In late 2011 I ended up at THE digital HQ of book lovers online : Goodreads.com | Earlier, I used to mostly read book reviews on amazon.com before I bought a book. After Goodreads.com, Amazon was history. GR’s iPad app works well too and I like their tagline when the app loads (“Meet your next favorite book“)
GoodReads has a nifty idea I enrolled in: 2012 Reading Challenge. At the start of the year you set yourself a goal and then try hard to hit it. While holding down a job (and in my case, getting married in the same year). Like most stunts on TV and youtube, this is more difficult than it appears, especially if the target is not too low. But unlike those stunts, this one ought to be tried at home. In my case, I aimed at 26 books for 2012 thinking less along the lines of the Nike’s famous old motto and more along the lines of Leo’s encouraging line ”If you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won’t end up with a handful of mud, either.’ 26 was stars for me. Mud was anything less than 10 books read in 2012.
But to my happy surprise, I achieved my goal today. 26 books read in 12 months!
This, while juggling 4 on-going transition projects and getting married in the year (and all the logistics THAT happy project involved). The Key: Try and read wherever and whenever you can. In the loo, in the subway, in the office cafeteria, in bed before sleeping, in bed on a lazy Sunday, when you are eating alone, in the airport lounge and in the flight later, on the bus and even when your niece is climbing you to grab your short hair (true story). A few of the books mentioned here I had on my kindle, on my ipad and a hard copy simultaneously. Because complete access is the key to wining this game. Not having kids to look after helps too.
Last year I managed to read 18 books so 26 read this year feels like a good step up over that non-inconsequential number. The best movies of 2012 were reviewed a few days ago. Below is my hopefully crisp and short summary of the books I was a ‘customer of’ in 2012 and my top 3 recommendation to you from these 26. I have arranged a few by authors and a few by subjects.
My mini-review of – Arguably: Selected Prose by Hitchens, Christopher is this : A collection of superb essays written over the years by the polemic with a prodigious output and a point of view on a range of subjects. All conveniently collected in one place. Some topics will not be familiar to you so you can either choose to educate yourself on it or skip the essay. I found myself doing both over the course of reading these essays. Dense? No doubt. Raises IQ by a notch ? No doubt either. Buy this for when you really really can read with patience. Not an easy book to conquer in one sitting. Or A Holiday. A really dazzling read.
My mini-review of – The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain’s Favorite Fetish by Hitchens, Christopher is this : Hitchens. When his claws are sharp, his appetite for blood is peaking and when he has found a convenient target that riles him, his prose acquires that deft sickle chop that is pleasure to behold from a distance. Old book but still feels fresh and relevant after the recent media swoon over the coming Kate baby. Good read.
My mini-review of – Mortality by Hitchens, Christopher is this : The last days of a legend chronicled. And to the end he was still so lucid. Here he shows the world how to face the grim reaper and not surrender to pathos. An exemplary achievement and read.
My mini-review of – A Walk in the Woods by Bryson, Bill is this : Funny. Educative. Details his walk across some bits of the American Appalachian trail. Book detours, like the author, on some excellent history of the trail and America in general. Absolutely loved this book. Buy it the first chance you get.
My mini-review of – At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bryson, Bill is this : Also funny. Also very educative. While the previous book was on America, At Home is like a mini class on UK and how our modern way of living came to be. As usual and as expected, Bryson is at his curious best here too. This book can be slowly read over a stretch of time as the chapters are self-contained. An excellent read.
My mini-review of – The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Lewis, Michael is this : The 2008 financial collapse is so deftly covered here, you can read this book and not bother with reading anything else. The highest praise I can shower on Lewis, after reading Big Short is that he is David Halberstam’s true heir on the post event analysis. An excellent book written like a taut thriller. Was it not ?.
My mini-review of – Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour by Lewis, Michael is this : Lewis is a genius at the long essay format and here he shows you why. He reviews various places hit by the crisis ( Iceland, Ireland, Greece etc) and how and why it happened there . Some countries are profiled so very deftly. Greece esp was well done. Buy for a long flight out to any of the countries Lewis mentions to better understand it. A very very good book to read almost anywhere.
Military History :
My mini-review of – Constantinople: The Last Great Siege 1453 by Crowley, Roger is this : History is fun to read when it is written this lucidly. The book covers the way the city was conquered and the background to all the players involved. A mini education on the middle ages is inevitable and appreciated. It never gets too dense or boring but does gets repetitive in some parts. Still, I recommend you buy this to start your ‘Well written history‘ section of the bookshelf.
