My Year in: Books

In a sense, my year of reading turned out surprisingly well. On January 11th my first daughter was born. I thought I wouldn’t read anything at all for a long time. That did not turn out to be true.

I only started jotting down what books I read two years ago. And I did it only because I was reading them on a computer, right by some note-taking app. This is the third year I do it. In the previous two years, my average had been 35 books read per year. At my current pace, by the end of this year I’ll have read 25 books. This is not counting, on any year, children’s books. Last year I spent a weekend at the home of Brazil’s most prolific children’s writer, Ziraldo (he rents out his beach home in Ilha Grande), and must have read at least 40 of his books in half an hour. I also exclude programming books from my personal stats.

Looking at the broad subjects in the list, it’s pretty clear I was interested in the human mind — a third of the total. Straight psychology accounts for 5 books, or about 20% of the total.

I read Lacan’s first seminar, which is largely about Freud’s writings on psychoanalytical technique, and it was one of my favorites this year. It’s a transcription of his seminars, so it’s apparently disjointed, which mimics the analytic speech so perfectly. What stayed with me is a clear message of being open to human contradiction, which is usually immense – and much of other people’s contradictions are nothing but our own lack of capability to understand their coherence.

Lacan’s book made me very curious about Freud’s Papers on Technique, which I read some time later. There’s a lot to learn in those 60 or so pages. One long-standing question of mine which they answered: what happens right after the analytical act? Is there synthesis? What is the role of the analyst in that moment? He explains that the analyst is largely incapable of interfering, at least with any guarantee of a positive influence, and that the mind reorganizes itself immediately, according to its own previous experiences and predispositions. This is mid-career writing for him, so he may have revised that later. I mentioned all that to my own analyst and she, characteristically, didn’t answer anything.

Another towering highlight of my reading year was Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization, by Vaclav Smil. The book is an extensive compendium of the historic use of all kinds of materials, from all kinds of metals to sand and gravel, to hydrocarbons and polymers. That work is where you’ll find the first reference to the fact that China used more concrete in the first decade of this century than the U.S. in the entire 20th century. Also, I learned that the world market for sand, something you pretty much just find, bag and sell, is larger that the world market for fine art, a field in which I spend many of my finest but least financially rewarding hours.

I don’t count the books I start and don’t finish, but it’s possible to estimate the books I finished and won’t remember or already forgot I ever read. My guess for those is 5, or about 20% of the total. Yes, I did read a book by Alain de Botton, and I regret that.

All things considered, an understandably below-the-average year for my reading, more than offset by my becoming a father.

Another way I keep track of my reading is via Goodreads. Do friend me there if you’d like.

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