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Books

Books Read in 2020

At the start of 2019 I gave myself a goal to read more books (in an effort to rekindle my inner bookworm), and this past year saw a continued growth in the number of books I read, which makes me very happy. Following the 11 I read in 2019, I got through 16 this past year, which falls just short of the goal of 18 I had given myself, which is close enough for me. I did hit some dead spots throughout the year where I didn’t read any, and a few (like Ametora, Pure Invention, and Killing the Business) I ended up reading in 1-2 days. That said, I’m raising my goal for 2021 to 20 books, which I think is very doable, as long as I manage to be more consistent throughout the year — and I think the lesson here is to not feel bad about dropping a book if I’m not really enjoying it. Below, are a few thoughts on everything that I read in 2020, which again saw me mostly alternate between fiction and non-fiction.

Moonraker (Ian Fleming)
This past year I continued to make my way through all of Fleming’s Bond novels. Despite being a huge Bond fanatic, this obsession has always entered around the movies, and I’ve never actually read all of the books (some here and there, but I don’t really remember which ones). This was one of my favourites so far — and it’s nothing like the wacky Star Wars-inspired spacefest that we see in the movie adaptation.

Katamari Damacy (L.E. Hall)
I’m a big fan of the Boss Fight Books series — each one focuses on one game. I usually end up reading 1 or 2 each year, and this one was as enjoyable as they generally are — and it covered a game I’ve always loved. After reading this, I ended up with the multiple soundtracks of the game series on heavy rotation.

Agent Running in the Field (John le Carré)
Despite my love for Bond and spy fiction in general, surprisingly, this is the first novel by le Carré I read. I really enjoyed it, and although it may be weird to start by reading his final novel, it did make me want to go back and read more (which I will surely do in 2021).

Diamonds Are Forever (Ian Fleming)
This was the second Bond book I read this year, and I continue to read them in order of their release. Of all the Bond novels I’ve read so far, this one is maybe the one that feels the most like the movie, at least in terms of general structure.

Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World (Matt Alt)
I devoured this over a weekend, and you can read why in this post I wrote after.

Five Little Pigs (Agatha Christie)
Reading Agatha Christie novels is comfort food for me, I feel so comfortable in them. It’s usually my go-to when I hit a patch of not reading for a while, as I find it easy to get back in reading mode, and getting through one doesn’t take very long. This was quite enjoyable as well, and I loved the structure.

Annabel Scheme and the Adventure of the New Golden Gate (Robin Sloan)
This is more like a novella in terms of length — it’s a collection that was originally serialized in a newspaper. I quite like Sloan’s writing (including his newsletters), and this was as enjoyable as anything else I’ve read by him.

Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz)
So far the only Horowitz I had read was his Bond novels, but there was a lot of buzz around this, and so I decided to give it a try. I ended up quite liking it — even though one aspect bugged me in that it had me knowing that something was up, and so I was anxious to get to a point where more would be revealed. But yes, it’s a very smart murder mystery, and this year I plan on reading the sequel that was published last year.

Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style (W. David Marx)
This is another book that I plowed through in a weekend because I couldn’t stop reading it — this post explains why I enjoyed it so much.

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living
When I started this book reading quest in 2019, I told myself that I would just count regular books, and not something like this, which I guess falls more in the “coffee table book” category. But in the end, these Monocle books (I picked up a few this past year) are pretty text-heavy and take a while to get through, and so I felt like I should include them. And no, I don’t feel like this is cheating.

The Monocle Book of Japan
Of all the Monocle books I read this past year (the three included in this list, as well as another one that I’m not done reading yet), this was my absolute favorite. It’s a beautiful love letter to Japan, and it definitely made me feel incredibly homesick.

The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets
I’ve always meant to buy the various books that Monocle has been putting out over the years, but never got around to it until recently. These are all beautiful publications, and I do intend on getting all of them eventually.

A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
I don’t really read fantasy anymore, not since I was a kid, but I thought it might be interesting to read this, as it’s considered a classic. It was indeed an enjoyable read. Interestingly, after I was done I wasn’t really planning on reading any more in the series, but then I re-watched the Ghibli adaptation of the third book (Tales From Earthsea) and enjoyed it so much that it made me want to go and read more. I expect I’ll do that in 2021.

Young Bucks: Killing the Business From Backyards to the Big Leagues (Matt and Nick Jackson)
The Young Bucks are not only two of my favorite wrestlers (along with Kenny Omega), but they are also the reason I’ve become such a huge fan of pro wrestling over the past two years (through their “Being the Elite” web series and the role they played in the formation of All Elite Wrestling). I devoured this in a day, as I just couldn’t put it down.

Ready Player Two (Ernest Cline)
The first book has certainly been criticized a lot since it was originally published, but I remember having a really good time reading it, and so I was certainly willing to give the sequel a go. I enjoyed bits here and there (especially the sequence around John Hughes films) but overall it wasn’t as fun as I remembered the first one being, almost coming off as a parody of itself.

