2020 Books

Posted on February 14, 2021 by Noon van der Silk

Continuing the tradition started in 2018, continued in 2019 over on the Braneshop blog, I was reminded I haven’t posted the books I read in 2020 yet.

So, here we are:

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by Jemisin, N.K.

As a big fan of N.K. Jemisin I just wanted to read more of what she’d written. This is good for that; it’s a really nice dip-in to the worlds she has created and leaves you wanting more!

Gravity’s Century: From Einstein’s Eclipse to Images of Black Holes by Cowen, Ron

Pretty good. This was a nice history of black holes and an introduction to some of the pressing issues presently.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Pretor-Pinney, Gavin

I picked this up after starting (but not finishing) The Wavewatcher’s Companion, which I found to be hilarious. This book was not as funny, but was still pretty good. Gavin has a very nice way of appreciating the world.

Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Ricard, Matthieu

I really quite enjoyed this book, and infact wrote a longer review over on the Between Books website.

Girl, Woman, Other by Evaristo, Bernardine

A nice collection of stories featuring different women and how their lives intersect. I think it’s quite nice to get so many stories from the everyday lives of women; especially for me, for whom it’s a bit unknown territory.

The White Album by Didion, Joan

The first Joan Didion book I’ve read. She’s very famous of course; and I don’t know. It was good to read; but was it objectionably good? Maybe. It’s at least nice to know a bit about her life and how she writes. I’ll probably read more.

Mullumbimby by Lucashenko, Melissa

I quite enjoyed this story. It’s also the first time I’ve read a modern fictional Australian indigenous-centered story. Will be on the look out for more books of this kind! Came up as part of the OC House bookclub, I think.

Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Manne, Kate

This book is amazing. I found it to be written in a bit of an academic-y style; so it can be a bit dense, but it does an amazing job of framing what misogyny is and how it is present in all aspects of society.

Unfree Speech: The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now by Wong, Joshua

This is a nice short history of free speech and how China is taking over Hong Kong. It was interesting to read about how they attempted to make some large changes to their democracy through grass-roots organisation. In some ways quite inspiring, but also a reality check that it isn’t easy to defeat power. Worth a read.

A Month in Siena by Matar, Hisham

This was just a nice simple book about someone getting amongst life in a new town. In many ways I think this kind of experience is how many people wish their holidays to go: meeting some nice stranger, integrating into the community, and just appreciating the joy of life.

The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown by Olsson, Karen

I can’t remember much about this book at this point; I think I enjoyed it.

The Worst Journey in the World by Cherry-Garrard, Apsley

I read the next two books back-to-back. This one was strange. It’s written from the English perspective; it’s quite racist at times. I wouldn’t recommend reading it, unless you really want to compare perspectives on the journeys of Scott and Amundsen.

The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole by Huntford, Roland

This was a really interesting read. It was so fascinating to compare how Amundsen approached the journey compared to Scott. According to this book, Scott was woefully underprepared and arrogant, and Amundsen spent many many years training and learning the right skills from different indigenous groups in order to survive.

If you want to learn about the race to the south pole; this book is definitely better than the above.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Pollan, Michael

More of a blog post than a book; but still, nice to keep next to you somewhere when you want to remember if it’s okay to eat chocolate everyday (probably not) or have a wine with dinner (probably fine).

Men Explain Things to Me by Solnit, Rebecca

Hilarious. This is a collection of stories; some funnier than others, but overall great.

The Shadow of the Sun by Kapuściński, Ryszard

I enjoyed this as a nice way to get a bit of, albeit an outsiders, insight into how different people live in some of the poorer parts of Africa.

Capital and Ideology by Piketty, Thomas

I really enjoyed this book, and wrote about it more over on Between Books - Capital and Ideology

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Piketty, Thomas

This one I also enjoyed; I don’t think you really need to read it first before Ideology, but I opted to do so. Reading this really inspired a love and interest of economics, and Piketty seems to do an amazing job of exploring these topics in an approachable way.

Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen by Suzman, James

This book wasn’t bad; it’s an exploration of life with a marginalised tribe referred to as the Bushmen. It doesn’t totally take the expected view that the simple life is better; but it does discuss how politics and the community encroaches on this tribe, and how they live life.

A Woman in the Polar Night by Ritter, Christiane

I think this is a classic book; it’s a little strange, but it does show one persons journey into the Arctic and how she learned to love it. It didn’t exactly inspire me to go and life there, but I do admire her approach!

Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Simpson, Joe

This is amazing. I read this assuming a particular fact about the story (I won’t spoil it by telling you), but it turned out that my mind was blown by what actually happened. I’ll probably read it again!

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Krakauer, Jon

I bought this I think after the one above; desperate for more books about climbing. This is also an amazing story; I think if anything it made me feel certain that I’ll never attempt to climb Everest.

The Case of the Honjin Murder by Yokomizo, Seishi

I just happened across this one in the bookshop and thought I’d give it a go. I can’t say it was the best; it was quite sexist. The story was probably pretty good, if you could ignore that; but I couldn’t.

Tall Man: The Death of Doomadgee by Hooper, Chloe

This was a good read but super aggravating. It’s really unsettling to learn how terrible some of the policing is; and the subsequent investigations that yielded no useful outcome. Eye-opening for me in terms of how bad racism is in Australia.

Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination by Macfarlane, Robert

Pretty good. I went through a phase of reading about mountain climbing. This was a nice little overview of how people justify climbing. Good for an introduction to other things to read.

The City We Became (Great Cities, #1) by Jemisin, N.K.

For how much I loved her other books; I have to say I found this one a bit disappointing. I think by normal sci-fi standards, it’s certainly excellent, and I’ll definitely read the rest of the series; but if you’re looking for something as amazing as her other books, you might not find it here.

Annapurna: A Woman’s Place by Blum, Arlene

I really enjoyed this one. It was interesting to compare this to other climbing books written by men, which almost never feature much uncertainty or collaborative leadership.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Macfarlane, Robert

This is just super cool. We are taken on a journey through lots of different underground worlds. Certainly makes you want to do this kind of exploring.

The Eastern Curlew by Saddler, Harry

I read this after meeting the author at a party! I felt so cool; I’d never met an author in real life before. Inspired by that meeting, I picked it up. It’s really a nice story about following the migratory path of a bird, and thinking about how their ecosystem is being impacted. Would definitely recommend!

Her Body and Other Parties by Machado, Carmen Maria

Not bad. Probably not my favourite style of book, but if you like weird kind of magical fiction with a message, probably quite good.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Braithwaite, Oyinkan

I quite enjoyed this one; it was a very quick read; so I’m looking forward to more by this author!

In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki, Jun’ichirō

Pretty good. Very very short; but a thoughtful analysis of how light impacts space. I think it’s a classic of the architecture world.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by Finnegan, William

I really really enjoyed this one. Very nicely written, you feel like you’re living the life alongside the author. It’s nice to read about someone who follows their passion so directly.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Eddo-Lodge, Reni

I picked this up as soon as I arrived in the UK, to gain an understanding for how people here think about race issues. Pretty good reading.

Kon-Tiki by Heyerdahl, Thor

This was a funny one. A classic kind of adventure story, from real life, I have to say I enjoyed it.

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography by Fiennes, Ranulph

I found this one also kind of funny. I suppose this guy is very famous in the UK, but I’d not heard of him really. It’s funny to read about how he thinks of endurance, and his claim that “anyone” can be like him; in terms of running 7 marathons at the age of 70 across 7 countries; or something along those lines. Didn’t exactly encourage me to do the same, but did give me some food for thought about willpower and energy.

See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence by Hill, Jess

This is a very hard book to read, emotionally. It contains some exceptionally difficult stories. Definitely recommended reading, but if you want a more academic treatment see the earlier book by Kate Manne.

Becoming Bodhisattvas by Chödrön, Pema

Easily the best book I read last year. Of course it’s a buddhist view on how to live life; but I found it very practical and thoughtful. I’ve read it again during some difficult times, and found it very uplifting.