For an obsessive compulsive reader like myself, every year begins – among others – with a goal to read certain amount of books of certain genres. However during the year, this goal gets derailed by my impulsive reading of a flashy new novel or a non-fiction topic that I find attractive as I find myself pressing the download button on my Kindle.
A change in 2018 was that I was able to reach my Goodreads goal of “Read 20 Books” with the last minute addition of the new Asterix that came out in an opportune time (began and finished on 29th of December!)
My business reading in 2018 was about issues we have at work. During such a horrendous year, I did not have the luxury of reading for pleasure or widening my horizons.
Turn the Ship Around – L. David Marquet (☆ ☆ ☆)
This is about empowering people and the brilliant personal and business results one can get from it. David Marquet is a US Navy officer who took over a failing submarine and “turned it around” by sharing responsibility with the staff. The results are splendid but the writing is a bit dry.
Still a good example how a hierarchical place like the US Navy can empower people and create leaders rather than followers at every level.
2 Second Lean – Paul A. Akers (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
This free-to-download book written by a friend of my brother’s talks about the author’s experience with his implementation of lean in his company. While repetitive and self congratulatory, it’s a nice primer into lean and has excellent points that can be applied everywhere.
Watch out for Paul’s Trump-like speech mannerisms.
Built to Last – James C. Collins (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Jim Collins & Jerry Porras, two Stanford Business School professors, take two sets of competing companies from various industries; one spectacular, one not so much (such as P&G vs Colgate) and compare their cultures to discover what made the difference. All of the companies are over 100 years old. Each one has outperformed the market by a factor of 15 since 1926.
The answer boils down not to great leaders or excellent products/ideas but to big dreams, communicated clearly and pounded into the heads of the employees with a quirky cult like culture. Also, to not be shy to try things out and keep what works along the way and chuck what does not.
It’s a great book, but such books are only useful if one takes the time to implement the learnings. A big to-do for 2019.
I read some great books this year and we started a new book club to read only the Classics.
Doppler – Erlend Loe (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Doppler is about a reclusive Norwegian man (aren’t they all?) who decides to leave everyone including his pregnant wife and retreat to the forest around his hometown to live by himself. He ends up befriending a baby elk that he calls Doppler.
To me, reading about people in liberal, serene, prosperous, and socially supportive countries is like reading about Martians in a sci-fi book. It’s enlightening and it induces jealousy for a life that’s visible yet out-of-reach.
I did not love Doppler per se but the feeling of reading it every night was like brushing one’s teeth: closing the book and going to bed made me feel refreshed and ready to tackle another day in my somewhat chaotic life.
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Neil Gaiman’s books have a fairytale feel to them and this one was no different. A good story told in clear yet powerful prose that made me appreciate the talents of a masterful storyteller.
The Graveyard Book is about a child brought up by the inhabitants of an ancient graveyard. It’s a good vs evil story with a modern backdrop. I recommended the book to my 12-yr-old and he’s enjoying it as much as I did.
Just as I was finishing the book, I ended up attending the funeral of a dear friend in an ancient London cemetery. I later found out that this cemetery was the inspiration for The Graveyard Book. It makes me feel better that Ayhan is in good hands.
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
The story of lovers who decide to immigrate out of their home country (Pakistan? Syria?) for a better future. The magical realist author allows them to use portals in lieu of planes and passports but they end up in refugee camps and ghettoes where they drift apart after having exposed themselves to the alien cultures of their temporary new homes.
One interesting idea was how when one stays in place for a long time, the environment around them changes so much that it’s similar to moving somewhere else. So true for dynamic countries such as ours.
Having loved his book Moth Smoke years ago, I had higher expectations. But still this sad book has some great sentences:
Saeed’s father felt as he walked back to campus and his son drove back to work that he had made a mistake with his career, that he should have done something else with his life, because then he might have had the money to send Saeed abroad. Perhaps he had been selfish, his notion of helping the youth and the country through teaching and research merely an expression of vanity, and the far more decent path would have been to pursue wealth at all costs.
The Golden House – Salman Rushdie (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Yalin began reading The Golden House and told me to read it concurrently so that we could discuss it over WhatsApp messages, sort of like an online book club.
I always love a Salman Rushdie book, and The Golden House was no exception with its quirky, larger-than-life characters; intense conflict involving ethnicity and religion; and history mixed with magical realism. The main theme was, as expected, around taking one’s roots and trying to move them from the Indian subcontinent to the West.
