by David Scothern.
I have always enjoyed reading, but its’ not always been a core part of my life. A few years ago, I set myself the goal of reading more. I wanted to finish ten books in a year, and the target slowly increased. In 2018 I had a goal to finish a book a week. In 2019 I pushed myself to complete two books each week, to arrive at 104 books completed by the end of the year.
When I talk about this goal with people, one of the first questions that comes up is “why?”. The written word maybe our greatest invention. It allows us to store our knowledge and memories as a species. Without the written word, we would not have advanced as far as we have. In the English language we use lines of ink to create a series of 26 primary shapes (letters) and a series of secondary shapes (numbers and punctuation) and from those shapes we create meaning; memories and knowledge. We can find out what our ancestors were thinking, feeling and experiencing thousands of years ago through the written word. Books are a doorway to our history, our present and our future. Books contain wisdom, humour and tragedy. The question of “why?” should be flipped back. It is not a case of why I would read, but rather why would I not?
For a long time, most of my life, I have felt directionless. When I started reading in earnest, the knowledge in those books acted as a compass and map. At first, the map was blurry, like a low-resolution image from a satellite photo. The more I read, the clearer the image became. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a direction. I have a purpose and a goal I am aiming towards; financial independence in four years (check out my other blog regarding this, here). Books are the fuel that keeps me moving towards that goal.
Another question I am asked relates to how I find the time to consume this many books. There are three ways I experience books; physical print, e-books and audiobooks. At home I will read books in print and I don’t generally carry physical books around with me as I would always also need to carry glasses. When I am out and about, I can use my Kindle app as I can increase the font size. I also walk a lot in my daily life. As I walk, I listen.
At 19:25 on 31/12/19 I finished my 104th book for the year; The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss. As you would expect from reading 104 books in a year, not every book was an enjoyable read. Some books challenged me, some moved me, and some made me angry. I will highlight some of the most memorable books for the year and provide my full reading list for reference, and then talk a little about my ideas for 2020.
January 2019 (11 books completed).
The first work of fiction of the year was Artemis, which I enjoyed a great deal. Andy Weir is the man who wrote The Martian, another work of fiction I enjoyed. Artemis is a murder mystery on the first city on the Moon. I loved the setting and world-building from Andy Weir and hope that one day a film adaptation is made. My only criticism is that the main character, a young woman of Arabian descent, did not have a distinct personality.
The highlight of January was The Secret Barrister. I knew very little about the Criminal Justice System in the UK, but this book really opened my eyes. You can tell that the author cares deeply about their profession and the system in general, and it makes you angry and frustrated in equal measure at how that system is crumbling due to lack of funding.
February (10 books completed).
It’s fair to say I was a little engrossed in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Series (now known as The Last Kingdom series). His earlier Arthurian Trilogy remains my favourite trilogy of books (alongside the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett). The Saxon Series is set some time after the events of the Arthurian Trilogy and tells the story of Uhtred, a Saxon raised as a Dane. The whole series is a fantastic read, but books 3 and 4 were a highlight.
March (5 books completed).
Around Easter time my reading slowed down. I was waiting for surgery on my right shoulder and the pain was distracting me from reading. The Etymologicon was unlike anything else I had read before. It’s an exploration of the history of the English language and how words came to be, and how their meanings change over time. A very interesting book. I also enjoyed The Humans by Matt Haig, a Sheffield-born author who has written about his experiences with depression and anxiety. I have become a fan of his work, and Matt Haig’s name crops up a few more times before the end of the year.
April (3 books completed).
May (5 books completed).
Replay was my first encounter with a type of fiction, that I’m not sure even has a name. It’s about a man who relives his life repeatedly, each time carrying memories over of his previous lives. It was unexpectedly moving and has stayed with me since. The book is a contained work with a beginning, middle and end, but there is an epilogue which hints at a sequel. Unfortunately, Ken Grimwood passed away before the sequel was completed.
June (11 books completed).
The Themis Files was a series of books that drew my attention with an amazing cover. I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the judgement was spot on. The books are a series of interviews which detail the discovery of a giant metal robot on Earth. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling the story, and I think it works better when you go in with no other information.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius calls back to my earlier point, that the written word is an amazing thing. Without it, I would have no way of knowing what this Roman Emperor, who lived almost two-thousand years before I was born, was thinking and feeling. Despite the centuries between his life and mine, his Meditations carries wisdom that is timeless. For anyone who is interested in Stoicism, I would recommend this book. If you don’t know what Stoicism is, then I would also recommend this book. Basically, read this book.
