My 2020 Reading List

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Well, 2020 was some year.

I love to read, and I try to get in at least 30 minutes of reading each day during my drive to and from the office, during exercise, or in the evenings to wind down before I got to bed. You can find my reading lists for previous years here – 20192018 & 2017.

2020 started off alright I guess. There was a bit of buzz about that virus overseas, but for most of January things were going okay. Of course, we all know how 2020 panned out. Here in Australia things were handled about as well as I guess they could have been.

We went into a partial lockdown here in Brisbane for a few months, with work-from-home and home schooling to minimise spread so cases could be found and treated. I'd love to be able to say that meant heaps of reading and other personal development for me.

But the truth is that it was quite a stressful time, and a lot of my usual reading time was instead taken up by staying on top of the rapidly evolving situation with the pandemic. Mostly I tried to stay up to date with health news, changes to restrictions, economic impacts, and adjust out business operations accordingly. I did this through a combination of podcasts and reading news sites, so that ate up a lot of time.

Still, I managed to get through some reading anyway. Here's my list of books read in 2020.

Audiobooks

  • The King's Buccaneer (Raymond E. Feist) – This was the last in the Feist books that I wanted to read for the time being. Having read it before in my youth I very much enjoyed revisiting it in audio format. He has some titles that I've never read, but I have a backlog of other reading to get through first.
  • Axis of Time series (John Birmingham) – These titles, Weapons of Choice, Designated Targets, and Final Impact, were among the very first books I read back when I bought my first Kindle. Axis of Time is a cool alternate history story about a 21st century naval fleet that is sent back to the 1940's due to a botched scientific experiment, and ends up changing the events of World War 2. I loved them back then, and the audiobooks were a terrific way to experience the story again. I have the next books in the series in my backlog and hope to get through them this year.
  • Atomic Habits (James Clear) – This is a personal development book that aims to improve your life through making tiny changes and habits, rather than try to learn how to be “disciplined”. One of the best takeaways I got was that you can improve something by 10% by just finding ten things to improve by 1%, which is a much easier task than improving one single thing by 10%. You can apply that lesson to your education, professional life, sporting performance, or to a business.

That's all the audiobooks I got through in 2020. As I wrote earlier, most of my listening time was taken up with podcasts instead. And for some reason I spent most of my exercise time (training for an ultramarathon) either in silence or listening to music instead of books. Actually it was mostly in silence, providing a more meditative experience during exercise that was crucial to getting through 2020. I also spent a lot of training time on our treadmill, and I usually watch Netflix on my iPad during those sessions.

Kindle/Print Books

  • A Storm of Swords, A Song of Ice and Fire #3 (George R.R. Martin) – Finished it in the first few days of 2020 and rolled on to A Feast for Crows straight after. Good, but getting to be a bit of a slog, and the split timelines made me miss some of my favourite characters.
  • Training Essentials for Ultrarunning (Jason Koop) – Before I embarked on my ultramarathon training plan I read through this book to make sure I understood why my plan was constructed the way it was. A great read for anyone looking to train for trail and ultrarunning.
  • So You Want to Be a Writer (Allison Tait, Valerie Khoo) – I already am a non-fiction writer, but what I was really looking for here was some inspiration towards my goal of becoming a fiction writer. I read this late in the year after realising that 2021 wasn't likely to bring a return to our previous lives, and that I need a creative outlet to keep me steady until things get more normal again (maybe 2022?).
  • The Interruption: An EMP Survival Story (Kip Nelson) – I picked this up from a Bookbub free deal because I was curious about all the EMP/dystopian/post-apocalyptic titles available and wanted to experience a few. This wasn't a good introduction to the genre, unfortunately. Really its designed to be a setup for a main series of books, but I didn't connect with the characters and where the story was heading at all. I will try a few more titles in the genre though.

Books I started but didn't finish:

  • A Dance with Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire #5 (George R.R. Martin) – It's not so much that I didn't enjoy reading this book. But there was a moment when Tyrion was floating down the river pondering the existence of turtles that I started to wonder why I was still putting effort into a series that has no next book available. In the end I decided to stop about 25% of the way through this book and put it aside. If The Winds of Winter is ever released, I will pick it up again and finish it.
  • Pandemic (A.G. Riddle) – Ehhhhh this was a tough one. I should have spent more time reading the reviews, because they were spot on. The book starts great, setting the scene for a Jason Bourne-style conspiracy story set around a global pandemic. But after the first third it just goes off the rails a bit, gets tripped up in its own complexity, and then by about 75% I had to quit. I went and checked a recap of the story to understand how it finished, and to be honest I am glad I stopped.

