I know I’m behind a few years, but obviously so much has happened in 2020-2021! This is the only time I totally skipped a whole year with nothing new written into my blog.
But let me get down to the books before I digress.
I can proudly say that (with my usual cheating with December graphic novels) I was able to reach my goal of 20 books read in 2019. So here we go:
I do not like reading business books.
80% of business books are articles padded with fluff to fill up 250+ pages. The fluff part is usually the beginning where the author has to give examples showing that his premise worked in his sample of companies. Then there is the good part which is the article, followed by more fluff that talks about how life would be better now that this book is in our hands.
So with that cynical approach, I only read 3 books in 2019 and they were all excellent.
2 of them are classics which especially for business books is not easy. The other is I believe one of the best business books ever written and will become a classic with time.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Ben Horowitz is smart, funny and interesting. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is about his experience in Opsware which seems to be a unique business (enterprise server management) in a unique time (90’s) in a unique place (Silicon Valley). It all sounds irrelevant to businesses in other parts of the world but it is not.
The book is full of useful advice for any business anytime and is also a very entertaining read. Highly recommended. I think I should reread it every now and then.
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie (☆ ☆ ☆)
I liked this book and still gave it 3 stars because I should’ve read it 30 years ago when I was a bit more naive.
His examples and his language are dated but that didn’t bother me much. What did bother me is even though he sounds sincere I just do not buy his genuine love of people. In hindsight, we can see that he was able to set up a business empire on his advice and he’s training more robots to follow his example.
But having said that, his methods here are all perfect and I’m sure they work if one is able to act them out well – or perform the mind tricks with apparent candour.
The Effective Executive – Peter F. Drucker (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Another classic, this time not as sneaky. He’s able to bring logic and analytical thinking to the “science” of management. Might be one of the first people to do so.
There were good tips here, one I liked a lot of measuring what you spend your time on and optimising it.
The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I kept this book on my shelf for more than 20 years waiting for the perfect time to read it the perfect time never came so I decided to get over it.
At one point when the internet was still in its infancy, I had found a website which had detailed reading notes on The Satanic Verses and I printed pages of notes (no pdf at that time) and carried them around with me in an ugly decaying blue plastic folder for 20 years. (I have no idea where they are now and I was not able to read the books with them.)
The Satanic Verses is mired in controversy – but when I read it I realised the people who got offended would have been 10x more offended if they actually read the book. I can’t say why, I still love my blog, but please go ahead and read it.
The story here is not original but Rushdie has merged it with a second (inferior) story of a bunch of pilgrims in India one of whom is dreaming about someone very similar to Prophet Mohammad.
The Arabia part of the book is Rushdie at his best.
Siddartha – Hermann Hesse (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I don’t remember why we liked Hermann Hesse so much while in college. According to my records, I read Steppenwolf (what a great title!) and Demian and do not remember them at all. According to my written notes in it, I read Siddartha too but this time felt like the first time.
The storyline is obvious and there was nothing special about Hesse’s treatment of the Buddha. Having said that, it’s a good read and I hope I remember the book in years to come.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Oscar Wilde is wickedly smart and probably was quite wicked as well for all the right reasons. But he’s a much better playwright.
Still, I would read anything that touches his hand. I like his quote about The Picture of Dorian Gray:
“Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
It’s the favourite book of many people and it’s long but it’s so worth the time to read this masterpiece.
I was scared to start it, thinking it would be difficult with all the 3 Russian names for every character that only appears once in the story – but it was an easy (if long) read and one of the best books I have ever read ever.
I loved the scene when they go hunting and Tolstoy manages to get us into the head of the hunting dog; anybody who loves literature should read Anna Karenina just for that passage.
Like with many classics, I spent some time trying to find which translation to read and ended up getting the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation and it was excellent.
I felt like I had to write a separate blog post on Anna Karenina, but it’s been too long since I’ve read it and I will not be able to make justice. Perhaps I can write one of my short 250 Word pieces on it.
Circe – Madeline Miller (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Speaking of blogging about books, I did manage to write about Circe. (Here it is.) So no need to say much here.
Recently I bought Madeline Miller’s book about Achilles, I have high expectations.
A Gentleman In Moscow – Amor Towles (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Another great book I read in 2019.
This is the perfect lockdown book to feel better, it’s funny, it’s witty and it talks about a Russian aristocrat who is ordered to remain (in lockdown) in Moscow’s luxurious Metropole Hotel after the Bolshevik Revolution, for the rest of his life.
Great characters, flowing prose. This also happens to be my most successful book recommendation to others. 3 people I’ve recommended it have told me that it’s one of the best books they’ve ever read.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (☆ ☆)
I read this because my son was reading it for his English Literature class. I hated the plot, and I hated the schmaltziness. This is a great book to make sure children hate reading and it seems to have worked on my son, unfortunately.
Chess Story – Stefan Zweig (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I wanted to read something about chess, and this was not what I was looking for. But it’s a good story, with an unforgettable plot. And as a novella, it gets straight to the point (Nazizm, solitary confinement, torture, and chess as a saviour!)
Normal People – Sally Rooney (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
After having read the book, I watched the excellent BBC adaptation and the two blur in my mind now. Do both, but I’d suggest you watch the TV series first this time and later enjoy the extra nuances in the book.
Body & Mind
Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment – Robert Wright (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I had decided to learn more about Buddhism in 2019, as you can see 30% of my book choices this year are related to Buddhism in some way. The premise of this book is that a lot of the beliefs in Buddhism can be “proven” to be true with the latest findings in neuroscience. It’s written well and is very convincing. It also happens to be a science book that also teaches one about the central tenets of Buddhism as a secular belief system.
Life With Full Attention: A Practical Course in Mindfulness – Maitreyabandhu (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
As the title says, this is a very practical course in Mindfulness divided into 8 weeks. You can also watch a YouTube series to go along with it, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
I loved it, and I still use many of the practical things I learned, most importantly to be able to be with myself. Secular Buddhism may be the panacea for modern life’s burdens and this is a fabulous introduction.
Memoirs & Biography
Moab Is My Washpot – Stephen Fry (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆) and
The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
Stephen Fry is a great storyteller and his 3 book autobiography is a good entry point to his life’s work. I ran into the book in London Review Bookshop and decided to buy it to understand life in a UK boarding school (in addition to Harry Potter Series, perhaps?)
His writing is as good as his podcasting, I gave the second book 4 stars only because it’s more about his initial foray into acting and I did not know a lot of the references in it, so was a bit lost.
He hates his time at his boarding school, so the choice of the book was not a success but I loved it nevertheless.
Embroideries – Marjane Satrapi (☆ ☆ ☆)
Not as engaging and interesting as her debut, Persepolis. This book is about the strong female characters in her family (which to me is quite familiar ground), so I thought it would be entertaining to read. It wasn’t.
Buddha I – Osamu Tezuka, Buddha II – Osamu Tezuka, Buddha III – Osamu Tezuka (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I do not only read comic books to reach my 20-book goal, but I’m also a huge fan of graphic novels. I was never into the DC vs Marvel stuff but I grew up with Italian fumetti (Blek, Zagor, Mandrake, Mister No etc.), and continued with the French/Belgian masters (Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke etc.) which I still love to read.
Osamu Tazuka is the precursor to Japanese manga. This series reminds me of the Italian comics I loved to read as a boy. It is loosely based on the life of Buddha so it was a double whammy for me both learning more about Buddhism and also reading the master’s masterpiece.
And I was able to reach my 20 book goal on December 31st, 2019!