My mini-review of – Empires Of The Sea: The Final Battle For The Mediterranean, 1521-1580 by Crowley, Roger is this : The Middle ages were brutal. Read gripping account on why it was so. Buy this to start your ‘Well written history’ section of the bookshelf
My mini-review of – Postwar: A History Of Europe Since 1945 by Judt, Tony is this : The densest, best modern history book I have read in my life. Some of the prose is sheer genius phrasing (“In Western Europe the same fault-line found many intellectuals on both sides; but enthusiasm for Communism in theory was characteristically present in inverse proportion to direct experience of it in practice”)
My mini-review of – Foundation and Earth (Foundation, #5) by Asimov, Isaac is this : Asimov. Foundation Series. The BEST Sci-Fi In the world. Buy the ENTIRE Foundation series for a long holiday read
My mini-review of – Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1) by Simmons, Dan is this : That story of the priest. Jesus. I had nightmares. Buy this and stop. This is the best of the lot
My mini-review of – The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #2) by Simmons, Dan is this : Sorta OK. Some parts were too stretched and boring. Borrow if you are a total Sci-Fi nerd only
My mini-review of – Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) by Banks, Iain M. is this : Sci-Fi. Was good. Got dreary at some bits but held together. Borrow this one when someone else is done with it
My mini-review of – The Player of Games by Banks, Iain M. is this : The world he spun here sucked me right in. Brilliant Sci-Fi. LOVED IT. Buy it to read a great Sci-Fi book
My mini-review of – Why Your Boss Is Programmed to Be a Dictator by Dhruve, Chetan is this : While his solutions are naïve I think, Dhruve’s collected anecdotes in support of his theory is pretty interesting. Buy it in your quest to be a good boss to your directs or to understand why some bosses are dictators.
My mini-review of – Do the Work by Pressfield, Steven is this : Self Help book. Was Ok. Borrow this one when someone else is done with it
My mini-review of – Your Movie Sucks by Ebert, Roger is this : Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and some of his reviews here show you why he won it. Buy it on a long flight to a international film festival maybe.
My mini-review of – Previous Convictions: Assignments from Here and There by Gill, A.A. is this : I read his Vanity Fair grenade at Dubai. Right after I went and bought this book. Did not disappoint. Acerbic wit and prose. Places covered were just an excuse to demonstrate it I suspect. Still, a good book.
My mini-review of – The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French is this : The most refreshingly honest biography of a flawed genius. Brutally honest and very well researched and written by French. The for me is the gold standard of how someone’s life should be chronicled. Naipaul is without any doubt a great writer and fearless and honest observer of cultures and a pucca absolute ungrateful douchebag in real life. Maybe one flowed from the other. Who knows. Maybe there is a price extracted from the world for Genius. His first wife paid most of THAT bill I suspect. But so did many many of his betrayed friends. But the book is such a brilliant read and I was totally sucked in.
My mini-review of – Pride of Baghdad by Vaughan, Brian K. is this : Brilliantly illustrated book about the fate of a pride of lions in the eponymous city when the US troops move in and bomb Baghdad to the stone age. War is ugly not just for the humans. The ending was so so depressing (Thanks Vivek!). Masochist ? Read it right after you see Lion King for extra punch!
My mini-review of – The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow by Patel, Sanjay is this : I admit I initially ought this one for my 5 year old niece. For the excellent illustrations of Hindu dieties. But adjacent to the said pictures, which she loved by the way, were essays on the said diety. And i am ashamed to admit, although born to Hindu parents, I know little about the mythology of the religion. And it is one batshit crazy mythology. The mini-essays were so very educational and Hindu religion does have some rich characters and mythos. Read it to know the quality weed our ancestors (must have) smoked and the output thereof.
My mini-review of – Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Demick, Barbara is this : Unbelievably riveting account of 6 escapees from that hell that is North Korea. This book slowly builds to a climax when all of them flee the modern penal colony that is North Koren. I dreamt about the characters in this book. I obsessively googled about North Korea after reading this book. For a while I started appreciating all the things I enjoyed of and in the civilized world with renewed rigor. This book had that kind of effect on me. The prose is accessible and doesn’t get preachy or high fartulent. I have read countless thrillers which was not even a tenth as gripping as the tale of these surviors and how they logistically managed to escape the gulag. North Korea. A true shop of horrors. The most memorable line ? “dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea”
My mini-review of – Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead by Brockway, Robert is this : The author covers the various real genuine things in the modern world that can kill us. Does a good job too. Helps that his tone is funny but als the math and science behind it is not. Helps you realize how fragile it all is.
My mini-review of – Maybe Baby: 28 Essays by Leibovich, Lori is this : Essay by mostly women writers on the decision to have a baby. or not. Some advise yes, some no and some are ambivalent. A few essays in this compendium were good. Some were Meh and not a few felt like the authors were just posers trying to sound deep and smart(but failing). One essay by Kathryn Harrison about her grandmother was truly well written. Recommended to any couple trying to make an informed decision about having babies.
My mini-review of – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) by Larsson, Stieg is this : Probably my only mistake in trusting good-reads reviews. I was mislead and this is by a long margin one of the shittiest book I have read in a while. What a boring prodding lame book. The language is wooden, dead as a dodo and I could not give a shit about the various listless characters and was half hoping the killer got them. If I wasn’t on the 2012 RC, I would have thrown this one away way way before I finished it. Read it to only know what a shit
fiction book reads like. On second thoughts, just avoid.
THE Best Book I read in 2012 was (drum roll)
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
So if you are going on a holiday and decide to buy and read only 3 books from these 26 books above, I would heartily recommend these three :
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
- Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour by Michael Lewis
- A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
And here is my fave picture of me browsing books! Taken by the talented wife, in Madrid, in summer this year. When the snap was taken she was my girlfriend (and in less than 100 hours of this picture being taken, she was my fiancée! I am NOT implying a connection….but…)