Given the current situation in Turkey, I’m constantly pondering uprooting, and also seeing friends do it. The Golden House was an excellent meditation on my simmering thoughts related to the issue – but it was not nearly as depressing as Exit West:
I feel relieved. Why relieved? I don’t need to be here anymore. And how do you feel about feeling relieved? That you’re pleased to be leaving? Isn’t that a strange feeling? Not really. Why? Because I’ve come to believe in the total mutability of the self. That under the pressures of one’s life one can simply cease to be who one was and be just the person that one has become. I don’t agree. Our whole bodies change all the time. Our hair, our skin, everything. During the course of seven-year cycles every cell that makes us up is replaced by another cell. Every seven years we are one hundred percent not who we were. Why should this not also be the case with the self. It’s pretty much seven years since I left this place. I’m different now.
And this part about Trump’s election could be applied to many other elections we are familiar with:
How does one live amongst one’s fellow countrymen and countrywomen when you don’t know which of them is numbered amongst the sixty-million-plus who brought the horror to power, when you can’t tell who should be counted among the ninety-million-plus who shrugged and stayed home, or when your fellow Americans tell you that knowing things is elitist and they hate elites, and all you have ever had is your mind and you were brought up to believe in the loveliness of knowledge, not that knowledge-is-power nonsense but knowledge is beauty, and then all of that, education, art, music, film, becomes a reason for being loathed, and the creature out of Spiritus Mundi rises up and slouches toward Washington, D.C., to be born.
The only reason I did not give the book 5 stars is Rushdie’s ramblings about obscure films that take up too much space and dilute the story.
As usual with Rushdie books, plase read on a Kindle so that a dictionary is handy.
Tenth of December – George Saunders (☆ ☆ ☆)
I was dying to read George Saunders’ new Booker prize winning book about Abraham Lincoln but could not stand the thought of reading about one’s child passing away so this was a good chance to get an intro into his writing.
This collection of short stories is patchy with one excellent story about experiments on consciousness and a lot of others that I did not understand enough to get absorbed in. Maybe it’s me.
Aşka İnanmayanlar İçin Aşk Öyküleri – Hikmet Hükümenoğlu (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I decided to write this blog post in English because many of these books are not available in Turkish, but in this case it is the opposite. Maybe this will serve as an impetus for him to get this book translated soon!
Hikmet’s new book of short stories fares much better than George Saunders’ collection. I especially enjoyed two stories: one about a perfectionist chef who cooks cakes made to order and another about a driver’s love of a car – I cannot say more without a spoiler – both of which made a lasting impression on me.
In this case, I had trouble getting my head around the opening and closing stories which were disturbing and related in a way that bound the book together.
Zorba The Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
This novel was a recommendation by a self proclaimed non-fiction person. It also fit my goal of reading more about Greece while frequently visiting the Greek islands and Western Thrace during the summer. And it was a perfect choice for a stressed out perfectionist like yours truly, with never-ending goals, plans and guilt for not having done enough.
Zorba is the carefree main character who believes that life is to be enjoyed to the fullest even though humans (except women!) are vile creatures and this can only be done by experience (as opposed to theory).
“What can you say? So far as I know, Your Excellency has never gone hungry, never killed, never stolen, never committed adultery. So, what can you know about the world? Immature mind, inexperienced body,” he murmured with obvious scorn. I felt ashamed of my hands that had never labored, of my pale face, my inexperienced life.
The bookish narrator inherits land in a remote village of the island of Crete that he plans to extract lignite from and hires Zorba who happens to know about mining – among other things (playing and dancing to music, drinking, cooking and eating, dealing with women, patriotism, religion, death, treating subordinates and socialism, and of course how to live a fulfilling life).
The narrator (“boss”) is in the process of writing a book about Buddhism and is mesmerized by Zorba who embodies buddhist principles such as concentrating on now but with a practical twist of an artisan without having read a book in his life.
One point of the Zorba the Greek was that we should not read too many books but try to learn from life itself directly, but I have learned quite a bit from Zorba.
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Catch 22 had been sitting on my bookshelf for more than 20 years, the paperback was already worn from being moved houses 6 times. I read it during the summer on the beach – and it was not your typical beach reading especially towards the end when Joseph Heller talks more about the horrors of war and very nicely crafted characters tend to disappear one by one. It was also quite long with a lot of characters and a non-linear plot which made it difficult to follow so I ended up adding my own glossary of characters on an empty page (highly recommended).
Catch 22 was very funny and is a great read for anyone who has been involved in any sort of hierarchical organization be it an army, the government or a company where a chain of command is being used to coerce “followers” to obey an incompetent leadership. (It was interesting to read it right after Turn the Ship Around.)
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
This was the first book of our new book club which focuses solely on books that can stand the passing of time.
All of us had heard good things about The Master and Margarita but none of us had the courage to read it on our own so it was a good book to start with in a book club.
