My Year in Reading 2018

It is that time of the year when others – more (or better) read than I – share the highlights of their reading from the year. As with last year, I’ve commissioned myself -unbidden, besides perhaps a desire to record the key themes that drove and/or came out of my reading – to weigh in with the highlights of my own reading.So here goes.

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Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury was all the rage on the airwaves at the turn of the year, which is how I ended up grabbing a copy for myself and digging in. As I plodded through it, I found the mix of fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes reporting and qualified conjecture curiously engaging, drawn by the lurid details behind public events and happenings in what at the time had been a Trump presidency that seemingly lurched from one PR disaster to the other. A few themes ran through Fire and Fury – the Trump team being surprised by the election win and thus poorly prepared to lead, the hold of Stephen Bannon and the alt-Right and infighting amongst various factions of the administration. Despite strenuous denials at the time, the events of the year – multiple firings, leaks, indictments, evidence of Russian activities and prison sentences – would seem to give credence to the viewpoint of the book, more so as the year draws to an end.

After that maelstrom, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead seemed the perfect riposte given its subject which was life across (regular) America. Of the essays included, Upon This Rock resonated strongly, bringing back back memories of growing up within the Christian Youth subculture and bingeing on the music of its stars such as Relient K, DC Talk, Audi Adrenaline and Petra. Elsewhere in the collection of essays, there was reflection on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Darwin before Darwin (Constantine Samuel Rafinesque) and one of the more nuanced assessments of Michael Jackson – warts and all – I have read. This Christian subculture, amongst other things, also featured in Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, his description of growing up in South Africa including a reflection on the centrality of church in all its various guises. Other themes of interest touched on included the dysfunctional malehood of his step father, school and navigating the evolving racial landscape, all themes which have shaped is journey and his perspectives as he hosts The Daily Show.

Since reading Colm Tóibín’s 2014 essay, The Literature of Grief, at a time I was wrestling with my own grief and loss, each year I have returned to something related – sometimes tangentially – to his work. Last year was finally watching the movie Brooklyn, this year it was reading The Testament of Mary, a somewhat contrarian retelling of the latter part of Mary’s life as she jostles with the gospel writers who try to recast Jesus as the son of God, remarkably relevant to this age of fake news I suspect.

For new and emerging technology I read Soonish, a fly-by-the-seat-of-the pants look at upcoming technology with a focus on potentially transformative technology and the issues which need to be resolved to bring them to fruition. Quantum computing, rockets, scramjets, asteroid mining, fusion power and origami rooms all showed their heads in this wide ranging book. Jim Al-Kalili’s Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed, was a fascinating review of the older scientific underpinnings of technology. His BBC podcast, The Life Scientific is one I have enjoyed over the years, and still do.

I found Austin Kleon from a retweet by Alan Jacobs, which led to my signing up to his weekly newsletter and reading his book, Steal Like an Artist. From the newsletter, I found Merlin Coverley’s The Art of Wandering, a reflection on the writer as a walker both in history and in modern times. It, the writer and/or his/her protagonist as a walker and observer, is a theme I have found myself drawn to over the years, influenced primarily by the works of the likes of WG Sebald and Teju Cole.

The two biographies I read this year; Jonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life and David Leeming’s James Baldwin, A Biography offered two perspectives on race relations in 1960/70’s America. Where Ali’s basis for fame was his brute strength -some would say his essential skill was the finesse with which he boxed- Baldwin’s was largely intellectual. The common thread in both their lives was dealing with the weight of their fame, and the expectation from all sides of the race debate – the establishment, white liberal America and the various Black empowerment factions to carry the flag for their various causes.Both biographies were deeply personal, making a strong effort to show the persons behind the huge reputations, full marks were achieved by both books in my opinion.

As a/an (armchair) Liverpool FC fan, John Barnes comes to mind as the most successful black footballer to have worn the Liverbird with distinction, it was fascinating to read of a black footballer from another time, Howard Gayle, who had the distinction of being the first black player to be part of the first team at Liverpool FC. He tells his story in 61 Minutes in Munich, which in addition to sharing his experience of coming on as a substitute against Bayern Munich in the 1981 European Cup final (the precursor to the UEFA Champions League) also delved into Liverpool – the city’s – slave trading legacy and the racism black footballers of that era had to deal with. Incredibly, in a year in which France won the World Cup, and a fairly diverse England team reached the Semi’s, racism in football is back on the front pages.

