My 2020 Review in Books

This year books helped me stay grounded by spending less time reading news and social media, a great benefit with everything going on in the world. Here is what I’ve read:

The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Kishimi, Ichiro

I found the format of this book on Adlerian philosophy a little annoying. The book is written as a dialog between two people with infrequent interjections from the narrator, while I would have much preferred a concise summary of the ideas. Nonetheless, a few ideas in this book were fresh and key to my personal growth this year, especially in the area of caring less about what other people thought of me.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Sacks, Oliver

I like morbid stories. This book described many cases of people who were mentally ill in fascinating ways but were not always aware of their illness. The language is a bit dry but the content compensated for the most of it.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by Clear, James

Yet another book on building habits; after reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg a few years back I was hesitant to read another book on the subject, so I listened to it instead. I found that this book had some good practical advice on building habits. It also touched upon some deeper considerations around one’s identity and habits and the importance of carefully choosing what you decide to strongly identify with. As I was reading the last chapter of the book I kept thinking about these lines from the Mettā Sutta that advises the reader not to hold to fixed views to avoid suffering:

By not holding to fixed views, the pure hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desire,is not born again into this world.

Mettā Sutta (SN 1.8)

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by King, Thomas

I got to this book after many years of having it on my to-read list; I regret I did not read it earlier. As an immigrant, my education on Indigenous people was minimal and frankly speaking, it’s largely my own fault. Anti-indigenous racism is a problem for most of North America and this book does a great job illuminating some of the problems that exist today as prominently as they’ve existed centuries ago. Plus King has a great dry sense of humour which won me over after the first couple of pages.

The Last Lecture by Pausch, Randy

A sad and sweet story of a Computer Science professor who died from pancreatic cancer but left an amazing legacy for his family and people he taught.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by DiAngelo, Robin

This book was probably the most difficult and important ones that I worked through this year. One paragraph regarding self-education that especially stuck with me was the following:

When white people ask me what to do about racism and white fragility, the first thing I ask is, “What has enabled you to be a full, educated, professional adult and not know what to do about racism?” It is a sincere question. How have we managed not to know, when the information is all around us? When people of color have been telling us for years? If we take that question seriously and map out all the ways we have come to not know what to do, we will have our guide before us. For example, if my answer is that I was not educated about racism, I know that I will have to get educated. If my answer is that I don’t know people of color, I will need to build relationships. If it is because there are no people of color in my environment, I will need to get out of my comfort zone and change my environment; addressing racism is not without effort.

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Dobelli, Rolf

This one took me a while. On the one hand, I realized that I am probably susceptible to a bunch of cognitive biases described in the book. On the other hand, I am now aware of a few of them. I also took the author’s advice to stop reading news so much.

I would predict that turning your back on news will benefit you as much as purging any of the other ninety-eight flaws we have covered in the pages of this book. Kick the habit—completely. Instead, read long background articles and books. Yes, nothing beats books for understanding the world.

– Chapter 99: Why You Shouldn’t Read the News (News Illusion)

The Bonsai Handbook by Prescott, David

I read this one quickly, in an effort to gain some knowledge about not killing a few of my self-grown Bonsai plants. A very detailed book with a lot of background information on the biology of these little joyful plants.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Fischer, Bobby

Ah, yes, chess. I started playing with my dad this summer as he was teaching my nephew. I very quickly learnt that my chess skills were abysmal. This book was an attempt to improve them. I found it entertaining and learnt a couple of new tricks. I still can’t beat my dad…

Dear White People by Simien, Justin

Much softer introduction to the topic of racism than the White Fragility. It made me laugh at times and sparked the interest in reading more books on the subject.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our by Gottlieb, Lori

Absolutely beautiful story of a therapist who needed therapy herself. It’s good to read about what other people are going through because it makes one feel less lonely and more empathetic.

Zuleikha by Yakhina, Guzel

I picked this book up because it got a considerable amount of positive coverage in Russia and also because I wanted to read some non-fiction for a change. I’ve enjoyed the story-line despite of the fact that some have claimed that the historical portrayal of the early USSR is not entirely accurate.

Orange World and Other Stories by Russell, Karen

This collection of tasteful horror stories was a delight to read. The kind of book that tickles one’s nerves without giving deep nightmares.

To Cook a Bear by Niemi, Mikael

A story based on the character of Lars Levi Laestadius, a Swedish pastor who was evangelizing the Sami people. A mix of crime and Christianity and overall an enjoyable read, largely due to the cultural / historic aspect.

The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets by Elena Vavilova

“A woman who knows how to keep secrets” is a novel by Elena Vavilova, the Russian spy who posed as a Canadian for more than 20 years, first in Canada and then in the US. A fascinating read, even though there is no way of knowing which aspects of it are true and which are not (this book is not a memoir). Somehow the whole media coverage of their extradition passed right by me, so I also caught up on the official facts of the story when reading this book.

Practical Golf by Jacobs, John

I feel like purchasing and reading this book may not have made me a better golfer, but it made me a more committed golfer and allowed me to extract a bit more pleasure out of this evil game. Still a better golfer than a chess player.

Нежные листья, ядовитые корни—Елена Михалкова

Another detective story that I read early in the year when I was craving non-fiction. The only thing I recall from this book is a number of references made to the Bushido moral code. Originally I got interested in this author because of a quote from her other book that I found rather nice:

My grandmother once gave me a tip: in difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little. Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup. You see? You are advancing step by step. Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself. Take another step. Then another. You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more. And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

Elena Mikhalkova, “The Room of Ancient Keys”

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Tyson, Neil deGrasse

I tried so hard to like this book, but most of it went over my head. The creation of the Universe is still a big mystery.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by Bridges, William

I was first introduced to the William Bridges Transition Model at work. I picked up this book to gain a bit more insight into the model. Was not that impressed by the book because I am pretty sure I should have picked up the other one by the same author called Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, which talks more about specifics of the model, while the “Transitions” focuses more on convincing the reader that as a human being you will necessarily go through a number of transitions and discusses the model only in the second part of the book (the idea that one goes through many transitions in life was pretty clear to me even before picking up the book, so I needed not to be convinced).

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The Courage to Be Happy: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You That True Contentment Is Within Your Power by Kishimi, Ichiro

I finished the year with a sequel to the first book of the year. The claim was that this book was supposed to make the first book thoughts more applicable. I found it repetitive and the only new thing that I really learnt was the Birth Order theory proposed by Adler, towards the end of the book.

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