I believe nothing describes a person better than looking at the books they read. If that list is empty, you already know that you should reconsider that human interaction (unless, of course, there are good, valid reasons). But if that list is not empty, we can also know what kind of person they are.
So what this list tells about me?
For one, it says that I am a bit disappointed. I ended the year with only 28 books: three less than 2021, even if there are more short books. So, I should look back and see what didn’t work out. For instance, I started too many books in parallel. Another thing is that this tragically eventful year has deeply distracted me. Finally, I only read 7 fiction books (last year, they were 17). 2 of these 7 were really boring bricks that slowed me down a lot. The lesson is that I should learn how to drop a book that is draining the life out of me.
Everything considered, 28 is alright. So, as we did last year, let’s review them. Briefly and spoiler-free.
The Books I Read
Andy Norman (2021): 7
Maybe, at some points, the book goes around in circles a little bit. However, Mental Immunity tackles a bitter problem: how to make people immune to bad ideas. The problem of bad/malicious reasoning is the problem of recent years. There are a lot of books on this topic, and Mental Immunity is a substantial one.
Trying Not to Try
Edward Slingerland (2014): 8
Like many books exploring ancient practical philosophies, this book is presented as some kind of self-help book (on the cover, in the title, in the subtitle, and so on). It is not.
Trying Not to Try is an accessible explanation of the main ancient Chinese philosophy: Confucianism and Daoism. It is an elegant counterpoint between “be effortless by trying so much that everything becomes natural” (center of Confucianism) and “be effortless by not even trying” (center of Daoism). It is a beautiful back-and-forth between these two positions through the years, with frequent references to modern times.
An excellent introduction to the modern propagation of Daoism and Confucianism.
La grande invenzione
Silvia Ferrara (2020): 6
This book (in English, “The Great Invention”) explores the history of humankind’s greatest invention: writing.
The book is interesting, but it is weirdly written. It feels more like some random chat about the development of writing through history than a book designed with some coherence. Anyhow, it still provides a good amount of information.
Alessandro Barbero (2020): 6
A biography of Dante Alighieri. It is very detailed. Maybe too much. It reads more like a collection of facts than as an organic story. The feeling of reading a story is what I like in biographies, so I was a bit disappointed.
Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro (2021): 4
The first fiction novel of the year, and I didn’t like it. I’ve found the story really weird and borderline incoherent. I ended up not caring about any character, leaving me with the sensation of wasted reading time. That’s the worst thing I can ever get out of a book.
How to talk to a Science Denier
Lee McIntyre (2021): 9
This is a book I come back to often after reading it. It is a good sign. There are some very insightful stories. The first part is stronger than the second, but they are both equally valuable.
Gore Vidal (1981): 8
Second fiction book. This time, I really enjoyed it. A story about a Persian ambassador traveling in China, India, and Greece, meeting Confucio, Buddha, and Socrates. I am passionate about ancient philosophies, and this book checked all my boxes!
But I have to be honest: the setting and the “color” provided me 80% of the enjoyment. The book is heavy, and the story slows down in many places. So it is a solid 8 for me but be prepared that you may crash on it.
A Gladiator Dies Only Once
Steven Saylor (2005): 6
Surprisingly, it is the only Steven Saylor book of the year. I am shocked. My “Ancient Rome Guilty Pleasure Porn” books. To be honest, the previous instance in the series (The Judgement of Cesar) kind of pissed me off.
This book, in reality, is just a collection of short stories with the same protagonist of the Roma Sub Rosa series. So, in theory, I still need to go over the series.
I am ready.
Vittorio Emanuele Parsi (2022): 9
A politics book in Italian. A fascinating history of the strengths and errors of Western politics. I really like it, but I have weird interests.
Bird by Bird
Anne Lamott (1994): 8
This is a book on writing disguised as a personal story of life. Or it is a book on life disguised as a book on writing. Or should I say a book on death because the theme pops up frequently while the author describes her emotional and funny life experiences? (Anne Lamott has a certain confidence in tackling dark themes with dark humor)
In the end, the book is a bit of both. Like Stephen Kings’ On Writing. But maybe more powerful both on the “on writing” part and on the “life memoir” part.
Star Trek: Picard: Rogue Elements
John Jackson Miller (2021): 5
Another fiction book that made me… meh. I disliked the weak plot and the “let’s put together random things from the Star Trek world” effect. It was kind of short, but it took me forever to read it all.
La fisica del diavolo
Jim Al-Khalili (2012): 7
Published in English with the title Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Science, it is an excellent brief book on paradoxes (as always, Italian titles are terrible at describing the book’s content). If you usually read many physics books, you will probably already know the answers to many paradoxes described here. If not, it is a fun book to explore the topic.
