Inspiring Books I’ve Read in 2020

While 2020 was a tough year for my physically (many of my domestic and international trips got cancelled in light of COVID, I dislocated my shoulder twice which meant no rock climbing, all my bike races got cancelled, etc.) there is one silver lining that I’ve really come to appreciate.

More time in my home, staying away from people and forcing myself to stay in one pace meant that I had a lot of free time on my hands suddenly – and I picked up a lot of old hobbies and started some new ones.

For instance, I started meditating and journaling in the mornings after a session of yoga and stretching. I’m the kind of person who is always on the go, from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep at night. But when I suddenly had hours and hours of uninterrupted solitude at my disposal, I knew I was going to need to learn how to while away the hours in a way that didn’t require constant physical activity and high energy. Now, I can confidently say that even though quarantine has mostly gone away for me, I still take those quiet moments in the morning to stretch, think, and establish a gentle flow for my day.

Now that’s just one of the quarantine hobbies I picked up (botched carpentry is another, but I won’t get into it). Another hobby that I really got to return to was reading. I’ve always been an avid reader. From the time I was a kid I could put away 2 or 3 books in a week. What can I say? I got it from my mama.

I’m truly grateful for quarantine when it comes to reading. In the past year or two it really fell down on my priority list because I was so busy with work and planning outdoor adventures. But this year, this weird year full of quarantine-induced isolation and endless quiet hours, helped me bump reading back to the top of my priority list, and I was able to put away a lot of books this year.

So that being said, here’s a list of the awesome, beautiful, inspiring books that I got to read during 2020.

Amazing Books I Read in 2020

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”

So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas – this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

From one of Turkey’s most acclaimed and outspoken writers, a novel about the tangled histories of two families.

In her second novel written in English, Elif Shafak confronts her country’s violent past in a vivid and colorful tale set in both Turkey and the United States. At its center is the “bastard” of the title, Asya, a nineteen-year-old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French Existentialists, and the four sisters of the Kazanci family who all live together in an extended household in Istanbul: Zehila, the zestful, headstrong youngest sister who runs a tattoo parlor and is Asya’s mother; Banu, who has newly discovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their one estranged brother lives in Arizona with his wife and her Armenian daughter, Armanoush. When Armanoush secretly flies to Istanbul in search of her identity, she finds the Kazanci sisters and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is uncovered that links the two families and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres. Full of vigorous, unforgettable female characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is a bold, powerful tale that will confirm Shafak as a rising star of international fiction.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

The Push: A Climber’s Search for the Path by Tommy Caldwell

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

On January 14, 2015, Tommy Caldwell, along with his partner, Kevin Jorgeson, summited what is widely regarded as the hardest climb in history–Yosemite’s nearly vertical 3,000-foot Dawn Wall, after nineteen days on the route. Caldwell’s odds-defying feat was the culmination of an entire lifetime of pushing himself to his limits as an athlete.

This engrossing memoir chronicles the journey of a boy with a fanatical mountain-guide father who was determined to instill toughness in his son to a teen whose obsessive nature drove him to the top of the sport-climbing circuit. Caldwell’s affinity for adventure then led him to the vertigo-inducing and little understood world of big wall free climbing. But his evolution as a climber was not without challenges; in his early twenties, he was held hostage by militants in a harrowing ordeal in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Soon after, he lost his left index finger in an accident. Later his wife, and main climbing partner, left him. Caldwell emerged from these hardships with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. He set his sights on free climbing El Capitan’s biggest, steepest, blankest face–the Dawn Wall. This epic assault took more than seven years, during which time Caldwell redefined the sport, found love again, and became a father.

The Push is an arresting story of focus, drive, motivation, endurance, and transformation, a book that will appeal to anyone seeking to overcome fear and doubt, cultivate perseverance, turn failure into growth, and find connection with family and with the natural world. 

The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine byA.W. Tozer

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” This thirst for an intimate relationship with God, claims A.W. Tozer, is not for a select few, but should be the experience of every follower of Christ.

Here is a masterly study of the inner life by a heart thirsting after God. Here is a book for every child of God, pastor, missionary, and Christian. It deals with the deep things of God and the riches of His grace.

