The 33 books I read in 2020
Every year, I commit to reading a certain amount of books to keep up my habit of reading. Lately, I have been committing to the number of books corresponding to my age.
In case you're curious, check the books I read in 2019.
According to Goodreads, the platform I use to track all my books, I've read 9437 pages from 33 books, of very varied natures. The shortest book is 63 pages long (Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions) while the longest one is ten times that amount of pages: 674 (Neil Gaiman's American Gods).
Even though I love philosophy and sci-fi, my reading voyage took me well beyond those two areas, and I finished 2020 with a very diverse selection of works, that I'll try to categorise as best as I can in the following list.
For clarification: it is very hard to categorise and order the books, so I've done my best to put them into a few categories, but within these they're not listed in any particular order. Also, as opposed to previous years, I think I've read very good books overall.
At the end of the first version of this blog post, most of the books were in the first category, so I had to re-distribute a bit, and I'll justify each book as to why it's placed in which category.
Top of the crop
In order to have fewer books on this one, I would describe the books that made it to this category as freaking memorable. They are books I will remember for years to come and that I have found myself wholeheartedly recommending to and fro and will most definitely read again in the future.
Dire quasi la stessa cosa - Umberto Eco
My good friend Alessandra gave me this book as a present because of the many conversations we've had as multi-languaged cats that we are. This is a long-ass essay on translation. Umberto Eco analyses the art of translating books through the translations he's done himself or the ones of his books (most importantly, the ones for The name of the rose).
To translation- & languages-aficionados like yours truly, this is a real gem. It is pretty dense but I found myself enjoying it deeply and devouring it in a few days only. The fact that he analyses texts and translations in all the languages I speak gave me the possibility to understand 100% of the concepts and nuances, and even found some translations in Catalan (a lot of them, actually!).
I learnt a lot from this book. I have been translating stuff, non-professionally, for as long as I can remember, for all contexts (professional, songs, helping friends, etc.), and I think I might've gotten it wrong a lot of the times precisely because I've never studied the theory. However, I also think I nailed it when I went out of the traditional way of translating and I was reinventing the texts I was working on.
Dear Ijeawele, or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions
This is one of the most eye-opening books I've ever read. In just 65 pages, the author writes a manifesto as an answer to a letter she received from a friend, asking how she should raise her child as a feminist.
Classy, direct, funny, challenging and blunt at times, I think this is a must read for everyone wanting to raise their children as feminists, and, quite frankly, for everyone who wants to make this world a better place to live in.
The ocean at the end of the lane - Neil Gaiman
I am not good at externalising my feelings, but I cried at the end of this book as if there was no tomorrow. The sheer beauty of this novel, by one of my favourite writers out there, Neil Gaiman, brings you into a beautiful and magical world where this story takes place.
Undoubtedly, this is my favourite Gaiman book so far because of the combination of beauty, length, rhythm, visuals, characters and story, overall. I don't know if I cried because of the story or because the book was ending. Or both.
I will most definitely read this book many times throughout my life.
Lemmy, White line fever - Lemmy
For context, Motörhead have always been one of my favourite bands. Yet, I never got to see them live, and circa five years ago, Lemmy died and left us orphans of a myth, a symbol, a legend.
This is an autobiography of the history of Motörhead, the legendary rock 'n roll band that inspired most of the rock/punk/metal bands we listen to nowadays. It is an open-hearted recount of what happened and how it happened, brutally honest and dry as fuck: the way they used to play.
If you like music, this is absolutely indispensable: there are stories from when he used to be the roadie of Jimi Hendrix, to the latest Motörhead albums, without excluding the worst times, their experiences with drugs and other stories hard to believe.
Barcelona startup - Mar Galtés
I have been involved with the Barcelona startup ecosystem for about ten years now. A couple of years before I started my company, MarsBased, I started attending events and learning from startups with a lot of enthusiasm.
Soon enough, knee-deep into my own entrepreneurial adventure, I've learnt more and more as time has gone by. However, if there is one person who has been around for long enough to narrate what's been going on in the ecosystem, that person is Mar Galtés.
Mar worked for one of the largest newspapers, La Vanguardia, for well over twenty years, covering business and startups, and she's interviewed and written about virtually every single company in Barcelona.
What I loved about this book is how back it goes and how well it flows, describing the evolution of the Barcelona startup ecosystem through the different phases, waves and their protagonists. A must read, if you're in Barcelona and want to learn about the origins of our ecosystem.