The Master and Margarita is delightful magic realist book about a few months when the devil decides to wreak havoc in Stalin’s Moscow. He targets the intelligentsia sucking up to the authorities and is partly autobiographical – thus had to be printed years after it was written.
There were similarities to Catch-22 making fun of authority, bureaucracy and in this case oppressive socialism and how people bend and plead for favors and privileges and some excellent characters with beautiful names (Koroviev, Behemoth!).
When done reading make sure to watch The Death of Stalin, funniest film I saw in 2018 and highly appropriate.
Asterix and the Chariot Race – Jean-Yves Ferri (☆ ☆ ☆)
This book saved my ass so that I was able to reach my goal of 20 books in 2018 two days before 31st of December.
It was fun here and there but either I have grown out of Asterix or the new author (and translator) are not up to par with late Goscinny, Uderzo and Anthea Bell.
Choose Yourself – James Altucher (☆ ☆ ☆)
I don’t remember much from this book even though James Altucher is very repetitive. I had read a lot of his blog posts in the past 10 years so it was a waste of time to read this book.
It might make sense if you are new to his style – there are some smart things he says about being able to say no and becoming more goal oriented.
Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing The Way We Live and Work – Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
This book is about the state of flow (made famous by the unpronounceable Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) which is when someone gets so immersed in work (perhaps when deciphering an awesome Excel spreadsheet) that the concept of time dissolves in consciousness.
The writers explain what flow is, how great it is and later explore what people do to achieve it without the work being necessarily inductive to a flow state.
This is a well written and interesting book, but as usual with non-fiction books it could probably fit in a lengthy blog post.
Sade – Begüm Başoğlu, Ege Erim (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
After running into Begüm one day she mentioned her book to me and was kind enough to send me a copy (this too is only in Turkish). I have read a lot about these issues: productivity, cleaning up, saying no. Essentially, essentialism for the modern person.
This is a good summary of all I had read and got me thinking about some of the stuff I have neglected lately. Recommended for those in search of lost time.
Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces – Michael Chabon (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
A short book by one of my favorite writers on a subject very dear to me: fatherhood. The book is a collection of short pieces about spending time with kids, with aging parents, being a man vs being a dick.
Chabon writes beautifully, I should read more of his work.
Springfield Confidential – Mike Reiss (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I ran into this book in the tiny Amazon Bookstore in New York City where they only have the highest rated books on amazon.com.
I had missed some of the bookshops in the city: Strand Books, McNally Jackson, even the Barnes & Noble on Union Square, but I was curious about the Amazon Bookstore and wanted to see if it’s any different from the others. I found it to be pleasantly surprising with a small selection of curated books by wisdom of crowds and ran into this book in the Humor section which I would not usually browse.
Springfield Confidential is about the creation and writing of The Simpsons, for me the best sitcom, still on after all these years.
The only downside was that my dream job of being a writer for The Simpsons was shattered when I found out how they select writers and what a painstaking endeavor it is to write the episodes. I’m not worthy!
As a budding (!) travel writer I’m supposed to read a lot about travel and I try to do so before I go somewhere I’m really interested in. Usually, I prefer to read broadly about a place as opposed to detailed travel books such as these two below. But I got lucky this year since I loved them both.
Four Seasons in Rome – Anthony Derr (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I chose Rome as the location of our first father-son retreat this past spring. I had some work to do in Rome and my 11-yr-old son flew over to spend a long weekend with me there. We had a packed itinerary of a weekend for a boy of his age but I also wanted to read some more about Rome, a city I plan to know more intimately in the future.
This book is about a year Anthony Derr spent in Rome when his twin boys were still infants and is about parenting as much as it is about the city itself.
Reading a travel guide before visiting an interesting place is essential but it never gives one the feeling of actually living in a city. This book was a nice start for the beginning of my expertise of Rome as part of a larger project which includes novels, history and films about the city and I hope to repeat the father-son trip with my younger son next year.
Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece – Patrick Leigh Fermor (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
As a bibliophile I have some favorite bookshops in London as well. Hatchards is one of the stops in the city centre (along with Foyles). Thinking about the many trips to Greece we have had lately and plan to have in the coming years, I walked around the travel writing section when I saw 2 books by Patrick Leigh Fermor both about his travels there. I took them to the cash register and the gentleman there told me he had read this one and loved it so I left the other and walked out with Roumeli.
This book is about very specific parts of Northern Greece which I probably will never visit but it was still a pleasure to read it. I especially enjoyed the section on the Romios (Byzantine) vs Hellene identity clash (and how similar it is to Turkish Ottoman vs Republican debate). It’s very handy to make fun of my patriotic Greek friends (aren’t they all?)
His other book is about the Peloponnese, and I plan to write about our week there in the summer of 2017 – I will need to read it beforehand.