As I did last year, below is a listing of all the books I read in the previous year, and my thoughts on them. For the first time, all of the books I read last year were in digital form.
I began the year finishing Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. I read this as part of a collection of his Christmas stories.
In keeping with my love of murder mysteries, I read Introducing Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death/The Vicious Vet, the first of the Agatha Raisin books by M. C. Beaton. We’ve watched the TV series and they seemed like some light reading after the holidays. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t my favorite.
I then read a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, The Hidden Life of Trees. This book was fascinating! I learned a huge amount and as each chapter ended I was always thinking ‘Surely, that must be it…’ and then was surprised with another chapter about trees that I would never had imagined in my wildest dreams. Stunning book. Worth a read for sure.
The next book ties into a major theme in my life, which started early in 2019. Having seen the documentary Minimlism – A Documentary about the Important Things, I started to make some changes with my relationship to the stuff I own and I read Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists as a part of that. I’m not looking to become a monk like minimalist, but I own a lot less stuff now than I did at the beginning of 2019 and I’m much happier for it. This book, like the documentary, strikes a very relaxed and non-judgemental tone to help you look a life a different way. I liked it, and I’ll probably read it again.
I then moved toward some aviation books, beginning with The Electra Story: The Dramatic History of Aviation’s Most Controversial Airliner. This was a fun book about an aircraft that live a very interesting life. Good book, if you’re aviation inclined.
From there I read The Long Way Home. This is a book about a flight in a Boeing Clipper ship aircraft in the days just after the Pearl Harbor attack. Pan Am built their name with planes like these, offering routes no other form of transport could offer. They were, at the time, the only real way to travel relatively quickly around the world.
They accomplished this by completing flights between islands, and sometimes landing in the middle of the ocean near a fuel boat, to bridge the long gaps. We are able to do this much more easily today with efficient jet engines, but these aircraft flew pretty slowly and spent long hours in the air to cover a distance we could cover in a fraction of the time. Since these planes could do what no others could, the pilots were given special instructions on where to report if war broke out. When they landed at one of their stops they recieved the report of war and opened their instructions to find out where their aircraft, which Pan Am had prearranged to lend to the military, was to report. The story follows their journey, trying to dodge enemy territory and pushing the plane and it’s crew to their very limits. It’s a harrowing tale, and all the more fascinating since it really happened.
This story, which involved a Pan Am aircraft, naturally led me to wonder about Pan Am themselves and I read SKYGODS: The Fall of Pan Am , which takes you through not just the fall, but the whole story of the airline, and their unique leader.
On the recommendation of a friend, I then read Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. While I appreciated the content in the book, I don’t resonate with the military point of view of the authors. Nothing against the military, or the author’s careers, its just not something I have any direct experience with. The book is broken into three pieces per lesson, an office/work based situation, a military operation of that same lesson, and then a more direct explanation, or expansion, on the lesson with some practical items to try. I got a lot out of it, and I would recommend it, but I can’t say I have a lot in common with a Navy Seal.
I also read Be the Master: Achieve Success & Help Others around the same time. This book was also very good, and more directly relatable to my experience. It helps to formalize in your mind the process of learning a skill, mastering it, and then passing it on; Not just learning something and keeping it for yourself. I do see a lot of people deal with the fear of losing their job because others can complete the same tasks they can. Among the many points made in the book he says that by sharing you skills you enable yourself to be promoted, and take on new things instead of just stagnating where you are today.
After all that stuff, it seems inevitable that I drifted back toward murder mysteries. I read three of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories, Murder on the Links, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and The Big Four. They were, of course, excellent.
I then read one more book on leadership, Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager, by Michael Lopp. I’ve followed him online for years so it was good to actually read his most well known book. I like his style, and it was good to finally read it.
I then went back to Agatha Christie, and I read all four of the ‘Tommy & Tuppence’ stories. While they were all good, they were all very different. Agatha wrote these stories throughout her career, so while the stories themselves were enjoyable, it was also interesting to see how her writing style developed and changed. The first story, her second published book, was written in 1922, and the final one was published 51 years later in 1973. A few stories were published after the last Tommy and Tuppence, but were written many years earlier.
I then read a memoir by Glyn Johns, Sound Man. He is a talented sound engineer that worked with a lot of big names, like The Who, the Rolling Stones, etc., and his memoir is a pretty frank look at his life as it relates to his craft.
I then read one more book about minimalism, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, which was great. It’s a continuation of the book I had read earlier in the year, and just as good. Minimalism isn’t a set of hard and fast rules, its more of a thought process and they do a great job making that approachable.
By now we’re moving into autumn, and with the shorter days it was time to move toward warm quilts and mystery stories.
First up was another book by Faith Martin. I had read a dozen of her murder mystery books last year, and read A Fatal Obsession, which is book 1 of a series following a different main character. I will no doubt dip further into this series in the future.
From there, I read the complete canon of Sherlock Holmes stories. All of the stories are available in the public domain, so I was able to grab them for my Kindle from Project Gutenberg, which is a great resource.
Having seen so many adaptations of Sherlock over the years, it was great the actually read them all. I cannot help but use Jeremy Brett, however, as the model of my mind’s Holmes character. He’s was incredible in that role, and I’m all the more impressed now having read the descriptions of Holmes in the books.
Reading through all of those stores took around two months, and I then I read a couple of books based on reccomendations.
A friend of my asked me to read The Alchemist. I enjoyed the book, and it was a big departure from the kind of thing I normally read. It’s well written, especially considering the English text is translated from the author’s native Portuguese. It’s a story about finding your purpose, and staying focused on it through a lifetime. I can understand why it resonated so strongly with the person who recommended it to me.
I then saw a TV special, with comedian and former teacher Greg Davies, called Greg Davies: Looking for Kes. I like Davies’ shows generally, so I watched it without knowing what it was about. It’s a documentary following Davies as he looks at the roots of a book called A Kestrel for a Knave, which is a book many young British students read in school. It’s a coming of age story of a boy in a coal mining town who doesn’t want to end up a miner himself. I enjoyed the story and it was interesting to read it having already watched a show that delved into it’s background.
With that one complete, it was time to dig back into Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ once more. I read through that story, and then pressed on to the the next of the 4 stories in the collection, ‘The Chimes’. This one was horrible and I couldn’t get through it… I gave it up a week into January and will certainly skip past it next Christmas season!