The 34 books I read in 2021
Another year, another reading challenge! As it's been the case with the last few years, in 2021 I committed to reading a number of books equal to my age. This time around, I've struggled too much to complete it, and had to spend the entire day of December 31st reading two books to make it.
But I'll leave the details for another post. Let's get on with the list!
This time around, according to my Goodreads reading challenge, I have read 8899 pages from 34 books, although, to be honest, one of them has been War and Peace, which could be easily counted as a dozen books packed in one. I didn't, and I regretted it the entire year round.
Considering that the shortest book (Kafka's Metamorphosis) is only 67 pages long, it's nothing compared to Tolstoi's War and Peace, which is 1329 pages long. Tolstoi's book is almost 20 times longer (and definitely, heavier).
As with previous editions of this blog post, I will categorise the books in three tiers: Must Read, Good enough and Not for me.
Let's jump right into it!
Top of the crop
I always end up with a long list in this category. I read a lot of classics and books that are recommended to me, so I'm not out for adventure much. It's pretty easy that I'll love a book if it's a classic or someone thought it'd be a good fit for me (but has to know me well!). Most likely, books in this category will be subject to be read again in the future.
The Shadow of the Sun - Ryszard Kapuściński
This book has been an eye-opening one for me. What this man experienced travelling around Africa, most people won't live in a thousand lives. Every page made me wonder more about what is it like to be in X or Y country, knowing that most likely, I will never visit most - or any - of the places described in the book. However, this book has left me with a terrible thirst to travel around Africa and know more about its peoples and cultures.
A hell of a dense book, but worth every word if you're passionate about learning, cultures and travel.
NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories - Jeff Alulis
With great contrast to the one above (and definitely to the next one), this is hands down the best damn book ever written about a music band. It's crude, raw and at times tasteless, much like punk. It's like unprotected anal sex in a McDonalds' privy or even dirtier.
Take drug abuse, cheating, sexual fetishes, gang violence, homelessness and really bad music, and throw them into the blender. Take that mixture and shoot it up between the toes in the dirtiest corner of the Tenderloin, in San Francisco. That's how real and brutally sincere this book is, and how every band fantasizing about the rock and roll business should read.
Barbarians at the Gate - Bryan Burrough
I was cautioned that it's a freaking dense book about M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and that only a portion of it is interesting because it contains a lot of personal stories and backgrounds. I devoured the entire book nonetheless caught up in the spiral of business frenzy surrounding the story of RJR Nabisco.
Why I liked it so much, I don't know. I don't relate to the corporate industry, I am not familiar with the companies/brands mentioned and I don't seek to pursue this kind of career, but it trapped me all the same. I guess it's written well and I found particularly interesting the lifestyle and shenanigans pulled by Ross Johnson. Thanks, Mike, for recommending it, if you ever read this!
Confess - Rob Halford
The autobiography of the legendary frontman of the heavy metal band Judas Priest. Rob Halford starts from his working-class upbringing & sexual discovery in the 60s, through eras of crazy drug abuse until his recent years.
This book brought me to tears a couple of times and I can't recommend it enough if you want to be wronged about everything you know about the music industry and stardom.
Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker
This book should be mandatory in schools and its contents should be taken into consideration when imagining the society of the future because there is no way in cold hell that we can't undo some of the historical wrongs messing up with our sleeping needs. Sleep is a fundamental part of well-being.
Rework - Jason Fried & DHH
I re-read it every year. Easy to read, still valid nowadays, and plenty of stuff to learn from, if you're running a business of whichever size.
What Does This Button Do? - Bruce Dickinson
I have always been more of a Maiden than a Priest fan, even though in recent years I've come to love both. However, Bruce Dickinson's autobiography is an excellent book for each music lover out there, be it or be it not an Iron Maiden fan. However, I admit I won't remember many passages of it because Bruce's life has been less interesting - to me - than Rob's.
