2020 Reading List

I set out to read more books in 2020 than I had read in my entire life in one calendar year.

Coming off of a 2019 where I read 80 books, I was hoping to possibly hit triple digits.

With the pandemic wiping out sports and leaving me with a lot more free time on my hands I apparently didn’t fill it by reading more.

I think I do better being disciplined in my reading if I have a busy schedule or something like that.

Anyway, I still knocked out 61 books. Here are my top 12 in no particular order with a brief summary of each that I wrote at the time I finished it.

1. Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz (Feb. 1) – stunning read about the Holocaust unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s horrifying at the start because the reader knows more than the narrator, but in the end it brings up thoughtful ideas about what it meant to be in a concentration camp.

A few extra thoughts: 

One thing that makes this book even more horrifying is that as the reader you know things the narrator does not. For example, the soap they used when they first arrived didn’t lather and had chunks in it that scraped the skin.

Or that children were separated upon entering the camp because they were going to receive special treatment.

On the flip side, the book is so fascinating because of its ability to look at a horrific situation in the context of what it would have been like. They wouldn’t have known what was happening to them until it was too late.

2. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (Feb. 17) – a fascinating read that challenged how I view the world, religion and even climate change of all things. This book had more philosophy in it than anything I’ve read since college. Very interesting.

3. The Book of Collateral Damage by Sinan Antoon (March 23) – an incredible story about the damage caused by the two Iraq wars, including a genius way of describing the loss of Iraqis to American bombs. Can’t recommend this book enough.

“This little room from which I am writing to you is my real homeland because it is full of books and every book is like a whole sky.”

4. John Adams by David McCullough (May 20) – I confess to having little knowledge of Adams before this book. What an incredible life! A true hero of the Revolutionary War without firing a single bullet. From the Boston Massacre to service throughout Europe to ascending the Presidency. A pillar of America.

5. The Plague by Albert Camus (June 14) – my first time reading Camus and this seemed like a good subject matter considering the parallel to current events. While COVID is nowhere near as deadly as the plague, the similarities in how the government and public responded is jarring. Really interesting novel and one that is of even more importance today. While fighting the plague seems pointless on one hand, the book shows that there is nothing else for man to do. Even though the plague always wins. Camus’s exploration of duty, heroism, God and love is fascinating.

Six months later and it is interesting to see what I said at the time considering that America has largely just decided the pandemic is over and is going about their lives as though death and destruction isn’t waiting around every turn.

6. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Aug. 5) – I regret leaving this book on my shelf for two years. Wilkerson uses a narrative style to tell not only the story of three Southerners who head north, but of an entire group of people escaping the Jim Crow South. I learned so much. A critical read for anyone wanting to understand current events.

Note: This book became even more important to me through my many interviews and conversations with John “Rock” Simmons, the first African American men’s basketball player to graduate from Northwest Nazarene University. He lived out so much of this story.

7. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (Aug. 9) – fascinating novel that explores systematic misogyny in the workplace, society and the home. The book is set in Korea, but can easily relate to the US. An interesting read.

8. Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash (Aug. 13) – Stephen Florida is one of my new favorite literary characters. So much going on in his head. This book is at times hilarious, dark and mournful. About a college wrestler, who has a single goal in life. Can’t recommend it enough.

9. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Sept. 15) – an absolute tour de force. There is a reason this is considered his best work. A deeply involved tale that utilizes so much imagination, history and deep thoughts about the soul and our subconscious. Easily my favorite book of his.

Note: I ended up reading 15 books by Murakami this year. 

Murakami books ranked

  1. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
  2. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
  3. A Wild Sheep Chase
  4. Norwegian Wood
  5. Dance, Dance, Dance
  6. Sputnik Sweetheart
  7. Pinball, 1973
  8. After Dark
  9. Kafka on the Shore
  10. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage
  11. Hear the Wind Sing
  12. South of the Border, West of the Sun

Short stories

  1. After the Quake
  2. Men Without Women
  3. The Elephant Vanishes

10. 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (Sept. 25) – unique premise that follows a prostitute who is murdered and what her brain remembers from her past after she is technically dead. Tons of insight into Turkey, especially the seedy side of Istanbul. Really interesting novel.

11. Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder (Dec. 4) – this is the first biography I’ve ever read about Steinbeck and it is very well done. It is fair, showing both the positive and negative sides about one of America’s greatest authors. Highly recommend.

12. Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopolous (Dec. 19) – this book left me wishing there were 100 more pages or a sequel! A story of pain – physical and mental – as well as love all told through the eyes of immigrants. So many stunning passages throughout.

I guess I will shoot for 100 again this year, but I’m also trying to read longer books which obviously means less books. Quality over quantity.

If you feel like perusing the rest of the books I read this year, scroll on.

Happy reading!

– Craig Craker

JANUARY

  1. Kudos by Rachel Cusk (Jan. 5) – the final book of the Outline trilogy is just as good and confusing as the other two. Deep insight into Brexit, literature, familial relations and more throughout, written with a sparseness that channels Hemingway.
  2. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Jan. 25) – such an incredible, thorough read about a remarkable man who helped lay the foundation for America. It is unflinching in its look at a slave owner, who could be an unforgiving businessman but who was a skilled politician and general, and was so generous with his money.
  3. A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball (Jan. 27) – strange, strange book. Had a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it. Quick, interesting read with lots of thoughts on death, love and what life ultimately means.

FEBRUARY

  1. Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz (Feb. 1) – stunning read about the Holocaust unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s horrifying at the start because the reader knows more than the narrator, but in the end it brings up thoughtful ideas about what it meant to be in a concentration camp.
  2. When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka (Feb. 2) – an upsetting read about Internment Camps, especially on the heels of an Holocaust book. People always ask how this happened and it’s because we let hate fester and worry more about security than seeing others as human. A good read in today’s political climate.
  3. Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (Feb. 3) – a stunning work of poetry exploring being black in America, police killing kids, being gay and being diagnosed with HIV. The lead poem, Summer, somewhere, is incredible. 

Two couplets

Paradise is a world where everything

is sanctuary & nothing is a gun. 

And 

Who knew my haven

would be my coffin?

dead is the safest I’ve ever been

I’ve never been so alive.

  1. Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat (Feb. 4) – a memoir about families, refugees, America’s horrific foreign policy and immigration system, and a ton of insight into relationships. A devastating read about a Haitian extended family rocked by illness and death.
  2. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera translated by Lisa Dillman (Feb. 10) – a fantastic novella exploring why immigrants cross borders, how countries old and new change their identities and a stinging criticism of current American nativism.
  3. Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande (Feb. 11) – an absolute page turner about two women who deal with loss, abuse, identity and much more as they cross the US-Mexico border. An incredible read.
  4. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (Feb. 17) – a fascinating read that challenged how I view the world, religion and even climate change of all things. This book had more philosophy in it than anything I’ve read since college. Very interesting.
  5. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Feb. 22) – such a good read. Lots of humor, fantastic insight into the Mexican-American culture and a deep look into mental health, especially amongst teens. A fantastic read.

MARCH

  1. Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (March 9) – incredible memoir about escaping from Mexico to the US, the evilness of our immigration system and what home means.
  2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (March 14) – I’ve read this book a bunch of times and it still messes me up every time. Such a sad story that resonates today with the loneliness, lack of worker protections and the way we treat people different from ourselves.
  3. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck (March 16) – a fun novella about a ridiculous group of earthy characters loafing through life.
  4. The Book of Collateral Damage by Sinan Antoon (March 23) – an incredible story about the damage caused by the two Iraq wars, including a genius way of describing the loss of Iraqis to American bombs. Can’t recommend this book enough.

“This little room from which I am writing to you is my real homeland because it is full of books and every book is like a whole sky.”

APRIL

  1. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (April 7) – a very unique novel written about the collective we, rather than a person or family. Insightful, funny at times and awful at others, it follows a group of Japanese mail order brides from the 1910s until the internment camps in WWII. A must read.
  2. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer (April 12) – a history of Native Americans from 1890 to the present, told in a very readable way. An argument for how Native Americans continue to have a heart that beats on, rather than is buried.
  3. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami (April 17) – I’m not entirely sure what I just read – detective story, thriller or perhaps a vision quest. Either way it was absolutely riveting and about as quick a read as I’ve ever experienced.
  4. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (April 18) – this book is Steinbeck at his best. Funny, insightful, tremendous detail and deep thoughts about people and the world at large. Always a good re-read.
  5. Afterlife by Julia Alvarez (April 20) – her first novel in 14 years was worth the wait. So much heartbreak surrounded by so many incredible thoughts and ideas on grief and coping with loss. Can’t recommend it enough.
  6. Long Division by Kiese Laymon (April 24) – I came into this novel not knowing what to expect and left feeling like I just need to listen to the author, the narrator, the characters and the place. So much of life in Mississippi is not in my life experience. 

