LGBTQ+ equality in the church and in the corporate sector, and speaking up for mental health awareness. Her courageous work is creating change in the UK and the US as she urges people to celebrate diversity, live authentically, and become undivided.

You can find out more and support her work here.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

Recursion (Blake Crouch)

I’d previously read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, on that very personal recommendation, I decided to read Recursion. I wasn’t disappointed.

What can I say about this mind-bending book without giving anything away? It’s a breathless, sci-fi thriller with so many twist and turns it often left my head spinning. After reluctantly putting the book down at bedtime I would settle down trying to work it out, often struggling to fully comprehend all the existential and philosophical questions raised. As, you’ve probably guessed, it was hard to put down.

Recursion takes mind-twisting premises and embeds them in a deeply emotional story about time and loss and grief and most of all, the glory of the human heart. Gregg Hurwitz

Yes, it’s sci-fi, but don’t let that put you off if it’s not your thing, it’s far bigger than one genre. It’s about life and love, memories and grief, relationships and commitment. It’s about what it means to be human, to live and love, and how circumstances and events affect us.

Note: I understand that both of the books are being made into movies, but I would recommend you read them first rather than waiting for them on the big screen.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

Black and British (David Olusoga)

The phrases ‘White Privilege‘ and ‘Black Lives Matter‘ are often misunderstood; sometimes wilfully, sometimes for political advantage, and sometimes in ignorance. But, when you’ve read a book like this you realise there’s no equivalence between the overall experience of black people and white people, either historically or in the present day.

This book, which I’ve read during Black History Month (October 2020), demonstrates clearly the disadvantages faced by black people, compared with the ‘privileged’ position of white people. That’s not to say there aren’t individual or specific examples where this isn’t the case, but simply that the broad sweep of history (right up to the present) shows the widespread discrimination against black people.

There was much I already knew, but it was presented in a new way. Equally, there was also much I learned; often in surprising ways, with a few epiphany moments.

Reading this book, with a genuine desire to understand the experience of black people, highlights the shallowness of saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘White Lives Matter’ in response to black calls for equality and recognition of the challenges they face in society.

Of course, all lives matter, but there’s a difference between equality and equivalence. The difference is that white people are not disadvantaged by their colour, black people are. Equality is not achieved by imposing equivalence of experience when it doesn’t exist, it merely compounds and perpetuates the problem. Realism is required in the cause of equality, rather than imagining it already exists.

I don’t expect everyone will agree with me, but this (as a white man) is the result of much soul-searching on my part into understanding the black experience and situation. Grace and peace to all, John.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

Caught (Harlan Coben)

Naomi and I have seen several television adaptations of Harlan Coben books, but this is the first time I’ve read one of his books.

I found Caught very enjoyable, at times hard to put down, and overall an enjoyable read. He creates some good characters, draws you in with the narrative, and surprises with twists along the way.

A ‘laugh out loud’ moment came early in the book when he was describing a celebrity defence lawyer: He crossed the room in a way that might be modestly described as ‘theatrical,’ but it was more like something Liberace might have done if Liberace had the courage to be really flamboyant.

I’ll probably read more of his books in the future, although I prefer the more descriptive prose and deeper thought of a crime writer such as P. D. James.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

The Magic of Reality (Dawkins)

You might wonder why I’m reading a book by Richard Dawkins and writing about it here. Well, there are at least three reasons. Firstly, I don’t see a conflict between science and my Christian faith; secondly, my faith is sufficiently robust to engage with other world views; and thirdly, he’s a great scientific academic and writer.

Having said that, I wasn’t impressed with The God Delusion. Not because I’m defensive about my faith, but more to do with Dawkins’ obvious agenda, his poor knowledge of the subject, his lack of research, and flimsy arguments. Often, he puts up a ridiculous ‘straw man’ argument and then knocks it down with an empty victory celebration. He’s best when he sticks to science.*

Dawkins still has an axe to grind in this book. Despite this, it’s an excellent science book intended for the general reader, although aimed primarily at children and young adults. For this latter reason, I found it slightly patronising at times, but would still recommend it.

His last two chapters are especially good, encouraging critical thinking and rational thought. These are so often lacking in today’s world, and qualities I’m keen to encourage in my young children.

*Note: A useful book that challenges and balances Dawkins chapter by chapter in ‘The God Delusion’ is ‘The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths‘.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

See also: Darwin Day (12 February)

77 Million Paintings (Brian Eno)

During the five years I lived in Wallsend I was looking for this, but could never find it. I finally found it after moving to Norton in July this year following my retirement. What is it, you ask?

Brian Eno is one of my heroes. He’s a creative, a musician, a thinker, an innovator, an artist, a music producer – someone with a finger in many pies, who always produces something new and meaningful.

What I was looking for was 77 Million Paintings (released in 2006) – a book, a digital art computer program and a DVD. It was an evolutionary work in Brian Eno’s exploration into light as an artist’s medium and the aesthetic possibilities of generative software. This piece utilises the computer’s unique capacity as a generating processor to produce original visual compounds out of a large quantity of hand-painted elements, along with similarly produced music. I’m pleased I finally found it.

The release consists of two discs, one containing the software that creates the randomised music and images that emulate a single screen of one of Eno’s video installation pieces. The other is a DVD containing interviews with the artist. The title is derived from the possible number of combinations of video and music which can be generated by the software, effectively ensuring that the same image/soundscape is never played twice. Wikipedia.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

Reasons to Stay Alive (Matt Haig)

I’m keeping a record of the books I read in my retirement and blogging about them. This is the second one, you can read about the first one here. You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

I can’t remember how this excellent book by Matt Haig came to be on my reading list, but I’m really glad it was. Reasons to Stay Alive is a genre-straddling book; partly an overview of depression and anxiety, partly a self-help resource, but (uniquely) a deeply personal memoir that is totally open and honest. It describes how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over a mental illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again (back cover).

This is a book for everyone, it overflows with the joys of living and making the most of your time on earth. It oozes humanity from every page and adds impetus to the current trend for removing the societal stigma attached to mental illness. In Matt’s willing vulnerability comes his strength.

Note: Matt shares lots of valuable insights on Twitter and you can follow him here. Other books by Matt Haig are available.

Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?

emperor-penguins

I always like to read, and often have more than one book on the go at the same time. Overall, it’s probably not a good idea to have be reading too many books at once, so I’ve decided to stick with just one (with the exceptions of the Bible, a devotional book, as well as anthologies and the like). For some examples of the latter, click here and here. You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

why-don-t-penguins-feet-freeze-2Knowing that retirement and moving house (with young children) in a pandemic was going to be hectic, I chose one that I could dip in and out of easily. So I decided on this one, and have just finished it. The book answers a whole variety of questions drawn from the ‘Last Word’ column of the New Scientist magazine. There’s a number of books in the series, and this is the third, with a helpful index. This, or others in the series, would make a great birthday or Christmas present for someone with an enquiring mind.

Oh, and in answer to the question, well you’ll just have to read the book!