Also, I want to thank Mar for including me in the book. That was a huge pleasant surprise!
Chernobyl prayer: a chronicle of the future - Svetlana Alexievich
This book recounts the story of the Chernobyl disaster: how it happened, and most importantly, what happened after.
A brilliant depiction of what followed one of the largest man-made catastrophes of history is a heart-breaking compilation of individual stories, with names and surnames, embroidered with exquisite detail.
Far from trying to be a sensationalist recollection of this chapter of European history, the book is written to inform with the precision of a surgeon and the objectivity of a journalist.
Growing up in the 90s, I remember seeing those scenes of horror in TV, and, of course, I have always been familiar with what happened, but I never learn beyond what was taught to us in school.
Be warned: this book is not for the faint of heart, as it describes many times very vividly the effects of radiation.
It's about damn time - Arlan Hamilton
To say that Arlan's story is inspirational it would be a huge understatement.
Starting out sharing motel rooms with her mom and then becoming homeless for a while, Arlan bounced back with determination, hustle and sheer willpower to change the course of her life and those of many others.
Now, Arlan is a well-known venture capitalist at her own firm, Backstage Capital, helping underrepresented communities to get access to venture capital.
The whole book is a marvel to read, and Arlan's sort of punk-ish attitude as an underdog that is disrupting a traditionally conservative sector such as VC definitely resonated with me. I also appreciated the connections with the music scene and Arlan's previous spells working with bands and musicians, hence the moniker of her VC firm.
If you think you have what it takes to go out there and eat the world, you should definitely read this book.
Disrupted: my misadventure in the start-up bubble - Dan Lyons
What I thought it would be a fun book about a 50-year-old guy going to work for Hubspot turned out to be a harsh critique about the tech bros culture that festers in the startup scenes around the world. Coincidentally, that is what Dan Lyons thought, too. He wanted to write a book about his adventure as a boomer going into a millennial-driven company, but reality had other plans for him.
Fun at times, but mostly harsh, raw and poignant as the story unfolds, this book is a perfect example of everything that's gone wrong in startup scenes. Kudos to Dan for speaking up, even though he's had an enormous amount of shit coming his way for having made this story public.
Pyramids - Terry Pratchett
Let's change register here.
Terry Pratchett, mostly renowned for his grand opera Discworld, wrote a fucktonne of books during his life. Of course, some are better and some are worse, but I never came around to reading them all.
Experts on the subject recommended me to read a few of them in my teens, and while I enjoyed most of them, I never grew an interest to read the rest. Also, most people will read the two or three most famous ones and that's it (usually, Guards! Guards and Mort). But I have never gotten anyone to recommend Pyramids.
This is by far my favourite Discworld book. The underlying social critique to working-class ethics, monarchies and other dubious instruments of power, religion and whatnot makes this book not only fun to read, but it constitutes a sledgehammer thrown into the glass ceiling of establishment.
This book should be mandatory in schools.
Reaper man - Terry Pratchett
Reaper man follows the Death storyline of Discworld, and it tells about the very own Grim Reaper taking time off his/her/its normal job, thus causing a breach in reality because even though people don't stop dying, well, they're not properly being taken care of. I won't spoil you the rest.
I loved how well this book is conceived and executed, very much like Mort is, but I found the story of Bill Door fantastic and wished there was no end to it. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, and damn fun too.
Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow - Yuval Noah Harari
Back to serious business, Homo Deus is the follow-up book to Sapiens. I had read Sapiens in 2019 and loved every bit of it, but as the saying goes, second parts are never great.
In this case, I beg to differ. Even though I was quite sceptical about this book for 1) being a second part and 2) it sort of hinted that we need more religion in our lives, the book proved me wrong in all the ways and more and managed to make me love it more than its predecessor.
Funnily enough, the book starts ranting about how we're going to be facing pandemics every now and then as a result of the hyper-connected society we're living in, and as I was reading it, I was connecting it to what we've been living throughout 2020 altogether.
This book is brilliant and provides food for thought for years.
Do what you want: the story of Bad Religion - Jim Ruland
If Motörhead have always been an example of the bad guys in the music business, for their fuck-all attitude, their raw sound, their fast and aggressive music and lyrics and their vertiginous lifestyle, ridden with sex, drugs and other vices, Bad Religion have been sort of the other way around. While all punk rockers used to do drugs and be angry about society, Bad Religion provided a sort of intellectual approach to social critique through fast and aggressive music, well peppered with catchy choruses and memorable melodies.
