I never used to read.

Well, I did in elementary school. Like crazy. 

But then high school hit. Being a nerd was helpful for my grades, but it didn’t help my social life.

I mean, I still loved reading. I was a writer. A musician listens to albums, a filmmaker watches movies—as a writer, I needed to read. But it “took too much time”. 

University came and went. Then I was staff of a six-month missionary training course. You know, those seasons of your life when you’re responsible for a dozen people, your body-and-mind are fried—but when your head hits the pillow, the unfinished to-do lists haunt you, and sleep alludes you.

One of those nights, I picked up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I needed think about something other than finance deadlines and booking flights. So I read myself to sleep. 

I haven’t stopped. 

Fast forward to 2020, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I got to 30 books this year. Oh, what am I talking about. I’m shocked. But we’re not shocked when a filmmaker (or anyone, for that matter) watches 30 movies. And confession, sometimes I read a book faster than a movie (the casualty of learning to read when I was four). 

My point is—don’t be afraid to do what you love. Like crazy.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader (newsflash: if you ever read, you’re a reader), but you’re looking for some New Year’s recommendations, I’m here. I read a steady diet of kids fiction, Christian living, and books about writing—not to mention a lot of repeats (12 out of 30 were ones I’d read before, is that cheating?). If you’re keen, keep scrolling.

So, here’s the top five books I read in 2020—how they impacted meand how highly I recommend them to you.

1. Rising Strong — Brene Brown

We’re wired for story. 

(P. 6)

I came to the Brene Brown book party late, starting with her most recent, Dare to Lead in 2018 (highly recommend). So when I picked up Rising Strong at a lake house in Rotorua, I was sold. One of the most impactful parts of this for me was learning how our brains are wired for stories. So when we don’t understand a circumstance—we finish the story, even if we have limited data. Through this book I learned to stop making up these “conspiracy theories” and lean into mystery a whole lot more. 

2. The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults — Cheryl B. Klein 

“In conclusion, give your characters something to want, and we’ll want good things for them, too.”

(p. 93)

Last year, I finally got a library card here in New Zealand. So, the weekend before lockdown, I loaded up my car with books—especially books about writing books. I didn’t get through them all during lockdown (thank you, New Zealand)—but when I finally got to this one, I swooned. Cheryl B. Klein explains the science of plot structure so beautifully, with clear examples and brilliant storytelling. If you are interested in writing fiction in any form—read this. 

3. The Landry News — Andrew Clements

“Truth is good, and it’s all right to let the truth be known. But when you are publishing all that truth, just be sure there’s some mercy, too. Then you’ll be okay.”

(p. 32)

Andrew Clements is most known for his grade-school fiction, Frindle. But The School Story is one of my favourite books of all time (surprise, it’s about a kid publishing her own book). So when I found The Landry News, which I somehow missed as a kid, it felt like discovering a whole new classic. It’s about a new girl who publishes a rogue, very-honest school newspaper. It’s a quick read—and well-worth it, especially if you’re into blogging, journalism, or even social media influencing. 

4. Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human — John Mark Comer

“What would you do if money wasn’t an issue? […] I would write. I come alive when I write. It’s what I love. It’s what I feel I was made for.” 

(p. 78)

I also came late to the John Mark Comer book club. But here I am, finally. Garden City is a brilliant book summarizing what it means to do work that you’re passionate about—and loving Jesus in whatever sphere you find yourself in. In short, a great book for me post-YWAM. 

But there was something that impacted me more than just the content of this book. I’ve read a lot of books by Christian leaders. Often they’re brilliant speakers with good content, but aren’t exactly passionate about writing. However, as I was reading John Mark Comer, something was different. His writing, not just his content—was next level. It wasn’t until I got to page 78 that he let me in on his secret. I come alive when I write. 

There you have it, folks. When you’re passionate about something, it shows. 

And as a writer myself, I swooned. I only hope my passion will show one day, too (just need to write a book already!).

5. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry — John Mark Comer

“If you’re new to the Sabbath, a question to give shape to your practice is this: What could I do for twenty-four hours that would fill my soul with a deep, throbbing joy?”

(p. 155)

Finally, finally, the book that everyone has been raving about. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. My parents have been telling me about this concept from Richard Foster for the last couple years—and my brother Daniel read this in one sitting. High praise. So I finally got my birthday money together and bought a hard copy (because I wanted to keep passing it on!). 

I’ve always been a fan of Sabbath—but I’m infamous for tiring myself out on my ‘day off’ by not actually doing things I love. John Mark Comer just gave me a good slap by simply being himself in this book. I wrote a whole blog post about it, and I’ll probably write more. Simply enough, if you’re going to read any book in 2021–please, please, THIS ONE. 

Enough said. 

A final quote to end your 2020…

I wanted to share my favourite quote of the year, from the queen of kids lit, L.M. Montgomery. I keep reading the Anne of Green Gables series every other year, and one of my favourites is Anne’s House of Dreams. 

I literally cried on my birthday when my friend Michaela sent me a lavender-bound, first-edition. Naturally, I read it again within the month.

With everything that has happened this year, more than ever I think it’s vital to hold on to hope—no matter how many books you read (or want to read).

So, take to heart Anne’s words to her friend Leslie, and hope once more. 

Like crazy.

Take off your tragic airs, my dear friend, and fold them up and put them away in lavender. You’ll never need them again.”

Anne’s House of Dreams (p. 314)