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 Friday Read: Are Emotions Prophetic?

Are emotions prophetic? The short answer is No, but Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex offers a good summary of the long answer [pdf]:

Every feeling is like a summary of data, a quick encapsulation of all the information processing that we don’t have access to. (As Pham puts it, emotions are like a “privileged window” into the subterranean mind.) When it comes to making predictions about complex events, this extra information is often essential. It represents the difference between an informed guess and random chance.

Thin-slicing for dummies? I suppose the unasked question is how our prejudices, worldview and the socio-cultural context bias us in one direction or the other when we emotionally thin-slice… It just might be a good time for me to re-read Gladwell’s Blink too.

Web Reads… 27Feb2011

  1. The Queen advertises for a dish washer to come on staff… My local MSP wonders if they’ve not heard of a dish washing machine.
  2. The WHO drills down into the alcohol stats.. Apparently alcohol killed more people than AIDS or TB in 2010.. Sobering..
  3. Understanding the story.. Thirteen perspectives….
  4. Brain chemicals and dating.. A primer.
  5. Teju Cole’s ‘Open City’ hits the shelves… The New YorkerThe Daily Beast and The Apostrophe weigh in with reviews.
  6. The kid named Facebook..Ostensibly its a testament to the impact FB had on the Egypt Revolution.. Hopefully, the kid doesn’t get a lot of stick for the name though..
  7. There’s an app for that… Tracking relationship changes on Facebook gets the Web2.0 makeover….. SMH..
  8. Web mourning?
  9. Help for the blokes – wristbands that warn of potentially PMSing partners.
  10. Bringing faiths together by cuisine.. The Faith and The Hot Dog show..

Web Reads.. 18Feb2011

  1. ‘Spiritual’ love goes social… The story of Vicars connected by a witty comment on Facebook
  2. A soup ladle turns out to be a life saver in more ways than one.. Meet the bloke saved from a tiger by his wife’s soup ladle
  3. ‘Life is short, have an affair?’… Al Mohler muses on the Ashley  Madison business model..
  4. GABA receptors may be the reason for anxiety around that ‘time of the month’ for the lasses..
  5. The ‘thief’ who sued the bloke he tried to steal from – and got 13k pounds..
  6. A not so short history of Aji-no-moto.. And the scare scaremongering around MSG.
  7. Man vs Machine.. 1-0 to the machines on Jeopardy..

Web Reads… 11Feb11

  1. Personality tests go a notch up – this site offers personality tests based on your blog.
  2. Automating war? Danger room reports that one in fifty ‘combatants’ in Afghanistan is a robot.
  3. The key to snagging the dream girl appears to be acting uninterested. @JangleLegJones thinks differently, sadly I couldn’t convince her to write a 4000 word essay deconstructing the research.
  4. Tim Challies offers the chance to pre-order his new book, and get a signed copy.
  5. Apparently, even sex is a matter for IQ these days.. Sigh..
  6. There’s an app for that. Confessionals go electronic.
  7. Sleepwalking may be in the DNA after all.
  8. A kiss too far?
  9. Much ado about farting
  10. Potentially crappy valentine weekend coming up? Try these books to get you laid..

WebReads.. 04Feb2011

  1. Steve shares his learnings so far – 30 days after quitting Facebook
  2. The Christian Illuminati? Or Just a well connected crew? More questions than answers in this teaser...
  3. Large-proofing emergency services – counting the costs.
  4. The Jerusalem UFO, or a drone?
  5. Becoming invisible?
  6. Wack or what? The bloke who added his wife to a terrorist watch list to prevent her flying back home.
  7. ‘Spray-on skin’ for burn victims.
  8. This brings a whole new meaning to the storm in a tea-cup idiom. Storm in a bed sheet?
  9. Mubarak’s cronies launch a cyber counter-insurgency
  10. Mosquitoes evolved?

WebReads… 28Jan

    1. Genetically engineering plants to spot bombs may be the future of counter terrorism..
    2. LED teeth may be the new cool.. If only in Japan..
    3. Want to make the transition from talk to bed? Social media might be it after all. So much for Gladwell’s ‘diss’ of social media.
    4. Apparently brain scans can identify a predisposition to transexuality..
    5. His Grace – Archbishop Crammer – weighs in on the lack of political voices speaking up on the abortion debate.
    6. Tyler Blanski encourages us to re-think sex
    7. One bloke got busted for importing cockroaches… HT @relevantmag