This book recounts the 40 years of the iconic punk band Bad Religion and their comings and goings in the music scene.
Other bands have been more open about their personal situations and their lifestyles, but Bad Religion have pretty much consistently avoided putting their personal stuff under the spotlight. That's why this book is so special: it contains a lot of personal stuff, a surprising amount of drugs and addictions, lots of struggle and most of all, how to combine being the hottest punk band in the world with every member having their own life and business going on.
The five dysfunctions of a team - Patrick Lencioni
Patrick Lencioni's books are always a breeze of fresh air. He manages to explain business concepts in fictional novels. In this case, leadership and management are dissected in this book telling the tale of a new CEO taking over a company outside of her sector and how she deals with the situation from every team member's perspective. Lightweight and easy to read and well interesting nonetheless.
The man in the brown suit - Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is a must for me. Every year, I need to re-read one of her books, at least. This is one of my favourite Agatha Christie books, and I had entirely forgotten most of the plot and the ending, so it almost came as a new book to me. What a great story!
Hired: six months undercover in low-wage Britain - James Bloodworth
This is a very good book that goes into the trenches of politics in technology. James goes undercover in a few companies like Amazon and Uber to unveil the underlying misery rooted in these ubercapitalist companies exploiting lower classes all over the planet.
While it might be a tad sensationalist for those who aren't interested in this subject, I found it a very interesting perspective in the form of a social experiment. The tech dystopia won't happen because companies won't save us from governments, it'll happen because governments won't be able to catch up with the tech giants.
The myth of meritocracy: why working-class kids still get working-class jobs - James Bloodworth
Following on the above, I dug deeper into James' work and found this small gem. Utterly recommended if you are cognisant of this struggle most people suffer from, and if you're not, you should read it too, because how the fuck else are we going to stop this gatekeeping if we don't spread the word?
Norse mythology - Neil Gaiman
After reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I decided to devour all of Neil's works, because I totally loved that book. I started with Norse Mythology, without knowing what was it about - I mean, without knowing whether it was a fictional novel or just him explaining Nordic mythology. It turned out to be Neil's vision of the Nordic mythology, explaining the different tales in his own way, as he'd like to pass them down, and I found this very beautiful.
Loved this book from beginning to end: the pace, the characters, Neil's touch, the feelings arousing from the stories and the stories themselves. This book is fantastic, and maybe I should've placed it in the first category, but didn't want to overstuff it.
American gods - Neil Gaiman
After reading Norse Mythology, I decided to go for Gaiman's masterwork, American Gods. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it brilliantly written from beginning to end. I perhaps found it a wee bit too long and I remember struggling to see it finishing towards the end of the book, but would wholeheartedly recommend it nonetheless.
American Gods is a depiction of what happens when people stop believing in old gods and create new ones, like technology, money or fame. Shadow, an ex-convict, will have to face a brutal adventure in his new life after prison meeting the requests of all sorts of godlike folk.
Small gods - Terry Pratchett
Coincidentally, right after Neil Gaiman's, I read Terry Pratchett's own version of this god-transformation phenomenon. Although from a very different perspective, I found it amusing how two friends decided to write about the same topic - on purpose or not, I won't know, I guess - but this one is a classic Pratchett's satire picking on religions on the imaginary world of Discworld.
One of the most well-rounded Pratchett's works, I reckon. Definitely in my top ten books of Discworld.
Paprika - Yasutaka Tsutsui
Every now and then, I like to spice things up and go well beyond my literary realms and read something unexpected of me.
In this case, it's not the first Tsutsui book I read, and I must admit I am liking them.
This is a fictional novel about lab experiments on dream control in a Japanese dystopian society. The concept of dream-analysis and of dream-manipulation stimulates my brain so much that I want to read every book about it, and this proved to be a good investment. While it goes a bit out of hand towards the end and found it hard to relate to, the entire book is a solid read with all the characteristics of a very well-rounded book.
How to - Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe is the man behind the (in)famous xkcd webcomic. Last year, I had read What if? and truly loved every bit of it, and if I am not mistaken, I rated it as one of my favourite books of 2019.
This is a sort of continuation of the book, giving absurdly exaggerated scientific instructions to carry out very simple and mundane things like digging a hole or jumping. I mean, I can't come up with a better explanation. If you love absurd and overly exaggerated humour peppered with extremely unnecessary scientific demonstrations, this is for you.
