Warning. I’ve tried my best to leave out spoilers and tried to the best of my ability to summarize things in my own words. However, there might be a few verbatim quotes.

I’m writing this sitting at home. Since March of last year, I’m stuck here except for two “essential” trips to Guwahati and Kolkata. However, I managed to read quite a few books in 2020. It’s not that I did not read books before, but I started cataloging them on Goodreads and got myself a Kindle in 2020. I love my Kindle. Read You should get a Kindle.

This article summarizes what I read in 2020 and what I look forward to reading in 2021.

If you’re interested in what I thought about each one, you should check out my book notes here. You should also checkout my reads page, and gift me books. :wink:

Summary

I read 23 books in 2020, for a total of 7,502 pages (according to Goodreads). The plot below includes all the books that I read across all formats – Kindle ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks. As you can see, the graph has missing bars; that’s because of the way I collected the data. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, read the footnote 1.

The graph pretty much sums up my reading in 2020. The rest of the article will be a collection of learning from the books I read and a few more comments. If you’re short on time, you can stop reading now.

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Deep dive

Of the 23 books that I read, 8 are fictional, and the remaining are non-fiction books. 2020 is also the year that I vowed to stop reading self-help books (except those I already started reading). Trust me, I’ve read quite a few self-help books, and they all sound the same. Most can be summed up in about four pages. So, no self-help books in 2021.

I have a rule for myself: finish a book once you’ve started reading it. I intend to follow this religiously, although the rule is not hard and fast.

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A Promised Land, Becoming, and Elon Musk shows us what is possible in America, The Land of The Free. Set aside your political views and look objectively at what Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Elon Musk has achieved. You can almost be sure that in no other place than America can their stories even be possible. These are three of my favorite books of all time.

In A Promised Land, Barack Obama recounts his years at the White House, right from the start of his political career to Osama Bin Laden’s killing. I’m excited about the second volume. It always seemed to me like he had it all figured out from the start as an outsider. Otherwise, why would you go to Harvard to study law and then become a community organizer? The book will tell you it is not so. I won’t write about the content of the book here. You should read it. If you read one book in 2021, read A Promised Land.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming narrates the heart-warming story of how a girl from the Southside of Chicago went on to be the first black first lady of the US. Her academic achievements are stellar as well. From her days at Princeton to Harvard Law, Michelle is like the nerdy kid who has everything figured out and excels at everything they do.

She may arguably be the best and most respected first lady in the history of the US. I can’t help but admire her intellect every time she gives an interview. Be it starting the White House kitchen garden or her fitness movement, or her amicable friendship with Ellen. Yes, I’m a fan.

Elon Musk’s biography provides quite a summary of the man. Some would argue that the book is biased and highlights only the right parts about Elon. While that may be true, you cannot dispute the impact he has as an entrepreneur. Also, as of this writing, he is the richest man on the planet. I even wrote a book note, read it here.

On a contradictory theme, Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, challenges the US establishment and exposed the government’s secrets to the public to defend the very idea of America. His whistleblowing revealed many of the dirty secrets of the administration. It started a debate on how far the government should go for national security.

It’s a very well written book, and I would recommend that you read it. I have a feeling that this is probably the first time you have heard about the man. You should Google him right away and read up the relevant stories on him.

“His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments, and prompted a cultural discussion about national security and individual privacy.” – Wikipedia

Shiksha gives an account of what good intention coupled with good governance, can do to public education. What Manish Sisodia and his colleagues managed to do with Delhi’s schools is nothing sort of extraordinary. Appreciations are in order for the govt. of Delhi as well, who dedicated $\frac{1}{4}^{th}$ of Delhi’s budget to Education. I wonder why more governments are not spending 20-25% of their budget on Education. It would be a whole new game!

Tara Westover’s Educated takes you on an emotional ride. Stories like hers are what keeps me at night. From self-teaching herself, calculus to getting a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge is genuinely inspiring. Can you imagine how our world would be if every girl grew up to be like her?

I came to know about her from her interview with Bill Gates. I picked up the book soon after and read it fairly quickly. I’ve been pretty fortunate in where I was born and how my parents raised me. I did not have to skip my lessons to go work in the junkyard or the paddy field.

