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Book Recommendations 2020

Posted by Anne Witton on Thursday, December 31, 2020 Under: Books
I have managed 114 books this year – not including part books and academic papers that I’ve read for my MA – which I’m pretty happy with. I think the COVID-19 situation has given me more time to read which is one good thing to come out of it. As usual, I’m doing a round up of my favourites which I hope will help you discover some interesting reads.

Top Christian

  • Paradoxology – Krish Kandiah
    This is an excellent exploration of some of the trickier bits of the Bible and paradoxes of faith. Two things set this book apart. Firstly, Kandiah is a really gifted communicator and his use of illustrations and examples is spot on. He is a pleasure to read and there are so many sentences that beautifully shed light on deep biblical truths. Secondly, he tackles issues that many other Christian writers skip over or shy away from. I have been asking all sorts of questions about predestination and election in particular and have rarely found any Christians brave enough to explore these conundrums with me. Thank God for Krish, who dives straight in with these issues and many more. This is an honest, deep, theologically satisfying book. It’s easy to read thanks to Kandiah’s superb writing style, but is worth savouring, praying over and reading with your Bible in one hand so that you can make the most of all the rich insights. 

  • Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? – Sam Allberry
    Much Christian teaching on sex has focussed on boundaries and restrictions, which are important but are not the whole story. This is a positive framing of the biblical teaching on sexuality which shows why God's design for human relationships mirrors the truth and beauty of the gospel and brings about true flourishing. Sam writes clearly, biblically and compassionately in this short and encouraging book.

  • Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West – Michael Riddell 
    A thoughtful exploration of how Christians can authentically live out their faith in a culture that is increasingly hostile to institutional religion. Although it was written 22 years ago, I found many of the insights really fresh.

  • Born Again This Way – Rachel Gilson 
    This is the compelling story of Rachel's journey to God, via a stolen copy of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. She writes really well and has a fascinating story of the impact Jesus made on her as an academic, lesbian atheist. There are some superb biblical and academic insights and I was particularly struck afresh by how all God's boundaries for us are life-giving and designed for our flourishing rather than arbitrary rules to constrict us.

  • Gentle and Lowly – Dane Ortlund
    This was recommended in a number of sources that I regard highly so I gave it a go and I wasn't disappointed. Drawing on the works of the Puritans, Ortlund explores what the Scriptures say about God's heart towards his children. It's an excellent corrective to the idea of a God who is always disappointed in us, or a God who loves us because 'that's his job'. My only concern was the hard-core Calvinism, but if you can get past that, this is a wonderful reminder of Jesus' gentle and kind heart towards us.

  • God’s Big Design – Vaughan Roberts 
    This short book is an excellent reminder of what underpins biblical ethics and the blueprint that God has for us as his created beings. Roberts tackles issues like identity, the earth, sex, marriage and work and shows how to make sense of them in the light of the story of Scripture.
Top non-fiction

  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row – Anthony Ray Hinton 
    This is one of the most moving books I've ever read. Hinton spent nearly 30 years on America's death row for a crime he didn't commit and this book chronicles everything from the time before his arrest until his eventual release. It is very painful reading at times, and Hinton doesn't hold back from raw emotional honesty, but what really shines through is his humanity, compassion and ultimate hope. This is a searing indictment of the institutionalised racism in the American criminal justice system, but more than that, it is the wonderful story of a man whose soul refused to be crushed.

  • Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy – Tim Harford
    I've enjoyed a few of Hartford's books and this was no exception. He takes us on an entertaining tour of 50 ordinary and extraordinary objects and concepts that have made us what we are today. Find out more about the spreadsheet, Bitcoin, canal locks and barcodes. I never knew barbed wire was so interesting!

  • Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell
    I got a lot out of The Tipping Point and Blink, and this was equally entertaining. Gladwell examines the often surprising factors that contribute to success. He explores genius, opportunity, hard work and luck in this intriguing case study of those who have made it to the top.

  • Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee - The Dark History of the Food Cheats – Bee Wilson
    I found this in a charity shop and loved the title. It's a fascinating romp through history looking at how food sellers have always tried to make their merchandise go further and how consumers have been cheated with short measures, adulterated bread and killer confectionary. One thing that surprised me is how much food adulteration still goes on, in spite of all our regulation. An entertaining, and sometimes sobering, read.

  • The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures – Erin Meyer
    I've always been fascinated by cultural differences and so I found this book really interesting. Meyer explores the characteristics of different cultures using eight scales based on things like communication, resolving conflict and decision making. There are plenty of examples from her own experience which stop the book being too dry. There's also a website with further tools and resources.

  • The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything – Robert H. Frank 
    Another economics book had made it into my top reads. This one explores the economics dictating our everyday choices, through a series of intriguing questions. If you've ever wondered why there's a light in your fridge but not in your freezer or why New York cabbies knock off early on rainy days, you'll enjoy this book.
Top fiction


  • The Chosen – Chaim Potok
    This is a story of the unlikely friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in post-WWII New York. I loved the warmth of the writing and found the insights into Hasidic Judaism fascinating. I'm looking forward to reading the follow up The Promise.

  • The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
    Winner of the Booker Prize in 2011, this brilliant narrative tells of middle-aged Tony and his reflections on his past. I found the pithy prose intense and compelling and gobbled this up in a couple of sittings.

  • Vita Brevis: Floria Aemilia's Letter to Aurel Augustine – Jostein Gaarder
    I'm a Gaarder fan and this is the seventh of his books that I've read. It imagines the correspondence between Floria Aemilia and St. Augustine. It cleverly mixes fact (for example Augustine's son Adeodatus) and fictional imaginings of the relationship between Floria and Augustine. I found the exploration of his theology and philosophy fascinating, particularly alongside my studies on biblical sexuality.

  • Waiting For the Evening News: Stories of the Deep South – Tim Gautreaux
    This is a wonderful collection of short stories from the American South. The writing is exquisite and the characters are vivid and memorable. I took quite a long time to read it and I think it's the sort of book that deserves to be savoured and reflected upon.

  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson
    This is Atkinson's first book and the first of hers that I've read, but I'll definitely be reading more. She is a gifted writer who is able to evoke scenes that linger long in the imagination. The back-and-forth intergenerational storytelling meant that I found it hard to keep track of the characters, but I drew a family tree in the back cover as I was going along which helped!

  • Miss Chopsticks – Xinran
    Xinran has written two of my favourite books (The Good Women of China and Sky Burial). This isn't quite up there with them, but it's an enjoyable tale of three sisters who move from the countryside to the bright lights and big city ways of Nanjing. The cultural details are fascinating in this heartwarming story.
And some new categories for this year…

Top poetry


Most bizarre books

  • 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life – Roger-Pol Droit
    I couldn't decide whether this was genius or rubbish. I think it's probably a mix of both. Examples of the experiments include 'Empty a word of its meaning', 'Imagine your imminent death', 'Walk in an imaginary forest' and 'Row on a lake in your room'.

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach.
    It’s supposed to be an inspirational fable, but I just found it a bit weird. And yes, it is a story about a seagull.
Biggest disappointments

  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
    It was a compelling story, but was let down by lots of historical inaccuracies, the implausible naivety and ignorance of the main character and a very cloying device of calling the Führer the ‘Fury’ and Auschwitz ‘Out-With’, which obviously wouldn’t work in German. It would have been better if the author had created an imagined tyrannical state (like in Orwell’s 1984) rather than setting it in the Holocaust.

  • Weight – Jeanette Winterson
    Winterson has written some of my favourite books of all time (Sexing the Cherry, The Passion, Oranges…) but this offering is nowhere near her best. It is a retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles and, whilst there are some moments of brilliance, reads more like a pastiche of her earlier work rather than something fresh and profound.
Just for train fans

I hope you enjoyed that selection. Let me know what you’ve enjoyed reading this year in the comments.

Explore last year's selections.

In : Books 

Tags: books reading fiction non-fiction 


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