My Year In: Books

In 2018 I read 28 books. The number means little but this is probably the lowest for me in many years.

I’ve noticed a trend this year of enthusiastic book readers becoming less so, and praising blogs and other media instead. That was not really the case for me: this year my family and I spent another two months in Italy, and again, why read books if you’re living inside one. More importantly, my wife had twins.

This year I continued to read in Italian, and I was able to read much more advanced texts like Diario Minimo by Umberto Eco, Mark Twain’s Following the Equator and Elisabeth Roudinesco’s biography of Jacques Lacan. Out of the 28 books, 5 were in Italian.

Last year I mentioned I had taken up audiobooks, and this year I continued to listen to them, 11 in total. I think I have gotten better as a listener of books, and the main thing I’ve been doing more often is re-listening to sections of books. This seems to compensate for the lower rate of absorption I seem to be capable of in audio form.

The book I liked reading the most this year was “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes”, by Daniel Everett. In it, Everett recounts his experiences living with the Piraha tribe in the Amazon jungle. His initial mission was to translate the Bible to their language as a Christian missionary. What he comes across, however, changes his own life. It’s a profound encounter of two cultures that could not be more different from one another, in the midst of another culture, that of Northern Brazil. On top of it all, Everett, also a linguist, discovers a language unlike any other in the world, and picks a fight with Noam Chomsky about what even constitutes human language. It’s all so amazing you wonder how much of it is really true. Incidentally, this one was in audio book format and it was great to hear the author reading it, warts, emotion and all.

This year I doubled down on a practice I had started, but not mentioned, last year: that of translating/transcribing books. In 2017 I went to Berlin while living in Italy and really loved it. It was my first time in Germany, and it made me want to learn some German. While in Rome I had learned of Goethe’s experience living there, and of a book recounting his life in Italy. So I started translating “Italienische Reise” from German to Portuguese, and that has been my introduction to German. One year and a half later, I’m still in page 20 of the book. I may go entire weeks without doing it, but I have fun when I translate a paragraph or two. And the links between the German language and the others I know are always deeply touching. Languages are among my favorite things in the world.

So by doubling down I meant I started doing something similar with another book. This time I am not translating but transcribing Security Analysis, by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd. It’s one of the most important books about investing of all time, I had read it before but it’s such a dense book that I thought I should do this to slow it down and spend more time with each paragraph. Almost every weekday I dedicate 10 minutes to it. At the current pace I will need several more years to complete the book. I have no idea if I want to do the whole thing, but I can say it’s been a great experience so far.

If you’d like to see all the books I’ve read in 2018, please take a look at my Goodreads year list and do friend me there if you wish.