2019 in Books — A Year in Review

[First of all, a disclaimer. I wrote this on vacation so it might be a little more poorly edited than you are used to.]

One book, two book, red book, blue book…what a wonderful year it has been for reading! Instead of my normal book review, I thought I would use this last book review of the year to reflect on the year of reading. 2019 proved the old adage that the best investments are in old books and old friends. Since I consider books I’ve read before as old friends, it was a good year indeed!

The best of my re-reads included Murakami Haruki’s Sputnik Sweetheart and Norwegian Wood. My own book “The Underground Novel“, my satirical self-help novel, which I finished last year. Tales from the Irish Club by my old English teacher Lester Goran, the writing of Henry David Thoreau. I haven’t decided what I will re-read next year, but shockingly that might include a biography of Elon Musk.

That brings me to my biggest surprise of the year: a biography of Elon Musk. Though the writing was not a literary masterpiece, the subject matter was enthralling. So much so that I had to reflect on a simple question: Do I love biographies as a genre? It appears I do. One of my favorite books is a biography of Orson Welles. Thus, next year I’ll do everything I can to lay my hands on more biographies.

2019 was also a year of science. I read no less than three science books, my worst subject and enjoyed each of them. One of these books might find it onto my re-read list. One of the difficult things about reading science is that my critical blinkers are often turned off. I’m not sure how to engage these books in book reviews other than to note their value as entertainment, their accessibility, and their ability to motivate me to read other science books. Still, I’m not deterred. I will read at least one science book next year.

2019 was also the year of “The Boys”. I finally finished the comic book series I started when I was in graduate school. Why? I had to. I couldn’t have the series ruined for me by things people were saying about the Amazon series. (I’m sure the Amazon series is fine, but I will always think of the series as something inspired by Bush-era silliness).

The biggest disappointment this year: The big-think books. Nicholas Nassim Taleb is still a dazzling philosopher, but his newest book seems to see him indulge in his worst habits (picking petty fights with people who seem to annoy him on social media) rather than deepening and enriching his philosophy. At this point too, I seemed to have become able to anticipate what will be written in any given chapters (though to his credit he still has some surprises, read the section on — How the Intolerant Minority wins!); 7 Habits of Successful People was a minor bust; The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and Essentialism were good books, but their usefulness for me was limited. I had already gotten their messages a long time ago. Alas, there was not a big “rethink” moment for me in 2019.

Perhaps that means I’m just getting older and my reading is leading to a wiser life. Perhaps the big-think moments are actually in the genre of biography, not big think books. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s it.

Having written all this, what is my takeaway for reading in 2020. Well, less but better. 30 books is fine for 2020 if they are the right ones. Spend more time vetting my books. Don’t just pick up something because it seems convenient at the moment. It’s hard to do, but it will pay off in the end.

“I took the long way to choosing a book,” I will write at the end of 2020, and I was all the better for it.

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