Book Review 2020

11 minute read


BookReview 2020

Corona made me read a bunch

For the list, scroll to the bottom of the page. My goodreads.

Still spurred from last year’s joy of getting through a bunch of books that were waiting on my shelf for years, I set out to repeat the effort in 2020. The big takeaway in terms of motivation last year was that setting a goal works very well for me. Yet reading itself shouldn’t become a ‘commodity’. Not in my ‘internal value system’ and even less so to boast around (which I guess I’m a bit susceptible to). A consequence of this was that I tuned down my goal of 50 books to 36. I did this because I felt that towards the end of last year, I was actively looking for shorter and/or less complicated reads, just to get to the 50. That’s not bad per se but not really how I want to go about this. Soon after corona hit, however, it became clear that 36 books would be easier to reach than anticipated.


Early December I reached 100 books, or 278% of what I set out to read.

In March my university moved work to remote office pretty early in the year, which allowed me to plan my day more freely. The less nice thing is, of course, that my productivity in terms of work output sank (I really enjoy my work, and even though it comes across as a tedious chore, I don’t mean it that way); some days quite a bit. Reading feels much more meaningful in these moments of motivational dearth than e.g. aimlessly browsing the internet. So in a way it’s sometimes ‘easier’ to stop browsing the internet and get back to work than stop reading and get back to work, because reading is a fulfilling distraction. Luckily, work is mostly a ‘fulfilling distraction’, too,

Reading diversity and selection criteria

I made some comments last year on how I try to achieve a diverse reading list. In a nutshell, whereas I think it’s important that inspiration or a particular interest should grow organically (unlike a hard-set quota), a de-biasing process is also important, because whatever comes organically is still influenced by society. Getting rid of these pre-conceived notions is a good thing, even though it might look like a quota at first. More complicatedly, as I put it in last year’s blog post:

The intuitive/’random-gut-feeling’ selection process is a manifestation of the (here white patriarchal) society I was raised in and the overriding urge to de-bias the reading list is a [(feminist, anti-racist)] reflection on said society that counteracts it.

[I would add that: This ‘reflection’ still dialectically purports the ramifications of the subverted system via negative space, but at this point I don’t know how to embody higher-order anti-oppressive actions from a theory POV.]

As I also ‘teased’ last year, we had an afrofuturist reading group during summer, for which I was able to buy all the books for the participants, due to a small grant. It was an all around great experience (read Butler, Jemisin, Okorafor, Du Bois, Womack) and you can find my small report here (in German).

Some stats

It’s always nice to look at some graphs and numbers, so let us look at some graphs and numbers.

Books read: ~109

Officially suspended: 7 [books I put on the suspended list]

De facto suspended: 6 [books I didn’t touch for a while yet refuse to put on the suspended list]

Average pages per month2162
Average pages per book281
Median pages per book244
Number of books105


The first half is 2019, the second half is 2020. June seems low but that’s just an artifact of the binning, because I track the books only over months. I want to say that the trend correlates a bit with corona but what’s statistics anyways.


The rating looks a bit like the following. It might be strange that it is skewed towards the upper half (which is a trend that is observable in almost all online review/voting processes). I explain it such that people already know what they might like and their ratings being skewed towards good is an artifact of them being good selectors and confirmation bias (because you want to like what you selected/consumed).


About half (48) of them are nonfiction, which always deemed me a nice mix.

And a tiny comment on what ‘constitutes’ a book. When talking about numbers and “how many books did you read” comes up (apart from the commodifying process that I hinted at above), it also warrants the question, what we “count” as a book. In a way, I don’t want to entertain that idea and by making the definition of a book moot, it’s easier to get away from the ‘commodifying’ process. On the other hand, even in a utopic society where commodification doesn’t exist, people might want to look at progress and set themselves goals to achieve. So essentially, I don’t know. There are three very visual ‘books’ in the list below and two audio courses. All of them took me as long to get through as one of the shorter books (you’ll find a couple with less than 100 pages) at least (I’m aware that I’m commodifying time here.)

Book list

Titles in bold were really nice and felt ‘generally’ recommendable.

