I normally hide Easter eggs or just random comments into my footnotes. And so normally it does not matter if you folk read it or not. But this post was really off the cuff and there are some details that have snuck into the footnotes. So, please do give ’em a peek

Various bar and pit charts with ridiculous statistics on reading via Tom Gauld

courtesy, Tom Gauld

Reading is my one thing.
The thing that most people I know, can say without reservation, that I do.
There’s only been a brief period of time when I did not read12
Nevermind that. It’s all water under the bridge now.

Riffing off Tom’s toon

  • The Unread Book Pile: I should keep track of just how much my unread book pile increases or decreases every year. Who am I kidding? This is never going to happen 😂 But just for kicks, my current unread pile is around four and a half thousand books. Most of these have been lying around in one form or another since the late 90s when I discovered Palm ebooks and the Gutenberg project. I have to get around to converting most of them some day. Which leads me to …
  • Most Considered Authors: The reason I downloaded all of them. Someday, young Jason said, I will read all the classics. Joyce and Proust and Tolstoy and Dickens and JKJ and Keats and Yeats and Donne and Dickinson and Wordsworth and all the Brontës and Newton in Latin and Montaigne along with du Châtelet in French and Epictetus and all the folks who I admired. So I got them all! They were free! And then instead of reading those, I got sucked into sci-fi and fantasy with PKD and Asimov and Moore and Gaiman and GRRM and Peter Watts and Le Guin and Duane and Jemisin. Whither the classics? I’ve barely scratched the surface. Someday! Someday soon! I live in deluded hope :)
  • Non-Fiction: I learnt to skim modern non fiction quite rapidly. If something appeals to me, I make notes, so that my distracted magpie brain remembers. And if something doesn’t, then non fiction is the one genre where I’ve no qualms about dropping the book like a hot potato. The old stuff, is where it’s at. Despite being a product of their times, Andy Grove and Maya Angelou and Anne Lamott still whoop anything modern.
  • Audiobooks: This was the year I finally found my groove, with audiobooks. They helped me in the past when I was so busy, I barely had time to read. But then I would miss my notes. So I couldn’t quite do it with most fiction or non-fiction that I liked and wanted to pay close attention to. Listening and taking notes was joyless. But ever since I switched to History as an audiobook niche, I’ve fallen in love again. While I do listen to history books, most of my history listening this year has been long series on various history podcasts. Anand and Dalrymple’s Empire is outstanding. They began with the Raj and then covered other empires. I loved Persia (which I think still isn’t over) and the Ottomans too. Holland and Sandbrook’s, The Rest is History is pretty neat too. Dan Carlin is the one who blazed this path with Hardcore History. I have no words to describe what he does. Suffice to say, that everytime an episode drops3, the whole internet4 rejoices. The amount of research and work that goes into these is astounding.5 The two series I really enjoyed6 and learnt from were Supernova in the East (Japan in WWII) and my favourite series of them all, Wrath of the Khans (six long episodes on the Mongol Empire). And finally I really wanted to know why English is the way it is. John McWhorter’s, Our Magnificient Bastard Tongue taught me a lot, but Kevin Stroud’s, The History of English is something else. A leisurely walk from antiquity to today7
  • Loans: I never loan a book. I either give them away and buy myself new copies if I miss them; or I never give them away, in the first place. I’ve haven’t lost many books, but the few I have I miss dearly. I miss my first edition of Anthony DeMello’s, The Song of the Bird to this day. It was Daddy’s copy. I was very sentimentally attached to that dead tree.

Riffing Some More

  • I reread quite a bit this year. I’ve begun hankering for some feeling I would get when reading certain books, and so now I keep going back to them. The Little Prince and The Count of Monte Cristo. I went and got a lot of old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews too8 and have been making my way through them slowly. I have close to a baker’s dozen of friends, I call Book Santas. And thanks to one of them who shares my love of comics9 and so I am now the proud owner of the entire Goscinny/Uderzo Asterix run, as well as the gorgous three volume Sandman omnibus. Reading them was so much fun! I reread all the books of A Song of Ice and Fire, because believe it or not, I haven’t watched the TV series. I have been patiently waiting for that grumpy old fart10, to finish the series and so I read the books again to remind myself of where I was in that world. I gave talks after quite a bit, so I went back to Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology and Resonate as well as Scott Schwertly’s Deck ’Em. I reread American Gods, this time as a graphic novel. I surprisingly did not read any Poirot this year, but that probably because I watched the Suchet series and the Branagh movies this year and so that cup was full. I did however read all of Holmes, twice! And what else? Oh yes, I read How to Pronounce Knife and The Overstory. Both of them are so evocative, so raw, so real, so … it feels less like reading and more like experiencing them.