If you're looking for a great book that's also written well, this is your book. Rob Halford's effort borders on being too casual and clumsy, but that probably made it feel more authentic, in a brilliant display of vulnerability. This one, while great, left me wanting more fragility.
Why Him? Why Her?: Understanding Your Personality Type and Finding the Perfect Match - Helen Fisher
Don't get fooled by the cheesy title or the subject - this book is written by the founding team of Match.com and talks at length about types of personalities (one of my favourite pseudo-sciences) and dissects their behaviours in different scenarios and how they interact with one another. I now see my relationships - not only affectional, but also at work or with friends - differently, being able to understand more other types of people and adapting to them. Solid read, a bit too long in my opinion, but well worth taking the time to read it if you're into this kind of stuff. Thank you, Martina, for the recommendation!
Negotiation Genius - Deepak Malhotra
I thought: "it can't be better than Never Split the Difference" and that I wouldn't learn anything from this book. Boy, was I wrong. Truly great book about business and negotiation, even for experienced people (been doing sales for over ten years now), there's always something new to be learnt on these pages.
Soul Music - Terry Pratchett
While I won't include this book in the top5 of my favourite Discworld episodes, I think that this is one of the most remarkable books because of its unique story. Maybe it hit close to home because it's about music and being in a band, but I remember so many passages from it, that it makes me feel bad about all the other Discworld books I don't remember anything from. Great story from beginning to end. Would probably read it again.
The Trial and Death of Socrates
One of my favourite compendium of passages of the life of Socrates. If you want to learn about how the ancient Greeks talked about love, you should go for this one. Also, it's pretty funny how open they were about getting drunk in public and things that happened when they were highly inebriated (and, sometimes, horny).
Feet of Clay - Terry Pratchett
If you know me, you know I like the mythological figure of the golem. I don't know why, but I find them memorable and feel instant sympathy towards them. This is why I liked this book so much, but it's definitely not one of the best Discworld books. Solid effort with lots of emotional value for me.
Men at Arms - Terry Pratchett
Like every year, I need my dose of Pratchett & Discworld. Classic among classics in this crazy universe, I particularly liked reading between the lines and all the social justice & politics being discussed in this book. Pure genius.
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
I admit I felt ashamed for not having read this until this age, but then again, I don't very often do what people tell me.
I loved this book, and even though it feels at times that you will know what's coming up next or where the narrative is headed towards, you will mostly be wrong about it. Great classic overall.
Notes from the Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky
A tale of misanthropy, self-derision, cynism and dark humour. Great stuff in the guise of a classic that left me in want of reading more stuff from this author. Thanks, Judit, for the recommendation!
Hacking Communities - Laís de Oliveira
Laís is a friend of mine, who I met at Startup Grind while she was running the chapter in Buenos Aires, and then in Kuala Lumpur. Over the years, we developed a friendship and met in conferences around the world. If there's someone who gets community, it's her.
One of the main takeaways for me is that, finally, there's someone talking about privilege and class in all the business & startup bullshit out there. It's taken years and years until some people, coming from less privileged backgrounds have bubbled up to the top and haven't forgotten about their roots and upbringings. Laís makes a clear distinction of people coming from a scarcity environment versus those brought up in abundance, and that hit very close to home, in my case.
Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman's Ruthless Quest for Global Power: 'The Explosive New Book' - Bradley Hope
Very entertaining book about the fights for power in the Middle East and how they affect the global economy (and the role of big players like Facebook, Trump, Amazon, Twitter and the like). Thank you, Josh, for recommending it. I enjoyed it very much.
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Classic. I had to re-read it to comment on it with a friend and I liked to re-discover it. It's a book that can be read easily and brings always something new. Definitely not crazy over it, but I find it easy to recommend it and it brought me back to my childhood.
Del llau del nigromante - Nicolás Bardío
My first book in Asturian language! I admit I found myself struggling with it in the beginning (I've never learnt this language, but I have some notions of it), but I got the hang of it pretty easily. Great GREAT story and definitely didn't see the ending coming. I will be looking for more books from the same author.
