2020 Reading List

The following is the list of books I read in 2020. Some of these were re-reads, and a handful I read more than once.

I’ve only added books to the list that I actually finished. I started many more books this year. Some weren’t interesting. Others only had a small section that was relevant.

My rule for “finished” = 85%. If I’ve gotten through 85% of a book, I’ve absorbed the core ideas and I consider it read.

Honestly, though, I rarely leave a book at 85%. If I’ve read that far, I find it interesting, so I’m likely to read it all. Almost every book on the following list was read cover to cover.

List Key:

  • Bold = personal development books (career, mindset, or skill-specific)
  • Italics = fiction
  • * = recommended
  • ** = highly recommended

2020 Reading List:

(In chronological order)

  1. Turning Pro — Steven Pressfield
  2. Dumbing Us Down — John Taylor Gatto
  3. The Four Agreements — Don Miguel Ruiz**
  4. Ego is the Enemy — Ryan Holiday
  5. All the Pretty Horses — Cormac McCarthy
  6. How Fiction Works — James Wood
  7. This Won’t Scale — Drift Marketing Team
  8. The Call of the Wild — Jack London
  9. The Pine Barrens — John McPhee
  10. The Game of Life and How to Play — Florence Scovel Shinn**
  11. The Story of Land and Sea — Katy Simpson Smith
  12. Plainsong — Kent Haruf
  13. The Score Takes Care of Itself — Bill Walsh
  14. The Act of Creation — Arthur Koestler**
  15. On the Road — Jack Kerouac
  16. In My Stead — Robert Day
  17. Economics in One Lesson — Henry Hazlitt
  18. Relentless — Tim Grover*
  19. To Sell Is Human — Daniel H Pink
  20. Winesburg, Ohio — Sherwood Anderson
  21. Writing to Learn — William Zinsser
  22. Hemingway on Writing — Larry W. Phillips and Ernest Hemingway*
  23. Zen and the Art of Writing — Ray Bradbury
  24. 21 Stories — Graham Greene
  25. Becoming a Writer — Dorothea Brande**
  26. Their Eyes Were Watching God — Zora Neale Hurston**
  27. Mastery — George Leonard**
  28. Zen and the Art of Archery — Eugen Herrigel*
  29. Mothering Sunday — Graham Swift
  30. Johnny Got His Gun — Dalton Trumbo
  31. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — Anita Loos
  32. Prodigal Summer — Barbara Kingsolver**
  33. Tobacco Road — Erskine Caldwell
  34. Thinking as a Science — Henry Hazlitt**
  35. How Will You Measure Your Life? — Clayton Christensen
  36. A Moveable Feast — Ernest Hemingway*
  37. Mastery — Robert Greene
  38. Ogilvy on Advertising — David Ogilvy
  39. Think and Grow Rich — Napoleon Hill**
  40. What to Say When You Talk to Yourself — Shad Helmstetter**
  41. Book of Sketches — Jack Kerouac
  42. Steal Like an Artist — Austin Kleon
  43. Evensong — Kent Haruf
  44. Benediction — Kent Haruf
  45. Wilderness — Scott Stillman
  46. In a Narrow Grave — Larry McMurtry
  47. Oranges — John McPhee***
  48. Good to Great — Jim Collins
  49. The Bean Trees — Barbara Kingsolver*
  50. The Personal MBA — Josh Kaufman*
  51. The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald**
  52. The Old Man and The Sea — Ernest Hemingway
  53. Let My People Go Surfing — Yvon Chouinard*
  54. The Love Artist — Jane Alison*
  55. Anthem — Ayn Rand
  56. Meander, Spiral, Explode — Jane Alison
  57. The Magic Path of Intuition — Florence Scovel Schinn**
  58. My Life and Work — Henry Ford**
  59. Black Water — Joyce Carol Oates
  60. A Short View of Great Questions — Orlando J Smith
  61. Letter to My Daughter — Maya Angelou
  62. Garden of Eden — Ernest Hemingway*
  63. The Boron Letters — Gary Halbert**
  64. Your Word is Your Wand — Florence Scovel Shinn

How I chose these books:

My book choices (generally) come from three places:

  1. Recommendations
  2. References from another book
  3. Questions I’m exploring

I got some great recommendations this year from colleagues and friends. That’s where many of the personal development books came from.

I also like going down rabbit holes in my reading. If an author has insights I appreciate, the chances are high I’ll also like their book recommendations.

Most of the books I choose, though, come from areas I’m curious about — which is why there are some underlying themes in the above list.

The questions that drove this year’s reading:

  1. How do people learn? How can I better learn and facilitate other people’s learning? –> The best books for answers: Mastery by George Leonard, Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel, Thinking as a Science by Henry Hazlitt, Writing to Learn by William Zinser, Mastery by Robert Greene
  2. How can I improve my mindset (and therefore my success, my self-actualization, and my creativity)? –> The best books for answers: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Game of Life and How to Play by Florence Scovel Shinn (most of these were books I’d read before, and will re-read many times in the future)
  3. How can I improve my business acumen? –> The best books for answers: Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman, The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert, Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy, Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
  4. How do I get better at listening to my own intuition? –> The best book for answers was hands-down The Magic Path of Intuition by Florence Scovel Shinn
  5. What makes a really great novel? –> The best books for answers: How Fiction Works by James Wood, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brand, and Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison
  6. What are the best books from each place I traveled?

Travel-related books:

I read a number of books this year that were from and about the places I was traveling. I spent most of 2020 in Colorado, Texas, and Florida, and I tried to read at least a couple books tied to each place.

Colorado: Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Evensong by Kent Haruf, Benediction by Kent Haruf (a trilogy), Wilderness by Scott Stillman

Texas: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas by Larry McMurtry. Definitely not enough Texas books. I’m going back in 2021, and I’m planning to add more to the list then.

Florida: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Oranges by John McPhee

Top fiction recs:

At the start of the year I went down the rabbit hole reading American authors from the 20th century (especially authors I hadn’t read before). A lot of this year’s fiction fell under that umbrella, although my interests definitely meandered.

I read 24 novels this year, but these were my favorites:

  1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (re-read — it’s one of my all-time favorites)
  2. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
  4. The Love-Artist by Jane Alison (re-read — another favorite)
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fizgerald (another re-read, another favorite)
  6. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

H/t to Chuck Grimmett’s “Reading” page, which inspired me to put this together. Spending the last couple days of 2020 auditing this year’s reading list has been a fun exercise — I intend to make this a habit.

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