Books I read in 2020

I read more books in 2020 than I did in 2019—sixteen in total—not much by modest standards, but nearly double what I read last year. I’m happy with that, especially given the length of some of the titles and the circumstances of the year: permanently working from home, alternating childcare with work throughout the day, as the pandemic wore on, month after month after grueling month. Most workdays were incredibly long, starting early and ending at 9:00 or 10:00pm, as my wife and I took turns watching our kids while the other worked. Eking out time to read or write often meant forgoing sleep. Essentially all of my reading time happened after the kids were in bed, or on weekends during their naps.

Though the days were long, I recognize my extreme privilege, being fortunate enough to remain employed, working from a comfortable home, able to weather the storm of the pandemic in a relative good fortune while others suffered tremendously. Lack of time to read is not a complaint, just a fact of circumstances. There’s much more to unpack on the topic of reading and privilege, but that’s for another day.

I managed to read more this year than last because I was more deliberate in my allocation of time. As recommended by Cal Newport in Deep Work, I planned my leisure time. After a long day of work and parenting, it’s all too easy to collapse in a heap on the sofa, whiling away the last hour or two of the day surfing the web or staring at the TV. (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but it’s not how I want to spend much of my time.) I resisted the temptation, making my way through an intentional reading list, deciding which evenings I would devote to reading, and it worked. Unfortunately, I started this practice too late in the year, but I anticipate 2021 to be a year of heavier, more focused reading.

My list closely matches the themes of 2020, touching on topics of surveillance, algorithmic bias, racism, and dystopia. In hindsight, I think I should have read more uplifting works to counterbalance the heaviness. What it is. Of the books I read this year, these are my top three:

And here is the entire list, including subjective rating and medium (printed book or e-book):