In some ways, 2020 has felt trying (although, do we ever get to December and think, “wow, that was an easy year”?) As you’re about to see, my reading and listening habits tend to track my emotional state. The following list is a 2020 highlight reel of my bookshelf, podcast library and Spotify playlist. There’s everything from 1950’s apocalyptic literature to 17th Century puritan prayers and some short stories about sheep—make of that what you will.
Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett
Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers … When I don’t have any words at all, they do.
There’s a reason this is a ‘spiritual classic’. Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers, compiled by Arthur Bennett. It’s been a constant bedside companion in 2020. How easily my prayers become self-focussed, small and anxiety driven! Valley of Vision is an antidote. I can pray the words of Saints who have gone before me. When I don’t have any words at all, they do.
The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
This novel is a post-WWII apocalyptic science-fiction novel. It’s about giant carnivorous plants from space. Yep. Oh, and the meteor shower responsible for the plant’s arrival also blinds the entire population of earth. Except for the main character, of course. It sounds fantastical, right? The brilliant (and scary) thing about reading The Day of the Triffids in 2020 was that it suddenly sounded very real. The disorientation, chaos and uncertainty of 1950’s apocalyptic London felt very close to home. It made me realise afresh that uncertainty is the zeitgeist of every generation. Certainty is only found in God’s sovereignty.
The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T Wright
This is a big book. 738 pages to be exact. It’s a February kind of book—do not attempt it in December. The Resurrection of the Son of God is Vol. 3 of N.T Wright’s series: ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God.’ I haven’t read the first two parts, but I can highly recommend this volume. It is an incredibly thorough historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection. As I turned the last page of this book, I remember feeling very emotional (and not because I’d finally finished all 738 pages!). I was moved by the certainty of Christ’s resurrection. It’s true, and it’s still true in 2020.
The Bell, Iris Murdoch
This novel is nuanced and atmospheric. The setting is an English countryside manor, home to an Anglican Brotherhood. There’s a convent next door, where the Benedictine nuns live. The drama of the book is relational, ethical and spiritual. Characters are in conflict—with each other and themselves. Human kindness and cruelty and confusion are on full display. And yet, Murdoch does not write with a heavy hand. The novel is not light, but neither is it melancholy or didactic.
Every Living Thing, James Herriot
I read this book for the first time when I was fourteen. I’ve read it most years since then.
I read this book for the first time when I was fourteen. I’ve read it most years since then. James Herriot was a vet in 1950’s Yorkshire. This book is a collection of Herriot’s memoirs. It’s not profound. But, it is simple and sweet and funny. There are stories about pet badgers and sick sheep and cows who have trouble calving. For me, this book is the equivalent of eggs on toast for dinner—not what ‘adults’ are supposed to eat for dinner, but very comforting.
‘Radical’ with David Platt
David Platt is the pastor of McLean Bible Church in Washington D.C. Each podcast episode is a sermon recording. I found myself turning back to Platt’s preaching over and over again in the second half of 2020. He is articulate and passionate, and absolutely committed to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘The Bible Project’ Podcast
I know—there are some issues with the Bible Project. But, do yourself a favour and listen to one of their podcast series. Their best series include: Son of Man, Wisdom Literature, The Tree of Life, Parables, and Apocalyptic Literature. This year, especially during lockdown, the Bible Project Podcast was a real ministry to me! I found myself captivated by God’s Word, and thirsty for more.
Keeper of Days, Jon Guerra
If one album could sum up my experience of 2020, this would be it.
Guerra calls this album ‘devotional music’. It is honest, reflective and prayerful. For me, it’s been on repeat all year. The music is beautiful and the lyrics poetic (prophetic, even). Keeper of Days has given me words to pray—and put music in my mouth. If one album could sum up my experience of 2020, this would be it. I thank God that Keeper of Days was released this year and made its way to my headphones (and car, and kitchen and shower!).
Parallels + Meridians, Jess Ray
This album is similar to Keeper of Days, in many ways. It is an honest conversation with God, set to music. The lyrics stick, in all the right ways. ‘One and Only’ is my favourite track.
Please Leave Your Light On, Paul Kelly
In my eyes, Paul Kelly can do no wrong. I would listen to him sing my grocery list, if he offered. His new album, with pianist Paul Grabowsky, is really beautiful. The album is piano versions of Paul Kelly classics. Even if you’re not a hardcore PK fan, you might like it.
This year, I discovered the music of John Leyton. He was a 1960’s English singer and actor. His music is surprising, fun and optimistic—and very un-2020, in many ways. To get a feel for Leyton, listen to: ‘Son This is She’, ‘Lonely City’, and ‘I Love You For Sentimental Reasons’. Fair warning, don’t listen to ‘That’s a Woman’. It’s creepy.