MAY

  1. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (May 2) – completely different from his other book I read, but plenty interesting. A coming of age story, exploring suicide, love and the turbulent 1960s in Tokyo. I really enjoyed it.
  2. Demian by Hermann Hesse (May 5) – first time I’ve read this since college and it is still confusing and heavy. Lots of theology/philosophy to process.
  3. John Adams by David McCullough (May 20) – I confess to having little knowledge of Adams before this book. What an incredible life! A true hero of the Revolutionary War without firing a single bullet. From the Boston Massacre to service throughout Europe to ascending the Presidency. A pillar of America.
  4. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (May 24) – a heart-wrenching read about suicide, yet filled with lots of laughter. So many interesting insights into the lives and minds of people who commit suicide and those they leave behind.
  5. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (May 25) – I love reading this book every few years because it feels like the story changes entirely based on the season of life you are in. I love Hesse’s thoughts on seekers, the idea of time and love. 

JUNE

  1. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (June 2) – a page turner with so many strange turns. From talking cats to fish falling out of the sky, this story explores dreams, memory, fate and more. Good read, but certainly shouldn’t be the first Murakami book you read. It’s out there a bit.
  2. The Trial by Franz Kafka (June 10) – a dense and confusing novel that I probably would’ve understood better with a reading guide. That said it seemed quite applicable to current events and the injustice of the legal system.
  3. The Plague by Albert Camus (June 14) – my first time reading Camus and this seemed like a good subject matter considering the parallel to current events. While COVID is nowhere near as deadly as the plague, the similarities in how the government and public responded is jarring. Really interesting novel and one that is of even more importance today. While fighting the plague seems pointless on one hand, the book shows that there is nothing else for man to do. Even though the plague always wins. Camus’s exploration of duty, heroism, God and love is fascinating.
  4. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (June 14) – in an attempt at broadening my knowledge base of politics I gave this dense document a whirl. A lot sailed over my head, but their criticisms of classes and the greed central to Capitalism were spot on.
  5. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (June 15) – a disturbing novella I hadn’t read since college. I took it to mean that Gregor’s family had been parasites on him his entire life and when he finally tired of his work, he became a parasite to them. He couldn’t cope with that, shriveled up and died.
  6. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (June 27) – pretty strange book about a pair of witches, a murder, lost treasure, the lawlessness of border towns and some pretty crass details. Took awhile to get used to the way it was written – one paragraph for a 40-page chapter.

JULY

  1. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (July 2) – this is her second book I’ve read and I enjoyed how different it was from the first though the themes were similar. Who does a country belong to? How does racism change not only the racist’s life, but those they are racist toward? This was at once a murder mystery and an exploration of the above themes. Very quick read.
  2. The Stranger by Albert Camus (July 4) – strange tale about an indifferent man who lacks empathy. After he fails to show ‘proper’ grief over his mother’s death, it is used to convict him of murder and eventually death. Interesting insight into how society judges those who don’t conform.
  3. Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (July 15) – the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase and it is just as crazy and just as quick of a read. Murakami is a master at telling a tale with tons of moving parts that keeps the reader guessing throughout.

AUGUST

  1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Aug. 5) – I regret leaving this book on my shelf for two years. Wilkerson uses a narrative style to tell not only the story of three Southerners who head north, but of an entire group of people escaping the Jim Crow South. I learned so much. A critical read for anyone wanting to understand current events.
  2. Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami (Aug. 6) – this is Murakami’s first book and it felt like I was hanging out with an old friend. The main characters are also in Wild Sheep Chase, which is the first of his books that I read. This novella is definitely one of his more straight-forward books. Good read.
  3. Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (Aug. 8) – this may only be Myrakami’s second book, but it reads like his vintage works. Pinball machines that talk, people struggling with the meaning of life and love, and so much more.
  4. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (Aug. 9) – fascinating novel that explores systematic misogyny in the workplace, society and the home. The book is set in Korea, but can easily relate to the US. An interesting read.
  5. Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash (Aug. 13) – Stephen Florida is one of my new favorite literary characters. So much going on in his head. This book is at times hilarious, dark and mournful. About a college wrestler, who has a single goal in life. Can’t recommend it enough.
  6. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (Aug. 17) – seven short stories that show a different side of Murakami. Less talking cats and fish falling out of the sky and more introspection about our place in the world and relationships. Drive My Car and Samsa in Love, which was a reversal of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, were my two favorites.
  7. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (Aug. 19) – a book that challenges white people, the church and America, while also giving clear ideas on how to rid ourselves of white supremacy. A must read.
  8. The Fall by Albert Camus (Aug. 25) – I really struggled with this book, mainly because of how it was written. The narrator relating the story of his life through a one-way conversation. Not my favorite Camus book by any means, but one I probably will need to read a few times to understand.
  9. After the Quake by Haruki Murakami (Aug. 28) – six short stories that take place soon after the 1995 Kobe quake. The stories explore fear, overcoming bitterness and complicated relationships. ‘Thailand’ and ‘Honey Pie’ were my favorites.

