As with every year my goal is always to make it to 50 books but life gets in the way and while I haven’t quite managed to check off that goal yet (49 was the closest I got in 2015). Last year I managed to wrap up 36 books; a lovely hodgepodge of fiction and nonfiction. Here’s list of my top reads from last year:
1. The Subtle Art of not giving a F*cuck
This one makes it to the top of the list because it is such an essential read. While none of the ideas in the book are particularly revolutionary, they do provide a much needed revalidation of the basic tenets of surviving in the modern world. We are constantly surrounded by so much BS that we need to learn to put aside and live life without chasing after mind-numbing soul-depleting pursuits grounded in unhealthy success metrics. I recommend this book for anyone who is feeling inadequate and frustrated with pursuing happiness as moving target.
2. Astrophysics for people in a hurry
If you are a nerd at heart but don’t have the time or patience to grind through the complicated mathematics and theoretical physics, pick up really any of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s books. Astrophysics for people in a hurry is succinct and beautifully written for anyone awestruck by the glory of the seemingly infinite universe. My favorite line from the book: “We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun”.
3. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Don’t let the title fool you- this book isn’t just about some morbid fascination with the macabre (okay maybe a little bit). Death is as much a part of the human experience as being alive and what happens to our bodies after consciousness departs is, unsurprisingly, a riveting subject. Mary Roach covers the biological, social and cultural aspects of the exciting life of a cadaver and it’s quite the page turner. Who knew we are often just as useful in death, if not more, as we can be in life. It would definitely make you question what you want happening to your body post mortem.
4. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Ever wondered what would happen if you took a swim in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool? or if a bullet with the density of a neutron star were fired from a handgun at the Earth’s surface, would the Earth be destroyed? You know the simple existential questions in life. Well then this book is for you. Enough said.
5. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
If you’ve read Devil in the White City, you are also going to love this gem from Erik Larson (If you haven’t, you should probably read that one first because that is a fantastic book! I mean H.H. Holmes? the World Fair? So good). In the Garden of Beasts looks at the Hitler era from the perspective of the US ambassador to Berlin at the time. It takes a in-depth look at the thoughts, sentiments and follies of the people on the periphery of the third reich and what living in that time meant even as a protected diplomat’s family. I commend the extensive research that must have gone into putting together this epic piece of writing.
I put this book last on the non fiction list because it veers off slightly from the just fun random topics genre. While it’s pretty much a cult classic when it comes to folks from the product development world, it’s also a great read for just about anyone. I think at its core product development is simple problem solving with tangible results that shape the real world. Inspired does a fantastic job of identifying the problem solving methodology needed to build products that create value without being superfluous and open up a world of future possibilities. On a more technical level in goes into structures of product organizations that drive optimization and what those roles signify in the life cycle of the product.
1. The Alienist
Set in the 1896 New York, the Alienist a story about catching a serial killer. It’s a fantastic thriller but the elements of the book I appreciated the most is that it is very well written and the attention to detail that sets the stage for this story is impeccable. The tv adaption of this book is coming out this month and lets just say I have seriously high expectations and hopefully they’ll do justice to the book.
2. Fahrenheit 451
I am a big fan of dystopian novels (think Brave New World or 1984) and I fell in love with the premise of Fahrenheit 451. What does happen to a world devoid of books? When art, literature and poetry are taken away from a society? When prose becomes heresy? It’s definitely not a world I want to be a part of. The wonderful thing about science fiction, specifically the dystopian genre, is that it extrapolates seemingly innocuous behaviour in the present to what it can do to our society as a whole, if gone unchecked.
3. Of Mice and Men
Not sure why I had not read this book before because I feel like most everyone has already. It is such a human story in how it addresses friendship and the cruelty of people. The ending brings tears to my eyes everytime.
4. The Bluest Eye
I started reading this book many years ago and didn’t really get in to it at the time. So it sat there gathering dust on my virtual Google Play bookshelf until earlier this year. I’ve noticed that certain stories resonate more with me as I’m grown as a person and I have a far greater appreciation for stories about the human condition. The Bluest Eye is beautiful in that it captures the innocence of youth and incomprehension of adult woes. Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks with terrible parents and being judged for factors far beyond their control, children can still find courage within their untainted hearts and minds.
I’ve grown up watching Hitchcock movies and falling in love with Noir. Marnie is certainly not the oldest book on this list but I did manage to get my hands on an original first print hardcover from the library (it still had the original slot for the library card at the back). It was a quaint experience carefully turning the somewhat brittle pages of a 50 + year old book. The movie adaption of the book is excellent but I highly recommend reading the original.
6. The Vegetarian
The final book on the list is one I am still not entirely sure how I feel about. It’s deeply emotional story and set in a cultural context I no next to little about. My husband is half Korean and I know food is important part of Korean culture but the way this book weaves the cultural significance of eating habits and being a woman in the story is beyond fascinating. I wish I was able to read the original instead of the english translation because I’m sure some of the literary nuances were lost to me. I can’t honestly say I completely understood it but I do still recommend it as a bit of out-of-the box reading.