Photo by James Tarbotton on Unsplash

One of my resolutions for 2017 was to take reading seriously and I was quite proud of my achievement at the end of the year. I read 12.5k pages across 31 books, out of which I rated 15 with at least 4 stars, and I strongly disliked only 5 books. I achieved my german goal (I read 12 books in german) but there were a number of books I read just because of the language and didn’t enjoy the story at all. I also read many fiction books and neglected nonfiction.

My goals for 2018 were somewhat more ambitious.

  1. Read more pages (>12.5k)
  2. Read more books in german (>12)
  3. Read more nonfiction (>9)
  4. Read some classic books (>0)

And this is what I achieved:

  1. Read more pages (17.6k > 12.5k)
  2. Read more books in german (6 < 12)
  3. Read more nonfiction (12 > 9)
  4. Read some classic books (11)

I’m extremely happy with my performance throughout the year, especially these last months I’ve sped up my reading subtantially. I achieved 3/4 goals, the only thing I’m a little disappointed with is german, but it’s difficult to find books I want to read in german. One strategy that seems to have worked in the last quarter is reading classics in german.

Month-by-month summary of my progress:

January

~2k pages, quite a productive month. I had long commute times and I used that time to read. The highlights were: A column of fire by Ken Follett and 1984 by George Orwell.

February

~400 pages barely, since my accommodation situation changed. Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg and half of A mind at play, a biography about Claude Shannon, which took me a whole month to read.

March

~500 pages, second half of A mind at play and Millennium’s 5th book The girl who takes an eye for an eye. I’m a big fan of the Millennium saga and of Lisbeth Salander but the 4th and 5th books weren’t as good as expected.

April

~1.2k pages, productive month again. Highlights were Homo deus by Yuval Noah Harari and The three body problem by Cixin Liu. Homo Deus was excellent but I didn’t find it as thought-provoking as Sapiens. And I wanted to read The dark forest so I reread TTBP, amazing story.

May

~800 pages, I read The dark forest in German, it took me the whole month. Not a good idea, I didn’t understand the nuances.

June

~1.8k pages, I read the last two Harry Potter books in German, this was a good decision. I enjoyed them thorougly. Also read Red Rising, which wasn’t for me.

July

~800 pages, accommodation situation changed again. I caught up with books I’d gotten as gifts, Memoirs of a Geisha and El coronel no tiene quien le escriba.

August

~1.7k pages, I caught up with forgotten books and also read Astrophysics for people in a hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The underground railroad, which I wanted to like but didn’t. I didn’t once feel empathy for any of the characters.

September

~600 pages, busy month. Highlights were Animal Farm by George Orwell, which made it to the top5 and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood which again, I tried to like, I should have liked it, but I didn’t.

October

~1.3k pages. Highlight was Mindhunter by John Douglas, which I gave 4 stars because of the writing but nonetheless has stayed with me and still will for a long time, and has earned its spot in the top5 of the year.

November

~3.5k pages, I don’t think I’ve ever read that much. Not having many shows to watch definitely helps. There were a number of 5-star books, such as Death’s End by Cixin Liu (top5), Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Endurance by Scott Kelly (top5) and This is how it always is by Laurie Frankel (also top5). I still don’t know how I read that much and that fast in November. Then again, I read some *very* good books.

December

~2.8k pages, highlights were The light between oceans by M.L. Stedman and 21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari.

Top5 of the year

1. Endurance, by Scott Kelly

As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut and explore the depths of space, but turns out I don’t have the brains and there’s no way I meet the physical requirements. Well. I can still read other people’s stories and experiences. I have watched my fair share of science fiction movies, but few spend time on astronauts, their training, journey and daily life. That’s why I was so excited when I learnt about this book.

There are indeed many pages spent on telling Kelly’s rising from a mediocre student through military academy, aviation training, to a NASA astronaut. His telling of his year in space is simply astonishing. The details of the daily struggles, how long it takes to repair a machine when there’s no gravity, the CO2 and the Hydra machine… are not at all what we see in movies, where everything is clean and comfortable and women have perfect hair.

I would’ve liked to read more about his failures, he talks about failed conversations with the NASA, failed marriage with his ex-wife, but I didn’t sense that he admits to having done anything wrong, ever. He is definitely an incredibly accomplished individual, highly intelligent and well, an astronaut. But I refuse to believe he makes no mistakes. I would’ve also liked if he spent more time talking about loneliness and isolation, lack of human contact and banal things we take for granted but he couldn’t do for a year.

2. Mindhunter, by John Douglas

In this case I didn’t want to be a serial murderer or a criminal profiler. I watched Mindhunter in Netflix last year, loved its psychology side and added the book to my to-read list with the hope of reading it soon. Alas, my list is terribly long and I moved on to other topics. Some months later, I watched The silence of the lambs and while I was in the topic I decided to close the circle of behavioral science.

This was not an easy read, I like to read before going to sleep and I had many nightmares regarding all kinds of mutilation and disfigurements. Douglas’ work is nonetheless captivating, I have always been interested in psychology and “hacking” people and even though this is criminal profiling, I have practiced his logic in the book examples as well as in real life murders and my guesses have been somewhat accurate. While most people just gossip about such murders, it is interesting to have an alternative way of approaching the topic.

3. This is how it always is, by Laurie Frankel

Best fiction book I read all year. I haven’t gotten invested in characters so much in a long time, I cheered and rooted for them and hoped their lives would get better. It was difficult to read how after doing everything right, being in the right environment, still they weren’t happy.

Claude is the youngest of 5 siblings in a big family of 7. When he starts developing his personality he realizes he likes dresses and playing with makeup. The parents don’t make much of it until he starts going to school with dresses but some drama about which bathroom Claude/Poppy should use and other transphobic experiences precipitate the move to a more liberal city, whereupon the teachers of the new school advise to announce that Poppy is a girl and make no mention about his actual body. Living with this lie makes life difficult for everyone, even though every individual is trying to help in their own way. Eventually, the secret bursts and a much bigger drama materializes.

It is heartbreaking to watch how, despite all best intentions, support from the family and siblings, life is still hell for Claude/Poppy. At a young age, they mention they like dresses and people are asking them to define their sexual identity. They don’t know, but their answer defines which bathroom they are supposed to use, which playdates and sleepovers they are allowed to attend and many other matters.

4. Death’s end, by Cixin Liu

Amazing end for one of the best trilogies I have ever read. Simply mind-blowing. Turns out that Trisolarans weren’t humanity’s biggest threat. The dimension reduction attack got me speechless for days.

5. Animal farm, by George Orwell

Very gripping story about animals in a farm. How a perfectly equal society degrades into different meanings of equality.

All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.

A visual summary of 2018 in books:

Goals for 2019

I don’t think it’s humanely possible for me to read more than 51 books, even though this year many books were extremely short. I have a suspicion my top number of pages is 20k/year, I want to give reading its space in my free time but I also wish to do other things and I believe with the optimal regularity I can achieve these 20k pages.

My somewhat ambitious goals for 2019:

  1. Read 20k pages
  2. Read 10 books in basque
  3. Read 15 nonfiction books
  4. Read 10 classics

Computerlinguistics master student trying to keep up with my reading list and an intermediate hipster. ane.bz