The Best American Essays collection has become a staple of my year. 2017’s version, edited by Leslie Jamison featured a number of noteworthy reads for me, Rachel Ghansah’s The Weight of Baldwin being one of the triggers for reading the fuller Baldwin biography this year. Jason Arment’s Two Shallow Graves, Emily Maloney’s The Cost of Living and Rachel Kushner’s We Are Orphans here were others I found noteworthy/ deeply personal for a various reasons.

The fate of book stores and libraries is a subject persons invested in them have strong opinions on, which was how I stumbled on to The Library Book, a collection of essays on the subject of libraries from famous names including amongst others Seth Godin, Stephen Fry and Zadie Smith.

In other reading, I finally managed to read Dinaw Mengestu’s highly praised The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine (a much lighter read) and Skye Jethani’s What’s Wrong With Religion, another one I picked up from listening to his (and Phil Vischer’s) podcast.

31 Days of Journaling, Day 14: Something Consumed



For Day 14

Currently on my reading list is David Leeming’s tell all biography of James Baldwin. Whilst it is a hefty read – and I have spent the most of the last month plodding through it between doing life and work – a few themes have stood out, including the influence of church, the civil rights movement and his struggle with his sexuality.

The more I read this, the clearer just how great an intellect he was is under scored in my mind. I’ll never read Go Tell It On The Mountain  or Giovanni’s Room the same way again.

31 Days of Journaling, Day 3: One Thing

For the prompt for Day 3 of the 31 Day Journaling Challenge at The Art of Manliness

Alongside a regular practice, building a regular practice of prayer and bible study has been one of the things I have struggled most with over the years and which has come up again in this latest iteration of beginning again.

As for actual steps this time, I have bought a copy of 90 Days in Judges, Galatians and Ephesians by Tim Keller and Richard Coekin, a notebook and a pack of hibiscus tea, the intent being to make that part of a new morning routine in which I brew a cup of tea and settle in to read the assigned reading of the day and write notes in my mew black book. Two days in already, I hope I can make it to the 90 and then beyond.

The Year in Reading 2017

After many years of having thoroughly enjoyed the annual parade of opinions of books over at The Millions, I decided to have a go myself this year. Far from being a celebration of a year in which I read deeply and widely, it is a light reflection on all the things I managed to read this year. Enjoy!

Of the myriad of things I most deeply wanted to achieve this year, two loomed large in the personal development domain; to read more and write more, which was why I entered the year clutching my copy of Patty Dann‘s The Butterfly Hours close to my chest. In my head, writing more  – and by extension, better – required tools for tuning my craft, which was why this book, with its promise of personal memoir married to prompts, seemed the perfect fit. It helped that all nineteen reviews on Amazon were 5*. I did enjoy the book, albeit more an an example of easy reading memoir than a collection of prompts. I suspect that had a lot more to do with me than the book.  If it is any consolation, I returned to it several times over the course of the year, it along with Dinty Moore‘s Crafting The Personal Essay being fine examples of the sort of creative non-fiction I would like to churn out.

Next up was Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, which I finally finished at this third time of asking. On my two previous attempts, I had found myself bogged down in the tedious beginning, but ploughing through this time brought me to the delights of the end. What I never quite managed to suss out was just how autobiographical the novel was, given that like the Sais Taiye has dual Nigerian and Ghanian roots and is also a twin. So thoroughly did I enjoy this that I went hunting for her seminal essay from 2005, Bye Bye Babar. Well worth the read, if I say so myself.

