Pandemic Reading: Books I’ve Read or Have Reread During the Pandemic

 

Just a list of most of what I’ve read or reread from late 2020 into 2022. The pandemic was a worldwide disaster and tragedy in so many ways, but it simultaneously provided more time for catching up on reading and re-reading than I’d had in ages. This is just a list of some of my reading during this time of endless lockdowns and spending too much time at home.  I read a lot and usually had six or seven books on the go at any given time. Each list is arranged in the rough order of enjoyment or perceived usefullness gained from each book. Honestly, the first 10 to 15 in each category are difficult to arrange since they were mostly all excellent or very good. Although the last 2 or 3 in each list were, in some cases, books with which I wish I had not wasted time. Categorized into books on religion, fiction, and Non-fiction.

Religion

  • America and Iran – John Ghazvinian

An excellent, very readable overview of Iran American relations from 1720 to the present. The sections on Mossadeq, Khomeini, the revolution, the hostage crisis, and the Iraq invasion of Iran are fascinating as are the details on the making and breaking of the nuclear deal. Draws on a significant amount of lesser known archive material as well as some newly unclassified research material.

  • Divine Love – William Chittick

Beautiful translation of Persian works by Maybudi and Sam’ani. Chittick is the premier translator of Persian works and it shows in this lovely book.

  • Lost Knowledge of the Imagination – Gary Lachman

Survey of the role of imagination (not imagination in the sense of making things up but rather as a faculty connected to true archetypes) in Western esoteric traditions. A quick fascinating read. Interestingly, the author used to be part of the rock group Blondie.

  • The Transfiguration of Man – Frithjof Schuon

A slim volume with short excerpts from Frithjof Schuon’s writings – like all his books not always an easy read but lots of gems in this tiny book all dealing with the metaphysical potentials inherent in humankind.

  • The Repose of the Spirits – William Chittick

Another excellent Chittick translation from a poetic work of Ahmad Sam’ani. It’s a book you can keep revisiting for fresh insights into classical Islamic thought.

  • The Meccan Revelations I – James Morris

Translation and notes by James Winston Morris of selections from Ibn Arabi’s Meccan Revelations.

  • The Meccan Revelations II – James Morris

Translation and notes by James Winston Morris of further selections from Ibn Arabi’s Meccan Revelations.

  • Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur’an Commentary Ascribed to Jafar al-Sadiq – Farahana Mayer

Translation and notes on surviving selections from a commentary ascribed to Imam Jafar al-Sadiq. There is very minimal commentary but what there is, is strikingly beautiful and very rich in allusion.

  • King of the Castle – Gai Eaton

A tratise on what it means to bear the responsibility of being God’s viceregent on earth. Written with an urgency of style that decries the falling away of sacred tradition and a plea for its preservation and restoration.

  • The Act of Being – Christian Jambert

Mulla Sadra’s doctrine of the ontology of being presented in a detailed and insightful and very readable language.

  • A Confession And Other Religious Writings – Leo Tolstoy

Personal essays that document Tolstoy’s spiritual crisis, his  attempts to resolve the gulf between his personal religious beliefs and the dogmatic stance of the church, his thoughts on the state of science, politics, colonialism, and war in light of the human condition and spiritual decline.

  • Avicenna and the Visionary Recital – Henry Corbin

Summary and commentary on three of Avicenna’s mystical treatises or recitals dealing with the path of spiritual elevation.

  • Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defence – Edmund College and Bernard McGinn

Selected works by the German philosopher and mystic – sometimes feels like one is reading Ibn Arabi or other Islamic philosopher/mystics. Good overview of his thought.

  • Spiritual Quest – Reflections on Qur’anic Prayer According to the Teachings of Imam Ali – Reza Shah Kazemi

A slim volume that presents different types of prayer mentioned in Qur’anic verses and elaborates on the meaning and practice of these types and forms of prayer using Ali’s teachings as a guide.

  • The Study Qur’an – directed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Qur’an translation and commentary by a group of scholars assembled to carry out the task by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Provides a decent overview of common traditional commentaries, however, the quality of the commentaries presented is very uneven. Still, a good reference work to have around.

  • The Sublime Qur’an – Lale Bakhtiar

Qur’an translation and commentary by Laleh Bakhtiar, best known for its re-interpretation (and possibly more accurate interpretation) of several controversial Qur’an verses. Worth a read for a slightly different perspective.

  • The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis

A defense of objective values and natural law vs modern attempts to demolish traditional morality with an ever-changing system of values that can only lead to the eventual abolition of mankind.

  • Mapping the Secular Mind: Modernity’s Quest For a Godless Utopia – Haggag Ali

How has secular materialism remapped the world, and human interaction and sociological development, into a self-destructive, purposeless direction.

