in commentary, reading

Last year, I read exactly one book. It took me three months to finish and I knew by the end of the year that this was a problem. So, I decided to give myself a goal for 2017 – read twenty books.

Of course, I failed. I read 13 books and 4 comics. Adding those comics brought my total to 17, bringing me closer to my goal, but that was such a shameful act that I didn’t add any other comics I read to my list. The goal, after all, was to read full-length books.

But it felt good. Not being able to beat the goal felt good for the first time, because it meant that I aspired to something, that I achieved something over what I had done last year. It took me about one month to read each book. I am a slow reader (basically because I’m a recovering one) and life, and other things often came in the way. 😊

Somewhere on my blog is a draft of a list of all the books I’ve ever read. I keep it as a draft because it feels like something that should not be set in stone. It should be kept open, waiting to receive new names to grow the list. But for this post, I’d like to take the books I read and describe the books, or my thoughts around those books, in a few sentences. Bear with me…

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five – This is what I spent January with. It’s a sad tale of how absurd wars are and how oddly they affect people. As I was reading it, I kept remembering Catch-22 and how it too showed the absurdity of war. When SLF merged the war and it’s post-war abducted-by-aliens narrative, things went for a toss, but in a seamless way, because if you believe in war, it’s not going to take you a giant leap to believe in aliens.
  2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Ah, Bernadette! This was one of the most exciting novels I’ve ever read! The characters are crazy and the storyline is just brilliantly absurd. Recently, when I was in a bookshop, I told the owner, Dion, that I’d read this book and marveled at the beautiful way Seattle is portrayed in it. If you want to know Seattle from the eyes of Maria Semple, read this book. If you want to laugh at the absurd life of one Bernadette Fox, read this book!
  3. The Golden Compass – I’ve wanted to read this book since a long time, ever since I saw the movie. From what I remember, the movie was only half the book and reading this completed the story for me to a certain level. Perhaps I’ll go back some day and finish the series.
  4. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – This book has been sitting on my shelf since a long time and I really just wanted to read something of GRRM and this was perfect. The stories are nice and tie into the main storyline very well. There’s just so much in this world to explore!
  5. Prisoners of Geography – This is only one of two non-fiction books I’ve read all year and I’m okay with that. It’s a great book, with loads of amazing stories and insight into why countries act the way they do with their neighbors. But reading it, I also realized that I’m not a non-fiction reader. I prefer fiction, even fictionalized accounts of events such as James Michener’s Poland and the book my wife is reading right now – The Other Einstein.
  6. Marvel 1602 – I mentioned before that I won’t include 4 comics in the list. Those comics are Archies rebooted with new style of artwork and a more mature theme. Even so, they’re still my childhood Archie comics. Marvel 1602 is the brainchild of Neil Gaiman and he is one of the most fantastical authors I’ve read in a while. His ability to create strangeness out of the ordinary is almost infinite! Then, give him the Marvel universe and let his mind run wild and this is the result. It’s more story than comic (so I guess it’s a graphic novel?) and well deserving to sit here on this list, even though it got a little tiresome and predictable in some areas.
  7. We have no idea – When Jorge Cham (from the famous PhD comics) said that his new book was coming out, I knew I had to have it. It took me a while to get around to this book, but it was a delight. It gets a little tiresome towards the end simply because there are so many amazing questions that get asked in every single page that one can spend an eternity trying to answer them! In some sections, I sat with a notebook and just kept writing down ideas that poured in. If you ever want to write science fiction, read this book and let your imagination run wild on it!
  8. The Unknown Errors of our Lives – This collection of short stories is one of the saddest I’ve ever read. Right from the first one, Chitra paints this picture of life in the US that’s shiny, repugnant, restrictive, celebratory, and very, very dark. There’s sadness in almost every page. It took me a while to recover from this book. But would I recommend it? Absolutely. If you want to know the struggles of Indians in the US, or are going through those yourself and want to read some foresight, some hindsight, and something that you can relate to, read this book. Borrow it from me! I’d love to get it off my shelves for a while so it can’t haunt me!
  9. Origin – Oh yes, Dan Brown came out with a novel and I read it and it’s awesome! I love Brown for his unabashed self-promotion. It’s very clear that he’s the hero of his novels and his character has a style that will sometimes make you want to throw the book away! But once you get past the first few chapters, you stop bothering with the absurd brand references (I don’t even know these brands!) and focus on the one burning question – what the heck was the discovery?!
  10. Why you will marry the wrong person – I’m being cheeky by adding this book to this list. It’s more of an article, extended into a book. I paid good money for the article and for good reason – other than telling us all off for marrying people so blindly (“so you dated for a few years? Do you know why and how your other half is mad? Is their madness compatible with your madness?”), this book also introduces this amazing idea that we should submit to extensive and rigorous psychological testing to help us find the right person to marry. I guess Tinder doesn’t cut it for the authors of this book.
  11. Embers – Gimme a book about the Old World and I’ll enjoy it like a well aged piece of cheese. Embers is poignant and beautiful. I discovered it from a Stanford book club RSS feed and Sandor Marai’s turn-of-the-century Hungarian world is bleak and colorful at the same time. It has layers upon layers and as the story unfolds in to the night, it opens up into this wonderful life lived by these two old men and asks the one important question we will all ask in our old age – “was it worth it?”
  12. The Shape of Ideas –  Grant Snider is one of my favorite web comic authors and his book is fun and inspiring and a great way to pull oneself out of a fug! I read this book once but whenever I’m feeling down or have writer’s block, I’ll read one odd page from this book and it’ll help me get right back on track!
  13. Dandelions – Finally. This book was an excellent way to end the year, simply because it is an unfinished book. The author, Yasunari Kawabata, committed suicide before he completed this book. I really enjoyed the characters’ constant back and forth, almost a bickering, which leads them to reveal the story to us in peels of an onion, slowly, and surprisingly. One of the things I loved was that the story had no preface, but a postface, explaining some things about the book. When I was younger, my Dad once told me how he’s read every book in his studies from end to end, including all prefaces and notes from the editors, authors, etc. and he recommended that I do that. Well, Dad, I find that to be very wearisome because most of these authors just drone on about random things unrelating to the concepts or the stories I’m trying to read! When I read Plato’s Apology a few years ago, it was a forty page book with a fourteen page introduction! That was horrifying to me! Two pages in, I abandoned the droning of the translators and commentators and went straight to the text! It felt so gratifying to be reading the actual words I came to read instead of reading some random person’s boring analyses of the life and times of Plato.