July (7 books completed),
July started well, with Margaret Atwood’s book (The Heart Goes Last) being an enjoyable read. It reminded me of The Transition (book 5 in January) in that it tells the story of a couple who sign up to a mysterious organisation to help resolve their problems. How to Own the World is a very good book and an invaluable reference point for anyone starting down the path of financial education. It is one of the first books I recommend to people who ask where they can learn more about investing. The remaining books in July were poor. I credit Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, as changing my life, but Fake came across as a cash-grab with very little substance contained in the book. It was a bit heavy on religion and woo-woo for my taste.
The covers to the three books of the Themis Files.
August (8 books completed).
As a psychology graduate, addiction is something that interests me. Many books I’ve read on personal development and investments have referenced Allen Carr’s Easy Way series. I read the gambling entry in the series and it was mildly interesting but aimed at a specific audience. Some addicts may get help from this book, but I think you must be ready to learn before you can get help from it. If the addict does not realise they have a problem, then I doubt they will learn much from it.
Earlier in the year, I mentioned Replay as an introduction to a type of fiction I had not experienced before. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was my second experience. The premise is largely the same as Replay, expect in Life After Life the character does not consciously remember each prior version of her life. Still, a very moving and emotional book.
September (10 books completed).
The Wall and VOX were the highlights of September. I read both books whilst on a cruise around the Norwegian Fjords and the peaceful setting of sitting in the middle of the sea with a good book is an experience I long to repeat. Both books are most easily categorised as dystopian. The Wall is set in Britain in the near future. Sea levels have risen and the whole of Britain is surrounded by a wall, on which people complete national service by patrolling the wall to stop refugees entering the country. It’s a grim story, but a page-turner.
Whilst The Wall was a page-turner, VOX was utterly engrossing. Set in the near future of the US, religious fundamentalists have taken over the government and all woman now wear a device on their wrist that counts the number of words spoken in a day. This applies to women of all ages, even infants and children. If they exceed one-hundred words in a day they experience electrical shocks of increasing intensity.
October (8 books completed).
Another strong month in which most of the books are of a high quality. David Tarn’s property book is one of the best property investment books I’ve read. It provides practical advice, whereas some other books come across as an attempt to sell seminar tickets. The Richest Man in Babylon is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn about money, but the highlight of 2019 was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl. This is another book that is referenced by most personal development authors and it’s an autobiographical account of Frankl’s time in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. An incredibly moving book that shows there can be hope even in the most horrific of circumstances.
November (11 books completed).
As the year was drawing to a close, I found that I wanted to know more about religion. I am not a religious person, but I found I wanted to understand more about what different religions believe and how they fit in to our history as a species. I thought I would start by exploring Buddhism as I always had the impression it was more of a way of living than an actual religion with all the attached supernatural nonsense. My eyes were well and truly opened and I ended up laughing my way through most of the book.
The Latte Factor by David Bach is another great introduction to the long-term benefits of regular investing and sensible financial planning. By the time I started the book, it was a bit basic for me, but for someone who wants to understand more about investing and does not want a dry, academic-style book, this is a good starting point. It is written as a series of conversations between a young woman and a coffee shop owner who mentors her. It’s a clever concept for introducing a subject that can intimidate many people.
December (15 books completed).
December was a busy month, but I had a lot of free time. Forex Trading for Beginners was one of the few books I asked for a refund on. It was terrible. Badly written and a confused mess, I learned nothing from it.
The Last by Hanna Jameson was the last work of fiction I read in 2019 and it was very enjoyable. It tells the story of a group of survivors in the Swiss countryside who escape the nuclear war that has seemingly devastated much of the planet. Told as a series of journal entries, it only hints at what is going on in the wider world and focuses on the personal stories of those who survived. I could easily see one of the networks such as Netflix or Amazon picking this up as a mini-series.
Thoughts for 2020
The last few years have kickstarted my reading and helped me develop as a person. I want to continue reading and I feel that having some sort of annual challenge helps focus me. I don’t want to try another target that focuses on quantity, as I can see how that leads to diminishing returns. Instead, I am going to try and focus on different genres or subjects.
