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I suppose I could delve into the world of best painted pieces this year. Or, the most popular. Or, most viewed social media posts. But, to be honest, I’m a bit business weary.

I’m an avid reader. I devour books and this year was no different. But, I had opportunity and time to read more than ever before. 92 books to be exact ranging from non-fiction, historical fiction, mystery, classics and more. As long as it is written well, I’ll ready just about anything. So, here’s my pick. The top 5 (plus 1 for a total of 6)…cuz I couldn’t narrow down.

Eight Perfect Murders
by Peter Swanson

This book was great fun to read. It’s a mystery about a Boston bookstore owner that sells crime fiction. He has a deep knowledge of literary crime, and finds himself entangled with an FBI agent who is looking into a series of murders that follow a blog post by said bookstore owner. There are some great twists in this novel and references to crime literature from Agatha Christie novels to Cain’s Double Indemnity.

This particular book got me on a crime tangent…reading that is. I worked through several of the reading material referenced in this book…which led to reading about the life of Agatha Christie (super interesting by the way) which led me to revisit my FAVORITE crime novel with my girls The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt

This is not your light and mindless bedtime reading. It is thought provoking and has the potential to challenge your beliefs. The authors explore what they call the three untruths of society. 1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. 2. Always trust your feelings. 3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people. Remember…UNTRUTHS! They take a look into the history of how these ideas have shaped society, how we parent, how we teach and how our universities are perpetuating these untruths. It tackles the very hard topic of why we have turned into such a devisive society, have lost our humanity and our ability to cooperate across political party lines.

I read this book with my husband and it provided great fodder for conversation. The reference material and research is solid and the thesis is based on empirical data and evidence and not on flimsy opinion. I believe every parent, teacher and school administrator should read this book.

The Alchemist
by Paulo Coelho

I loved this book so much! My husband read it and hated it. My daughter read it and liked it. It has the added benefit of being short!

It is about a young boy who takes the opportunity to travel in search of a treasure he has been promised. His journey takes him across lands where he works and starts businesses, meets Kings, travels with gypsies and falls in love. His journey has more to do about finding himself and not finding the treasure, about embracing opportunity, persevering through the obstacles and building relationships.

This book was published in 1988 but reads like an old classic. It’s such a great story for a family read.

The Volunteer
by Jack Fairweather

This is an intense story about a Polish man who was part of the Resistance during World War II and volunteered to be apprehended and sent to Aushwitz.  He spent two and half years “working” in the camp to uncover information, build a camp resistance and create opportunities to leak information. The author pieces together information from the newly declassified files, journals, survivor accounts and other historical documents to create this amazing timeline of a person far braver than virtually any of us.

I think this book resonated with me this year because I was reading it during the early lockdowns in the spring, when protests and riots were breaking out across the country and dissention was fierce in regards to the Presidential election. The narrative I kept hearing through the news was a “doom and gloom, the world has never looked so bad” message, this book was a reminder that 1) the world looked a hell of lot worse during the 1940 Nazi occupation for European Jews and anyone up against the Nazi leadership and 2) there are remarkable people in the world  in every generation who are willing to sacrifice themselves for a far bigger cause. It was a truly inspiring story!

Crime and Punishment
by Fyodr Dostoevsky

This story is about a man who is saddled with poverty and believes that when he kills a pawnbroker to steal their money he will be pulled out of poverty and his problems will be solved. However, he finds that his actions have consequences and he is riddled with fear of being caught, guilt over his actions and falls into both a  physical and emotional illness over his actions.

So, I had to include this book in my top five because it makes me look highly intelligent! Ha! but seriously, I labored through this book for weeks. The Russian names were a challenge and the story dragged, but the content was so interesting and thought provoking, I was committed to finishing the book. I found myself desperately wanting to know how it ended but was not loving the process of getting there. Once I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and pored over discussion boards and you tube videos to better understand the narrative. I likened reading Crime and Punishment to running a marathon…it’s worth all the hard work to get to the end!

AND, FINALLY…

Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett

This is my bonus book for 2020. I didn’t include in the Top 5 because it is a series of three (beefy) historical fiction novels that follow three generations of families through the events leading up to and during World War I (book 1), World War II (book 2) and finally the 1970-80’s social and political revolution in Europe, Russia and America (book 3).

Historical fiction is my favorite genre and these books are so well-written from a fictional stand point, but stay true to the accuracy of the historical events of its time. I had to include this series in my top of 2020 not just because they were educational and entertaining stories, but because they took me on a rabbit trail of additional reading about the Manhattan Project and persons involved in the development of nuclear weapons from all of the different countries involved, and about Russian History. I became extremely interested about the Romanovs and the Bolshevik Revolution (it was this reading that eventually led me to Crime and Punishment). And, then I started reading about The Berlin Wall. I measure the value of a book based on how much it inspires me to read more and these books took me on an extended reading adventure this year!

So, what’s your next great read? Have you tackled any of these books and share my opinions? Or vehemently disagree? 😉 I’d love to hear your thoughts!