Readers Write

Eye-Opening Books for 2020

The books we read often change the way we view ourselves and the world around us.

What better year than 2020 for seeing clearly, and what better way to achieve clarity than by reading good books? For the first Readers Write of the new year and the new decade, we asked readers to tell us about books they’ve read that affected their view of themselves, others, or the world; and what visionary books they would recommend for seeing more clearly in 2020.

Responses revealed that all kinds of books can be both transformative and illuminating. The titles in which readers found clearer vision included books about social issues, faith, personal growth, and professional development, and spanned genres from traditional self-help to children’s fiction.

When Breath Becomes AirJane: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). I am an avid reader and I typically give away my books. This one, however, I kept for my own library. His story partially resonated with me because I was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. I was so fascinated that the author continued to work even when he was in such terrible shape. He didn’t let the diagnosis keep him from living. This book, while written by a man about his experience with dying is much more about living.

Bianca: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes is one of my all-time favorites.

Joyce: Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business by Kindra Hall helped me change my perspective and how I interact with others, especially on social media.

Dave: Books of the Brave by Irving A. Leonard, an account of 16th century Spanish literature coming to the American colonies, that shipping trade, and the influences of the books. Originally published in 1949, but get the 1992 re-issue with an extra introduction and appendix. Those colonies and their books, were a century more advanced than what would later become the USA. Suddenly, you’ll become humbled in comparison to the intellectual culture of 16th century Spanish colonies in the Americas.

Beverly Right Here by Kate DicamilloKate: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a beautiful example of empathy, change, and the lives that people live beyond what we see and judge. I feel similarly about her other books, Raymie Nightingale, Lousiana’s Way Home, and perhaps most poignantly, Beverly, Right Here. While these are middle-grade fiction, I appreciate them very much as an adult. I think adults should read them. DiCamillo handles delicate subjects with such a beautiful perspective of a child viewing the world both innocently and through the eyes of childhood challenges. These books made me reflect upon the hidden circumstances in lives that act as the catalyst to why people behave the way they behave. Beverly, Right Here is a shining example of this. They are simple yet complex books that challenged me, at 37, and my way of thinking. I find such value in her characters and her stories and how they have the power to influence young people at a time in their lives that can be challenging and awkward, and they help lead children to look outside themselves. I just love them because of the empathy they may help instill on developing minds.

Karen: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung. This is a rather short read but chock full of good info, and I also read it with my kids. Sometimes we get paralyzed over not making a move until or unless we find that very specific, perfect will of God in our lives. This book was very helpful to me when I was struggling over what career path to take once my journey as a home school mom ended, that would lead me toward retirement (many years from now!). I learned that there are many options, whether it be career, education, marriage, available to us. … It is then up to us to prayerfully use our brains, research, write the pros and cons, and seek wise counsel to help us make decisions, then just proceed!

The Giver of StarsJean: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes was one of my favs last year. It’s historical fiction set during the Great Depression, about the traveling women on horseback delivering books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling library in Appalachia.

Amy: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice by Anthony Ray Hinton. How books brought light and hope even on death row.

Cindy: Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospel by J. Warner Wallace. An in-depth look at the credibility of the Bible.

Angela: Survivor’s Obligation: Navigating an Intentional Life by Chris Stricklin and Joel Neeb. I read it in one sitting and couldn’t put it down. What incredible stories told by both Chris and Joel—and such strong, positive and heart-felt messages. I passed the book on to my mom and aunt. Margaret: (Survivor’s Obligation) Chris and Joel’s stories will stick with me for a long time. Each morning, I wake up inspired and grateful for another chance to live my best life.

Michelle: Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free by Nancy DeMoss Wogelmuth.

The Good Karma DivorceHarry: The Good Karma Divorce by Michele Lowrance. No one goes into a relationship expecting it to end, and the tremendous hurt and loss present in the divorce process can wreak havoc on a person’s emotions. This book is not just about how to go through the divorce process, it is about reminding yourself of the person you want to be, and letting your choices and behavior be driven by your values rather than someone else’s choices or behavior. The author is a judge with years of experience witnessing what couples go through and how they treat each other, and the outcomes of their approaches. I found myself underlining her wisdom page after page and going back to her questions as I wrote my personal manifesto. Great perspective for anyone in a significant relationship or looking to remind themselves who they are in the midst of challenge and change.

Renee: Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer….hands down

Sheila: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. This book opened my eyes to the Muslim community… It also challenges me to just be present for people. That is the best way to open doors to share our faith.

The Color of LawL.J.: The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein is the most important book I’ve read in a long time. The author, a former New York Times reporter, describes how federal, state, and local laws helped bring about the segregated society we live in today, by depriving black Americans of living in certain neighborhoods through racial covenants and laws. It’s obvious where I live in Menlo Park, California … And of course that legacy impacted the quality of the schools and property values as well … with mostly whites reaping the generational wealth transfer of Silicon Valley. Blacks have also been deprived of this massive transfer of wealth as values have not risen anywhere near what the other areas have. Reading this book made it starkly obvious. I highly recommend this book and I have recommended it to realtors I know as well.

Jacey: I’m loving Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m using it with a client, and I’m also using it to change the way I eat so I can lose weight. Also, I’m reading Start Finishing: How to Go From Idea to Done by Charlie Gilkey. It is a productivity book for all of us who have a million great ideas that lead to beginnings. It helps you figure out how to finish, finish, finish!

Have you read some of the books on this list? What other titles would you add to the list? Tell us your recommendations and eye-opening books in the comments section.

This article was first published February 2020.

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