The Aleph and other storiesJorge Luis BorgesFantasy5224
Permutation CityGreg EganSF9310
I Have No Mouth and I Must ScreamHarlan EllisonSF6152
Forever PeaceJoe HaldemanSF8326
Grapes of WrathJohn SteinbeckLit Fiction8464
A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do againDavid Foster WallaceEssays9547
American GodsNeil GaimanFantasy6635
The Color PurpleAlice WalkerLit Fiction5295
The Prince and the DressmakerJen WangGr. Novel8 
Sense & SensibilityJoanna TrollopeClassic4362
Nietzsche and the Post-Modern ConditionRick RoderickPhil6 
Some RemarksNeal StephensonEssays7336
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot CocktailsSarah BakewellPhil7440
Poststructuralism: A Very Short IntroductionCatherine BelseyPhil7128
IncandescenceGreg EganSF7300
Postmodernism: A Very Short IntroductionChristpher ButlerPhil7152
BintiNnedi OkoraforSF796
Binti HomeNnedi OkoraforSF6176
Binti The Night MasqueradeNnedi OkoraforSF7208
Why You Should Be a SocialistNathan J. RobinsonPol7336
Die Augen des ewigen BrudersStefan ZweigClassic873
SapiensYuval HarariHist6443
Nein: A ManifestoEric JarosinskiPhil8 
FentanylBen WesthoffDrugs8356
Eichmann in JerusalemHanna ArendtPhil9312
Bloodchild and other storiesOctavia E. ButlerSF8214
Halo: The Fall of ReachEric S. NylundSF8352
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen CoveyPsy/Self Help3372
Myra BreckinridgeGore VidalLit Fiction9364
Halo: The FloodWilliam C. DietzSF5432
The Fifth SeasonNora JemisinSF8471
African History: A Very Short IntroductionJohn ParkerHist5165
The History of SexualityMichel FoucaultPhil8168
Halo: First StrikeEric S. NylundSF8352
Literary Theory: A Very Short IntroductionJonathan CullerPhil8144
Critical Theory: A Very Short IntroductionStephen Eric BronnerPhil4144
The Obelisk GateNora JemisinSF7410
The Souls of Black FolkW. E. B. DuBoisHist8288
Like a thief in broad daylightSlavoj ZizekPhil8240
Halo: Ghosts of OnyxEric S. NylundSF8383
Stamped from the BeginningIbram X. KendiHist8592
Babel-17Samuel DelanySF6192
The BellIris MurdochLit Fiction7352
Giovanni’s RoomJames BaldwinLit Fiction7159
Dishonesty is the Second-Best PolicyDavid MitchellEssays7336
NihilismNolen GertzPhil7226
Wild SeedOctavia E. ButlerSF7248
The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre DumasLit Fiction71276
Gurdjieff, a Beginner’s GuideGil FriedmanPhil4198
Destined for warGraham AllisonPol4389
Thinking About It Only Makes It WorseDavid MitchellEssays7336
UnderworldDon DeLilloLit Fiction10827
Notes from No Man’s LandEula BissEssays8221
Judaism: A Very Short IntroductionNorman SolomonHist6135
The American Presidency: A Very Short IntroductionCharles O. JonesPol4206
Kafka on the ShoreHaruki MurakamiLit Fiction5505
A room of one’s ownVirginia WoolfFem9172
Notes of a native sonJames BaldwinHist8192
An Introduction to GoJames Daviesother792
Continental Philosophy: A Very Short IntroductionSimon CritchleyPhil8149
Mind of my mindOctavia E. ButlerSF6224
White NoiseDon DeLilloLit Fiction10320
American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short IntroductionL. Sandy MaiselPol5208
Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional CommentariesBryan W. Van NordenPhil5207
Mao IIDon DeLilloLit Fiction8254
Invisible womenCaroline Criado-PerezFem5411
Post OfficeCharles BukowskiLit Fiction7208
LolitaVladimir NabokovLit Fiction8331
FactotumCharles BukowskiLit Fiction7208
Autism: A Very Short IntroductionUta FrithPsy/Self Help3126
Sister outsiderAudre LordeFem8190
Back storyDavid MitchellBio7336
CirceMadeline MillerLit Fiction9393
Black Holes: A Very Short IntroductionKatherine BlundellSci6120
The Psychedelic ExperienceTimothy LearyDrugs6160
The DispossessedUrsula Le GuinSF9387
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to LeninVejas LiuleviciusPol7 
The InvincibleStanisław LemSF7223
Something Deeply HiddenSean CarrollSci7368
Das Kommunistische ManifestKarl MarxPol780
Introducing Relativity: A Graphic GuideBruce BassettSci6 
Wissenschaft als BerufMax WeberPhil680
AmericanaDon DeLilloLit Fiction7383
Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of ConsciousnessDaniel C. DennettPhil7192
Man’s search for meaningViktor E. FranklBio6200
SiddhartaHermann HesseLit Fiction7152
The Crying of Lot 49Thomas PynchonLit Fiction10152
Portnoy’s complaintPhilip RothLit Fiction8274
Reform or RevolutionRosa LuxemburgPhil7122
The periodic tablePrimo LeviBio6233
Other mindsPeter Godfrey-SmithPhil5257
The Black CloudFred HoyleSF6224
Foucault: A Very Short IntroductionGary GuttingPhil5135
The Entrepreneurial StateMariana MazzucatoEcon5288
Socialism 101Kathleen SearsPol8256
Augusto Pinochet: The Life and Legacy of Chile’s Controversial DictatorCharles River EditorsHist668
JRWilliam GaddisLit Fiction9752
Touching a Nerve: Our Brains, Our SelvesPatricia ChurchlandSci3304
Hot water musicCharles BukowskiLit Fiction7224
A Doll’s HouseHendrik IbsenPlay8122
The conquest of happinessBertrand RussellPhil7183
The Trial of Henry KissingerChristopher HitchensPol7161
Star MakerOlaf StapledonSF7314
The Death of Vivek OjiAkwaeke EmeziLit Fiction6248
A Queer History of the United StatesMichael BronskiHist8312
The New Testament as Literature: A Very Short IntroductionKyle KeeferPhil8121
The Motorcycle DiariesErnesto Che GuevaraBio6175
Capitalism and the JewsJerry Z. MullerEcon2267
Fully automated luxury communismAaron BastaniPol7278