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30 Books to read in 2015

Capital_in_the_Twenty-First_Century_(front_cover)This post and exercise was inspired by James’ post Picking 52 Books to Read in 2015.

My main goal is to improve on 2014 (i.e. > 21) and reverse the downward trend of the last 3 years. A secondary goal is to read more non-fiction books. For this purpose I’ve compiled a list of 30 books, 18 of which are non-fiction while the remaining 12 are fiction.

A byproduct of this exercise is that it has forced me to think more about what i’m reading instead of taking the mostly impulsive decision after finishing a book. Also, while doing the exercise i had a look at my shelves and Kindle Cloud and added many books which i already own but have not yet read. I have highlighted these in brown.

I’m happy with what I’ve chosen for fiction. After the disappointing 2014 experience, this year I’ve shown preference towards the more established books instead of new publications.

My to-read list is on Goodreads and when i went through the non-fiction books in order to make a selection i realised that i didn’t have that many to choose from and so i decided to start looking for more options outside my to-read list.

Now i think it’s a better list with my natural preference towards historical books but i have also thrown in some which are a bit different such as Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing., Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs and A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul. Many of these books are on the long side so i’m aware that the aim of reading 18 might be optimistic.

Regardless of how it goes i have to admit that i enjoyed doing this!

Something i would like to do next in 2015 is to start a small book club with 1-2 friends but that’s another post!

NON-FICTION BOOK  Author
1 Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs David Nutt
2 Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. Robert P. Smith
3 Puskas on Puskas Ferenc Puskas
4 Capital in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty
5 The Gate Francois Bizot
6 War from the Ground Up Emile Simpson
7 Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power Steve Coll
8 King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa Adam Hochschild
9 A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul Fyodor Dostoyevski
10 The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger Marc Levinson
11 Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II John W. Dower
12 Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Incident and the Illusion of Safety Eric Schlosser
13 Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation Blake J. Harris
14 Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam Frances Fitzgerald
15 Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective Karen Barkey
16 Lawrence in Arabia: Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East Scott Anderson
17 Not Even My Name: A True Story Thea Halo
18 Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire David Remnick
FICTION BOOK  Author
1 Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides
2 Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
3 Small Island Andrea Levy
4 Johnny Got His Gun Dalton Trumbo
5 All the King’s Men Robert P. Warren
6 The Ace of Skulls Chris Wooding
7 The Orphan Master’s Son Adam Johnson
8 The Catcher in the Rye J.D Salinger
9 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
10 The Fall Albert Camus
11 Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder
12 Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevski
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Books

 

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Books in 2014

26 in 2012

23 in 2013

21 in 2014

Is this a trend?

I hope it’s not but it’s clear that other activities are taking up more of my time. I’m not sure how i feel about that. Books are the only thing that have always been a part of me. In bad times and in good times.

What is also clear is that i need to be more careful when choosing what to read, particularly when it comes to fiction. Far too many of the books I read this year proved to be disappointing. Only one fiction book, The Secret Garden, is on my Must Read list. I will need to do better “research” when making a decision of what to read. Also, it’s probably best to avoid recent publications and focus more on older publications. A question that i will be making myself whenever i decide on a book to read is why? Why this book?

For example.

I’m currently re-reading The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. Why? Because i loved it the first time and it’s even better the second time. Even though the events described take place in the 19th century they still apply today.

I’ve also started reading Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, by Francis Fukuyama. Why? Because i think the world is going through a lot of changes, especially Europe. Democracy as we know it is proving to be unable to provide the answers to the problems we are facing. Sometimes it’s even part of the problem.

I realise my answers are a bit lame. But they will do for now.

Only 6 out of the 21 books were non-fiction which is surprising to see as i seem to be getting more out of them. Granted, two of them were epic but i still could have read more.

It’s a shame that i only thought about my reading at the end of the year instead of during. That can change.

STATS

  • 6 out of 21 books are non-fiction
  • 1 out of 21 was an audio book
  • 1 out of 21 was written by a female author
  • 1 out of 21 was a re-read

MUST READ

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The Secret Garden, by Frances Hogson Burnett

This is the only fiction book to make it to the top. I read this twice, once with my niece in Greek and then the original English version on my own. Even in the poorly translated Greek version the message of this book comes through. The joy for life. A must read for children and adults alike.

A Life too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng

A heart wrenching book about the life of the German goalkeeper, Robert Enke. He struggled with depression and in spite of the help from his family and friends he committed suicide at the prime of his life. If i was doing a Book of the Year award this would probably have been it. This is a very personal choice for me. Tremendous.

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, by Daniel Yergin

Now with the tumbling of oil prices in 2014 the timing of this epic book was perfect. What we are seeing now has happened many, many times before. It helps putting events into perspective.

Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Munro Clark

This book does exactly what it says on the tin. It does not cover the war but what led to it and whether it could have been prevented. A war i knew, and still do, very little about.

I also re-read The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (Audio Book). Still a brilliant book.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

JackalanofficerandaspyrobertharrisGorky-Parkthe-quiet-american-penguin-classicsAll QuietGardenInto the Wild

  • The Iron Jackal (Tales of the Ketty Jay *3), by Chris WoodingReminds me of Firefly the TV show. I love this book series. Makes me feel i’m a teenager when i’m reading it. 
  • An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris
  • Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith – Re-read after around 20 years. A superb thriller.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • The Garden of Evening Mists, by Twan Eng Tan – Close to being a Must Read
  • Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer (non-fiction)

RECOMMENDED

  • A Bracelet of Willow and Copper, by Garrett Alley
  • Thousand Cranes, by Yasunari Kawabata

INDIFFERENT/AVOID

  • Russian Folk Tales, by Ivan Iakovlevich Bilibin
  • Far North, by Marcel Theroux
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore
  • Beauty and Sadness, by Yasunari Kawabata
  • The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vascuez
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (non-fiction)
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (non-fiction)
 
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Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Books

 

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The Secret Garden (2)

The-Secret-Garden_Inga-Moore_cover-artSlowly but surely, Sophia 6.7 and I, are making progress.

She loves it!

I’ve also started reading the original text in english. There is no doubt that it’s a richer reading experience. For example, in the original a few of the characters speak with Yorkshire accents which gives you a greater sense of place. The greek translation makes no such distinction. Also, some parts have been completely removed making it a shorter read. I don’t know for what purpose. Maybe shorter means more accessible?

It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled.

The book itself does feel “old”, for example how it deals with race, but it’s such a wonderful and enjoyable read. While it’s a story which deals with the loss of parents, the death of a wife, a loveless early childhood and loneliness it’s also a book filled with so much optimism and joy for life.

Mary, Sophia and I have finally entered The Secret Garden and we are about to meet young Dickon!

 

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Books

 

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The Secret Garden (children books)

SecretGarden8Two weeks ago we (finally) managed to start reading The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnet, together with S6.7. After 2 chapters the book is proving to be quite demanding for the both of us.

When S6.7 has a query about a word it’s actually difficult for me to provide her with a good answer due to my own limitations in the greek language. My first instinct is to simply translate the word to english which of course is not very helpful to S6.7….

Also, she has a lot of questions of the “Why” and “What” nature. Normally, i don’t really mind those but the questions here are about things i don’t feel i’m equipped to answer. It’s quite a dense book and even after only 2 chapters there’s a lot going on.

For example, Mary’s parents are neglecting their daughter and several times it’s mentioned that nobody loves her while she did not love anyone and treated people badly.

“Why did her mother neglect her?” asks S6.7. “Why doesn’t anyone love her?”

For the latter i could scrape an answer such as,

“….because she did not feel loved by her parents, she reacted and treated everyone else badly. She grew up being spoiled and only caring about herself. You need to love and treat people well in order for others to love you.”

That still leaves question number 1, the source of Mary’s early loveless childhood, unanswered. Simply tell her that some people are too selfish and prefer to party than take an interest in their children? That just because you have children it does not necessarily mean that you are a good parent? Is that something she can understand?

Then her parents die of cholera.

S6.7: “What is cholera?”

Me: “It’s a disease. They died because of an illness.”

However, to her cholera is too abstract, like a word i made up and to be perfectly honest a disease i don’t know that much about apart from that it’s no longer as great of a threat as it used to be. I could not answer her next question, “What does it do to you?”. But this only motivates me to find out and tell her which is what i promised her i would do (and i did).

This only sidesteps another issue of the next question which i simply cannot give her a good enough answer.

“Why did both her parents die?”.

Is she finding it difficult to understand that someone can grow up with no parents and experience so much grief? I don’t know. The death question shows its face again in Chapter 2 as we learn about Mr Craven’s history (her widowed uncle).

I want to give her answers. There aren’t any that are universally absolute of course. However, the idea is that they are enough to provoke and stimulate her thinking in order to do her own “research” and reach her own conclusions. The thinking process is much more important  to me than the actual conclusions.

I don’t feel that i’m doing that well at the moment and it’s because i don’t know how. I never really thought about things in that way before. Adults have more or less settled on their thinking of things and discussions between us are usually of one trying to impose his own beliefs on another person. With S6.7, we are talking about someone who simply doesn’t know the world but actually wants to know more about it and she has not already decided on what and how she is supposed to think.