  • Crisis in Iran: A Microcosm of the Cosmic Play – Robin Carlsen

Examines the revolutionary confrontation between Iran and the West using the metaphor of a play that is a microcosm reflecting much larger metaphysical issues unfolding in the political dynamics of the revolution.

  • Seventeen Days in Tehran : Revolution, Evolution, and Ignorance – Robin Carlsen

A personal travelogue of Iran in the early years of the revolution. Very different, fascinating and frank view of encounters with various ideas and participants at the heart of the revolution.

  • The Inferno – translated by John Ciardi

A modern language translation of Dante’s Inferno with explanatory notes to contextualize and clarify the many obscure (to the modern reader) historical and mythic references that recur throughout the work.

  • The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis

A metaphorical Christian reflection on hell and heaven.

  • Initiation and Spiritual Realization – Rene Guenon

Short essays providing suggestions, warnings, and advice for anyone seeking the path to true spiritual realization. Incisive, sharp, and deep as are Guenon’s other writings.

  • After The Prophet – Lesley Hazleton

Documents the disputes over the succession of the Prophet and the aftermath of those disputes. Based primarily on the seerah or histories of Islam, the book reads like a thriller and is hard to put down once started. The audiobook is also quite good.

  • The Search for Beauty in Islam – Khaled About El Fadl

Short expositions on various aspects of Islamic thought, history, and law that bring out the beauty of rigorous, disciplined, and properly reasoned Islamic approaches to controversial issues.

  • Master of the Age – Paul E. Walker

A series of interconnected philosophical proofs, all purporting to logically show the necessity of the doctrine of the imamate.

  • Ibn Arabi – A Prayer for Spiritual Elevation and Protection – translation by Suha Tah-Farouki

Translation of a beautiful prayer for protection and elevation, purportedly from Ibn Arabi.

  • Maqasid Al-Shariah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach -Jasser Auda

Examines the shariah from the standpoint of the ultimate aims and intention of the principles of the law rather than the letter of the law.

  • The Bhagavad Gita – Eknath Easwar

A new translation of the Gita which presents the battlefield as an allegory of the metaphysical and ethical struggle faced by humankind.

  • The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World – John Andrew Morrow

Translation and analysis of the treaties made between the Prophet and the Christians under his protection.

  • The Study of Shi’i Islam – Edited by Farhad Daftary and Gurdofarid Miskinzoda

Comprehensive set of articles detailing key aspects of Shi’ite hstory, theology, law, tradition, rituals, and philosophy. Good reference book.

  • The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick – Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem

Excerpts from a personal journal kept by the sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, containing his visions and religious speculations. A wild metaphysical read, not for the faint of heart.

  • The Divine Within – Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s views on metaphysics, human nature, God, good and evil, enlightenment etc.

  • God Is: My Search for Faith in a Secular World – David Adams Richards

A personal memoir of the author’s absolute conviction and certainty in God’s existence while inhabiting a secular world teeming with sometimes very dark and dubious moral demons.

  • The Subtleties of the Ascension – Sulami/Colby

Translation and commentary on early depictions of the night journey of the Prophet.

  • The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Post Modernism and the New Age – Charles Upton

Using Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon as a foundation, examines the concept of the antichrist and his system in terms of traditional religion vs secularism and new age speculations. A sometimes long-winded but interesting read.

  • The Voyage of No Return – Claude Addas

Major events in Ibn Arabi’s life and travels.

  • Man as a Symphony of the Creative Word – Rudolf Steiner

Steiner’s spiritual path of Anthroposophy which stressed the spiritual aspects of humanity as an integrated symphony reflecting the harmony of God’s creative word.

  • Rene Guenon: Some Observations – Frithjof Schuon

A critique by Schuon of some aspects of Rene Guenon’s uncompromising and hard edged approach to metaphysical principles and his unrelenting critique of secular modernity.

  • Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires – Juan Cole

Presents in extensive detail, the little known but rich historical world that surrounded Mecca and Medina at the time of the advent of the Prophet. Fascinating to read from the standpoint of the peripheral history and political geography of the region. Makes for some dense but always interesting reading.

  • If the Oceans were Ink – Carla Power

A very basic book of an encounter between a sheikh and a secular American who try and bridge the gap between their worlds. Has some interesting points of discussion and is well written but overall a little wishy washy and ultimately unsatisfying.

  • The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad – Lesley Hazleton

A passable but mostly mediocre and unsatisfying biography of the Prophet. Go read her excellent “After the Prophet” instead.

Fiction

  • Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Wow – just wow! My second time reading this and it is one of the greatest pieces of literature in any language, but it’s hard to imagine a book like this coming out of anywhere but Russia.

