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Books Read in 2020

January 30, 2021   |   10 Minute Read

2020 has been a very different year. A reduction of social media and physical interactions with others turned me more towards books as the months progressed. By the end, there was a thrill and a deep pleasure with each page read, each book completed and of things learnt.

I completed about 2 books a month and concluded with 26 books over 12 months. Though not impressive by Goodreads standards (where the average books pledged in the reading challenge stands at 45-46), I have come a long way personally from my 2016 days.

Most of the books read are fiction. Cooped up at home, with nowhere to go to, I picked up quite a few travelogues and personal memoirs. I won’t be giving any reviews or ratings or recommendations. This is just a list and a few anecdotes from here and there.

  1. The Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn (Fiction)
    A graphic novel on the true story of 4 lions who escaped from Baghdad Zoo during the American Invasion of Iraq in 2003. Lots of allegorical references to the then existing political and social situation of Iraq.

  2. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (Fiction)
    Part of the excellent Foundation series, I found the Second Foundationers better and thoughtfully fleshed out than the Original Foundation. After every Foundation (and sci-fi) book read, I send a message to a far away friend from whom I got this recommendation. Excellent choice, RS!

  3. The Last Oracle by James Rollins (Fiction)
    History, Conspiracy, SciFi, America saves the world. After 2 years of reading James Rollins, it is known what I will get from the book, yet I picked it up just for the thrill and for turning the pages until the rush exists. Did learn one interesting fact - The Romani Gypsy community has its roots in North Western India (Punjab, Haryana, Kashmir). Even today the modern Romani Gypsy flag bears the chakra or the wheel and was designed in Chandigarh.

  4. Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta (Travelogue)
    After reading the excellent (and sardonic) Butter Chicken in Ludhiana by Pankaj Mishra, I was wary of trying out a travelogue by an Indian writer (had to make a list of new words on every page and going through the dictionary). Rishad’s style, in contrast was breezy and light. Being a travel writer and biker, his recollections and encounters with people over chai were amusing at best.

  5. World War Z by Max Brooks (Fiction)
    A fictionalized account of a zombie war is frighteningly similar to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020. As expected, China banned this novel in 2020.

  6. Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (Fiction)
    An extra terrestrial microorganism crash lands with a space capsule and starts altering DNA. Had a great story which cooled down towards the end.

  7. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Fiction)
    A heartwarming novel to lift the cold spirits. This is what the result would be like if Disney’s Up happened in real life.

  8. Devil Colony by James Rollins (Fiction)
    History, Conspiracy, SciFi, America saves the world. This time, learnt about the 12 Lost Tribes of Israel.

  9. Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Fiction)
    Loosely based on Cornelia Sorabji, Bombay’s only female lawyer in the 1900’s, this takes you to the Bombay of 1920’s as known by the Parsees. There could have been a bit more mystery to the murder plot. Found the author notes at the end a really good source on colonial architecture of the Fort area of Bombay.

  10. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (Fiction)
    Picked it up since it was a recommended read by Bill Gates. A mind-boggling novel spanning generations of which I am still to comprehend parts of it.

  11. Templar Salvation by Raymond Khoury (Fiction)
    American FBI hero saves his lady love, an archaelogist who gets involved in the mess of Templar Knights, Early Christianity, Evil Rich Antagonist, while solving clues, blowing up buildings, destroying historical evidences and finding time to make love when they are not being chased. Regret.

  12. The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan (Non Fiction)
    An exhaustive and very detailed account of the history, culture, politics and society along the Silk Roads which threads Asia and Europe. One of the most brilliant works of non-fiction which engrosses the reader like a page turner novel. A gripping attempt on the subject.

  13. Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K.Rowling (Fiction)
    Read all the seven books way back in 2011/12 as pirated PDF’s. Always had a desire to buy the books someday. Started building my HP collection with the new hardcover house editions. Feels just as good. Ravenclaw edition.

  14. Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by J.K.Rowling (Fiction)
    Slytherin Edition. Second book. This collection has (and will) set me back by quite some amount but I keep telling myself that even when one is in 20’s, HP is worth it.

  15. Tai-Pan by James Clavell (Fiction)
    Have read his Shogun in the past year and was sort of amazed at how much historical accuracy one can put into a work of fiction. Tai-Pan is about the founding of Hong Kong in 1842 as a British territory during the Opium Wars as safe haven from the Chinese for trade. Almost based on present day Jardine Matheson & Co (of Hong Kong), this is thrilling adventure set in Asia with piracy, blackmail, death, trade and real-life socio-political events as it unfolded in the mid 19th century.

  16. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (Fiction)
    Picked it up solely in anticipation of the film which would have been released in October 2020 (now pushed to sometime in late 2021). My first Agatha Christie and a classic murder mystery and whodunnit.

  17. The Indian Pantry by Vir Sanghvi (Non Fiction)
    A exciting read into the history, myths and stories of kitchen ingredients and food found in India. Vir Sanghvi did a great job on this topic.

  18. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Fiction)
    Second AG. Interesting but not exciting.

  19. My Favourite Nature Stories by Ruskin Bond (Non Fiction)
    Ruskin Bond’s writing makes you want to live in the hills, travel in trains, walk through narrow winding paths in the woods and write about simple everyday things. No rush, just pleasure.

  20. Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Fiction)
    A brilliant sci-fi novel translated from Chinese by Ken Liu, this is a reference to the unsolvable nature of the three body problem in orbital mechanics. A scientist during the Cultural Revolution in China sends out a secret message to other worlds to come and invade Earth and help save it from humanity. Do such worlds exist? Will anyone be able to interpret it? Written in a non-chronological manner, this is one of the best sci-fi works in the decade. The last chapter is enough to keep you on the edge.

  21. Michael Palin’s Sahara by Michael Palin (Travelogue)
    Michael’s humourous and his self deprecating style of writing as he travels through the Saharan countries meeting up with Western Saharan rebels, refugees, exploring Timbuktu, Tangiers, Djenne and travelling in a camel caravan, iron ore train through the desert landscape.

  22. The Red Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (Fiction)
    Orhan Pamuk centers his works around one entity - his muse, Istanbul and weaves stories which brings the West and the East together. In this, Sopocles’ Oedipus meets Ferdowsi’s Rustam and Sohrab. Parts of it were like a fairy tale and at times, I felt the story dragged on unnecessarily with this central theme.

  23. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fiction)
    Set during the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960’s, I found this novel equally beautiful and painful. This work is a nice introduction to African literature after Chinua Achebe.

  24. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K.Rowling (Fiction)
    Hufflepuff Edition.

  25. Michael Palin’s Around The World in 80 Days by Michael Palin (Travelogue)
    Years ago, I saw this series and ever since then Phineas Fogg has been Michael for me. Reading this in 2020, the stark difference the world has gone through in the decades is very plainly visible. China was just opening up, India was an exotic, mysterious country for western hippies, Dubai was still a small town beginning to see the start of construction and Hong Kong the only remaining overseas British Territory with an English governor.

  26. Trackside by Bharath Moro (Memoir)
    A collection of stories and experiences on Indian Railways by the author who is also the administrator of the IRFCA, part time photographer, entrepreneur and story teller. I found his blog while searching for stories on Indian Railways and which was also a part motivation for me to start my own blog with a custom domain.

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