Books I've Read in 2020

Background

I started using Goodreads because they automatically pull in highlights that I make on Kindle. Once in the ecosystem, I came across their “Reading Challenge,” to read a certain number of books in a year. This is the first time gamification has ever worked on me. It encouraged me to read more and fulfilled their goal of keeping me in the Goodreads ecosystem.

FYI I try not to finish a book unless I’m actually getting something out of it. I used to be a completionist but not anymore. This is just the books I finished (with one exception).

Bonus: I now have a list of all the books I read (and completed) for 2020.

A note on my rating system

It’s not evenly distributed.

  • 1-2 star: would not recommend, generally don’t finish
  • 3 stars: worth reading/finishing (to me), but nothing earth shattering, profound, or extraordinarily interesting.
  • 4 stars: this made some kind of impact or (occasionally) a fiction book that I got a lot of pleasure from.
  • 5 stars: a 4 star book that I’ve read multiple times and holds up.

Overview

29 books total. 17 of them audiobooks. 15 fiction, 14 non-fiction.

Details

TitleGenreFormatRatingCommentary
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor FranklMemoirAudiobook3I read it because it was frequently mentioned by guests on Tim Ferriss’s podcast as profound and helpful for people trying to find meaning in their lives. I read it when I was looking for meaning and didn’t find it in the book. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it wasn’t so short.
Conspiracy by Ryan HolidayNon-fictionAudiobook3I read it because I’ve enjoyed Ryan Holiday’s books on Stoicism and have always been interested in Peter Theil. It was a fairly engaging telling of the Hulk Hogan suit against Gawker (funded by Theil). Read it if you’re interested in that story or the personalities of Thiel or Nick Denton (founder of Gawker)
Stillness is the Key by Ryan HolidayStoicismAudiobook3I read it because I enjoyed another book he wrote about Stoicism. Mostly fluff but still maybe useful to read, occasionally? Good for someone new to Stoicism.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick RothfussFantasyAudiobook4I read these a long time ago and loved them. This was my first time revisiting – something like 6 years later. A bit Mary Sue but overall fun, a little funny, interesting worldbuilding, and an overall good time. I enjoyed them, but not nearly so much as the first time. Still, not bad.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick RothfussFantasyAudiobook4
Trust Me I’m Lying by Ryan HolidayMemoirKindle4This was Ryan Holiday’s memoir of his time spent in the media industry manufacturing outrage and driving clicks on behalf of his clients. I wrote more about it here. Interesting and depressing.
Never Enough by Judith GriselPsychologyKindle3.5I read this because I wanted to know more about addiction. The author struggled with addiction and later became an expert in it from a psychological perspective (after getting clean), and so the book blends anecdote and psychological research.
10% Happier by Dan HarrisMemoirAudiobook3This was a memoir from someone in the media industry and his experiences with Buddhism. Maybe good for someone who wants to know more about either topic. Not much new for me.
Norse Mythology by Neil GaimanMythologyAudiobook2.5This was Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse myths. Although I’m very interested in mythology and I generally like Neil’s style, I struggled through this.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu SuzukiMeditationAudiobook2.5I read this because I wanted to know more about Buddhism. It was very short and maybe I didn’t know enough about Buddhism to get much out of it.
Cryptonomicon by Neil StephensonScience fictionAudiobook4This is one of those nerd books. It’s very long. I made it something like 13 of the way through once before and bailed. This time I finished. It’s correct in the way so much Science Fiction isn’t. And it waxes on topics that only someone interested in nerdy topics would enjoy. It’s also interesting historically and well-written.
Fall by Neil StephensonScience fictionPhysical4I read it because I wanted to know about the future and heard that Neil had insights with books like Snow Crash that later came true. I really enjoyed this book although it took me a long time to finish the ~900 pages. A compelling story and realistic takes on future technology.
Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelHistorical fictionPhysical5Read this twice and it held up. It’s one of those books that can get you fired up and ambitous on business topics. Historical fiction that covers a self-made man who did it through effort and cunning during the reign of Henry VIII.
This Won’t Scale by Drift Marketing TeamBusinessKindle4I read this because I wanted to learn more about marketing for my business. I got some value from it, but there were really two big ideas: 1.Do things that don’t scale that make great experiences for your customers. 2. Show that you’re a human being. Don’t be afraid of warts.
Hacking Sales by Max AltschulerBusinessKindle4I read this because I wanted to learn more about sales for my business. It had a lot of extremely actionable advice that probably won’t age well. Some of it felt unethical to me. Still, seems that a lot of growth hackers do stuff like this.
