A few years ago I challenged myself to read 100 books per year. We are now at the end of 2019 and this is what I read, and what I recommend per category. Keep in mind many of these books did not come out in 2019. I will also mention a few from previous years as this is the first time I do this, and it would be a shame to omit forever some of the best books I’ve ever read. Disclaimer: all winners are selected by a jury of my many personalities, and are subject to my mood changes, cravings, and life circumstances at the time of reading. You have been warned. Here goes!
Science & Technology
This year the cake goes to Humble Pi. For some reason, British people have a fascination with “bad science”, “funny science”, and “layman’s terms science”. I may have a British gene. Seriously, different authors reuse the same examples over and over again, but I always find hidden gems in between. This was a close match, with Freakonomics coming as a close second, if only by writing style. If you want to learn more about statistics, math, economics, architecture, and computer science in a somewhat unorthodox way without being bored to death I highly recommend both books.
Most of the time, the maths in our everyday lives works quietly behind the scenes. Until someone forgets to carry a ‘1’ and a bridge collapses, a plane drops out of the sky or a building rocks when its resonant frequency matches a gym class leaping to Snap’s 1990 hit I’ve Got The Power. This book is all about what happens when maths goes wrong in the real world. Exploring and explaining a litany of near-misses and mishaps involving the internet, big data, elections, street signs, lotteries and the Roman empire, Matt Parker shows us the bizarre ways maths trips us all up, and what this reveals about its essential place in our world. Mathematics doesn’t have good ‘people skills’, but we would all be better off, he argues, if we saw it as a practical ally. By making maths our friend, we can use it to our advantage and learn from its pitfalls.
King Leopold’s Ghost
This book is probably the greatest genocidal event in history and it passed largely (if not totally) unnoticed. When we think of the tragedies of recent times, one would never imagine (or recall) 10 million people disappearing without a trace. This is one of the most absurdly untold stories I’ve ever read, and it is not a fun read by any account. Moreover, as insane as this sounds, King Leopold was largely hailed as a humanitarian hero for bringing civilization to the Congo region. This is also a notable mention because I had the privilege to visit Belgium and saw firsthand the effects of his reign. This should be taught in history lessons!
In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million–all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian.
This is a tough one. If you like crime documentaries, this is a great (fiction) book. It is however a mixed-feelings type of read. It is accompanied by a freaking podcast, and if you listen to the audio book, it evokes a “War of the Worlds” deja vu, where you could probably believe it is a real account. I won’t say much, but you can read my review and the synopsis below.
Sadie’s little sister Mattie has just been found dead. Sadie had been raising Mattie after their drug-addict mom abandoned them, so when her sister’s body is recovered, she feels the need to find the murderer and kill him.
When Sadie disappears to find the killer, the story is covered by the news and a radio personality, West McCray, hears it and wants to help find Sadie. He starts a podcast and interviews people in the hope it will help find her before is too late.
This book has an accompanying (and amazing) podcast, you can start listening to it right now (link here).
Faster, Stronger, and More Beautiful
Just like fantasy, this one is hard to chose from since it is one of my favorite categories (and I am also super picky). Form a dead-space-like pulp novel/series, to the psychedelic nonsense Borne from the author of the other psychedelic screen adaptation Annihilation, or the extremely convoluted and hard to follow Altered Carbon. I feel like I did not read any exceptional sci-fi this year, but if I had to pick I would choose Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. “For fans of television shows Black Mirror and Westworld, this compelling, mind-bending novel is a twisted look into the future, exploring how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen and what it means to be human at all.” This is no Black Mirror, a show I painfully enjoy, and its greatest shortcoming is the weak interconectedness of the stories, and their variance in quality, some great, some terrible. Based on my 2020 list, I promise I will have something better. My absolute favorite of 2018? Dark Matter! If you had to choose, read that instead.
Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of “human.” This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.
