My list of books I read in 2020 (mostly in order) and learned about from friends, fam, heroes, podcasts, the library, and some that just kind of showed up in my path.
I’d love to learn about anything you think belongs here. Send me an email to let me know!
seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees – Lawrence Weshler
30+ years of conversation with artist Robert Irwin. This book has been a total life-changer for me. How he looks at art, the questions he hopes to answer with his art, and his unapologetic use of styles and willingness to completely change gears are all so dang inspiring! I’m already applying it to the work I do.
My friend Barzan aka Billy Frey told me he thought of me while reading this and recommended it. After reading I’m even more humbled and so grateful he shared it! Here’s a post I wrote about how dope HE is a while back… <3
The Water Dancer – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Such a trip and like a lot of my books this year, I know you don’t need to hear it from me as you probably already get it. The type of book that builds on itself so beautifully. I learned the most about life as a slave in this time period I ever have, especially when compared to any schooling, college included.
White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
My wife had been asking me to read this for a bit as she’s doing a lot of DEI work in the community and at her organization. Another one I hope becomes required reading. Happy to see it in the zeitgeist and hope it stays there. We sent it to my Mom and she read it and sent it back with notes. Pretty cool that talking about white fragility is getting a bit more normalized – long way to go but, hope.
Usurper 6 – Sweesh
My dudes 6th trippy, funny, and forever coded art book. Mad inspo from one of my main art buddies.
No Mud, No Lotus – Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich being Thich and re-articulating one of his favorite metaphors, we can’t have the lotus without the mud. A community college addiction prof recommended this one while we were working on a partnership for one of the films I help distribute. I went for one of my fav moves: book gets recommended, order it, put it on hold, or go buy it locally – thank them and report back next time y’all speak. Feels like that’s a great way to ‘pay attention.’
Theft by Finding – David Sedaris
Fucking thank you. I think this may have been an Austin Kleon rec from his book Keep Going. I’m totally hooked. So refreshing to read his fun and even his tragic tales of “regular” life. Lets us know there’s so much more to every moment and reminds me of my friend Alex (ABT!), who could go to the grocery store and come back with epic stories.
The Word Pretty – Elisa Gabbert
I think I found this on an Austin Kleon list too and it turns out I love literary nonfiction (yeah I said it!) – at least when written by Elisa. Such a fun read digging into how we interpret what we read and how the style things are written and read affects what we gain from the text. A type of book I never knew existed but felt like it was written just for me. Abso love.
PS: Read this on an epic bike campout so that might have helped a bit too 🙂
The Best Way to Catch a Snake – Karma Yeshe Rabgye
A self-published and pretty widely distributed Buddhist text by the writer and host of the Buddhism Guide podcast. I like his frankness with Buddhism. Not a lot of handholding. A very direct look at this stuff, and a great accompaniment to the more Thich Naht Han and Pema Chodron-style stuff I usually read.
We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders – Linda Sarsour
I love Linda and think she’s the god damn coolest since seeing her on Democracy NOW! as a part of a panel about the 2016 election. This is a really inspiring read. She goes into detail about the drama she faces for being who she is – a Palestinian Muslim America – and the challenges that brings up even in the activist community.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Alex Haley and Malcolm X
I was inspired by my co-worker who mentioned buying a used copy online and did the same. Totally loved this and highly recommend it, as if you need to hear that from me. Wish this was required reading growing up or even in college but that’s kinda the catch 22 of the whole system. We need to learn this stuff on our own. The final bit from Alex Haley is so remarkable too I’m glad my copy included that. It was almost a deeper look into who Malcolm X really was, from a trusted source.
I followed this up with the series on Netflix after hearing the soundtrack was produced by Prince Paul. It’s incredible to think about where Malcolm X was heading and what a leader he IS + could have been today.
Dune – Frank Herbert
Needed to go somewhere else. Life feeling heavy. This was def the right route to take, and dig all the mindfulness involved here. Thank you Joe for lending me your copy that I returned dismantled in a rubber band (and for being OK with that). And thanks to Sweesh for recommending Jodorowsky’s Dune, which inspired me to finally read this.
Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist – Franchesca Ramsey
Thanks to my friend Heidi (Swiss Web Miss!) for the rec here. I LOVED this. Franchesca does such a great job of making conversations about white supremacy relatable. She gives really specific examples that we all probably see and writes about what we can do right now. Super highly recommend this even though it’s a few years old, especially for folks who do any sort of online creative work as a big part of the book is about her unexpected YouTube success.
Uncanny Valley – Anna Wiener
So f’n good, thanks to Patrick Rhone for recommending this. I had to put it down a few times when work was getting too work (hella stressful) and resembling some of the stuff she was going through in this book (not the best winddown). Overall really loved this personal tale of being a woman in tech and a person in a world more/less controlled by it.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas – Maya Angelou
An epic and unbelievable life story told magically. I read the first 3 books in Maya’s autobiography this year. Highly recommend and really cheap to pick up a used paperback. Can’t wait to read the rest.
The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin
The first 2 books in the Broken Earth trilogy. Thank you N.K. for taking me away from it all and bringing me back more creative and prepared. Really my first dive into sci-fi and I’m hooked, least on her stuff. So refreshing to get away and heavy vibes to come back with. Thanks again to my friend Amber for sharing How Long ’til Black Future Month? with me last year.
Calypso – David Sedaris
My only audiobook this year. A great collection of stories about travel, animals, and just regular life. Sedaris is now my official break from it all – almost like sci-fi but when I just need to laugh. So glad I finally realized his magic. Listening all the time now.
Make Your Mind an Ocean: Aspects of Buddhist Psychology – Lama Thubten Yeshe
The mediation studio I used to go to pre-COVID is closing down and we’ve been helping clean it out. I grabbed a couple of books at random from their mass collection and found this a really great read. He talks about our minds being the depth of the ocean and all of the little things we experience as waves on top. Ignore the little stuff (waves), and don’t give them so much play. Focus on the ocean underneath, and find the truth in our minds. Pretty rad <3