Books 2021

For the past few years I have posted with a list of the books I’ve read over the past twelve months, but this year I almost didn’t bother, because my total has been so pitiful. In stark contrast to 2020 (where I read a total of forty books), 2021 only saw me complete thirteen. Ouch. Anyway, in the interests of transparency, I wanted to share anyway, as there’s no point in only publishing when things are going well – and it’s probably worth reflecting on a bit deeper.

Why did I read less in 2021?

I suspect there’s a variety of reasons why I didn’t read quite as many books in 2021 as I have in some time. Ultimately what it probably boils down to though is that the pandemic changed a lot of things – more so by entering its second year than anything else. Things were constantly reopening and closing, and general stress levels were much higher than usual. I had far less time and patience to sit and read anything, never mind a lot of the kind of political, business, or legal books I would have before. Instead, I devoted a lot of time and creative energy into making music, as well as building up a very wittily named YouTube channel around that. In many ways that was my escape, and so everything else took a bit of a back seat.

I did try to find books that were relevant to my all consuming interest in music, and when I did (such as with ‘How Music Works’ by David Byrne, I tore through them like a fire. However, I was unable to source many which really hit home properly, and some of them were so unnecessarily long (like ‘Mars by 1980’), that it put me off reading for a good while afterwards.

Why does it matter anyway?

Who cares if I’ve read 13 books instead of 40 anyway? I’m not convinced that there is necessarily really anything inherently better about reading greater numbers of novels than say – creating something. The figure is subject to so many variables that it is fairly meaningless as a strict comparator. Perhaps pages read would be more accurate. There is probably an unhealthy obsession with stats and numbers generally, but then again… I do think that an annual review can help give the chance to look back, reflect, and identify patterns – whatever they may be… which I guess is what I’ve done here, so maybe the exercise has proved its usefulness, irrespective of the total.

Let’s see how 2022 goes.

  1. Show Your Work! – Austin Kleon (2014)
  2. Atomic Habits – James Clear (2018)
  3. Anything you want – Derek Sivers (2011)
  4. Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music – David Stubbs (2018)
  5. Surrounded by Idiots – Thomas Erikson (2019)
  6. How Music Works – David Byrne (2012)
  7. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1998)
  8. Get Shit Done: How To Stop F*cking Around And Make Things Happen – Mark Maven (2014)
  9. Them: Adventures with Extremists – Jon Ronson (2003)
  10. Lost at Sea – Jon Ronson (2012)
  11. The Elephant in the Room – Jon Ronson (2016)
  12. Commodore: A Company on the Edge – Brian Bagnall (2012)
  13. Dune – Frank Herbert (2021)