  • Resurrection – Leo Tolstoy

Had put off reading this, and eventually listened to it as an unabridged audiobook. This one rakes your conscience over the coals as it depicts the slow but total inner transformation of its young protagonist. A marvel of a book. Just so incredibly good.

  • The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My second time through the Idiot in a different translation this time. One of my favorites, and the clash of characters between the two protagonists is like reading an allegory of the uneasy and dreadful interplay of good and evil within the world.

  • War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

I had put off reading this for most of my life. Once started, and once I got the characters straight in my head, I whisked through it in no time – absolutely riveting and unputdownable.

  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A cat and mouse detective story following a gruesome murder and a profound look into the inner world of an intellect dissipated, corrupted, awakened, and ultimately redeemed.

  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The parallel story of two couples, vastly different in outlook and in the society in which they move and the happiness or tragedies that emerge from their pursuits. Presented with such rich detail and depiction of their inner lives, that it’s hard to put down.

Middlemarch – George Eliot

The fortune and misfortune of key residents of the town of Middlemarch and the choices they make that lead to missteps and the consequences that follow. An absolutely amazing read.

  • Hunger – Knut Hamsun

Stumbled across this Norwegian novel by accident. An account of a starving writer and the ordeals he faces as he tries to sustain himself in a Norwegian city and prevent a slide into paronia and despair. Absolutely riveting reading.

  • East of Eden – John Steinbeck

Wow – I had no idea Steinbeck had written such a powerful and compelling book telling the story of families settling the American west with a Cain and Abel metaphor as the central motif of the books main characters. A real page turner.

  • Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

What can I say, Dostoyevsky with bizarre plot twists where you share the characters rage and confusion and fear as they navigate barely intelligible worlds, trying to make sense of them.

  • Growth of the Soil – Knut Hamsun

Another masterpiece of a novel by the Norwegian author of “Hunger” for which he won the Nobel prize way back in 1920.

  • Adam Bede – George Eliot

Beautiful depiction of life and love in a small town, with a devastating plot twist halfway through which takes the novel in a totally unexpected direction.

  • The Father’s Tale: A Novel – Michael O’Brien

A father devasted by the disappearance of his son goes on a journey across the world in search of him. It become a religious, metaphysical journey that has great repurcussions for the father and many of the characters he encounters along the way. A truly readable and unique book. It’s a massive book but you won’t even notice the length once you’re enmeshed in the story.

  • Siddartha – Herman Hesse

Reread this wonderful classic for the third time.

  • Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

My first time reading this classic. Somehow never got around to it. What a treat, although the ending caught me compltely off guard. Wow.

  • Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

A lovely book about the preservation of innocence in a world that seeks to corrupt.

  • Daniel Deronda – George Eliot

Found this one interesting because of its unexpected tilt to the main character’s discovery of his ethnic origins and the links and references Eliot makes to the Jewish politics of her time.

  • Silas Marner – George Eliot

A morality tale and character study about the ingredients necessary to bring about an inner transformation in a seemingly hopeless situation.

  • Demian – Herman Hesse

Like all of Hesse’s writings, this book is a fascinating look into the possibilities of human transformation and the internal battlefield where good and evil struggle and contend and, in Hesse’s characters, often mix together. Every encounter between characters is an excuse to open up an examination of philosophical and spiritual issues but all in a very readable and compelling manner.

  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I never finished this book when it was assigned reading in school so I picked it up to see what I missed and discovered it was a lovely, understated, subtle masterpiece, that can be read as a symbolic novel touching on themes of materialism and idealism and the many betrayals that can infilterate and destroy the human spirit.

  • 1984 – George Orwell

I figured it was time to reread Orwell’s bleak but beautifully told masterpiece.

  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Another reread. Love the flowing wild almost poetic prose that runs like a wild river throughout the book.

  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

And another reread. Felt I had to after encountering discussion online with a young reader who didn’t see anything very negative about the society depicted but felt sorry for the deluded savage who couldn’t just accept a more progressive society. Sign of the times.

  • The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexander Dumas

What a thrill ride. The ultimate inexorable implacable revenge story. So good.

  • Dune – Frank Herbert

Reread before the new movie version came out. Movie was decent. But  made me appreciate just how good the book is and really no movie could do justice to the complexity of the intertwined plots and competing interests of all the factions (House Atreides, House Harkonnen, House Corrino, the Emperor, the Bene Gesserit and the Missionaria Protectiva, CHOAM, Sardukar, the Landsraad, the Spacing Guild, Bene Tleilaxu, and the Fremen). A sci-fi classic.

  • Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert

Reread this as well. Doesn’t have the heroic feel of Dune but has Paul pragmatically secure the fealty of the Fremen to his children ensuring the continuation of his legacy and a total changeover from the old order. Has a more politically cynical feel than the messianic heroics of Dune. I suppose I’ll have to follow through and reread the remaining four books in the series by Herbert.