The grudging, reluctant engagement with books which dogged my interactions with both books was something I found recurred over the course of the year. The list of unfinished books is extensive with Andrea Lucado’s English Lessons and Adam Gopnik’s At The Strangers’ Gate  being the more notable.  The books I did finish fell mainly into four main categories; ones I read as guides for my #100DaysOfCreating project (Felix Feneon’s Novels in Three Lines and Robert Smartwood’s Hint Fiction), annual anthologies which have become regular fixtures on my reading list (such as the Jonathan Franzen edited 2016 edition of The Best American Essays), personal essay collections (such as David SedarisLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things) and books inspired by media I consumed during the course of the year (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes a useful counterpoint to binge watching all five seasons of Elementary, and Walk On – Steve Stockman’s attempt at providing insights into the faith that underpins U2’s oeuvre).

I had a late spurt of three books to thank for reaching fifteen books this year. All three were really good reads:  Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson’s We Have No Idea (a reminder that for all we know about quarks, leptons, and the material universe, the vast majority of what is around us is unknown), Dame Elizabeth Anionwu’s Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union (a deeply personal story of growing up mixed race in the United Kingdom of the 50’s and 60’s and eventually connecting with her Nigerian heritage) and Diego Torres‘s The Special One: The Secret World of Jose Mourinho (a no-holds barred look at the behind the scenes behaviour of Mourinho, particularly his Real Madrid sojourn and how super agent Jorge Mendes towered over his transfer dealings).

All told reading more widely  – and more consistently – has to be one of the objectives for the new year. Braced for the challenge.

The Year in Reading 2015

Trying to get a lot more structured with reading – 25 books in total spread across 5 categories – Christian Classics, Literary Classics, Popular Fiction, Modern Christian Writing and Productivity, Personal Development & Non-fiction.

Completed:

  1. Moonwalking with Einstein – Joshua Foer
  2. The Pioneer Detectives -Konstantin Kakaes
  3. The Best American Essays 2014 – JJ Sullivan (ed)
  4. The Land of Steady Habits – Ted Thompson
  5. Sexual Detox – Tim Challies
  6. NW – Zadie Smith
  7. Crafting the Personal Essay – Dinty W Moore
  8. What’s so Amazing About Grace – Phillip Yancey
  9. How To Be Alone – Jonathan Franzen
  10. The Best American Essays 2013 – Cheryl Strayed (ed)
  11. The Seven Good Years – Etgar Keret
  12. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez – Richard Rodriguez
  13. The Children Act – Ian McEwan
  14. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
  15. Something to Answer For – P.H. Newby

The Year In Reading 2014

  1. Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth – Warsan Shire
  2. The Outsider – Albert Camus
  3. Merry Christmas, Alex Cross – James Patterson
  4. The Map of Love – Ahdaf Soueif
  5. Finally Free: Fighting For Purity with the Power of Grace – Heath Lambert
  6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How To Change – Charles Duhigg
  7. On Writing – Steven King
  8. Love At First Click – Laurie Davis
  9. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
  10. Everyday is for the thief – Teju Cole
  11. On Beauty – Zadie Smith
  12. Don’t Tell Mum I work on the Oil Rigs – Paul Carter
  13. The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  14. Frank Sinatra Has A Cold: And Other Essays – Gay Talese
  15. Another Man’s War – Barnaby Phillips
  16. A Delicate Truth – John le Carré

About Town – Conversations, Nandos and Catching Up on Reading

Somehow last Friday, I found myself at Nandos. Somehow doesn’t quite tell the full story given it had more than a hint of conscious effort to it, and my history with the darned place. I suspect it had more to do with a sense of longing than anything else seeing as the last time I was here was in early July. Then, the closest thing to the distinctly autumnal chill I now felt was the distant memory of spring’s tail as she ambled past, urged on by our nearly – but not quite summery  – summer.  I managed to score my regular table, number 11, proceeding to order the self-same meal I have ordered on each of the 100 + times since May 2012 that I’ve been here – half a chicken in lemon and herb, and a mixed leaf salad.

Extra hot sauce and cutlery in hand, I managed to navigate the maze of tables and chairs to my seat before that odd feeling of being watched compelled me to look up, upon which I caught the eye of an old friend I hadn’t seen since his short sojourn in Norway back in 2010. Dropping all, I made my way to the table he was sat at, where his wife and children were digging into a bowl of olives waiting for their own order.We shared a chest bump, to the consternation of more than a few onlookers.