  1. Show Your Work! – Austin Kleon (2014). This is a quick, easy read which talks about the benefits of not being afraid to put your creative work out there. Don’t get stuck in the trap of waiting until something is perfect. I read this a few years ago and thought it was okay, but this time around it resonated much more strongly. I think Austin is onto something. Finished January 2021.
  2. Atomic Habits – James Clear (2018). A book which challenges you to shift perspective away from goals and towards gradual, incremental improvements in the form of habits. Full of useful and practical suggestions. I wrote about this at a bit more length here – Finished January 2021.
  3. Anything you want – Derek Sivers (2011). An interesting short read talking about a novel approach to business, and wider life. Finished February 2021.
  4. Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music – David Stubbs (2018). I picked this up as something to read while feeling musically inspired, but unfortunately didn’t enjoy it. While the book has some interesting stories, and the descriptions of the music it talks about are creative and original, it ultimately felt like it didn’t quite know what it was. In some ways it feels more like an academic textbook in how it approaches the history, as opposed to providing a narrative… but at the same time it lacks the demonstration of sources one would expect from that kind of text. I appreciate the knowledge and experience of the author, but ultimately I found this a struggle to read. If the book had spent more time telling the story of electronic music, and less meandering from one artist to another by way of seemingly random anecdotes, it would have been far more compelling. Finished February 2021.
  5. Surrounded by Idiots – Thomas Erikson (2019). I admit that I was suckered into this book by the title, and then I realised why. Probably because I’m a red, and most likely to think I am surrounded by idiots. I don’t really buy personality typing, as I think it’s a reductivist view of the world and the complexity of interpersonal relationships. I also think it’s a bit of a cheat to say that there are four main personality types, but that there can be mixes of them. I mean…. yeah. Despite that, I found this book to resonate more than others. I was surprised at just how much some of the descriptions sounded familiar. Even if personality typing is nonsense, it helped me remember and understand that other folks see the world differently, and it’s important to recognise that when dealing with others that you can’t understand. Finished May 27th 2021.
  6. How Music Works – David Byrne (2012). This is a rare book in that it is by a musician (David Byrne of the Talking Heads), and talks about many different areas of music and our relationship to it… from the history of music and general philosophy of sound to different approaches to music round the world, to specific industry financials. There isn’t really anything else that covers such a wide breadth of content relating to music in such an accessible way. David’s writing style is very interesting and easy to digest, and I enjoyed this book a lot. My only criticism is that perhaps it tried to take on a bit too many different areas, and it could feel a tad fragmented in places. I would read a full series of books on the included topics from the author. Finished July 30th.
  7. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1998). I am a big dystopian fan, but only got around to reading this classic in 2021. It builds around the idea of enforced ‘happiness’ and social cohesion through a kind of genetic caste system. I enjoyed it, though wasn’t as gripped by the concept as I have been with other similar novels. Maybe I need to read it again. Finished August 2021.
  8. Get Shit Done: How To Stop F*cking Around And Make Things Happen – Mark Maven (2014) – This read like a LADS LADS LADS book of pumping yourself up. There were a few useful tips in there which could help you think about life differently, but that was about it. At one point the author says that using their system they’re now able to do what they want, when they want, in any way they want… yet then goes on to explain that the system prevents them from doing just that. It’s a bit of a strange way to approach things. Not my cup of tea. Finished August 2021.
  9. Them: Adventures with Extremists – Jon Ronson (2003). This is a collection of short ‘stories’ detailing experiences that Jon Ronson had with various different extremist groups of the time. It was interesting and fairly easy to read, thanks to Ronson’s individual style. From neo-nazis to Islamic fundamentalists, it was a book I found myself wanting to stay up late reading, which I haven’t found in a while. Finished August 2021.
  10. Lost at Sea – Jon Ronson (2012). I enjoyed the previous Jon Ronson books I’d read so much that I had to dig out some others. This is a collection of tales about strange and unusual situations and people, from the ICP and their bizarre conversion to Christianity to people who mysteriously disappear on cruise lines. As usual I enjoyed the writing, but I found myself wishing there was some kind of longer intro or connecting thread explicitly outlined. Finished August 2021.
  11. The Elephant in the Room – Jon Ronson (2016). This is less a book, and more of a long article. Ronson writes at the time where Trump is building up speed in advance of the American elections. The particular slant here is that years previous, Ronson spent time with Alex Jones, which gave him a potentially interesting perspective into things given Jones’ increased popularity and proximity to Trump. It ends with the prediction that Trump won’t get into office, as otherwise it would be terrible – and I’m glad I didn’t read this back in 2018. It was interesting to see an alternative view on events such as Eric Andre jumping on stage with Jones… but with that said, it felt incomplete – and I wish that there was more. Finished August 2021.
  12. Commodore: A Company on the Edge – Brian Bagnall (2012). This is a detailed, comprehensive history of Commodore’s first era, from the beginnings with MOS technology and the PET, up to just after the C64. As a big Commodore fan, I hadn’t heard the vast majority of this, and it was incredibly interesting. There’s lots of primary source material here, from interviews and quotes with folks who were part of things, and it forms the untold story of a company that essentially created mass micro-computing, but gets very little recognition for doing so. It is a bit repetitive in a couple of places, but that isn’t surprising given the length and in depth nature of it. Thoroughly enjoyed it! Finished November 2021.
  13. Dune – Frank Herbert (1965). I’ve never felt compelled to read a book after watching a movie, but once I saw Dune I sought out the original. I wasn’t disappointed – though I am glad I had seen the film first, as it helped expand on the world, rather than feeling like the world was constricted by the movie. They did a decent job of the film too I thought. I plan to read the rest, and I am curious to see how they evolve the world in the films. I definitely recommend it if you are into sci-fi and mythology. Finished December 2021.