All Systems Red (Martha Wells)
This is a novella that I read over the last two days of the year, and found it to be pretty fun. I had heard good things about this “Murderbot” series, and so was curious to check it out — and I won’t lie, I wanted to try and get one more book in before the end of the year. I think I’ll probably read more in this series.

Categories
Books

Books Read in 2019

At the start of last year I wrote a post about wanting to read more books. As I wrote at the time, although I do a lot of reading, when it comes to getting through books proper, that was something I found myself not doing much of anymore. So I gave myself a pretty ambitious goal of getting through a couple of books a month, which I also set in my Goodreads account. Did I make it? No, but I’m still quite happy at how many books I did read (11, about to finish a 12th one as the year ended), which for me not only made me feel good about doing what I set out to do, but more importantly, also got me back in a book reading groove.

I’ll also say that I probably would have gotten closer to my goal if I hadn’t hit a couple of books that slowed me down (and that I ended up putting down) in the summer, as it then took months to get back “on the wagon.”

So what’s my goal for 2020? I’ve set it to 18, which I think is very doable — it’s just 6 more than last year, and I’m already about to finish my 2nd book this year (L.E. Hall’s book about Katamari Damacy, following Ian Fleming’s Moonraker). I also think that my plan to mostly alternate between fiction and non-fiction worked well, and so I’ll probably continue to do that.

Below, a list of the books I read in 2019, with a short write-up.

Forever and a Day (Anthony Horowitz)
This was the Bond novel I was reading as the year started, telling the story of a young Bond as he becomes a 00 agent, and it was quite a good read. As with other recent Bond novels, I like that they are set in the years that Fleming wrote the original Bond novels, instead of just a modern take (which I already get out of the film series).

Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games (Walt Williams)
This was quite an enjoyable — despite the frustrating situations that come up throughout — and definitely gives you a good idea of how things are done (or can be done) in the games industry. Sure, it’s not always like this, but I definitely found myself understanding what the author was going through.

Maigret et le corps sans tête (Georges Simenon)
I quite like murder mysteries, and it’s a genre you’ll see me revisit a lot, but I had never read a Maigret novel, and so figured it was finally time to do so. I really enjoyed this, and I like that it’s a quick read, which was good for me while I was trying to get back into the habit of reading. I definitely plan on reading another one this year, if not more. I read it in French, but I’m sure there are English translations.

Peyo l’Enchanteur (Hugues Dayez)
This is a biography of Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs, and I found it to be a fascinating chronicle of his life/career. I’m sure I’ve read pretty much all of the series he’s created, but I liked finding out more about the context of when these were created. Again, this was a book I read in French, and I don’t know if it’s available in English.

The Moai Island Puzzle (Alice Arisugawa)
This is one of my wife’s favorite Japanese mystery authors (and one of her favorite novels), and I’ll say that I enjoyed it immensely as well. Highly recommended if you like “closed room” mysteries — and I also enjoy the strong meta feel of the book (lots of references to the genre). One of the best mystery novels I’ve read.

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate (Zoe Quinn)
This is a story that most people who work in or follow the games industry knows about, but I found it good to really dig into all of the details of what happened, as well as the timeline.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Soji Shimada)
Another Japanese mystery novel, by an author who marked a big shift in the genre in Japan at the start of the eighties (he writes a great intro for The Moai Island Puzzle, in which he talks about this shift). I read a French translation, but it’s also available in English. I enjoyed Moai more, but this is still a fantastic read, and a fascinating puzzle to get though.

Final Fantasy V (Chris Kohler)
I quite like the Boss Fight Books series, and have already read quite a few of them (and as I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in the middle of the Katamari Damacy one). Chris is a great writer, and this is a fantastic look at a game I’ve never played, but a series I know of-so-well.

Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of Esports (Roland Li)
I read this around the time I took on my new role at Ubisoft, and found it to be a great read on how we’ve gotten to what we have now when it comes to the world of esports. A good read if you want to know more about competitive gaming, and the major players (not necessarily current major players, but the people who helped define the scene).

Live and Let Die (Ian Fleming)
About a year ago I picked up what I think is the entire Bond series in paperback form through a sale (except for Casino Royale, which wasn’t available anymore), as I figured that it’s about time I read all of these books. Yes, as much a Bond fanatic that I am, that’s always been on the movie side, and I’ve only read a few of the books over the years. So I’m reading them in chronological order, with Live and Let Die being the second Bond novel. It’s of course quite different from what we got in the movie, and there is a lot of unfortunate vocabulary that is used that certainly hasn’t aged well, but I still found myself enjoying it.

The A.B.C. Murders (Agatha Christie)
Even though I haven’t read many books in recent years, I have read a few Agatha Christie novels here and there, as I discovered that I quite enjoy them. I pretty much just jump around when it comes to the one I’ll read next, selecting the ones that are considered her best. This was indeed a great read, with a great ending.