• April Zilg

Top 9 of 2020 BOOKS!!

Updated: Apr 13


For the last few years, I took the #TopNine trend from Instagram, and instead of sharing 9 posts that were popular from my feed, I share my #Top9 Favorite Books from the year. In 2020, I read a few more books than usual, and it took me a while to get around to creating the list. I may come back and edit my "reacaps" in the future, because I really did put this together rather quickly. However, in the interest in progress over perfection, I'm going to go ahead and click publish on this today. If you want to talk about any of the books, please don't hesitate to shoot me an email. Head over to my Amazon Affiliate page and see the top 9 from years past.


If you're preparing for an ultra-distance paddle event, I've found one of the best ways to pass the long, aerobic base miles is with audiobooks. For this, I use Audible. Not only are you relaxing into your on-water miles (helping build the base properly, preventing you from going TOO hard, you should be going just hard enough when listening to books... and still able to focus on technique!!), but you're getting smarter!! Use your time wisely. Listen to books about things you've always wanted to know, books to improve your time at work, with family, or on a new hobby. This is your special time, make it count.

  1. Peak Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, By Anders Ericsson I don’t think I’ve ever loved a book more. Sadly, while I was listening to this one via audiobook while training for ultra-distance paddling, Anders Ericsson passed away. I was very sad to hear the news, but glad that his research and resulting thoughts on the subject of Peak performance will always be around for all to read. There were vast sections of this book that sounded more like he was reminding me about something I already knew. Some of his interpretations of the results from his years of research may be considered controversial, but I feel he said exactly what needed to be said. What he found through years of research rung true with what I’ve found through the years of my own transformation. There isn't any "gift" or "talent".. there is only long hours of hard work and deliberate, intentional practice. Not many people know this, but when I started out paddling, it was existential. I wanted to see if you did all the “secrets” and went all in on something mind and body, could you achieve it? I wanted to do a thought experiment to test whether or not we create our own lives; our own destinies. I'm just going to leave my thoughts at that, and let you pick up the book and develop your own conclusions.

  2. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl I’m often at a loss of words when trying to write anything about this book. I don’t know what has taken me so long to read it. As I mentioned about Peak - I often grow weary of people and their excuses. Viktor Frankl makes it even more abundantly clear that life can be pretty f****ed up and you can still stay positive and in essence, define your own reality even in the most dire circumstances. What separates the people who are capable of handling situations like being in a concentration camp from those who crumble? Some may argue resilience, Frankl would argue it is meaning. In either case, if you have trouble finding the light in the darkness sometimes, maybe a glimpse inside of Frankl's mind can guide you, what worked for him may help you too.

  3. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport This book is hard to not call #1 in my list, because as much as I loved the works by Erisson and Frankl, they were theoretical. In Peak, there was a lot of deep thinking and "Ah-Ha" moments, but how to put what he was saying into every day practice was lacking. Deep Work really helped get me focused on my tasks, my path, and my mission. If Peak was proof that we can all achieve our goals and dreams by working on them with deliberate practice, Deep Work was how to put that deliberate practice into, well, practice. I found the actionable steps from Deep Work to be intuitive and simple, even if they are somewhat difficult to make into habits at first. Don't read Peak without reading Deep Work if you're looking to make some big moves in your career or life.

  4. The Complete Wilderness Paddler, Davidson and Rugge This book is a must read for anyone that’s ever looking to undergo a long distance paddle expedition!! Sure, it’s not exactly needed if you’re going to register for an event with a pre-determined route that has been run many times over, but why wouldn’t you want to know all you could about reading maps, using a compass, understanding water, and learning more about traditional paddle craft. I would argue this is the last good paddle book ever published. Maybe it's time for a new one?

