I’m very hard on the books I read. Not physically, because I hate books that are anything less than pristine. But I’m hard on them in that I am very stingy with my ratings. On Goodreads, my average rating is 3.73, which has actually gone up over the last few years. I take that to mean I’m better at picking books, but who knows. Typically, if you are reading on topics that interest you and have done good research on a book, you should read very few books that you would consider to be below average (i.e. below a 3-star rating). But when it comes to differentiating 3 stars versus 4 stars versus 5 stars, the ratings are fairly arbitrary.
I only rate books 5 stars if I feel at some point in the future I want to reread them. That means they were impactful enough that they need multiple reads to take in, or that they were just that enjoyable.
For a book to be rated 4 stars, it needs to be nearly flawless. But even despite the flawlessness of it, it is something I felt I was able to fully digest and no longer need to retain.
3 stars means it was okay, and 2 means it had gaps and things that left me desiring more. To get 1 star, that means I feel there was some intellectual dishonesty or that it was poorly researched or written.
In 2019, I read 59 books and rated 19 of them as 5 star (out of 5) books. I have to think this is the most I’ve ever rated this highly in a single year, so I’d say it was a banner year reading. As always, narrowing this list down to a top 5 was difficult, but I find it necessary to analyze and rank the current year’s reading to determine how each book matches up against other things I’ve read. I find it gives me a clarity in what is important, as well as identify what books I want to reread in 2020.
Without further delay…
Spiritual Disciplines for the Spiritual Life by Donald Whitney
I came across this book when looking at J.I. Packer books and was intrigued by the idea and the 4.8 out of 5 rating on Amazon. I enjoyed this book so much I read through it twice and have referenced it much more.
This book goes through the basics and walks through all the disciplines that are taught in the Bible, as well as adds a few more that expand on disciplines we’re directed to keep. Much of the disciplines outlined are things we’re aware we need to do in our spiritual life. Of course we’re to read the Bible, but do we process through the ways to read the Bible? Have you studied, memorized, and journalled?
I found this book extremely helpful as a heart check, as well providing new and different ways to practice these disciplines. This is definitely the best spiritual book I read this year and probably the best I’ve read in the last couple years. After finishing this book, I found “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster and enjoyed it as well. “Celebration of Discipline” is the same concept but has been around for longer and has stood the test of history. I’d encourage you to read one of these two books to level up your disciplines of the faith.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
This book was released late in 2018 and took the book world by storm. I knew I had to read it, as I’d enjoyed other books on habit, including “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.
The idea behind this book is to start with small actions (thus the atomic moniker) and that these will help you implement new and bigger habits. This changed the way I looked at building new habits, along with Craig Groeschel’s idea of building one new habit a year, and has been something that helped me realize that it’s one step at a time. It’s easy to want all the changes at once, but the reality is we cannot sustain this and that consistency always trumps.
Craig Groeschel interviews James Clear on his leadership podcast and it is great, so I’d strongly recommend you take a listen.
The River by Peter Heller
I heard of this book through Samantha (who heard it through Anne Bogel) and while I’m not a big fiction guy, when I heard it had an outdoorsy theme I thought it sounded interesting. This work of fiction goes like this: two college friends with a love of the outdoors decide to canoe down a river in Canada. Of course, danger is all around and quick to greet them on what was supposed to be a leisurely journey.
This book moves quickly and I read it in just a few days, staying up way too late because I couldn’t put it down. I read a physical copy of this book, but I would guess this is a good audiobook candidate, as well.
Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
This is the story of two brothers, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, and their big bet on bitcoin. These brothers were originally a part of Facebook and found because of a lawsuit with Mark Zuckerberg that the traditional venture capital industry would not accept their money. Because of this, they were forced to seek out other investments, which ultimately made them the first bitcoin billionaires.
This is a true story that reads like fiction and there was moment after moment while listening to it on audiobook that me and Samantha looked at each other mouth agape. Ben Mezrich tells the story well and you will stay engaged, though a warning that it has some adult elements and language. We listened to this on audiobook and would definitely recommend that format if this book interests you.
Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
I read the book “Sprint”, which is also written by Jake, and came across his book “Make Time”. I initially rented the audiobook from the library, as I didn’t know much about the book. I listened to the book rather quickly and immediately told Samantha about the book and we listened to it together a second time. When we got done listening to the book we made the decision we’d like a physical copy and ultimately bought it.
This book establishes a four-step daily framework to help you focus on what matters most. Instead of setting strict rules, which many books of this style do, they tell stories and offer a lot of tips and strategies that you can either deploy or not. This was an enjoyable listen that we found ourselves pausing constantly to talk through the concepts. Much like the “Atomic Habits” recommendation, they focus on small changes or shifts to your environment to help you find success.
As I mentioned, narrowing lists down are hard. So, instead of narrowing it down completely I’m going to provide some additional suggestions based off categories I read a significant number of books in.
I enjoy reading self improvement, and while “Atomic Habits” and “Make Time” made the list, a few others didn’t and were also very worthy. If these types of books are up your alley, I’d suggest “Free to Focus” by Michael Hyatt and “The School of Greatness” by Lewis Howes. These are both books that are great for self-reflection.
In the category of business books, I focused on books with an organizational and strategic focus. I really enjoyed “Traction”, which focuses on organizational structure and “The Best Team Wins”, which focuses on hiring and gets extremely practical.
If you’re interested in something of local flavor, I enjoyed “Boom Town” by Sam Anderson. This is basically the story of Oklahoma City as told by an outsider who was introduced because of the Thunder but became intrigued and dove right in. Another one of local flavor that is great as well is “Killers of the Flower Moon” that I suggest everyone in Oklahoma read.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, as I enjoyed putting it together. I’d love to hear what your favorites were so I can add them to my list as well!
To good reading in 2020!