Books Read in 2017

Jørgen Nystad

I started 2017 with a goal of reading more books. One per month, to be exact. Now, you may not be particularly impressed by this goal, but my track record in the book reading department is not particularly impressive either.

Part of the reason was to improve (or recover) my vocabulary, especially in Norwegian. When you’re a programmer, a lot of reading and writing is technical English. Not to mention the programming itself, which doesn’t exactly inspire creative language nor train those parts of the brain. At least this is my experience, and I sometimes feel my conversational vocabulary suffers.

Now I have so far not achieved the goal I set. Firstly, I’ve only read a single book in Norwegian, since the books I really wanted to read was written by English authors. I prefer reading originals over translated books, when that’s an option. So, my Norwegian conversational skills haven’t exactly gained much from my book reading.

Also, due to a personal tragedy this summer, my reading progress suffered a long pause.

Anyway, I am currently on book number ten, so not too bad. Following is my reading list and some thoughts about the books I’ve read. I’m not a book reviewer, so don’t expect in depth reviews.

Ghostwritten – David Mitchell

Ghostwritten is the debut book of David Mitchell. I was planning to read Cloud Atlas, but stumbled across this and decided to read Ghostwritten first.

The book is composed of a set of novellas, first seemingly unrelated, but they become more and more intertwined as the story progresses. It also features a spiritual component, but it stays somewhat in the background and slowly becomes clearer throughout the stories.

Mitchell is not afraid of spending some time in his writing. The book is not fast paced, but the steady progression kept my attention throughout the book. All the stories in the book are believable and somewhat relatable or interesting on their own. They are also very capable of stirring your emotions. But the way they connect is the best part of the book.

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is one of my favourite movies. The layered story, the intertwined characters across space and time, the completely weird and wonderful reuse of cast across all time periods, it just all adds up to a good experience for me. It demands some attention from the audience, and I have discovered new fun little references every time I’ve watched it. So now I decided to read the book it was based on.

Storytelling wise, the book uses a completely different approach from the movie. The movie starts all storylines at once, in rapid succession (confusing a lot of first time viewers, I’m sure), and they progress in parallel, jumping back and forth, until the end. More of the connections between the different characters are given in the movie.

The book begins with the first storyline, chronologically, tells half of it before continuing to the next, until you encounter the latest storyline, far in the future. This is then told to the end, and then it works its way backwards with the other half of the rest of the storylines until you’re back where you started. I understand why this Matryoshka doll of storylines were not maintained in the movie. It requires even more effort to spot the subtle and not so subtle references this way. It also requires more engagement to keep interest. More appropriate for a book, I think.

David Mitchell’s writing style is not for everyone. Especially the futuristic part was demanding for me, personally, as it employs a made up evolved (or devolved, if you want) version of English. As a non-native English reader, this was a bit tiresome to read.

On the other hand, he is very adept at keeping the attention of the reader. There are not very long nor many parts where I find myself drifting away in other thoughts. The constant small and not so small references to past and future parts of the book are also engaging for the mind. There are also some minor references to characters in Ghostwritten, which I found to be delightful. I’m sure there are even more if you read Mitchell’s other writings, and number9dream is on my wish to read list.

Blindgang – Jørn Lier Horst

The only Norwegian book on my list. Blindgang is book #10 in a series about Wisting, a Norwegian police detective solving various crimes.

I found the book entertaining and easy. The part that took place in a town near the one I grew up in was also fun to read, as I haven’t read many books before where I know the locations and can picture them as they really are.

Spinward Fringe, Broadcast 0, 1 & 2 – Randolph Lalonde

Spinward Fringe is a sci-fi series recommended to me by a friend. I accidentally started reading in the wrong order, as I wrongfully assumed Broadcast 1 was the first in the series. I think this made Broadcast 1 more interesting, as I was piecing together the past story from what was told. I don’t necessarily recommend repeating this approach, though.

The series envisions a future where humans have moved well into space and evolved into a huge civilization controlled mostly by some massive competing mega corporations. It follows a privateering Captain and his crew, touches a lot upon space travels, space fighting and positive and negative aspects of the evolution of AI.

I found the first books captivating and engaging. They are quite short, so it’s not a big investment to get going. However, Lalonde sometimes drifts away from the storyline and elaborates on various technical aspects like space ship interiors and machinery. I usually lost interest during these parts, and grew somewhat tired of the series while reading Broadcast 3, which I haven’t finished.

I might resume the series at some point, if I feel like travelling space again.

1984 – George Orwell

I kind of felt this was a mandatory read in this day and age, so I finally got around to it.

It probably needs no introduction, but it’s one of the original dystopian novellas and the origin of the term “Big Brother”. It’s relatively short and utterly depressing. It warns about a possible future where everything you do and say is watched by some authoritarian government body, where truth and public opinion is controlled by a strict bureaucracy, and all original thought is punishable by death.

It’s worth a read, if only to realize how certain parts of our society has evolved in ways analogous to the warnings in this book.

The Dark Tower – Stephen King

I’ve owned The Gunslinger, the first book in this series, for many years and started reading it many years ago. I was clearly not ready for it, as I put it aside somewhere in the first chapter. Most books I was reading back then had powerful wizards as their lead characters, so The Dark Tower was not a good fit at the time.

This time I started reading it mostly by accident, as the book was one of the few I had laying around that would fit in my inner pocket. So I took it with me on a café trip and was quickly hooked. I have now read The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three and am currently half way through The Waste Lands. Only the first fits nicely in any inner pocket, by the way.

I find the western/fantasy crossover genre to be quite captivating. The fantasy part is definitely a big part of the story, but it’s not so much in your face as in pure fantasy books. The character development so far is interesting, and I will probably be reading the rest of the series during 2018.

As a side note, I am truly curious as to how they made a film of this story, but I will not watch the movie until I’m done with the books.

Steal Like an Artist – Austin Kleon

Counting this as a book is probably cheating, but it was a fun read anyway. It’s mostly an inspirational and motivational resource for creatives, although you can apply the pieces of advice to most schools of thought.

Conclusion

Although I didn’t achieve my goal for the year (unless I read two and a half books the next few days), I’ve read more books this year than any year before. I am counting that as a success. I will also continue reading on a regular basis in the future.

I find reading also helps cope with stress and negative thoughts related to this year’s struggles. It has also helped somewhat after the personal tragedy I have gone through, when I was able to focus my mind enough to read again. The distraction of a different world gave some temporal rest to a mind in distress.