When we started reading books with S6.7 i thought it would be a way for us to spend time together and entertain ourselves but in a way that we would both feel engaged. However, due to the nature of this book it seems that it can’t be as simple as that. No, it’s much more.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Books

 

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Summer books (2)

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Yeap, the blogger Tiffany was spot on when she said that the best time to read long and slow books is in the summer.

I managed to finish The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (928 pages) in less than two months (July 2 to August 25). This compares to the 8+ months i spent on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Considering that i also read A Bracelet of Willow and Copper this was a great decision.

Summer now belongs to the long books! or is it the other way around?! :-S

I should also mention that The Prize is an absolutely brilliant book which i highly recommend.

The plan now was to read an Officer and a Spy next but i ended up starting The Power of Habit. I had given it as a gift to a friend a month ago and i wanted to be able to talk about it. I’m around 10% in though and it’s not exactly the book i thought it would be. It”s basically just stories or “anecdotes” so far. Similar to what you would find in a newspaper or magazine article which is disappointing. I expected something along the lines of Thinking Fast and Slow but it does not seem to be that kind of book. Anyway, it’s short and easy to read so i will keep at it.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2014 in Books

 

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Summer books

It took me 7 months to read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The Goodreads log indicates that it was “Read from 4 February 2013 to 22 August, 2013”. The physical book is almost 1,300 pages long. It was a monumental task and it took its toll on me to be honest. Granted, i was reading other (very short) books at the same time whenever i needed a break but the time logged is more or less accurate.

A couple of weeks ago i read this post, In the Whirled: Summer’s a great time for slow books, where the author claims that summer is the best time not for the easy going, page turners but for the more demanding books instead.

My summer goal is in direct contrast to what we typically think of as the “beach read,” those stories light and insubstantial as cotton candy. The beach read is quick, superficial and flimsy enough that we don’t care about lodging sand and seashells between its pages.

There is certainly a place for the beach read, but summer seems a perfect space for the patience and quiet that must be given to slower books. Unharried by school schedules, we have the time to make our way through the meandering stories of old.

Even though i don’t have to concern myself with “school schedules” at any time of the year i’m going to have the same summer goal as her. She was talking about fiction but i’m going to apply it to non-fiction.

I was between two options broadly covering the same topic, oil.

The “short” one was Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (704 pages) by Steve Coll, the writer of the brilliant Ghost Wars: History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2011. The sample i read also indicated that the writing style would also be more accessible than my second option.

In the end i went with the more challenging second book, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Power and Money (928 pages) by Daniel Yergin. This one approaches the subject of oil from a more global perspective although still with a US centric view.

At the same time, i’m going to complement this book with the children books i’m reading with my niece. So, i will still have my breaks.

With the e-reader the logistics of carrying around and reading this kind of book become irrelevant so i’m curious to see how this turns out in the end. Could summer really be the best time for longer, slower books? I’m about to find out.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2014 in Books

 

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Childrens’ books (1)

This is a wonderful world.

I started reading books with my sister’s eldest, let’s call her S6, and i did some research on childrens’ books. It’s much easier to find resources online for translations of non-greek books unfortunately. For our first book though i went to Public but i did not find that many options which caught my eye. There was an abundance of books with very little story and lots of illustrations. Even for children of ages 6-9. I was about to give up when i found a translation of Russian Folk Tales. There are about 8-9 stories in there with a beautiful illustration every 3-4 pages. After reading 3-4 of pages of the first story i grabbed it (and paid for it of course…).

Our experience with it was not great.

First of all the stories were quite similar to one another. Beautiful woman, czar, witch, marriage, After our 3rd story and our third straight “love at first sight” and marriage even S6 was frustrated.

“They got married again?!” she said.

A mistake we may have made is that we went through 4 of these in one sitting and that might not be the way to ago about it. Even so, they felt quite limited and old fashioned. Especially for young girls. As if the only fitting end to a fairy tale is finding a prince and getting married. Also the lady protagonist was usually a lady in distress figure and not a dynamic, independent woman. Maybe i should have expected this when i bought it.

Another thing that struck me was how dark these tales are. They had people dying and cut to pieces. Poems about boiling water in cauldrons and sharpening the knives. A witch’s fence was made out of human skulls and bones. Pairs of hands (with no bodies) doing chores around the house…. So those needed to be censored along the way with one or two slip ups on my part…..

In the end however she still enjoyed it and i have to say so did i. A lot. It’s quite different to read something aloud to/with someone and discuss things compared to the solitary experience.

After visiting a couple of more bookshops i got The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet . It was not my first choice (Where the Wild Things Are and Charlotte’s Web were) but it was still highly recommended. This is definitely a step up for us length and quality wise. Can’t wait!

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Books

 

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