My Year in: Books

In 2021 I finished 32 books (if you are counting, 2 are not in Goodreads). This year, 15 of the books I finished were audiobooks. I ended last year realizing I had read very little in languages I am learning, and this year I made a nice correction and read 6 complete books in Italian. Another book I read in French.

Never before have I juggled so many unfinished books. I don’t even know how many I can say I am ‘reading’ at the moment. Twenty, maybe.

This year will not stand out as a great reading year in my life, although I lucked out on 4 books. I dedicated a lot of this year to studying for the Brazilian equivalent of a CFA, plus a lot of cycling. I am happy with my priorities, as I got my certification to be a professional investor and had many adventures on the bike. I suppose I was not very diligent about choosing books to read, it was a lot of trial and error. All in all, I’m satisfied with the priorities I set. Let me say a word or two about the books I liked.

I finished Robert Caro’s ‘Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing’ just a few hours ago. Caro is considered one of the best biographers of the last many decades. He started out with a classic called ‘The Power Broker,’ about Robert Moses’ long-lasting influence over New York State. Afterwards he embarked on a multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. ‘Working’ is the first book by Caro I have read. In it he remembers how he started out as a newspaper journalist, his difficult transition to writer of books, then biographer of a US president. This short book served as a great introduction, since his subjects were relevant before my time and I’m not a big politics reader. No matter: Caro’s prose is phenomenal, as is his reading on the audiobook. His trajectory, how he finds out and is shocked to learn he’s happiest reading files and archives, his own ambivalence towards his compulsion to know everything, see things firsthand and consequently live in places his subjects lived or affected, his approach to research, extracting information from interviewees and his writing habits sure can serve as inspiration and maybe consolation to others who like to dive deep.

‘Atlas of Poetic Botany,’ by Francis Hallé is a short book on curious, yes, poetic plants around our planet. They are illustrated by the author in a plain and beautiful style. Each chapter is no more than 4 pages, describing a particular species of plant, always very unique. You’ll find plants that “walk”, plants with just one gigantic leaf, the famous corpse flower and many others. This was the absolute only book I finished this year that was not in digital form, and the way it’s put together more than justifies the…plants that gave their lives for the paper to print it.

Another book I really liked was ‘50 Sábados’ (50 Saturdays), by Fernando Zogaib. It is the memoir of Zogaib’s bicyle crossing of Brazil, north to south. He ended up doing it in 50 days, which he refers to as a string of Saturdays. What struck me most about this book, beyond even the athletic and mental feat, is Zogaib’s candor. He does not hold a feeling, a memory to himself. Having read many books about great athletes, crossings and long distance adventures, this one holds up against the best in terms of emotional openness.

As a final mention, I learned interesting things from ‘Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities,’ by Alain Bertaud. The author’s main goal seems to be to describe the interactions between urban planning and urban change brought about by the forces of populations, day by day. The chapter about urban mobility struck me the most: Bertaud writes an interesting critique on things held true by many of us regarding public transportation, use of cars and balancing different modes in a city.

I went through a few months without finding a book I was excited about, and just a few days ago I again found luck with ‘Working’ and another one I haven’t finished quite yet. What a good feeling. Next year will be the one to start listening to audiobooks in Italian — sono pronto!