There you have it. These are the books I read and these are my thoughts on them. If you want to look at my Goodreads year in review, here it is. It’s a nice feature Goodreads has. It tells me that I read a total of 3,644 pages. Those were some good pages!

If you’ve made it so far, I’d like to talk about something. Over the last two years, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s epic tome, War and Peace. I started some time last year and this year, I’ve moved the needle from 50% 0f the book to 77%. It’s really not one book. It’s fifteen books and two epilogues, each with twenty to twenty-five chapters of ridiculous length. If I listen to my wife, I should be able to introduce these sub-books to the Goodreads listing, immediately putting me over my stated goal of twenty books, and then some. But I won’t do that. This book is more of a research project and relaxation system rolled into one. Whenever I’ve had a long day at work, I uncurl with a few pages of War and Peace and love how I’m transported to this amazing world where Napoleon has invaded Russia and hopes to conquer and get out. God only help these buffoons. If only they had “Prisoners of Geography”, they’d understand that Russia is not a simple thing to be quickly run over and forgotten. Russia is a crazy world, with one foot firmly in Asia and the other well in Europe. Russia is Old World and New. Russia is a sleeping dragon better left undisturbed. I read and laugh with the characters, cry with them, get surprised when they die or turn up alive. I am living this book out over the years and when I do finish it, which I am slated to in 2018, I’ll mark it as completed and either start on some other similarly long story, or restart this book, so I can once again live this beautiful book through.

That was my 2017 in review. I truly enjoyed failing at my reading challenge. It was a pleasure to read so many amazing books and feel this immense sense of achievement at having read so much, even if it’s a drop in the bucket of how many books get published every year!

Now, I’m off. Time to start the next book. I’m going to begin 2018 reading Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which I picked up from the Bellevue Amazon bookstore, after overhearing someone talk about what an interesting book it is! After that, it’s on to a few books I acquired at a charming little bookstore in an magical place called Sunriver over in Oregon. But that’s a story for another time. 😊

Photo by Kilkennycat

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  1. Thank you for sharing. I’ll have to check some of these out! Where’d You Go, Bernadette sounds fantastic and right up my alley.