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.

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)

To be continued…

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.

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.

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‘.

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.

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.

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?


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.

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!