5 books I loved reading in 2020

The end of the year is a time to reflect and I try to reflect on the books I have read too. Every year I try to read 20 books. Yes, I have a book-reading target. I find that it helps me to keep reading – I know I enjoy it, I know it helps me grow, but life can happen and keep me from reading. I usually try to read a mix of books; some church-y, some more theological of nature, some business books. Not every book I have read I also enjoyed – not every book is worth mentioning in this post.

Currently, I am enjoying a couple of days off after a hectic year and am reading Humankind (De meeste mensen deugen for my Dutch friends) by Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian who went viral a couple of times in the last 24 months. I have not finished it yet, so it won’t appear in this list. But I hope it helps you pick some of these recommendations up in 2021!

By the way, I wrote a similar post last year about the books I read in 2019.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I think we all have that one friend that we completely misjudged when we just met them. Or maybe for you, it’s one of your colleagues. We meet them, form an idea in our minds of what they are like and we decide we either like them or not. The same applies for interviewing people, which I have done a number of times as well. You have to form an opinion about someone on the basis of a short conversation and their resume and decide whether they fit your team or department.

In Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, Malcolm Gladwell describes this dilemma. He explains why we are so bad (even those of you who think you are good at this) at judging stranger’s motivations. He gives a picture of some factors that should be taken into account as well and does so by using some well known cases, like the Amanda Knox case and the Sandra Bland case and many others. It’s full of interesting and relevant facts, case studies and psychological principles like transparency, defaulting to truth and coupling.

One of my favourite quotes from the book is the following:

“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”

Malcolm Gladwell

Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey & Rachel Cruze

Intan and I are expecting our first child in January. Before we knew about any complications (read here), obviously we started preparing. That meant practical things, for the house, it meant preparing mentally. It also meant reading some books on how we want to raise our kids. Of course, we had talked about it many times before, but now it started to become real. That’s when I read Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze.

Rachel is Dave’s daughter and together they explain how to raise children that can handle money well, in a world that is full of debt, quick-rich schemes and easy financing. They give examples of how Dave raised his children and advises other to raise their kids when it concerns money. And Rachel gives her side of the story too – about how she experienced being raised money-smart and how she is passing this wisdom on to her children now. I got Intan to read the book as well and we actually got some ideas from the book that we want to try out ourselves as well.

“So content people may not have the best of everything, but they make the best of everything. That is who you want your children to be.”

Dave Ramsey

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

The full title of the book is The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. I know, I picked some books with l o n g titles. And funnily enough, I read this book in February, just before the lockdown started. For me, all the things I wanted to apply from this book flew out the door as the COVID-19 situation ensured that a lot of additional work needed to be done, both within the bank and within the church, where we needed to switch to fully online.

John Mark Comer is a pastor and writer. In this book, he writes about the danger of hurry from his perspective. The more successful John Mark became, the busier and more hurried he became. And he was a successful pastor and author; his church grew rapidly and his books became best-sellers. However, he felt he was getting more away from his spiritual mission than closer to it. Rather than managing the megachurch he was leading, he left his job to become the teaching pastor at a church in the inner city of Portland.

In this book, John Mark Comer reflects on his own life and some of his own lessons, and points to the way Jesus lived. He indicates what the impact is that hurry has on us. If you are like me a little bit, in the sense that you are trying to do too many things all at once, then this is a book for you. One of my favourite quotes from this book is:

What you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.

John Mark Comer

Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss

Chris Voss is an interesting person to say the least. He currently works in the business world, but for years he was a hostage negotiator for the FBI. Actually, he currently is the CEO of the Black Swan Group, a company that offers negotiation training. So if anyone has something to teach about the art of negotiation, Chris Voss seems like the appropriate person.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It is full of examples of lessons that the author has learned during his time at the FBI. It’s full of cases and real negotiations, with hostage takers and terrorists he has dealt with.

This is such a valuable book for many of us, because confrontation, conflict, negotiation and maybe even tense conversations do not come naturally for many. Asking your boss for a pay rise, talking to your room mate about some of his/her behaviours you dislike, confronting your parents about something you know they disapprove of… none of it is in our sweet spot. This book might give you some lessons and tools to improve in this field. And it does so with really intriguing examples.

Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.

Chris Voss

The Prodigal Prophet by Timothy Keller

I don’t think I have ever taken so long to read one of Tim Keller’s books. He is absolutely one of my favourite authors. I remember reading through The Prodigal God in a breeze, Prayer really helped my prayer life and I recommend anyone who plans on getting married to read The Meaning of Marriage. But The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy took me so long to finish. It was on my bedside table for months. Not because it was hard to read, but somehow I could only read bits at a time. So I took my time with this book.

Everyone, whether you’re a Christian or not, knows Jonah. However, if you read the actual Bible book, it’s fascinating. It has a specific form – almost like that of a play – and it seems to have many themes. It conjures up many questions. And maybe that’s why it is such a relevant book. Because it might lead to many questions and fewer answers.

Keller explains that one of the key themes is that the prophet Jonah wanted a God of his own making, a God that conformed to his ideas. Does that sound familiar? You might know someone who does this from time to time; letting his/her worldview determine who God is, instead of the other way around.

The usual place to learn the greatest secrets of God’s grace is at the bottom

Timothy Keller

It’s always hard to pick a top 5, so some books I also enjoyed but didn’t make this list: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, Covert Cows and Chick-Fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand by Robert Carnes, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, Everyday Millionaires by Chris Hogan, Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller.

For now, happy new year and happy reading!

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