The Man Who Solved the Market by Gregory ZuckermanBiographyAudiobook2.5I took a chance on this because of Audible’s generous return policy (you can basically return anything, no questions asked). I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve found biographies are generally very unactionable, and this wasn’t an exception, but it was still surprisingly interesting seeing an account of a big quantitative trading firm.
Stubborn Attachments by Tyler CowenPhilosophyPhysical4his was the first book I read by Tyler Cowen. I love Marginal Revolution and he always struck me as a smart guy. This lived up to his general philosophy of cutting cruft. High content/ideas per word. Generally an argument for how to be an effective altruist (gdp as proxy for happiness + future humans as important = we should be priortizing future humans highly). Solid, but nothing life changing.
The Undoing Project by Michael LewisBiographyAudiobook3I listened to this after hearing Lewis interviewed by Tim Ferriss. He covers the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their lives, relationship, and discoveries. Because they lived interesting lives (e.g. escaping nazis, fighting for Israel) that part was less boring than you’d expect.
Bobiverse #1 by Dennis TaylorScience fictionAudiobook3A fun adventure series about exploring other worlds and meeting aliens. Appealing to nerds in the same way as Ready Player One (although I cringed a lot at that and related less).
Bobiverse #2 by Dennis TaylorScience fictionAudiobook3
Bobiverse #3 by Dennis TaylorScience fictionAudiobook3
Bobiverse #4 by Dennis TaylorScience fictionAudiobook3
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay KristoffYA Science fictionPhysical2I read this because my girlfriend recommended it. The most interesting part about it for me was the presentation. It was presented as a collection of artifacts from an investigation that together told a story. Chat logs, commentary from watching a security camera, etc. They managed to do a great job of telling an engaging story while sticking to that medium. I cringed at times, but that’s YA.
White Fragility by Robin DiangeloSocietyPhysical1I didn’t finish this, but read most of it and felt like I got the gist. Lots of assertions without evidence and redefinitions of words.
Apropos of Nothing by Woody AllenMemoirAudiobook3Surprisingly good! It caught my eye because I wanted to learn more about the Ronan Farrow situation (yes, gossip), but ultimately I like to learn about successful people in different fields because they’re sometimes interesting. This was a solid book because it wasn’t too long, was funny at times (and was read by the author who knows how to deliver a punchline), covered the basics of his life but didn’t dwell on the boring parts, satisfied my desire for gossip, and held little nuggets of insight into what makes a good movie or how to hire or other arcane bits of advice for people making movies.
Spring Snow by Yukio MishimaLiterary fictionPhysical3.5I read it because a friend of mine recommended it. It provides a window into 1912 Japan when western influence had gained significant ground (pool tables, western houses, legal systems) but traditional Japan was still a thing (reverence for the Emperor, elaborate ceremonies). Kiyoaki is the main character. He’s sensitive, passionate, and out of place in the increasingly materialistic and nihilistic Japan. A quote, when his grandmother is talking about him: “How many of these simpering lads nowadays are capable of something like that? No doubt about it–Kiyoaki’s a true grandson of my husband’s.” … Her voice came echoing gaily out of another era, one of upheavals, a violent era forgotten by this generation, in which fear of imprisonment and death held no one in check, an era in which the threat of both was part of the texture of everyday life … how remarkable that this grandson, who seemed so effete at first glance, should have revived the spirit of that age before her very eyes.” It reminded me of Julius Evola. And later, his best friend Honda looked at him and thought: “Here before him, he thought, was passion in its truest sense. The kind of thing that would never take possession of [Honda]. But more than that, he thought, wasn’t it true that no poassion whateveer would succeed in sweeping him away? For he realized that his nature seemed to be lacking in the quality that made this possible.” The imagery was excellent and interesting. The plot was light, a love story.
Runaway Horses by Yukio MishimaLiterary fictionPhysical3.5Similar to Spring Snow, but this follows a young violent revolutionary. “Was it not true, he wondered, that if he wanted to take action he now had no choice but somehow to make scret use of the thrust of evil and let its strength drive him forward? Just as his father had done? No, certainly not. … In any event, once he had attained his purpose he would turn his sword against himself. At that moment, he felt, the pure evil within him would also die in the clash with the pure righteousness of his act.”
The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanYA FantasyAudiobook2.5I read it because I enjoyed American Gods, remembered hearing it was good, and it was on sale on Audible. A full-cast narration, which is always nice. Light, creative, and a little fun.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas PynchonLiterary fictionPhysical2.5I read it because I heard good things about Pynchon. Second time reading it. A short but complex novel with an interesting writing style. I feel like I still don’t “get it.”
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