In January 2020, I, for the first time, wrote down a list of the books I read in the previous year. This was mainly done as a reminder to myself on what I read and my thoughts on each book. It was also as a challenge to myself to read more, which is really one of my ongoing goals. Knowing I was going to be recording a log of my 2020 readings once again this January, I was able to push myself to expand my reading from 8 books in 2019 to 15 books in 2020!
There were several other contributing factors to this “accomplishment”:
1) The COVID-19 pandemic led to a bit more time at home. Which sounds like it would help, but in reality it resulted in me spending less time reading at coffee shops on my random Fridays off of work. Thus, my actual personal readings ended up decreasing from 8 books to 5 books (more on this later).
2) I became the primary reader to the older boys in the evening. Whereas in previous years Molly and I would alternate nights reading, I took on all the reading to the older boys while she took Jack separately. This actually allowed me to better pick what books to read and I enjoyed them much more, so they get to go on my list also. The last few years, Molly would usually bring the boys to the library once every couple weeks and let them pick some books. With the pandemic, that didn’t happen this year. Therefore, I mostly picked books on the Overdrive app that I was both interested in and that I thought the boys would like! We really enjoyed visiting several of Roald Dahl’s novels – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mathilda, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox. I was also happy to introduce my kids to some of my favorites from childhood: My Teacher is an Alien and The Hobbit. The only book I read to them that I found particularly disappointing was the Swiss Family Robinson, mainly because I did not realize I was reading the abridged version. I found it to be rather simplistic and missing in many details. Which, in hindsight, makes sense.
For my own personal reading, I only completed 5 books, though several of these were rather lengthy. I started the year by finishing To Kill a Mockingbird, which I had started in December of 2019. This classic was absolutely fantastic. It was, that is, until I read Go Set a Watchman, which sort of ruined it. The second book really ruined the Atticus Fitch character for me – turning him from a mostly respectable lawyer to a bit of a bigot. I later researched a bit and learned that Go Set a Watchman was supposedly the rough draft for the original and not actually intended as a sequel. It certainly wasn’t as well written nor the characters as well developed. In hindsight I would recommend only reading the original classic and saving the second novel more for a study of the writing process and perhaps the personal growth of Harper Lee than anything else.
For much of the year I was reading political biographies and stories inspired by political figures. Dreams from My Father, the first memoir written by President Obama (prior to his political career) was an interesting insight into the former President. While I respect Obama as a person of high character, I’ve disagreed with him politically on many occasions. However, this book was an interesting journey to understanding some of his motivations for those policies. It is not a political book, per say, but does show some of the struggles he overcame and how is life experience varied greatly from a “traditional” American child growing up.
Most of the year, however, was spent on the Kingfish – Huey Long – and, of course, a novel inspired by him: All the King’s Men. I cannot recommend these highly enough. The three titles on my list concerning him are excellent. The final book, Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, is close to 900 pages! As such I’ve been “stuck” on it since September and am only about halfway done. I probably could have knocked out a few shorter books if I tackled something not quite as lengthy, but I’ve enjoyed the book thus far and found it a good contrast to The Kingfish, a shorter and more up-to-date biography. Whereas Huey Long tends to be a bit “pro-Long” and excuses much of the former governor’s conduct, The Kingfish attempts to be a bit more neutral and as a result, can be seen as an “anti-Long” read. Really, both are probably neutral for the time in which they were written as Gov. Long’s legacy continues to evolve.
With no further ado, here is the list. Just as last year, all books included here were checked out from the Terrebonne Parish library using the Overdrive app and were read on my Kindle. The one exception being Huey Long which was not available on Overdrive. I was thankful to be able to find this book in a second-hand bookstore.
To Kill a Mockingbird: Started in mid-December and finished early January. This book was on my “to read” list for a long time. As I said at on my 2019 reading log, I wish I had read this one years ago. Published in 1960, it’s story of a young girl growing up in the small town south and witnessing the racist attitudes of her friends and neighbors, learning how to navigate that reality, is still as relevant now as it was then.
Go Set a Watchman: Started early January and finished early February. By Harper Lee, the same author as To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout’s now grown up, moved away for college, comes back home for a visit, and finds out her once awesome dad is a bit of a racist. The same dad from the previous book that was an example to her on not being a racist. It’s hard to reconcile these two books if this one is viewed as a sequel. It’s better to read as a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. For many it may be best to not read at all and just let the classic continue to be the classic.
Dune: Started in early February but didn’t finish (put down in mid-March). I’ll probably lose some of my Sci-Fi Geek cred, but I didn’t really care for this one, at least for the first bit. I know it’s a popular Sci-Fi novel that sparked a many follow ups and is considered a classic in the genre. Mainly I looked at the size of the book, assessed my enjoyment of it after the first few chapters, and the amount of time it was taking me to read and decided to move on. I’ll keep this on the “To Read” list and will possibly be “ready” for it at a later time.
