Book Reading List 2020

Here are some highlights from my reading from 2020, though certainly the books were not all published in 2020.

Because I didn't produce this list for 2019 I will cheat and include a few from the second half of the year in this list. I get my reading list from several sources: firsthand recommendations from friends and family, occasionally the NY Review of Books, Bill Gates' Notes, Goodreads (I have a fairly new account there), along with random chance. Goodreads deserves extra mention as it has many reviews, and one can subscribe to various author blogs, including Bill Gates' notes. Looking at this reading list I see many books that I encountered first through the films and TV show treatments. Invariably the books were better than the TV or films were, though in many cases the films and TV shows were still quite good.

I try and read 52 books/year as goal (Goodreads has a yearly reading challenge that is fun). One per week is a good number, but books vary quite a bit on how long they take to read. Short, trashy novels can be tossed off quickly, while serious, lengthy nonfiction might take a month. The average is the key, while maintaining some level of genre diversity. At the same time, we all read much more than books these days. The web and various pdfs may double or triple (or more) actual reading. Still, a book is a unique and precious thing.

Below are not all the books I've read, just those I recommend, or as in the case of books later in a series, the first of the series I can recommend. And while books take time, many things take up our time that need not. This calculator can show where to find the time needed to do a bit of reading.

Business

These are three books I am finishing up or just recently finished. All are quite good. The E-Myth Revisited writing is a bit tortured (there is a The Goal-like narrative that moves along the main points, but it is too heavy-handed and self-congratulatory). Nevertheless, what it teaches is worth the slog. Traction and Who have straightforward writing and are excellent.

  • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber (how to build a company by design)
  • Traction by Gino Wickman (how to grow a company, focus on building a management team)
  • Who by Geoff Smart & Randy Street (how to hire)

Historical Fiction

I read the the last few and final books in the Saxon Chronicles / Last Kingdom series (made into a TV series, which is good as well). Best to start at the beginning with these:

  • The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (first of the Saxon Chronicles, set in Northern England, 866 C.E.)

Literature

I read some classics of literature I hadn't read before, and these three stood out as worthwhile:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (long but worth the read, revenge takes a while)
  • A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene (masterful)
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (riveting, tragic)

For new literature I read:

  • The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer (moving and heartfelt)

Nonfiction

  • The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova (a journalist learns to play poker and win at the highest levels, and reflects on how doing that impacts her personality, insightful)
  • The Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker (how much of what we are and do is genetic)
  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling (how what we know about the world is wrong, especially when it comes to the developing world, eye-opening)
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Not just on writing but biographical, very interesting. I don't read Stephen King or horror in general. This is really about thinking, writing and life.)
  • Range by David Epstein (why breadth matters and how generalists win in a world of specialists)
  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry (Understand the 2020 pandemic through the 1918 pandemic)
  • War and Peace and War by Peter Turchin (How history works, and empires are created and dissolved)
  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (It's not what you think, and is much more vital)

Mystery / Detective / Crime

  • Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Basis of the TV series Killing Eve)
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (first of Dexter series and basis of the TV Series Dexter 2006-2013)
  • The Dead American by Jake Needham (First of the Samuel Tay detective novels)

I'm in the middle of the Dexter book series now. The first two were similar but the third was quite different. The fourth is getting a little tiresome, so I'll likely stop soon, but the first two are worth the read. Codename Villanelle and the two following novellas are quite good. The TV series Killing Eve is good as well. I've read all the Samuel Tay books so far, ending with Mongkok Station. The first one is the best place to start.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

With the exception of the two Faber books (which are unrelated), each of the following are a part of a series. I've read most or all in each of these series but here only list the first in each series. With The Expanse there are quite a few novellas which fit in between the different main works, and it is worth tracking down the books before starting the series, in order to have some kind of continuity.

  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells (First in murderbot diaries)
  • Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (basis of TV series Altered Carbon)
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (first in Expanse series, basis of TV series)
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber (adapted into an atrocious film that is completely worth missing)
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Kindle and Kobo Ebook Readers

Ebook readers are superior to tablets and computer screens (less eye strain), and also physical books (smaller, lighter, and with side-lit, can read in the dark). I've got an original Kindle Paperwhite (8 years old) and before that had a Kindle Keyboard ebook reader. These are great. If I were to buy a new one, it would be a choice between the latest Paperwhite and the Kobo Aura, both are backlit 6" ebook readers. For a more expensive device, with warm lights, lighter, and a 7" screen the Kindle Oasis and Kobo Libra are similar. The Libra is less expensive but does not have the Amazon Kindle integration, which is valuable. I'll probably have to go with a Kindle Oasis for my next ereader.