I want to read more of the classics, and I’m thinking specifically about Dracula, Frankenstein, The Catcher in the Rye, and then works by Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte and Dickens. I will continue to read more about investments, and money generally, and it’s all part of my plan for financial independence. I want to read more history also. I have read extensively around the Second World War, and my First World War knowledge is ok. I know almost nothing about the Napoleonic Wars, and I think I will challenge myself to learn more about them.
I welcome any suggestions for good books about any subject though, so if you have any suggestions please leave a comment.
Happy New Year!
Blog by David Scothern.
This meme though… How many Star Wars films are there now? Nine trilogy films, Rogue One and Solo. Out of those eleven films only one is widely agreed as a classic, and that’s the second one ever made, The Empire Strikes Back. Some of them are generally considered poor such as The Phantom Menace and Solo. I enjoyed Revenge of the Sith. It wasn’t perfect but it encapsulated all the best things about Star Wars; a massive space battle and some epic lightsabre duels. The fights all had psychology and you could tell what was happening. The action had meaning. Take the final battle between Obi-wan and Anakin. For the entirety of the duel, Obi-wan is retreating and countering Anakin’s furious attack. The elder Jedi is overpowered but he is the better Jedi. He gives himself over to the Force and defeats Anakin. In a somewhat underwhelming prequel trilogy, the moment between Obi-wan and Anakin is earned.
The sequel trilogy has been a disaster. There’s no other way to describe it. The Force Awakens is a beat-by-beat copy of A New Hope. Visually, it’s stunning. There are some scenes that gave me goose bumps the first time around, but the film does not stand up to repeated viewing. Surprisingly, neither does The Last Jedi despite being an ambitious and daring take on the Star Wars setting. Rise of Skywalker was offensive on many levels and at times felt like badly written fanfiction. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Kelly Marie Tran was the first female, non-white lead in Star Wars.
Kelly Marie Tran
Rose was played by Kelly Marie Tran in The Last Jedi and was a decent enough character. The actress was no doubt excited to be starring in a Star Wars movie, but I imagine that excitement was short-lived when she received horrific abuse by trolls on social media. Tran ended up closing her social media accounts and has reportedly had to seek therapy to deal with the abuse. I found it offensive that instead of continuing her character development in Rise of Skywalker, she was basically relegated to an extra with only a couple of lines in the movie. It was insulting and a step-backward for the makers of the film to relegate the first real non-white female lead in a Star Wars film to a glorified extra. Tran deserved better.
Keeping track of lightsabers in the new trilogy is an impossibility. In TFA we are told that Luke’s first lightsaber has been recovered, because. It was last seen attached to his severed hand and falling into the atmosphere of a gas giant but here it is, in the hands of an alien character. Because.
Luke then takes himself off to Ahch-To without a lightsaber. Somehow, his second one went walk about but now it appears he had his sister’s lightsaber. His first scene in TLJ shows him toss his first lightsaber off the edge of a cliff as though it’s a piece of trash. His first scene in Rise of Skywalker shows him lecturing Rey on the importance of respecting your lightsaber.
In the final battle against Palpatine, Rey is then using two blue sabers, but Leia’s is shown to be yellow. So, what happened to the green saber?
I don’t even know where to begin. So, the reveal that the Emperor is back is given away in the opening crawl. It turns out he has been behind everything and was responsible for cloning Snoke and using him as a puppet. This is retconning of the highest order and is not remotely credible. However, I was only a few minutes into the movie and was willing to let it go.
Leia’s scenes were awkward as they were obviously lifted from previous unused footage before Carrie Fisher’s death. This was always going to be a difficult one, but personally I would have written Leia out of the film.
Much of the film is dedicated to finding a sort of compass that would allow the Resistance to find the base that the Emperor is building his new Empire from. The Emperor and his dark world were very well designed and atmospheric. I loved seeing the old-school Star Destroyer designs as well. The search though, was, well, boring. Rey, Finn and Poe eventually find their way to the wreckage of the Death Star from Return of the Jedi. Standing on a cliff, Rey points a dagger at the wreckage and just kind of figures out that the compass they need is there. The whole scene is just a bit confusing and doesn’t work. It’s almost like the writers could not figure out how to move the plot along and tried to Jedi-mind-trick the audience into just going with the flow.