Definitely, a good book between dense works to take a breather.
Flowers of evil - Charles Baudelaire
I had read this book in my teens and wanted to review it in its original language. I have been taking French lessons this year, and I wanted to test myself, so I read it in original version with the English translation next to it.
To think that this book was banned and censored many times, thus almost not making it to being published, makes me shiver. We would've lost a brilliant piece of art, disrupting many of the established thoughts and beliefs of Baudelaire's times and beyond. Drugs, sex, Satan and other seemingly incorrect things are being discussed in poems of endless beauty, and I especially enjoyed it this time because I could understand about 80% of the original texts.
Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett
Arguably, Pratchett's most famous book, if I don't err. For many many years, my favourite too, but I hadn't read as many as I have now, so it's dropped off the top of the list, but not much. Guards! Guards! still remains one of the classics and my all-time favourites because it features, well, the guards, which are some of my favourite characters in the Discworld universe and some of the best plots of his entire works.
A very good book to start in the Discworld odyssey, if you've never read one.
Moving pictures - Terry Pratchett
I went on a Discworld spree, this past year. I needed to take my mind away from the real world from time to time to stop being overwhelmed with the whole pandemic and the struggle out there. Luckily for me, all of them have been fantastic, so I kept reading.
Moving pictures is a harsh critique/satire of Holywood and the entire cinema and film-stardom industry. Probably, one of the most obvious social critiques in Pratchett's works, as they're normally disguised or not so blatantly obvious, but this one goes all-out against Holywood. Based on the Wizards storyline, this features a whole bunch of unusual characters that will be missed in the following books, as I think that all of the characters in this book could have a book of their own.
Paradoxically, this is a book where Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler gets to be on the spotlight, and it turns out to be a very interesting character after all!
Witches abroad - Terry Pratchett
While I've never been a fan of the witches storyline, I totally loved this book. Finally, I've been able to enjoy the witches as characters, after reading many of their books. I've always found their stories devoid of any sort of plot or interest, while keeping the dialogues interesting, but it just doesn't cut it for me.
This book provides a good mix of all and was hands down a very good read for the warm days of summer.
Lab rats: how Silicon Valley made work miserable for the rest of us - Dan Lyons
Lab rats is the follow-up to Disrupted, a book I've mentioned further up in this post.
Dan Lyons goes on with his well-founded rant against the giants in the tech industry and how they're trampling every sort of moral value and social rule out there to bag bigger profits at the end of the year and to outgrow their competition at all costs… and how this all will backfire at us as society.
The people vs. tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it) - Jamie Bartlett
Same as the previous one, another interesting take at how technology is disrupting our moral values and how we will see the quality of democracy perish as tech giants meddle with our communications, advertisement and, most of all, privacy (or lack thereof).
Not too convinced about Jamie's suggestions as to how to save democracy, but at least he offers some potential solutions while all other authors out there are just lazy whistleblowers jumping on the cool bandwagon of dissing tech as evil.
Give and take - Adam Grant
Good analysis of the actors in a business ecosystem classifying them as givers, takers and matchers, but not much beyond that. This book should've been a blog post.
Essentialism - Greg McKeown
Being into essentialism and minimalism myself, I found this book too entry-level for me. Generally, a good book, but too much chaff, which sort of contradicts its purpose. Should've been half its length.
Pax - Sara Pennypacker
Read my first book in French this year. It's a good children's book, so I guess I enjoyed it more for the fact that I can actually read books in French than for its story.
El coño de la Bernarda es declarado patrimonio de la humanidad - El Mundo Today
It's a compilation of some of the most famous news of this satyrical news portal in Spain, but there's nothing more. I thought there'd be a bit of history of the company/project or notes by the authors/founders, but no.
The startup community way: evolving an entrepreneurial ecosystem (Techstars) - Brad Feld
After having read and worshipped all his books, I found this one to be extremely delusional. A huge let-down, as it feels like he's taken bits of his previous books, refried them, and mashed them up together in a new book.
Also, Brad, it's 2020: we know about Boulder already.
Think Video - Several authors
Present from a friend. Since I might be extremely biased here, I won't review it publicly.
Alright! This is everything from my side! Took a while longer than expected to write this one, so apologies for the delay 🙏🏼
I'm pledging to read 34 books this year, as it matches my age, and will continue to do so until whenever possible (or until I burn out from so much reading!)
Now Playing: Children of Bodom - Bed of Razors