Jeff Zych

Books Read 2020

2020. A year of isolation and social distancing and quarantining. Sounds like it should be a great year for reading, right? Well, not as much as I would have guessed. I read 28 books this year, which is less than last year (only by 2), but still significantly more than the previous 2 years. So not bad, but not as great as I would have expected.

I shifted more of my leisure/quarantine time to side projects and artist dates, which have been very fulfilling, so no regrets there. Also, I read 4 books that were over 1,000 pages, so all in all I consider 2020 a solid year for reading.

A few other things of note:

  • I read 5 fiction books, which is still low but what can I say, fact is stranger than fiction. And books like Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted read like fiction, and to me are more compelling because they’re recounting events that actually happened. Even so, the right fiction can be a nice form of escapism, so I do want to dial up the fiction more in the coming year (don’t I say this every year?).
  • Design, color, typography, and lettering books once again make up a significant portion of my reading list (about a third). I can’t stop, won’t stop reading them. They help me grow professionally and fulfill me creatively.
  • 8 books were written by women, and 5 by people of color (3 being both). This is a fairly low, but not abysmal, percentage overall, so I should try to dial this up in 2021.
  • I moved my reading list to Notion! Which makes it easier to keep track of counts, dates, authors, filter, sort, etc. Check it out here.
  • Links below are Amazon Affiliate links, which earn me a small kickback.

Favorite books of the year

Path to Power and Means of Ascent by Robert Caro

I kicked off the year with Path to Power, volume 1 of 5 (potentially more? He’s still writing it) of Robert Caro’s Lyndon B. Johnson biography. I read most of it during our honeymoon, trekking through Patagonia for 5 days with this 1,000+ page beast in my pack (#worthit). I picked up volume 2, Means of Ascent, later in the year, and while slower than volume 1, was still excellent. Caro is by far the best political writer there is. The depth of his research, and the way he makes what should be dry political maneuverings into Shakespearian drama is incredible. It inspires me to be better in my craft.

Beyond just being well-written, the content resonated in these polarizing political times because a large chunk of Means of Ascent is about how Lyndon stole the 1948 senatorial race by buying votes from counties and unregistered voters, and cemented his win with legal maneuvering. Sound familiar? Knowing all this transpired previously made me very concerned that it could happen again this year. Thankfully it didn’t, and fraudulent votes didn’t seem to be an issue, but even so it’s wild to read about how he stole a senatorial election, concealed it, and went on to become president.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I wrote a whole post about this book, so I don’t have much to add and you should just go read that instead. I will say, though, that I continue to use the techniques in this book and have made morning pages (and to a lesser extent, artist dates) a part of my regular routine. I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wants to tap into their true creative potential (hence the star rating 🌟).

Vernacular Eloquence by Peter Elbow

Another book that I wrote an entire post on, so just go read that. Definitely the most impactful book I’ve read in terms of making me a better writer. It also highlights lots of failures in our school system, racial and systemic biases perpetuated through education and reading and writing. Reading this during the George Floyd protests made those sections especially impactful. I’m still thinking about that stuff today.

Interactions of Color by Josef Albers

The third book that I wrote an entire post on. This book took me about 5 years to get through, with many fits and starts in between. I’m really glad I read the book and, more crucially, did all the exercises. Reading it without doing the exercises is a waste of time. The whole point of this book is the exercises. It completely changed the way I look at color, and has made me much more attuned to the characteristics of colors and, more importantly, the interactions between colors. Wholly recommended if you want to be a better designer or artist.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

I picked this book up on whim when I saw it in the recommended section at Green Apple Books. I had somehow never heard of it before, despite being a Murakami fan, and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. It resonated during the pandemic since it’s about isolation and loss and discovering who you are.

Full reading list

Also in Notion, which I keep up-to-date with what I’m currently reading, and includes previous lists.

  • Colorless Tsukuru Tagalog and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Dec 9, 2020) Recommended? πŸ‘
  • The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars and Kirk Kohlstedt (Dec 26, 2020) πŸ‘
  • 11/21/63 by Stephen King (Nov 9, 2020)
  • Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison (Sep 21, 2020)
  • Someone who will love you in all your damaged glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg (Sep 10, 2020) πŸ‘
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (Aug 31, 2020) πŸ‘
  • The Designer’s Dictionary of Color by Sean Adams (Aug 1, 2020) πŸ‘
  • Means of Ascent by Robert Caro (Aug 26, 2020) πŸ‘πŸ‘
  • The Multi-hyphenate Life by Emma Gannon (Jul 16, 2020)
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (Jul 13, 2020) πŸ™Œ
  • My Year I’d Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh (Jun 25, 2020) πŸ‘
  • Why Have Kids by Jessica Valenti (Jun 7, 2020)
  • The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron (Aug 28, 2020) 🌟
  • Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing by Peter Elbow (Sep 7, 2020) πŸ‘πŸ‘
  • How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell (May 26, 2020) πŸ‘
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (May 13, 2020)
  • Vintage Hand Lettering by Lisa Quine (Apr 26, 2020) πŸ‘
  • Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (Apr 24, 2020)
  • Emotional Design by Aaron Walter (Apr 12, 2020) πŸ‘
  • The Stroke: Theory of Writing by Gerri Noordzij (Apr 5, 2020) πŸ‘
  • Interactions of Color by Josef Albers (Mar 21, 2020) πŸ™Œ (started sometime in 2015)
  • Design as Art by Bruno Munari (Mar 16, 2020)
  • Creative Spaces by Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung (Mar 16, 2020)
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond (Mar 8, 2020)
  • Wabi Sabi by Leonard Koren (Feb 15, 2020)
  • Path to Power by Robert Caro (Feb 12, 2020) πŸ‘πŸ‘
  • Writing is Designing by Michael J. Metts and Andy Welfle (Feb 6, 2020) πŸ‘
  • Moonwalking with Einstein by Josh Foer (Jan 19, 2020)
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