On My Reading List for 2021

So far in 2021 I've been enjoying reading a lot more. I signed up to Bookbub and have been downloading all sorts of free ebooks in genres I enjoy so that I can discover new authors to read. I also cancelled my Audible subscription due to a backlog of credits, so I had to buy a bunch of books all at once to use those credits up.

  • Zero Day Code: End of Days, Book 1 (John Birmingham) – This book is set in a world where power and other critical infrastructure is failing, and nations are going to war over food due to the impact of climate change. It isn't the usual dystopian/post-apocalyptic trope-fest that I was expecting. The stories are realistic, human, and varied. Birmingham has a knack for grim storytelling with a sprinkling of dry humour. I'm enjoying listening to it so far, and will likely roll on to part 2, Fail State, right after.
  • The Anonymous Source (A.C. Fuller) – Another Bookbub freebie, this time in the mystery/thriller genre. I am about halfway through and liking it quite a lot. I haven't worked out where the plot is heading yet, and what the twist will be, so that's probably a good sign of a well written book in the genre. Hopefully it stays on track to the end.
  • Stalin's Hammer (John Birmingham) – I never read this continuation of the Axis of Time series before, and I have the audiobook ready to go.
  • Jack Reacher books 5 (Echo Burning), 6 (Without Fail) and 7 (Persuader). A carry-over from last year's backlog.
  • A heap more Bookbub freebies, recommended fiction titles, and also a long list of non-fiction books I want to read. Some of its s genre research for my own writing, others are just personal interest. Honestly my backlog is only getting longer. I am tracking it all in Goodreads now rather than Amazon wish lists, because I moved my Kindle account to Australia (which doesn't support Kindle titles in wish lists, oddly enough). A few notable titles include The Sixth Man (Andre Iguodala), A Fool's Errand (D.E. King), and Tunnel 29 (Helena Merriman).

What About Those Podcasts?

Since I spent so much of 2020 listening to podcasts instead of reading, it's worth me listing my favourites here. Keep in mind that some of these are Australian news podcasts, so they won't all be relevant to other countries. Also some of them are very much “current events” podcasts, and not what I would necessarily recommend for listening to back episodes.

  • Coronacast – The ABC's daily podcast about the Coronavirus in Australia. Short and informative without being overly dramatic, I listened to this almost every day on the drive to work.
  • The World Today (Full Episode feed) – Any time there was a particularly hectic day of local and international events I would listen to this summary.
  • Australian Politics Live – Select episodes only when crucial events were occurring, as too much political stuff just adds to my stress levels.
  • Full Story – A podcast from The Guardian that goes in depth on various world events and issues.
  • The Money – An ABC finance podcast that has some interesting episodes now and then, particularly on the economic impacts of the pandemic.
  • America, If You're Listening – This was an excellent series in the lead up to the US election, which had the whole world on edge.
  • Koopcast – The only trail and ultra running podcast I listen to at the moment.
  • Cyber – Although this is a good podcast if you're right into cybersecurity stuff, for me it was just an occasional listen. I listened any time an episode title caught my attention, such as the story on the disaster that was the Australian government Robodebt scandal.
  • We're Alive – Quite different to the others, this is more of a serialised audio theatre production in a zombie apocalypse setting. The performances are outstanding and I am enjoying it much more than when I tried to watch The Walking Dead.

I also listened (and continue to listen) to a series of podcasts for writers. Here's the list in no particular order:

We're already a month into 2021, and I am getting a reasonable amount of reading done so far. But this year is also feeling a bit like 2020b to me. I will push on, making time for reading (and listening) which is so important for my physical and mental health, as well as being informative and educational.

Even though my backlog is huge right now, I'd still be interested to hear any of your reading recommendations in the comments below. Otherwise, stay safe, wash your hands, and let's all get through this together.

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By Paul Cunningham

Paul is a an author, blogger, and online trainer living in Brisbane, Australia. He was the founder of Practical 365, a former Microsoft MVP, and is a Pluralsight trainer. Say hi on Twitter.

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