In The Pursuit of God, Tozer sheds light on the path to a closer walk with God

Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World by Rita Golden Gelman

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

In 1987, Rita, newly divorced, set out to live her dream. She sold all her possessions and became a nomad. She wrote a book about her ongoing journey and, in 2001, insisted on putting her personal e-mail address in the last chapter—against all advice. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision. She has met thousands of readers, stayed in their homes, and sat around kitchen tables sharing stories and food and laughter.

In this essay collection, Gelman includes her own further adventures, as well as those of writers and readers telling tales of the shared humanity they experienced in their travels. The stories are funny and sad, poignant and tender, familiar and bizarre. They will make you laugh and cry and maybe even send you off on your own adventure. Also included are fabulous international recipes such as vegetarian dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano chiles topped with a white cream sauce with walnuts and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds), and ho mok (an extraordinary fish-coconut custard from Thailand). Happy reading—and bon appétit, selamat makan, buen provecho!

Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

Vonny lives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband Andre and son Simon. Their neighbour Elizabeth, a woman in her seventies, falls from an upstairs window and her granddaughter Jody is summoned to nurse her through her convalescence.

The scene is set for a magical story of love and loneliness, of terror and human frailty, of the mystery and grace of ordinary experience. Alice Hoffman’s ability to fuse the domestic and the mythic in a narrative of such gentle yet magnetic force confirms her stature as one of the most gifted of American novelists.

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

A coming-of-age story that pierces the soul and heals the spirit, this is the tale of the future leader of the Amazon women warriors. Rain must hold fast to her inner warrior, but she is startled and mystified by the first stirrings of mercy towards the enemy.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

Aleph by Paulo Coelho

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

In his most personal novel to date, internationally bestselling author Paulo Coelho returns with a remarkable journey of self-discovery. Like the main character in his much-beloved The Alchemist, Paulo is facing a grave crisis of faith. As he seeks a path of spiritual renewal and growth, his only real option is to begin again—to travel, to experiment, to reconnect with people and the landscapes around him.

Setting off to Africa, and then to Europe and Asia via the Trans-Siberian railroad, he initiates a journey to revitalize his energy and passion. Even so, he never expects to meet Hilal. A gifted young violinist, she is the woman Paulo loved five hundred years before—and the woman he betrayed in an act of cowardice so far-reaching that it prevents him from finding real happiness in this life. Together they will initiate a mystical voyage through time and space, traveling a path that teaches love, forgiveness, and the courage to overcome life’s inevitable challenges. Beautiful and inspiring, Aleph invites us to consider the meaning of our own personal journeys.

Transform your life. Rewrite your destiny.

Paper Wife by Laila Ibrahim

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife.

On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named Siew under her wing. Dreams of a better life in America give Mei Ling the strength to endure the treacherous journey and detainment on Angel Island. But when she finally reaches San Francisco, she’s met with a surprise. Her husband, Chinn Kai Li, is a houseboy, not the successful merchant he led her to believe.

Mei Ling is penniless, pregnant, and bound to a man she doesn’t know. Her fragile marriage is tested further when she discovers that Siew will likely be forced into prostitution. Desperate to rescue Siew, she must convince her husband that an orphan’s life is worth fighting for. Can Mei Ling find a way to make a real family—even if it’s built on a paper foundation?

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

[synopsis provided by goodreads.com]

Here is a story told inside out and back to front:

The five Dunbar brothers are living – fighting, dreaming, loving – in the perfect squalor of a house without grownups. Today, the father who walked out on them long ago is about to walk right back in.

But why has he returned, and who have the boys become in the meantime?

At the helm is Matthew, cynical, poetic; Rory, forever truanting; Henry, the money-spinner; and Tommy, the pet collector who has populated the house with dysfunctional pets, including Achilles the mule and Rosy the border collie.

And then there’s Clay, the quiet one, his whole young life haunted by an unspeakable act.

From a grandfather, whose passion for the ancient Greeks still colors their lives, to a mother and father fell in love over a mislaid piano, to a present day, where five sons dwell in a house with no rules, BRIDGE OF CLAY is an epic portrait of how a ramshackle family, held together by stories and by love, come to unbury one boy’s tragic secret.

What I Want to Read Next

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr

Educated by Tara Westover

The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

World Without End by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

The Valkyries by Paulo Coelho

What I’m Reading Right Now: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

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