Books I Read:  January 2020 Edition

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I have been an avid reader my entire life.  Sure, there have been periods where life was busy and I read less, but over the past twenty or so years, I have logged quite a few books.  Yes, I actually log them.  Since 1988!  I love to read other people’s lists of book recommendations for ideas of what to read.

In January, I had the idea to write up short bits about most of the books I read, in the event that it might offer some value to other readers.  You’ll notice that I read a whole bunch of different stuff.  Of course, I read personal finance books, and I’ve previously confessed my love for books about productivity.  But mysteries, novels, and classic literature also have a place in my repertoire of books.

You might have noticed that it is now April, and I am just getting around to publishing my January list.  Life, COVID-19, and the stock market have intervened since then, causing me to be a bit. . . busy.

One of my simplicity goals for 2020 was to read books off my shelves, and then purge the books I’ve read and do not wish to keep.  I also vowed to use the library more often.  During our homeschooling, we used the library extensively and well.  But I could never manage to read much for myself from the library.

Often, I start reading a book, and then it might take me months to finally finish it, since I read many (just ask my daughter Rowan!) books at once.  I decided this was the year I would borrow more from the library and buy fewer books.  Well, just as soon as I got in a good library routine, our libraries closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.  Oh well.

I am keeping stats (of course I am!) for books I read from my shelves, borrowed from the library, or bought new this year.  I indicated that below, just for fun.

Without further ado, here is the list of books I read in January.*

The 5 Years Before You Retire (shelf)

The 5 Years Before You Retire, by Emily Birken, was a used bookstore find this past fall.  While it is a few years old, this book is still highly relevant for those in the homestretch of planning for retirement.  It covers the basics of how to assess where you are, how to create a retirement budget, and various aspects of retirement income.  Birken also thoroughly explains the U.S. government retirement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

One thing I particularly liked is that she explains how to find the right financial advisor, including good questions to ask.  Some personal finance books out there make it sound like financial advisors are pretty much the devil, are too expensive, and cannot be trusted.  That always makes me sad.  Of course, there are some bad apples in every barrel, and the finance barrel might even be disproportionately full of rotten apples.  Nevertheless, there are many, MANY financial advisors out there that deeply care about their clients and are totally worth the fees you pay them.  But I digress.

I could not have written a better book about preparing for retirement, and since I have met Emily, I am considering encouraging her to write an updated version.  This is a book that I would feel comfortable providing to all my financial planning clients – it’s that thorough. (Edited to add: Ha!  I just went to pull the Amazon link, and I see there is an updated version coming out this December.  Yippee!)

In West Mills (new)

De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s In West Mills was the January selection for the book club I’m in.  Overall, I liked this book.  It chronicles the story of Azalea “Knot” Centre, a black woman in North Carolina who insists on living life on her own terms, regardless of the cost.  She likes moonshine and men, and she chafes against the status quo.  The ending fell a bit flat for me, but then again, I am one who prefers that a book end with all the loose ends tied up.  Regardless, it was a very entertaining read.

The Invisible Man (shelf)

My daughter Rowan and I started The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells, last June.  It was the final read-aloud literature selection we tackled before we ended our homeschooling.  I fully intended to have the book completed by the time Rowan started school in August, but . . . summertime!  Once school started, it was a crazy time getting used to our new schedules.

Heading into 2020, I was determined to finish this book, since we had been enjoying it.  I wasn’t much of a science fiction reader in my youth, and honestly, I still am not.  But once in a while I read some sci-fi and enjoy it.  It was a bit far-fetched to think a man could drink a potion that would make him entirely invisible, and yet, the story was gripping and felt realistic.

The Club Dumas (shelf)

Our first 2020 winner, folks!  The Club Dumas, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, was a quirky, but infinitely interesting book.  A book detective is tracking down a manuscript after a bibliophile is found dead, and at some point, he determines he is living out aspects of the story of The Three Musketeers.  Crazy, right?  It was a literary thriller that I could not put down.

The Financial Diet (shelf)

Chelsea Fagan’s The Financial Diet was. . . not my favorite.  To be fair, I am not at all her target audience.  She was aiming her message at Millennial women who did not have much financial knowledge.  The content was light, fluffy, and a bit all over the place.  I understand personal finance can be tedious for people, and it is a difficult balance to achieve quality information that is still written in a simple, entertaining way.