There are several death fake-outs in this movie, which I’ll now run through. Rey fatally wounds Kylo and then heals him, because. Rey seemingly kills Chewie, but the film pulls a bait-and-switch with no prior foreshadowing. Palpatine seemingly kills Kylo but he comes back. Palpatine seemingly kills Rey, but Kylo heals her. And I just remembered the kiss. It was not earned. One of my favourite parts of The Last Jedi was the tension between Kylo and Rey. Rise of Skywalker took several steps backward with their relationship before finally having them kiss. Unlike Anakin and Obi-wan’s emotional scene at the end of Episode III, this was not earned.
The final battle is where I mentally checked out. The key to any fictional good versus evil battle is that the odds must be overwhelmingly against the heroes, but there must be that hope of victory which, when it comes, makes sense. Luke destroying the first Death Star made sense because it was the result of his journey from farm boy to fledgling Jedi. The Rebels against the Empire in Return of the Jedi made sense because the Rebels threw everything they had at the Empire, but the Emperor’s arrogance and Vader’s redemption saved the day. All these beats were earned. Looking at other franchises, in the Battle of the Hornburg (movie version) the Uruk-hai have 10,000 troops against a few hundred Elves and Men. Then, when all seems lost Gandalf and the Rohirrim save the day. It was foreshadowed and earned.
So, let me explain the absurdity of the battle. There are thousands of Star Destroyers that, earlier in the film, rose from the surface of the planet to hover above the Emperor’s base. We are told that they cannot rise higher, because. We are then told that there is a transmission tower on the surface of the planet that will guide the Star Destroyers away from the planet. If the tower is destroyed, the Star Destroyers will be trapped. Seems a stupid place to build your fleet, but I’ll let it slide. We are then told that the Resistance will attack the base and land a force to take out the tower instead of firing a few missiles at it, why? Because.
When the battle starts, the Imperial fleet realises what the Resistance is attempting and switch to the transmission tower on the command ship and turn off the one on the planet. Wait, what? If you can put the tower on a ship why not every ship? Why have one on the planet? This is a direct call back to the crazy idea that only Snoke’s ship would have a particular type of scanner in The Last Jedi. So, the Resistance land on the surface of the command ship and ride horses along the hull (yes, you read that right) whilst fighting Stormtroopers. It was batshit crazy and not in a good way.
With the Resistance ships being vastly outnumbered, the writers had to find a way to nerf the Star Destroyers and so they dropped in a couple of lines; 1. The shields on the Star Destroyers will not work in the atmosphere and 2. Destroying their main cannon will destroy the whole ship. Does the Empire never fucking learn?
Another aspect that requires you to suspend disbelief is that whilst the Imperial warships require a helping hand to move in a vertical direction, the Resistance capital ships (when they do show up) have no difficulty flying rings around them, despite the ragtag fleet being a collection of civilian ships and freighters. The battle itself was also dull. Not once was I excited or even interested in what I was seeing. There was no logic or psychology to the battle. You can’t just have flashing lights; the battle must have a story. For a film franchise called Star Wars that now spans eleven films we have had very few exciting space battles.
What a horrible mess this film is. It’s almost as bad, maybe even worse, than The Phantom Menace. I could go on more about how Finn’s character was utterly wasted across three films. On paper, a Stormtrooper joining the Rebels sounds interesting, but they managed to make Finn look like a loser. Kylo Ren starts out as an emo teenager, develops in The Last Jedi and then reverts to being an emo teenager in Rise of Skywalker. Hux starts out as a major threat in The Force Awakens before being relegated to comedy relief in The Last Jedi and is then killed with disdain in an almost throwaway scene in Rise of Skywalker. It’s almost like they set out to make the worst trilogy possible.
When people ask me if I like Star Wars my reply is often along the lines of “I like what Star Wars could be.” When I was younger, I read much of the extended universe of novels that reached decades into the future after Return of the Jedi. There was material there that would have made an incredible sequel trilogy, and some of you may have guessed I am talking about Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. In this trilogy of books, the Empire is led by Grand Admiral Thrawn who is possibly the most compelling villain Star Wars has ever produced. A thoughtful, almost sophisticated warlord, he was later brought into the animated show Rebels. It is such a shame they did not use Zahn’s novels as a blueprint for this trilogy. I think Rise of Skywalker has done what Phantom Menace and Solo failed to do; it’s killed my interest in Star Wars.