This man! You still dey do this your Voltron moves abi? It was a reference to my gift of invisibility. Enquiries with more than a few mutual friends had failed to turn up my current whereabouts. In my defense, the one friend who might have known was offshore, and had been for the better part of three weeks already. We made small talk – interspersed with regular rather loud handshakes – during which it transpired he had been in town for a couple of weeks already, holidaying with his family, taking the opportunity to escape from the bedlam that is Nigeria, most especially the old motherlode I used to work at. In the space of five minutes or so, I’d caught up on a lot – a steady stream of exits form the old mother lode, which expatriate was back in the country as a contract consultant and what high flier had earned a move to Houston, and of course the developing Ebola story.

The Scottish referendum – I am as yet still undecided – came up too. In theory, I’m in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote, but neither argument has been put forward particularly compellingly enough to me so far. His take was a cautionary tale – based on his experience of Norway – about high taxes, and the North Sea oil numbers which depending on who you talk to might not be so secure after all. That the SNP which has made a big song and dance of protecting the NHS actually has underfunded it, or so the fact checkers say, hardly builds any confidence me that they’ve got a clue. All done and dusted, we swap phone numbers with a promise to catch up properly before he heads off to Nigeria, leaving me to reflect on my way home on just how small margins of coincidence can be. Nandos does have a reputation for being the defacto Nigerian embassy in Aberdeen, at least so says Tolu Ogunlesi. One suspects he should know, even though some would disagree.

The theme of running into old acquaintances continues over the weekend. Sorting out my groceries at my local ASDA after my Saturday morning gym session, and the movies to go see Into the Storm, I run into another old chum – this time an old school mate from Nigeria. He wants to chat a bit more and offer commiserations, aisles at the mall chock full of people are hardly the place for that, and I am neither keen nor remotely interested in being dragged all the way back so I speed him up and move on with a promise of a phone call to catch up properly.

By the time I am headed home, my weekend has pretty much ended. All that is left is for me to settle in with my copy of Gay Talese’s Frank Sinatra Has A Cold, and while away what is left of the Saturday. By and large, it is pretty much back to regular programming at mine, not quite perfect but an ever more stable, new normal.

The Year In Reading 2013

  1. And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini
  2. The Sound of Things Falling – Juan Gabriel Vasquez
  3. Fine Boys – Eghosa Imasuen
  4. The One: A Realistic Guide to Choosing Your Soul Mate – Ben Young & Sam Adams
  5. Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me: A Memoir of sorts – Ian Morgan Cron
  6. Networking for people who hate networking – Devora Zack.
  7. The Practice of the Presence of God – Brother Lawrence
  8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a  world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  9. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

5 Tests of Compatibility

From my current read, Ben Young and Dr Sam Adams’ book – The One: A Realistic Guide to Choosing Your Soul Mate.

  1. Is there chemistry? Are you sexually/ physically attracted to your partner?
  2. Is your relationship natural? Do things flow naturally or are you spending a lot more time resolving issues than demonstrating a natural fit?
  3. Would this be a good friend? If the chemistry was removed, is it someone you’d want to be with, whose company you enjoy?
  4. Can you accept his or her personality as is? Could you spend the rest of your life with the person as they are?
  5. Would you want your kids to be like him or her? Could you envision a future in which your children turn out like him or her?

Oh and to pass the test, it must be ‘Yes’, 100%…

Small Change #1 – Drink Up

52_Small_Changes_-_CoverLR

From the 52 Small Changes Book:

Water is the driving force of nature

– Leonardo Da Vinci

Or as Fela once famously sang, water no get enemy. 

Up until a month ago, Cokes were my default drink, in all its forms – diet, regular, zero and a few non conventional forms too [mixed with all sorts of other liquids], which is why this first small chnage will need some serious getting used to.

The Plan

  1. Replace coffees with green tea. Target is to scale back to one morning coffee each day at most.

  2. Buy a 1L stainless steel water bottle and keep it topped up at my desk through work.

  3. Straight off the bat, upon waking up, I will down a cup of water to kick start my day.

Simples 🙂

Currently listening to: You Are – Colton Dixon