What I read in 2017

In 2016, I read 13 books and was feeling pretty pleased with myself. But then a friend, Matt Clifford, published a blog post entitled ‘What I read in 2016’.

In the first paragraph he states that he read 47 books in the year. 47??!

This man runs an international startup accelerator, spends a vast amount of time staying on top of current affairs, and is married, among other things.

And here I am with my 13 books. I just sat there thinking: “oh, hell no!”.

So, for 2017 I raised the stakes.

25 books. Hey, it’s a start.

And on December 29th (cutting it close!) I reached my goal.

Here are my highlights of the year:

Fiction

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

This book was great fun. It’s 2044 and the world is stricken with social and economic problems due to a global energy crisis. People spend hours escaping in a virtual reality game.

The story starts with the death of the game’s founder who, in his will, leaves instructions to the world that kicks off a treasure hunt within the game. The winner of the hunt will inherit all of his fortune.

And so we follow the protagonist, Wade Watts, on his journey to be the first to solve the clues and claim the prize. The story is engaging and keeps up a good pace. Furthermore, the book is seeped in 1980’s pop culture references, so if that’s your thing then you’ll definitely geek out over this one.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

This is the first book (of a proposed seven) in the ‘Gentleman Bastard Sequence’ fantasy series. However, this is far from your typical fantasy novel.

The story is about an inventive, enterprising band of thieves, focusing on their leader, Locke Lamora. We follow the stories of their training as they grow up, as well as their current day-to-day cons. However, things start to go wrong when a new, mysterious character threatens the normal order of things.

Again, this book is great fun. I remember laughing out loud in the airport during the opening chapter.

But maybe that’s just me being too keen.

Probably just me.

Still, the characters are excellent. You fall in love with them and Lynch has a real skill at writing dialogue. The conversations come alive and keep you engrossed. On top of that, the plot is well thought-out and the story never stalls.

If you do give this book a go and like what you read, then check out books two and three as well. They’re not as good, but they are enjoyable.

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

What an epic masterpiece this was. Okay, it did end up being too long, but what 900-page book isn’t going to end up being too long?

However, if you are looking for something to commit to or you want to escape from real life for a long while, then choose the four alternative lives of Archie Ferguson as your vehicle.

The book opens with the story of how Archie’s grandfather ended up in America and takes us right up to Archie’s birth. Then things get even more interesting: the book is split into segments and each segment is further divided into four parts. Each part tracks one of the four Archies. Each Archie is characterised by different circumstances in his upbringing. It’s fascinating tracking how this impacts Archie’s outlook on the world, how he approaches relationships with other people, and what he decides to do with his life.

Auster’s writing is accessible and engaging. He knows how to keep up the suspense and just when to give you a little teaser into the future. As an added bonus, given the story is set in the 50s and 60s, there’s a lot of great American social and political history packed in there too.

Non-fiction

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt

As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to put a copy in everyone’s hands. This was a fascinating look at the evolution of moral psychology, particularly relevant and interesting now given how baffled a lot of people were with the results of the UK EU referendum and US presidential elections in 2016.

Haidt proposes some novel, compelling theories and analogies, suggesting that our moral sensibilities are most likened to a tongue with taste buds and that we really don’t have much control at all when it comes to what we ‘choose’ to believe.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

I was blown away by Sapiens. I don’t know how Harari managed to cover such a vast timeline and breadth of topics, and still make it all hang together.

Focusing on three main revolutions — Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific — he talks about how we’ve got to where we are today as a species and where we might end up — and it’s looking pretty dark from where he’s sitting.

If you read any non-fiction in 2018, please let it include these two.

Here are the other 20 books I read, in rough order of enjoyment/recommendation:

  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd — Agatha Christie (Love me my Agatha Christie.)
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman
  • Autumn — Ali Smith
  • The Vegetarian — Han Kang
  • A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 5) — George R. R. Martin
  • The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard Sequence Book 3) — Scott Lynch
  • Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard Sequence Book 2) — Scott Lynch
  • The Giver — Lois Lowry
  • Enduring Love — Ian McEwan
  • Turn The Ship Around! — L. David Marquet (Non-fiction)
  • The Complete Guide to Fasting — Jason Fung, Jimmy Moore (Non-fiction) (Yes, fasting. AMA.)
  • A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 4) — George R. R. Martin
  • Warm Bodies — Isaac Marion
  • American Gods — Neil Gaiman
  • The Memory Artist — Katherine Brabon
  • The Sellout — Paul Beatty
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves — Lynne Truss (Non-fiction)
  • The Phoenix Project — Gene Kim, Kevin Behr (Non-fiction)
  • The Checklist Manifesto — Atul Gawande (Non-fiction)
  • How To Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays — Umberto Eco (Non-fiction) (I’d say not to bother with this one.)

Upping the ante yet again for 2018. 30 books.