A tough year, but a good one for books. The best I read were:
Fiction: Jin Yong’s ‘Legends of the Condor Heroes’
Non-Fiction: Alfred Lansing’s ‘Endurance‘
Here’s my list:
1. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
A substantial read this one. Some consider it Dickens’ masterpiece. For me, thoroughly unforgettable — THE best cast of characters I’ve read. There’s a reason people still read Dickens nearly 300 years later, the books are absolutely brilliant! Give yourself 50 pages to acclimate to the style of writing and then enjoy the ride.
2. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
From Bleak House, it was straight onto Oliver Twist. A better known story with a lighter touch. Great characters again with more lively action…’Please sir, I want some more…’
3. Endurance – Alfred Lansing
Written in 59, Lansing’s superb account of Shackleton’s Antarctic odyssey, fell out of print soon after publishing. The space race captured the public’s imagination in the 60s and terrestrial tales lost their lustre. The book was resurrected years later to become a best seller (lansing himself did not live to see the book’s success)
Literally couldn’t put this one down after the first 100 pages or so. An incredible testament to human resilience under the most extreme conditions imaginable. Inspirational.
4. How to fail at almost everything and still win big – Scott Adams
An unconventional guide to life and decision making from the creator of Dilbert. Adams doesn’t always play with a full deck (he was a vocal Trump supporter) but his perspective and principles are worth reading. Lots of value (and humour) here.
5. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life – Donald Miller
A thoughtful enquiry into what it means to live a life of meaning and purpose. Miller frames life as a story and considers the ways our stories can be improved. Made quite an impact on me. Miller is religious but thankfully doesn’t lay it on too thick here.
6. An Irrational Ape: Why Flawed Logic Puts us all at Risk and How Critical Thinking Can Save the World – David Grimes
Another investigation into thinking biases, heuristics and mental models. Slightly heavy in parts but well chosen anecdotes and examples lead the reader through the thinking errors to which we are all prone. This is a fairly new book so many of the case studies are particularly relevant right now.
7. South of the Border, West of the Sun — Haruki Murakami
One of the remaining Murakami titles that I hadn’t read. Tells the story of man’s life focusing in on relationships, destiny and the decisions that make (or break) a life. Many of Murakami’s trademark touches are here but not up there with his best.
8. Sound Man — Glyn Johns
Glyn Johns is the legendary engineer / producer whose canon of work defined the 60s and 70s. He had a hand in many of my all-time favourite albums. Sound Man is a collection of stories and anecdotes written by the man himself. Johns isn’t going to win any literary awards here, but for fans of the Stones, Beatles, Faces, The Band, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin etc etc this is good stuff.
9. Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss
Chris Voss takes the reader through a series of the negotiation tactics and strategies developed by the FBI. This is a practical handbook to negotiation that reveals much about the predictably irrational way we process information and make decisions. Lots to ponder here. Perfect complement to Caldini’s more academic ‘Persuasion’.
It has catapulted me into a fascination of polar exploration. I’m now listening to Edward Fox narrate Captain Scott’s diary on Scribd and about to begin ‘Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Kurlak’….
Onward… to the North!
10. Murder on the orient express – Agatha Christie
Classic whodunnit from the world’s best-selling writer. Enjoyed this as an audiobook performed by the (unbelievable!) Dan Stevens. ★★★★
11. A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes Part 1- Jin Yong
Sensational introduction to the world of wuxia! This genre is huge in China and Jin Yong is the godfather. ‘Legends of the Condor Heroes’ is set around 1100 — a turbulent time in Chinese history with the Jin-Song wars taking place as Genghis Khan armies were building in the north. Unforgettable characters, terrific narrative, humour, historical interest —this is story-telling at its best! There’s four books in this recently translated series, each as good as the next. Set aside a week or two and enjoy! ★★★★★
12. A Bond Undone: Legends of the Condor Heroes Part 2 -Jin Yong ★★★★★
13. A Snake Lies Waiting: Legends of the Condor Heroes Part 3 – Jin Yong ★★★★★
14. A Heart Divided: Legends of the Condor Heroes Part 4 – Jin Yong ★★★★★
15. Klara and the sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
A novel set in the near future with AFs (artificial friends) living among us. Asks what it means to be human. Thought provoking. ★★★☆
16. The buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
Set in a post-Arthurian, medieval Britain where an ancient spell casts a veil over the memory of the people. Slow moving and peculiar in parts. ★★★
17. Remains of the day – Kazuo Ishiguro
A meditation on the purpose of life through the eyes of an English butler. Ishiguro is such a classy writer but after three titles in the row, I’m still not completely sure how much I enjoy reading him. Hmmm..★★★☆
18. Unbroken: Survival. Resilience. Redemption.
This is as good as narrative non-fiction gets. Staggering, heart-breaking, truly inspirational. Still can’t quite believe it. ★★★★★
19. I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan – Alan Partridge
Audiobook narrated by the man himself. Hilarious — loved this. ★★★★☆
20. The Diary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott – Robert Falcon Scoot
Listened to the abridged version narrated in fine fashion by actor Edward Fox. Plan to read more on Scott. ★★★★
21. AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order – Kai-Fu Lee
Some interesting ideas. The author placed himself in the centre of things wherever possible which was tiring by the end. ★★★
22. Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China – Pearl S. Buck.