The Divine Cities
This is another difficult one, as it is also one of my favorite genres. I normally approach it with caution, as this tend to lead you down a rabbit hole of a full saga of 20+ books with 600+ pages each, and if you are like me, you can’t leave a saga halfway through. I read some great fantasy, like the confusing but satisfying 7 and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (a very unique read I highly recommend if you have time to re-read each chapter three point two times). I went over Good Omens, which led me down to the 41 Discworld books of Sir Terry Pratchett (and I was already an avid fan of Neil Gaiman: American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere, and Sandman). However, I thoroughly enjoyed the Divine Cities trilogy. I am not quite sure why, but I did. It’s a sort of steam-punk-spy-mystery-political-drama novel. Out of the three books, City of Stairs, City of Blades, and City of Miracles, I liked the second one best (pictured).
The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now, Bulikov’s history has been censored and erased, its citizens subjugated. But the surreal landscape of the city itself, forever altered by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it, stands as a haunting reminder of its former supremacy.
Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched — along with her terrifying “secretary”, Sigrud — to solve a murder.
But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem, and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.
A tale of vast conspiracies, dead gods, and buried histories, City of Stairs is at once a gripping spy novel and a stunningly original work of fantasy.
The Ice Twins
I hate horror movies. I hate the sounds, the music (or lack of) building tension, and the amount of people doing incredibly stupid things (which reminds me, honorable mention to “The Twisted Ones” for acknowledging this across the book through the main character’s perspective, and going right on to do exactly the same stupid thing we had just agreed it was a bad idea). I do love horror books however, and I read a lot (and like only a few) of Stephen King’s books. The Ice Twins is nothing special really, but for some reason I felt my hair stand on the back of my neck while reading it. Perhaps because it is potentially more relatable. If you are looking for more subtle horror, perhaps even thriller, this is a book for you.
A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives. But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity—that she, in fact, is Lydia—their world comes crashing down once again. As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past—what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?
Because you must read the source before you watch the interpretation. Netflix (and others) have been increasingly fond of borrowing already good material, and either improving it or destroying it, there seems to be no mid-point. I would of course include The Witcher here, as it is my all-time favorite video game, and I read the first books a long time ago (they were not all translated from Polish at the time, so I may have to revisit those to read the later ones). I would also include Game of Thrones, but the source is so far from the non-existing books now, plus I don’t want to stir controversy and bring spoilers to the table. This one belongs to You. No, not you you, I mean, “You”. Reading this made me seriously uncomfortable. A feeling no book evokes easily. The narrative from Joe’s head is smart and cringeworthy at the same time. Moreover, this was a debut novel, damn! I have not watched the show yet, but I did read Hidden Bodies (You – Season 2) and really disliked it, not at all what I was expecting. I have been told that Netflix did fix this, and that the adaptation is better. I sure hope so! (By the way, don’t you hate when they use the show/movie picture on the book’s cover?!)
When a beautiful aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.
There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.
As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.
I intend to eventually read The Walking Dead full compendiums, just like I intend to read the full Sandman saga, and most likely I’ll like part of the first one, and like most of the second one, and they will show up again somewhere in here, perhaps in 2020, but this year, hands down, the best graphic novel of the year. The 4 panel comics from the Facebook / Instagram account of Nathan W. Pyle now have a book, and it is hilarious to read, relatable, and a complete mood-booster. They make you smile, giggle, laugh, and talk strangely. The good news is you can see these for free on said online accounts. The bad news is that the book has new/unreleased comics. The good news is that the author is super nice and friendly and doesn’t mind people sharing screenshots (even encourages it). I got it as a Christmas gift, and you should too.
Becoming is a real, down-to-earth, inspirational , real-life tale. It is here because I honestly could not fins another genre or category to put it on (perhaps non-fiction?). It broke many of my misconceptions about the US presidency and campaigns. It was also incredibly uplifting to see how self-made people without the initial ambition or power cravings reached such heights. I could relate and almost directly quote many of the experiences and teachings of her parents directly to those bestowed upon me by my parents. The book is also not a political campaign, and not written for political gain as this was after Obama’s presidency. Regardless of political affiliation, I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
Were these the only worthy books I read out of 100? Of course not. Would you recommend more? Sure! Where can I find about that? Follow my Goodreads! But you don’t review that many books there?! Well, if someone followed me maybe I would be more inclined to do so! So what else did you read? Hey… you asked for it (In no particular order)!