Time's Arrow - Martin Amis
God, I love me some brainfucking sci-fi, but this one really made my brain go bananas. This is the life of a person told backwards. Even the dialogues are written backwards, so it's a bit hard to follow, but I loved the idea, the execution, and even though I feel like I need to read it again to fully understand it, I think it's a great book for sci-fi lovers.
El Banquete de los Dictadores - Victoria Clark & Melissa Scott
A book about the favourite dishes and culinary preferences of the s.XX dictators from all over the world. Frivolous at times, and an excessive use of imagination in many declarations like "this might have actually never happened" and a consistent lack of citations or references, but it's an entertaining book you can learn a lot from. Devoured it (no pun intended!) in a day or two and took note of a few recipes I want to try myself.
Think Again - Agam Grant
One of these classic American business books that are good for a few pages, and then explain the same concept over and over again. A book that could've been a blog post, but a really good blog post. I've picked up some interesting concepts about how to defy established knowledge, but I don't recall much else.
Lords and Ladies - Terry Pratchett
Another great Discworld book discussing social classes and aristocracy. Great story, very funny at times, and time good spent altogether, but I fear I won't remember much from this book. Hell, I don't even remember it right now.
Hijos del Nilo - Xavier Aldekoa
Phenomenal essay about the current state of affairs in Africa and travelling through it as a journalist. Probably would have been higher up in the rankings were it not the fact that I had read Shadow of the sun before this one, so the bar was too high. This one's lighter and way more enjoyable in my opinion, if you can't endure dense books.
Maskerade - Terry Pratchett
Pratchett's take on The Phantom of the Opera and the opera world in general. Especially funny and pretty solid considering I don't particularly enjoy the witches as characters in Discworld, but this one really clicked on me and I will hold it in high esteem
Songs of Innocence and of Experience - William Blake
It had been a while since my last book from William Blake, so it felt like the right time. Enjoyed it, as always.
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
Believe it or not, I had never read this book, and to be entirely frank, I decided to go for it because I needed short books to complete the reading challenge. Great stuff, but I don't understand how people go apeshit crazy about it. The messages between the lines about family relations, life/work balance, social constructs and whatnot are there, but I might be too simple of a person to get it altogether.
The Subterraneans - Jack Kerouac
Tales about the 1950's San Francisco underground, as narrated by Jack Kerouac, one of the most prominent authors of this movement. Beautifully written, too hipster-ish for me, but I enjoyed the style and the dialogues, even though I finished it without having really grasped what it was all about. I guess he didn't know it himself, either.
Mundo Tarugo - David Bonilla
Very good stuff. Loved the interaction between his own writing and the ones by other people from the industry and friends from the Spanish startup ecosystem.
Not for me
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
The worst mistake of my life. Period. Not only should I have not started it but I should've left it unread and ditched it for good. What a fucking waste of time that goes to prove that classics aren't for everyone.
The Misanthrope - Molière
Allegedly a comedy. Allegedly a classic. Definitely not for me.
Jordi Pons - No tendrás cojones de hacerlo
A book about Pep Guardiola's time at FC Barcelona, containing interviews with famous people and Barça legends. I found the style too bland and uninteresting. You'd think there's no way that a book about Guardiola could be boring. You'd be wrong.
The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity - Esther Perel
As much as I like reading about taboo subjects, this one hasn't surprised me at all from any angle. Boring, repetitive and dull. Feels like a compendium of articles written elsewhere and sewn together to scrap a few extra bucks. Missed opportunity to open up and talk about this controversial topic.
Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett
Definitely the worst Discworld book I've read so far. I just don't get Rincewind nor his stories or storyline. It bored me to tears and made me want to stop reading Discworld for a few months to recover from this one.
This is it! This year I'm taking a break from these exhausting challenges and I will only be reading 15 books. More details on my next blog post!
Now Playing: Carcass - Heartwork