West of January
Dave Duncan (1989): 8
I’ve discussed a lot about West of January in July 2022 ChangeLog https://www.davideaversa.it/blog/changelog-july-2022/. The central part was:
West of January is a genuinely original book in the sci-fi genre. It is fascinating, gut-wrenching, and inspirational. But most importantly, it is a page-turner (except for one part that I really think drags along too much). It is not perfect, of course, but it is a fun read.
With time, these books grew in me. So I will suggest it even more now.
The Midnight Library
Matt Haig (2020): 5
Not a great fan. It is not bad, but it quickly becomes too much “self-helpy” and “feel-goody” for my taste. The overall message of “the best life is the one you are living” was a big turn-off.
(See how many bad-ish fiction books I read this year???)
Susanna Clarke (2020): 9
I gave this book five stars out of five on Goodreads. It is… weird. But weird in a perfect way. It reminded me of some kind of strange side-story from a Dark Soul game. I don’t want to spoil much because I think it is the kind of book that shines when you go into it with as less knowledge as possible.
Henry David Thoreau (1854): 7
I read this one and…
On the Duty of Civil Disobediance
Henry David Thoreau (1849): 8
…and this one. This was part of my exploration of philosophy original sources (and I have to admit, sadly, that The Midnight Library had a role in this).
They are fascinating small books full of inspiring ideas (if you can pass over the mid-1800 style).
Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
Donald J. Robertson and Zé Nuno Fraga (2022): 8
A Graphic Novel on the life of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. It is really well-researched and well-done.
Sabine Hossenfelder (2022): 9
Probably the Non-Fiction Book of the year for me. If you follow me, you know my love for Sabine Hossenfelder. But this remarkable book explores the boundary between physics and metaphysics. It is profound and somehow unsettling.
Philosophy in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds
Peter S. Adamson (2015): 9
I read this book series from time to time during the year. This year, I completed the volume on Hellenistic and Roman philosophy. Last year I wrote this about the previous volume:
Peter Adamson has a super-interesting podcast on philosophy called “History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps”. This book is the revised transcription of such a podcast (covering the Classical western philosophy period). If you are a Philosophy expert, you may find nothing new in it. Still, if you are an amateur philosophy scholar like me, you will find this book dense with interesting information. All that while being light and fun to read.
The same is still valid. If not more.
Several Short Sentences About Writing
Verlyn Klinkenborg (2012): 6
Another weird book about writing. It is more poetic than the others. It sounds like a love letter to written words. There is some gem in there, but it left me unimpressed overall.
What If? 2
Randall Munroe (2022): 9
Randall Munroe, better known for the XKCD webcomic, is funny, smart, and never boring. This book is a compendium of “What If?” answers that usually end up with the destruction of the world. As I said in other paces, it is “a beautiful mix between rigorous scientific data and analysis, humor, and quirkiness” that I warmly recommend.
Stephen King (1980): 4
Really. What else do I have to say?
It is also LONG.
I hate it.
Stephen King (2022): 8
Fortunately, this other King’s book is much better. It is also kinda happy for King’s standard. So it is a win.
Probably this would get the “Best Fiction Book” of the year. But I read only 7 fiction books, many of which were problematic.
And Piranesi is better.
Seneca tra gli zombie
Riccardo Dal Ferro (2022): 6
Another philosophy book in Italian. Really nothing special. The target audience is probably teenagers and people in their early 20s. So I am out.
The Quest for Character
Massimo Pigliucci (2022): 8
I’ve talked extensively about this book in last month’s ChangeLog https://www.davideaversa.it/blog/changelog-december-2022/. It is a solid book trying to answer the question: how can we get better leaders? And in the meanwhile, you learn a lot about historical figures such as Socrates, Alcibiades, Plato, Alexander the Great, Seneca, Nero, and such.
I really enjoyed it.
How to Write Short Stories
James Scott Bell (2016): 7
A tiny booklet with some suggestions on how to write short stories. Plus, a selection of interesting short stories (that I liked a lot).
The Elements of Style
William Strunk Jr. (1918): 🤷♂️
This is not really a book I can review. It is a classic on writing style. It is worth a read.
I also found it funny to see how the language evolved at a century of distance.
And that’s it for this year. I plan to read more in 2023. I am already on a good point: almost done with 2 books. In 10 days, I’d say it is not bad.
Can I keep up with this pace?
You will find out in a year.
In the meanwhile, I’ll see you in other posts!