The Good Earth was a brilliant read. Here Pearl Buck recreates the life of Tzu Hsi, the last Empress of China. Reads like historical fiction more than non-fiction, but this was apparently well researched and is broadly accurate. An intriguing read about a fascinating time in China’s history. ★★★★☆
23. The Game – Neil Strauss
An eye-opening, slightly depressing account of the life of a professional pick up artist. ★★★
24. The E-Myth Revisited: Why most small businesses don’t work – Michael Gerber
Essential reading for anyone starting your own business. This was a big bestseller maybe 20 years ago but the core takeaways remain. There’s plenty of hokey dialogue in the examples but it’s still worthwhile. ★★★★
25. The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by Politics and religion – Jonathan Haidt
In this important follow up to The Coddling of the American Mind’, moral psychologist Haidt looks into the ways our values and intuitions divide us. Dense in places, but generally well-written and accessible to the lay reader.
26. The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A revolutionary guide for living and awakened life – Loch Kelly
Loch Kelly teaches a style of meditation based on the Sutra Mahamudra. Non dual awareness is a tricky one to explore and I need to spend more time with this. There’s a couple of interviews and a series of guided meditations on the ‘Waking Up’ app, for anything interested. ★★★☆
27. The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor – Eddie Jaku
A new release that found its way onto Scribd. Terrifying in parts (as expected) but filled with warmth, real generosity and hope. ★★★★
28. Call of the Wild – Jack London
Picked this up after seeing it mentioned in Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’. Full of nature and well, the WILD. Set in the North American artic— this is an immersive, invigorating read. ★★★★
29. In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park
Perspective-shifting. Thoroughly worth your time. ★★★★☆
30. The Glass Castle – Jeanette Walls
Heartfelt memoir. Similar in some ways to ‘Educated’ but without some of the depth and raw power. ★★★
31. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Set in a global pandemic, this seemed like a suitable read. Started well enough but by the end I was struggling — only just got over the line with this one. ★★☆
32. Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa
Reminiscent of ‘Samurai’s Garden’ with a little less nature. Should appeal to fans of Japanese food. ★★★☆
33. The Ice Master – Jennifer Niven
Terrific retelling of the doomed 1913 voyage of the Karluk. The cast isn’t as likeable as Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ crew but this a gripping read ★★★★☆
34. Killing Floor – Lee Child
Jack Reacher, ground zero — where it all started! Fragmented short sentences make for an unusual style here in Child’s first novel but it kind of works. I’ve read most of the Robert Ludlum’s back catalogue, and this is similar. Classic page-turning thriller in any case. ★★★☆
35. Die Trying – Lee Child
These Reacher books are a bit like crack, hard to stop once you’ve started…but 500 pages later you kind of wonder why! Still solid escapist read. ★★★☆
36. Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes
This 2012 satire bring brings Hitler back to the present day. Stumbled on this while looking for something else on the kindle and ended up reading it all again. Clever, rather brilliant writing. ★★★★☆
37. An astronaut’s guide to life on earth – Chris Hadfield
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield became a household name a few years back when his space videos and version of ‘space oddity’ went viral. Much more detail in this one than I expected — more wisdom and insight as well. Lots to consider here for those navigating life on Earth. ★★★★
38. Everything is f*cked – a story about hope – Mark Manson
This is Mark Manson’s second. More philosophical than the first. F-bombs still abound but don’t let that put you off, Manson is a keenly perceptive writer who will force you to consider new perspectives. ★★★★
39. Wind & Pinball – Haruki Murakami
While these two shorts books are part of the Trilogy of the Rat, Murakami considers his next, The Wild Sheep Case, his first ‘proper’ novel. These are still worth picking up (they come bundled together on kindle) if you’re a fan of Murakami — trademark touches abound — including this, the first Murakami ‘cat encounter’ ..who else could have written this?! ★★★☆
The Rat pulled a smoke from his pocket, smoothed the wrinkles, and lit it.
“I do have a cat, though,” J added.
“She’s getting on, but she’s still someone to talk to.”
“You talk to it?” J nodded several times.
“Yeah, we’ve been together so long we know each other pretty well. I can tell what she’s feeling, and she’s the same with me.”
Cigarette between his lips, the Rat grunted, impressed.
The jukebox clicked, and Wayne Newton gave way to “MacArthur Park.”
“Hey, what do cats think about, anyway?”
“Lots of stuff. Just like you and me.”
“Poor things,” the Rat said, laughing. J laughed too.
“She’s one-armed,” J added after a long pause, rubbing the countertop with his fingertips.
“One-armed?” the Rat asked.
“The cat. She’s a cripple. Four winters ago she came back one day all covered in blood. Her paw was smashed so bad it looked like strawberry jam.”
The Rat set his beer down on the counter and looked square at J.
“What happened?”Pinball, Murakami
40. The Deer and the Cauldron (Book 1)– Jin Yong ★★★☆
Jin Yong’s last offering is considered by many to be his masterpiece — and perhaps it is —but I found the translation to be lacking in comparison to his Condor novels and this series suffered slightly for it. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable romp in the wuxia style.
41. The Deer and the Cauldron (Book 2) – Jin Jong ★★★★
42. The Deer and the Cauldron (Book 3) – Jin Jong ★★★★
43. The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – Siddhartha Mukherjee
Meticulously researched and written with care and empathy. Won a pulitzer. Uncomfortable reading in parts and not for the faint-hearted. ★★★☆
44. All Systems Red – Martha Wells
Tried some science fiction for a change via scribd. The murderbot series is an enjoyable escape and makes one consider a future when AI constructs need to navigate the challenges of a human world. ★★★☆
45. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells ★★★★
46. Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells ★★★☆
47. The Case for Keto – Gary Taubes
Many of the conclusions of Taube’s earlier book, The Case against Sugar, are seen again here albeit in a slightly different presentation. Highlights again the obvious dangers of a diet high in carbohydrates and gives considerable evidence to the practical use of a ketogenic diet in reversing many common diseases.
Here’s to 2022 (yes I know it February!) and a good year of reading.
Reading anything interesting? Let me know.