It’s time for the annual recap of my reading time for 2020. I kept my reading goal at 75 for this year, the same as 2019 and 2018. Despite my plans to focus more on my writing, I blew past that number and reached 90 for the year. The reason, in part at least, is obvious: COVID-19. With no ability to travel, I spent more time plopped in the corner recliner alternating between reading and dozing. I also didn’t write as much as I planned, but as I’ll note in a separate post on my website, it was a good year in the writing life nonetheless.
Books about Abraham Lincoln continue to dominate my reading list. In addition to my own purchases, I received a few books from publishers for book reviews (three of which are in publication) and quite a few books to evaluate for the annual ALI book award. That meant a full 30% of my reading this year were books directly about Abraham Lincoln. Among my favorites were Abe: Abraham Lincoln In His Times by David S. Reynolds, Lincoln on the Verge by Ted Widmer, Lincoln and the American Founding by Lucas Morel, The Zealot and the Emancipator by H.W. Brands, and Summoned to Glory: The Audacious Life of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Striner. Many of the others were also excellent. There were also books that I didn’t officially count as Lincoln books but featured Lincoln, such as Harold Holzer’s excellent look at The Presidents vs. The Press and Heather Cox Richardson’s How The South Won The Civil War.
Another 30% of my reading fell into the category of non-Lincoln non-fiction books, which also excludes memoirs, science, and writing books. These included books on Why Honor Matters, Target America (about Pearl Harbor), Lies Across America (misleading and downright falsehoods in history textbooks), Run the Storm (about a deadly hurricane), and The Year Without a Summer (the unusual climate of 1816 influenced by a huge Indonesian volcanic eruption). There were also two books of essays by Rebecca Solnit, a book called Indistractable that distracted me from writing, and the intriguing David’s Sling by Victoria C. Gardner Coates that traces the history of democracy in ten works of art (including Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture). Eleven of the non-fiction books were related to racism, continuing a trend I began in 2019. Among the best are White Rage by Carol Anderson, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. I am early in my reading of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste, which may turn out to be the best book of the year (or next if it takes me to January 1st).
I counted memoir separately and read ten of them in 2020. Early in the year I read the memoirs of former UN Ambassador Samantha Power and scientist Hope Jahren, which I followed up later in the year with a charming memoir called Exploring New Europe by economics journalist Barry Wood, who documented his epic bicycle tours through the former Soviet block countries beginning in Estonia and ending in Albania. I also read about important political personalities including National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Senator (and now Vice President-elect) Kamala Harris. Most notable among the memoirs was A Promised Land, Volume 1 of President Barack Obama’s two-part memoir. I had read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, last year and was enthralled; Barack Obama’s was even more inspiring.
Writing books included Murder Your Darlings, How to be a Travel Writer, The Best American Travel Writing 2019, and Guide to Magazine Article Writing. Hey, if you can’t travel, you at least can write about it, right?
Fifteen out of the 90 books this year were fiction. Among them were three books I read again after having initially reading them years ago, including Brave New World (I also reread the non-fiction follow up Brave New World Revisited), The Great Gatsby, and The Ugly American. I also read random fiction picked up (and returned) at two local mini-libraries and two Shakespeare plays as I try to make up for somehow missing them in school, plus a poetry book by Nathan Richardson, perhaps best known for his current portrayal of Frederick Douglass in public events. By far the best fiction book was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a beautifully written book about a curmudgeonly old man rediscovering life as his neighbors rediscover him. If you read only one novel, read this book.
As always, there is much more that I could talk about. I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, so feel free to check out my Goodreads author page where I also have links to my own books.
You can also join my Facebook author page for updates and links to interesting articles.
For 2021 I’m going to backtrack on my Goodreads challenge goals even though I generally surpass those goals anyway. Officially I will set my goal at 50 books for 2021. Why? Because for the first six months I am going to be so busy writing my forthcoming book that I won’t have much time for reading. COVID is likely to halt traveling at least until summer anyway, which means no reading time on trains, planes, and automobiles. I do expect to read more light novels as mental breaks in the first half of the year, and I’m just as certain that I’ll have plenty of Abraham Lincoln books to review in the second half. We’ll see how many I actually read.
David J. Kent is an avid traveler, scientist, and Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World as well as two specialty e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.