  5. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick In case I ever falter on my view that mindless consumerism of the widely exploited resources of the world isn't a good thing, this book would surely bring me back to my senses. In a way, I felt empathy for the men stuck on that little boat, and it really gave an insight into the survivability of the human body (and depending on mindset, the human mind). On the other hand, I screamed “Team Whale” over a dozen times throughout the book. I’d be lying if I wasn’t rooting for the real-life Moby Dick more often than I rooted for the men on the ship... not sure what that says about me, but I don't really care. The men on the whale ships were hunting a species to extinction so they could light oil lamps. The human race has made some very poor decisions, and this was one of them. Even if you don't want to be on "Team Whale!" you could maybe take this book, and use it as a primer to examine what products you use and how they impact the environment, animal species, or human welfare.

  6. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vandercam This book caused me to do a time inventory and I found a few ways that I could streamline my processes. The information she presents is nothing new, but when you pair this book with Peak and Deep Work, you get even more actionable steps to planning out and achieving your goals. I used Laura’s time blocking with Cal’s deep-work, full-focus blocks and have come out with a new level of productivity. One of the standout comments from this book that I have to share, though, is her blatant remark about everything you do being a choice. I remember where I was and what I was doing when she said, something along th lines of (and I'm paraphrasing) “If you say you don’t have time to play with your kids because of your job, that’s not true. Don’t lie to yourself or others. You’re making that choice.” All too often, I hear people say things like I want to be fit, or lean, or fast, but I don’t have time. Your time is your choice. No doubt, we don’t all have time to do everything but, the things you want most you will make time for. It's important to know that she or I aren't casting blame or saying you're a bad human for spending time working instead of with your kids, or bingeing netflix instead of reading or exercising... we're merely saying that IT IS YOUR CHOICE. Don't lie to yourself that it isn't a choice. Moreover, we're not addressing people in life situations where choice has been taken away, that is beyond the scope of this book and time blocking.

  7. Unforgiving Minute by Ron Clarke This book has been out of print for quite some time, and I finally came across a copy in the UK by way of AbeBooks. I enjoyed Deena Castor’s autobiography, and thought it would be interesting to get inside the mind of another athlete at the top of their game. I love to read accounts first-hand from athletes about their athletic pursuits and how it fits into the rest of their lives. Never underestimate a good account of athleticism in motivating you to go for your own goals, or to get a little dose of reality when it comes to life balance or how you think athletes may be "making it work."

  8. The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli This is just a book where each chapter outlines one of the logical fallacies. If you're going to pay attention to politics, listen to other people, or form your own opinions in this life - you may want a better working awareness of some of the mistakes your brain may make! It's a dry read/listen, but one that will make you a better listener, speaker, and thinker - no doubt. I have a little hypothesis I'm working on after reading this book and numerous other blogs on logical fallacies, and I can't wait to share it with anyone who will listen - stay tuned.

  9. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson Spoiler alert: I loved this book because he didn’t accomplish the goal he set out for. And that’s OK. One of the things I try to convey to people, is that you don’t have to “win,” to succeed. You don’t have to be number one to learn valuable life lessons and become a better human being in the pursuit. You don’t have to accomplish the goal to perfection to enjoy the journey and have an epic story to tell. No matter what it is you have in mind, go for it. You can be amazing at what you do, have fun, and live a fulfilling life even if you fall short of the original goal. You’ll regret it more if you don’t try. THE REST of the books read that didn't make the TOP of the list:

  10. The Art of Resilience

  11. The Marshmallow Test

  12. The Wedge

  13. When: The scientific secrets of perfect timing

  14. BushCraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival

  15. Healthy intelligent training

  16. Fast after 50

  17. Everybody Lies

  18. You are Awesome

  19. Liminal Thinking

  20. You are a badass

  21. The craving mind

  22. Talking to Strangers

  23. Be Expert with Map and Compass

  24. Tortilla Flat

  25. The ONE thing

  26. A Mind of Her Own

  27. How to write a Dynamite Scene

  28. Caffeine

  29. The 10x Rule

  30. Crush It



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