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!