Dreams from My Father: Mid-March to late May. At some point I decided I wanted to start trying to read presidential biographies (maybe one a year or something) and so started with this one. Adds much context to the life of President Obama before his time as president. It tracks his time from childhood in being raised by his mother and her family in Hawaii, Indonesia (with his step-father), and back to Hawaii, through his college and early career to the time he finally connected with his father’s family. His time as an “organizer” in Chicago was very eye opening. In a way he did much of the same stuff I do in my career now and attempted to do in my career as a minister. Lots of public outreach, trying to identify community problems and organize community volunteers to develop effective programs to combat those problems, meanwhile getting push-back from other parts of the community with differing opinions on how to solve the same problem. Probably the best part, though, was when he was able to connect with his father’s family and finally learn about his family background later in life. Growing up in South Louisiana but with “roots” in Texas, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania (not as drastic as Hawaii to Kenya, for sure) I can somewhat appreciate what it is like to learn more about family you didn’t grow up with, and their culture and traditions, and how those different family perspectives can sometimes push you to view and see things differently – to “learn about yourself” so to speak.
All the Kings Men: Late May to mid-August, this book came off my “To Read” list and disrupted my well thought-out list for the rest of the year. It’s a fictional account of the governor of Louisiana in the late 1920s to early 1930s who built lots of highways, expanded public infrastructure, built schools and hospitals, and completely disrupted the political system – seen by many as corrupt but by others as just doing what he needed to do to work in, and then dominate, the already corrupt political system.
The Kingfish: Mid-August to early September. It took my less than two weeks to read this short but informative biography that is a non-fictional account of the governor of Louisiana in the late 1920s to early 1930s who built lots of highways, expanded public infrastructure, built schools and hospitals, and completely disrupted the political system – seen by many as corrupt but by others as just doing what he needed to do to work in, and then dominate, the already corrupt political system. This book served as a great appetizer, but was really just a tease for what came next.
Huey Long: Started in early September and still reading – this one is nearly 900 pages full of anecdotes and first-hand accounts from interviews. It is well researched and is really the authoritative biography on all things Huey. Despite being a 900-page political biography, it’s a very interested and colorful read. I’ve really enjoyed the deep-dive into this chapter of Louisiana history and look forward to similar reads in the future.
Reading to the Boys
Swiss Family Robinson (Abridged): Started reading this to the boys in mid-May and finished about two weeks later (or less). I remember reading and enjoying this one as a kid. We watched the movie on Disney Plus and the boys wanted to continue to the fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I was reading the abridged version until it was too late. Too many missing details. I’d love to revisit the original.
Roald Dahl’s novels: For the sake of time, I’ll lump Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mathilda, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox together here. Read from late May to early July. We’ve read several of his other novels over the years (BFG, Danny the Champion of the World) and always enjoy them. They were a fun read for both me and the kids. I hope to read more of his work to them this next year.
My Teacher is an Alien: Another two-week read in July. I absolutely loved this book series as a kid and enjoyed reading it to my boys. It was really a fun read since I first read it some 30ish years ago! Unfortunately, only the first of these was available on Overdrive, so I will have to track down the various sequels either through in-person trips to the library or via Amazon or book stores in the future.
Horrid Henry – Meh. Boys (mainly Max) liked it. Took three nights to finish.
The Unteachables: Mid-July to mid-August. I had no expectations starting this one and wouldn’t have considered it, but it was a “recommended” book in Overdrive so I gave it a shot. It was another fun book about a bunch of reject-kids and their reject-teacher who have to overcome their lack of expectations.
Because of Winn Dixie: Mid-August to mid-November. I used to work at Winn Dixie. And I owned a dog as a kid. This book was great.
The Hobbit: Mid-November to late October. It was probably ambitious to read this to them, but it was a favorite of mine as a kid. If nothing else, they definitely fell asleep quickly each night and didn’t often beg me to read the next chapter as they do with most other books. Might have to wait another year or so to break out the Lord of the Rings novels.
Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief: Late October to late December. Read at their request and will probably read through the whole series. I’ve known of this series for a while but was never really interested. Kind of feels like early Harry Potter, which to me also felt a little like Tom Sawyer. Boy has a friend who is a guy and a friend who is a girl. They go on some adventures and get stuck underground for a bit with someone who wants to kill them. Percy has a magic sword, Harry has a magic wand, and Tom a magic paint brush. Percy has an oracle, Harry has Trelawney, and Tom has Jim’s hairball. They all get in lots of trouble at school. Y’all know I’m right.
“To Read” list:
Some of these have been here years. Some will be here for a long time still before I get to them. Some here will be usurped by others I see and jump the queue. However, this is what I think I might read soon, in no particular order:
- Every Man a King: If I still feel the need to read more Huey next year, his autobiography will top the list.
- Ike’s Spies: Started this in 2019 and I hope to get back around to finishing, or at least progressing, this book in 2021.
- Dune: As mentioned earlier, I did try this one this year but moved on. I’ll keep it on at least for a while.
- The Good Neighbor: Biography of Fred Rodgers. Started listening to the audio book in 2019 on a road trip. Listened some more late in 2020. Will try to listen more in 2021.
- A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland
- The Earl of Louisiana: This one is a biography of Huey’s brother Earl!
- Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast
- Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America
- The Catcher in the Rye
- Leonard: By William Shatner
- Animal Farm: By George Orwell, another classic from the same author as 1984
- Charlie Wilson’s War
- True Grit: Two great movies made from this book, so it must be good!
- Washington by Ron Chernow
- Grant by Ron Chernow
- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow