2019 in Books

What better time to recap some of the best books I read this year than when I’m stuck in the house with a 102° fever from a nasty flu. Blame all typos/nonsense on the nyquil.

Less - Andrew Sean Greer


Less feels somewhat autobiographical. A story of an author (Arthur Less) trying to distract himself from a looming 50th birthday and a potentially awkward wedding by taking a whirlwind tour of the globe (Greer is 49). Less is often, um, less known for his own work than that of his longtime boyfriend, a famous poet whose health is in decline. Less is a charming, fun read.

Demian - Herman Hesse


Emil Sinclair, the book’s protagonist, deals with navigating the “world of light” and the “world of illusion”. As in Hesse’s other works, the complex duality of the spirit is discussed at length, often with Max Demian - a childhood friend of Emil’s who is wise beyond his years, and serves as a mentor. Demian will sit with you long after you finish reading it.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler - Italo Calvino


A book on reading. Half narrative, half a series of short stories which leave you wishing each was followed by another 200 pages. Discussing the nature and structure of this book feels it may spoil it for future readers. I can say, without hesitation, that I’ve never read a book like If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character - Richard Feynman


This is a popular read in engineering circles, where Feynman is revered as a mischievous oracle that takes pride in understanding topics deeply, to their bones. I didn’t realize how complex a character Feynman was until reading this book. Was Feynman a good colleague? Probably not. A good husband? Certainly not. Still, he made a lasting contribution to the sciences and his no BS approach to science is something I admire.

Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Drumbo


Joe Bonham awakens to find himself in a strange, dark place. After some time he realizes he’s in a hospital, and likely gravely wounded. The novel alternates between Joe remembering his youth and getting a clearer understanding of the details of his injury. Johnny Got His Gun is gruesome and tragic. Exactly the sort of novel I hope politicians read before casting us into war.

Written by David Friedman on 15 December 2019