I might have liked it better if it had covered a few more areas of personal finance.  Instead, it briefly covered budgeting and investing, and then moved into food, career, and home.  All those sections had a loose connection to a money discussion.

The perfect audience for this book is what the subtitle states: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money.  I can buy that.  If a young person read this book and that sparked their interest to learn more about personal finance, that would be worth it.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (shelf)

Be still my heart!  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, has kicked off a serious love affair for me.  A mystery series starring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, this book is the total package.  It’s well-written, witty, and features unique characters.  It’s a murder mystery layered over sibling rivalry and spiced up with Flavia’s love of chemistry (her specialty is poisons).  I loved it so much that Rowan wanted to read it, and she is now a fan along with me.  Imagine our thrill when we discovered this was the first book in a series.  Pure joy!

Equal Rites (shelf)

Several months ago, I listened to a podcast interview with Neil Gaiman.  In it, Gaiman talked about his long friendship with fellow author Terry Pratchett.  I had never read anything by either author, but I realized I had Pratchett’s Equal Rites on my shelf, so I gave it a go.  This book is part of his series of novels that take place in his made-up Discworld.  For the most part, I enjoyed this read: it was a huge departure from my usual fare.  But I followed up by borrowing the first two Discworld series books from the library, and I just couldn’t get into them.

Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest (shelf)

I bought Teaching the Trees, by Joan Maloof on one of my many travels.  I don’t remember where I bought it, but I do remember seeing it on the shelf and falling in love with the look of the book.  It was tall and narrow, with gorgeous drawings of various tree foliage throughout.  Maloof writes beautifully in this series of natural-history essays.  The topics were wide ranging, but all were enjoyable.  This book is a love letter to nature, and trees in particular.  If you are a nature lover, you’ll love this book.

The Sugar Queen (shelf)

And for something completely different, I pulled Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen off my shelf.  I had read her book Garden Spells many years ago, and at some point, picked up The Sugar Queen.  It had been on my shelf for a good while, so I was pleased to finally read it.  Allen’s books are delightful – that is the best description.  You can easily read them in one sitting.  Nothing too deep or literary here, but a pleasant afternoon escape filled with fun characters and a bit of the supernatural.

Start Finishing (shelf)

Charlie Gilkey’s Start Finishing was another book on my shelf, but only barely.  This was one of the books I received from my family for Christmas, and it only stayed on my shelf a brief time before I dug in.  I adore books about organizing, productivity, and in general, how to make my life function more smoothly.  I was familiar with Gilkey’s Productive Flourishing, a website with downloadable planning sheets.  In fact, I used his productivity system for several months before switching over to a Bullet Journal to keep my act together.

Nevertheless, his methods resonate with me, and I was interested in reading this book.  Do you ever just love the way a book looks?  I mentioned that above with Joan Maloof’s book, but Gilkey’s book was also lovely, albeit in a different way.  Lime green and oversized in hardback, it was a pleasure to hold, look at, and of course, read.  Gilkey’s premise is that we tend to jump into projects, get going, get stuck, and then we fail to finish them.  He offers a complete system for tackling this issue, to get you from frozen to finished.  It’s an excellent read.

The Minimalist Way (audio)

I won’t say much about The Minimalist Way here, because I intend to buy the paperback and hopefully get Erica Layne on my podcast later this year.  I’ll be honest: when I first saw this book come out, I thought it would be fluffy and disappointing.  Remember, I’m very, very well-read in the simple living and minimalism arena, and as a result, it is hard for me to feel impressed by new, or find deeper, insights.

I was so sure I wouldn’t like this book that I resisted buying it until Audible offered it up as a Daily Deal that was so inexpensive, I couldn’t pass it up.  Let me tell you, I was wrong.  The narrator for the audio book was terrific – I listened while running on the treadmill, and the time flew by.  This book turned out to be so much more than I expected: it was deeply thought-provoking.


There you have it, my complete book reading list for January.

Love books?  Do you enjoy book recommendations?  What are you reading? Share below!  Or if you want to start a discussion with some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your thoughts!

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You might also enjoy:

The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker: A Book Review

You Need a Budget, by Jesse Mecham: A Book Review

Financial Freedom, by Grant Sabatier: A Book Review


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