Three lines from the Overstory, always haunt me. They keep popping up at random times.

“I ask you. Has there ever been such a little nation of two?”

“places remember what people forget.”

“It seems most of nature isn’t red in tooth and claw, after all. For one, those species at the base of the living pyramid have neither teeth nor talons. But if trees share their storehouses, then every drop of red must float on a sea of green.”

“How do I recognize this already? Why does this all feel so much like remembering?”

Ok, that’s four. But it is that kind of book. The kind that grabs you and never lets go.

  • I discovered Erotic-Sci-Fi-Opera, courtesy Sarah Hawke and historical couple everything courtesy Minerva Spencer. They were really good. They were really hot. ’Nuff said.
  • Being an enthusiastic Sherlockian, I’m always on the lookout for folk who put their own stamps on Holmes and Watson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar11 writes Mycroft, but they didn’t appeal to me. The TV series led me to the Enola Holmes books, but I haven’t read those yet. Bonnie MacBird is wonderful at it though! I really loved Art in the Blood
  • This was my year of Sanderson. He reminds me a lot of GRRM. Rough, workman like prose, but lovely worlds and lovely people! Tress of the Emerald Sea and Yumi and the Nightmare Painter were my favourites. I’m only through one third of his books. I still have more to enjoy!
  • And finally, I had my mind bent12, by the Locked Tomb. Most folks are really polarised by the books. I’m one who won’t accept a single bad thing about them. They’re really good! I’m really blessed to be living in the age of Muir and Bardugo and Jemisin!
  • Finally, finally, yes, I did read Taleb

In Parting …

I realise that I’m doing a lot of this, because of my battle with the black dog and books help me cope. The sheer quantity will definitely drop off once I get back on the horse, but the reading will continue.

And oh, before I forget, Charlie Munger died this year. And I learnt so much from him. What could a old white billionaire teach a poor, brown kid in his early twenties? Plenty it turned out, over the years.13 While I reread a couple of his biographies and listened to a live podcast this year, I did not read his own Poor Charlie’s Almanack this year. So now you know what I’m going to begin next year with :)
But why just me? You can too. Stripe Press has turned the book into a gorgeous website for everyone to enjoy.

I leave you with this wonderful Gaiman wish for the New Year

I hope you will have a wonderful year,
that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously,
that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it,
that you will be loved and that you will be liked,
and that you will have people to love and to like in return.
And, most importantly
(because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now),
that you will,
when you need to be,
be wise,
and that you will always be kind.

— Neil Gaiman, courtesy The Toymaker’s Journal

P.S. I’ve only written about, what still resonates at the end of the year.
To see the complete list, go here.

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  1. in my twenties when I took someone’s well meant, but ignorant advice and stopped. ↩︎

  2. three years! Oh, the books I could have read 😂 ↩︎

  3. Methinks, this year there were just the two Viking episodes ↩︎

  4. atleast, my corner of it ↩︎

  5. Complement, Empire’s Persian History run, with Carlin’s King of Kings ↩︎

  6. you cannot really “enjoy” them. They are full of all sorts of situations. Lots of them, not good. ↩︎

  7. which I don’t know if he has reached or not. I am still at episode 100, while the podcast is at 178. ↩︎

  8. once again, products of their time. Treat them as such ↩︎

  9. Graphic Novel say you? Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe say I ↩︎

  10. I jest. GRRM is kind and gracious. As a young boy, new to the internet and at a time when authors did reply to their email, it was he, who turned me on to quite a number of other authors. Maurice Druon and Daniel Abraham, to name a couple. Was it him? Or a minion writing on his behalf? It was the 90s and I was 17. I choose to believe it was him :) ↩︎

  11. Yes, that one ↩︎

  12. in a really good way ↩︎

  13. The two best things I learnt? 1. Be a Stoic 2. I can only have an opinion if I can state the opposing arguments better than the people who support it do and 3. Always be learning, so that someday you gain wisdom ↩︎