Tara was domestically abused by her own brother, who did not like her living her life. It makes me angry and questions my beliefs about the kinds of social structure that exists in America. This frustration is amplified all the more by the recent storming of the Capitol by the pro-Trump mob.

I’m 21 and have a minimal view of what human life is supposed to mean. I was raised in a relatively stable environment and did not see much atrocities growing up. Born A Crime made me appreciate my life even more. Just thinking about the kids who must have faced hardships just because they did not look a particular color makes me angry.

Can you imagine if the government took you away because you don’t look a specific shade of color? I know that many atrocities occur every day in many parts of the world and even close to home. It is hard for me to picture a world where you are deemed a criminal because of your skin color.

While fictional, The Fault in Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, and All the Bright Places help one see young-adult life differently but in a romantic way. Some of the scenes in these books hit genuinely close to home. It felt like I was the one in those stories.

Many times while reading these books, I felt a sudden wave of heat running through my body. And reminded me of all the bad things that happened over the years. A friend pointed out that I am “a hopeless romantic.” I do not know what that means or if I am one. I just look forward to meeting this girl in 2021. 2 It’s an adorable feeling when you feel something 2 about someone else.

A Burning and Roy’s Azadi does an excellent job of painting the harsh reality of division, bigotry, and hate prevalent in our country. Through a series of heartbreaking stories, the authors manage to take you on an emotional ride. Growing up, I did not care much about others’ sufferings because I was trying to survive. Maybe the twenties will change that for me. I guess I have started living now instead of mere survival.

I cared about and re-read parts of these books because they all felt so close to home. As an added bonus, the authors sounded exactly like me with the same judgments on things.

Self-help books should not be longer than 10 pages. Anything longer than 10 pages is not helping anyone but the author and the publisher.

On the self-help front, I read Atomic Habits and Ikigai. I must be honest with you, I hated both books. I don’t know if it was the mood at the time or that the books themselves are crap. Either way, I don’t think I’m going to pick up another self-help book. You could get all the wisdom the Ikigai has to offer by reading just the last 2-3 pages.

If I were to sum up the book in a line, it would be this – “Find your Ikigai to live long and be happy in life, don’t ask me how!” Similarly, Atomic Habits was a waste of time. The wisdom offered by the book is what my parents have been telling me since I was four or so. Indian parents are something else!

Here’s my hot take: Self-help books should not be longer than 10 pages. Anything longer than 10 pages is not helping anyone but the author and the publisher.

2021

The goal is to read 150 or more books by December. That means reading 3 books a week, give or take. This is pretty much the only new year’s resolution that I have. We’ll see how that goes.

Like I said in the previous paragraph, I’m done with self-help books. I’m also bored of young-adult romance. I don’t think I’ll pick up any romance novels this year, but we’ll see. I’m most excited to learn about Climate Change, Human History, Indian History, Education, and the Economics of Poverty.

I think climate change is one of the most terrible problems that we as humankind will have to solve in the next few decades, or we will cease to exist. The way I see it, all of the broad topics discussed in the previous paragraph are linked. Without knowing the history of how we got here and what might have contributed to the current state of affairs, it would be futile to try and solve the problems.

History teaches us many things. By reading more books on human history, I hope to learn more about our species’ behavior. Suppose you don’t lift people out of poverty. In that case, it is futile to tell them about fancy topics like sustainability and switching to eco-friendly ways.

Baby-steps by individuals and corporations can undoubtedly help combat climate change to some extent. But, it is not enough without making significant innovations to tackle it. Innovation is not possible without enough people being educated and provided a living wage.

I’m super excited about Bill Gates’s new book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need” that drops in February.

As you can see, I’m overly excited about reading many books this year. But, first, to stay true to my rule, I’ll try to complete all the books that I’m currently reading before moving on to a new one. You can find the books I’m currently reading here.

Footnotes

  1. The missing bars are because of the way I handled the data. Essentially, a book is counted in the month that I finished reading it, as opposed to when I started reading it. Also, I started cataloging books on Goodreads toward the end of January; hence no books were counted in January. I started reading actively in March, the month travel restrictions were first announced. July is empty because I started books in June and finished them in August or later. 

  2. One-sided admiration, ftw.  2

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