Books of the year – the 12 best books I read in 2020

In Dean Gardens, Edinburgh.

I’ve always been a big reader. Although I now read a lot less than I used to, books are still a huge part of my life. When I’m feeling well, I’m reading a lot. When the different areas of my life fall out of balance and I’m overworking, I usually stop reading.

As I’ve been working on my own book, Mountain Song, for most of 2020, this year of reading has been a slightly different one from normal. I’ve gravitated towards books that inspired my own writing – ones about nature, spending time in the wild, and getting away from the world to find balance and answers. In the last few years, I’ve also read a lot of business and self-improvement books and fallen out the habit of reading fiction (booo!) which is something I still need to remedy.

Here’s what some of my reading pile has looked like for 2020. Which ones have you read and enjoyed too?


Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (5.00 / 5.00)

Cutting for Stone was the first book I read in 2020, while relaxing around the turn of the new year. I adored it. It has quickly become one of my favourite books, and like the owner of the bookshop I worked at who never stopped singing its praises (why didn’t I listen then?), I’m now recommending it to everyone.

From Ethiopia to New York City and back again, meet a fascinating family of doctors who weave an incredible story of heartbreak, loss, and the relationships that shape their lives.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah (4.25 / 5.00)

I got a Kindle copy of Where the Forest Meets the Stars as an easy lockdown read, and it fit the bill wonderfully. It’s one of the more easy-read picks on this list, but it’s a magical and lovely book.

After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises. The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (5.00 / 5.00)

Somehow Prodigal Summer was my first Barbara Kingsolver novel, and it’s taken me twenty-seven years to discover that I was born to read her writing.

During one hot summer of new life, change, and the sensuality of nature in bloom, Prodigal Summer sweeps you into three lives by the Appalachian mountains in “a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature”.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (4.00 / 5.00)

I was recommended The Summer Book by a reader of my blog and it turned out to be the perfect fit. When you look at the pieces of the novel, this is no surprise: it’s a little story of six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother during a summer spent on an island on the Gulf of Finland, with hardly anything to stress about, and very few guests.


Atomic Habits by James Clear (4.75 / 5.00)

Atomic Habits is one of the best books you can read on productivity. James Clear shows us that to build habits, you first need to tweak your identity. After all: if you think of yourself as someone who doesn’t eat sugar, you say no to cake. If you call yourself a writer, you get up and write. It’s a fantastic book to kickstart changes in your life, and a great fit for the start of a new year.

Writing & creativity

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (4.25 / 5.00)

This one’s another recommendation from a blog reader, and another book I should’ve read a while ago. I’m glad I finally have. Writing Down the Bones is core reading material for any writer, and while most of it is common sense, it’s common sense I definitely need reminding of. Natalie Goldberg also writes wonderfully.

The Practice by Seth Godin (4.00 / 5.00)

I’ve never been a huge fan of Seth Godin’s writing, and I think this is the first of his books I have actually read (or at least finished). But The Practice is a lovely little read for creative types on a) doing the work and b) sharing your work. Like Writing Down the Bones, much of the advice isn’t revolutionary, but often this is exactly what you most need to hear.

Business & money

Chillpreneur by Denise Duffield-Thomas (4.50 / 5.00)

Denise Duffield-Thomas has had a huge impact on my business. She’s written several books with really cringey titles (best of all is Get Rich, Lucky Bitch), but they’ve made such a difference to how I work and approach my life. Chillpreneur shares her philosophy of a chilled way of doing business and stabs hustle culture right where it hurts.

The Wealthy Gardener by John Soforic (4.00 / 5.00)

2020 is the first year where I’ve taken saving money seriously. This correlates with it being the first year where I’ve made good money (although while burning out much more than I’d like). I turned the marketing consulting work I started in 2018 from a sole trader business to a limited company, made a lot via that, started another limited company a month later with a totally different focus (publishing books like Mountain Song!) and I’m now pivoting further towards this.

I’ve read quite a few finance books, and The Wealthy Gardener is one I’ve liked the most. It’s written in the style of a parable, sharing lessons on prosperity between father (“the wealthy gardener”) and son.

Other non-fiction

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins (4.75 / 5.00)

Can’t Hurt Me isn’t a dainty little book like The Summer Book, or bulky and beautiful like Prodigal Summer. It’s the memoir of a navy seal who wants you to get off your arse right now, damnit and get to work. It’s sweary, it’s often needlessly misogynist, and it’s angry. But it’ll probably guilt you into lowering your Netflix consumption and going out for a run. Here are 32 lessons on suffering and achievement from the book that I wrote up earlier in the year.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (4.00 / 5.00)

If you’ve always played by the rules, made yourself quiet and invisible, and avoided causing any trouble, this book’s for you. Pick up a copy of Untamed to kick-start your rebellion.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker (4.25 / 5.00)

If there’s anything I love more than reading, perhaps it’d be sleep. I safeguard my nine-and-a-half hours like it’s precious treasure, and according to Matthew Walker, it really is. Why We Sleep has been talked about a lot for the last few years, but it deserves it. The science of sleep is fascinating.

Which books would you recommend for 2021? I’d love to hear them. Get in touch via whichever social network you enjoy using. (Or failing that, email, but be warned, I’m terrible at responding – please don’t take it personally). Happy reading!

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