SEPTEMBER

  1. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Sept. 15) – an absolute tour de force. There is a reason this is considered his best work. A deeply involved tale that utilizes so much imagination, history and deep thoughts about the soul and our subconscious. Easily my favorite book of his.
  2. 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (Sept. 25) – unique premise that follows a prostitute who is murdered and what her brain remembers from her past after she is technically dead. Tons of insight into Turkey, especially the seedy side of Istanbul. Really interesting novel.

OCTOBER

  1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Oct. 4) – this was the most straight-forward book of his I’ve read, which made it easy to follow but also kind of wasn’t as fun as his other works. A deep dive into mental health, memories, grudges, friendship and the dreaminess of youth.
  2. Jack by Marilynne Robinson (Oct. 26) – the final book of a four-part series and it may have been the best of all. So much introspection into such a complicated character. Jack’s interracial marriage brought insight to my own. Really, really good book.

NOVEMBER

  1. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (Nov. 1) – this book started slow, but quickly became my favorite novel of his. On one hand it reminds me of The Matrix, if it was in just one person’s head. On the other hand, it is a deep exploration of what constitutes happiness and whether utopias are attainable. A must read.
  2. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (Nov. 7) – Really indepth read about fishing, weather, the ocean and the perils of the sea. Better than the movie for sure. Highly recommend, though I’ll probably have nightmares tonight.
  3. South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami (Nov. 8) – a man has a midlife crisis and tries to recapture love lost from his youth, except he’s married with two kids. Quick read, but lame subject matter. Could be a good book in theory, but Murakami’s female characters are lacking in depth.
  4. Antonio Maceo: The Bronze Titan of Cuba’s Struggle for Independence by Philip Foner (Nov. 11) – fascinating biography of one of Cuba’s most famous generals during the revolution against Spain. A brilliant fighter, but also very progressive in his views on race and imperialism.
  5. After Dark by Haruki Murakami (Nov. 12) – an interesting exploration of people whose waking lives are at night. A straight-forward book by Murakami standards, but a good read. It’s told from a collective we viewpoint, which makes for a different read. I liked it, though.
  6. The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea (Nov. 14) – a graphically detailed, well researched book about the Yuma 14, a group of immigrants who died in the Arizona desert trying to cross the border. Incredible insight into immigrants, smugglers and the Border Patrol. A must read.
  7. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (Nov. 16) – what appeared to be a simple love story turned into a fascinating tale about longing for love, companionship, family and friends. A good, quick read.
  8. A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca (Nov. 26) – a hard to read autobiography about a young man abandoned by his family, left to live on the streets at 13 who eventually ends up in prison at 21. The book related the horror of prison and how learning to read and write helped him survive.
  9. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Nov. 29) – thrilling murder mystery that explores Insanity and how it is judged, as well as deep introspection on hunting, eating meat and astrology. Fantastic read that won a Pulitzer.

DECEMBER

  1. Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder (Dec. 4) – this is the first biography I’ve ever read about Steinbeck and it is very well done. It is fair, showing both the positive and negative sides about one of America’s greatest authors. Highly recommend.
  2. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (Dec. 7) – not my favorite short stories book by him. The best stories were great, but the others just weren’t on par with his usual stuff. My favorites were Barn Burning, Family Affair and On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.
  3. Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopolous (Dec. 19) – this book left me wishing there were 100 more pages or a sequel! A story of pain – physical and mental – as well as love all told through the eyes of immigrants. So many stunning passages throughout.
  4. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck (Dec. 20) – an incredible novella about an unnamed country rebelling against a conquering and occupying army. So many truths about freedom and what people will risk when it comes to that freedom being taken away.

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