  • Permutation City – Greg Egan

Reread this amazing book. An absolutely fascinating novel exploring in depth the idea of a massively complex cellular automaton universe and on the way examining  the nature of reality and consciousness. Big ideas, lots of abstract philosophical discussion, technical detail, metaphysical speculation all told in a compelling novel that leads to a big big ending. Will have to revisit again in the future. Ther’s a lot to absorb in this book.

  • A Bridge of Years – Robert Charles Wilson

Terrific well written time travel story – the style is so smooth and the characters and plot so well developed that you just enjoyably flow through the book. The premise is very similar to Stephen King’s 11/22/63 although this was written a couple of decades before that book.

  • The Chronoliths – Robert Charles Wilson

A real gem of a novel with great characters, a fascinating look at the nature of cause and effect, the nature of time, and the psychology of civilizational decay and collapse all within a unique sci-fi premise explored to its logical conclusion.

  • The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov

Reread this fun vintage Asimov trilogy and it made me truly dislike the recent Apple TV+ series. Thank goodness we always have the books to fall back to when TV and film adaptations use the title but disfigure the contents.

  • Strangers and Sojourners – Michael D. O’Brien

A tale of settlers in the Canadian west but one full of spiritual undertones and the foreboding of a future of dying spirituality and rising amorality amongst an attempt to hold to tradition. Interesting and well written.

  • True Grit – Charles Portis

A tale about a young girl who pursues a biblical style vengenace against her father’s killer. Told with deadpan humor and witty narration. A quick but really wonderful read.

  • The Magician – W. Somerset Maugham

Not one of Maugham’s best and the subject matter is rather dark and bleak. He wrote this after his encounters with Aleister Crowley, whom he despised and towards whom he felt an intense revulsion. The main anatagonist is modeled on Crowley and while the book feels amateurish compared to his other writings I still found it an interesting read.

  • Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo

A bleak but fascinating quick read. A soldier’s injuries are so severe that he loses all senses that connect him to the outside world leaving him a sensory deprived prisoner in his own mind. Apparently a newspaper story about a similarily injured Canadian soldier was the inspiration for this powerful anti-war novel that also examines the philosophical ideas of sensory knowledge vs a priori internal knowledge. A dark and distressing read since you’re in the head of the suffering soldier throughout, but that’s also from where the power of the book comes.

  • The Flight of the Falcon – Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier’s writing just flows so smoothly it’s hard not to enjoy even her lesser novels. This deals with the way the way the past and it’s sins echo and impinge on the present all wrapped up in the story of how postwar trauma and a local family secret all come together and culmnate in a cathartic university uprising in an Italian town. An unusual tale but well told.

  • Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

I’ve given up on more Neal Stephenson books than I’ve finished, but this one grabbed me from the opening lines and with its swift and epic exposition held me to the end. A fun read.

  • Bartleby, the Scrivener – Herman Melville

A short story about a strange eccentric character and the co-workers who simply have no idea how to handle him or his quirks. Loved it.

  • The Medusa Chronicles – Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

Big idea sci-fi that takes a while to get going (the setup of the main character and the premise takes much too long) but once that’s done and we get on with the main story, it becomes compulsively readable and explores some fascinating science premises.

  • Non-Stop (Starship) – Brian Aldiss

Reread this after many many years. A very different and fairly sophisticated handling of the generation-starship as universe concept. So good.

  • The Stand – Stephen King

Reread but this time the newer expanded version. Honestly, I preferred the original version – there’s something to be said for a good editor who keeps a writer’s worst impulses in check. Much of the additional material in the new version seems laced with far too much off-putting and unnecessary vulgarity. I was unable to find a copy of the original book anywhere so I had no choice but to read the newer version. Nevertheless, the story remains very compelling and the epic conflict between good and evil builds nicely throughout.

  • The Institute – Stephen King

Really enjoyable sci-fi thriller with fun characters and two compelling plot lines that build and collide in a satisfying conclusion. Fun read.

  • Zodiac – Neal Stephenson

Environmental activists fighting polluters in the Boston area in a truly fun novel full of offbeat characters and a plot that unfurls gradually and then becomes hard to pull yourself away from. Terrific read.

  • The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Epic sci-fi tale told over three books. A real pageturner that moves at a brisk pace. The first in the series quickly builds its premise (a world without privacy for men since the planet they landed on infects them with a virus that causes all living creatures to hear the unfiltered thoughts of all other living creatures) and then becomes a non-stop relentless chase that ends on a cliffhanger. Compulsively readable.

  • The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness

Picks up where “The Knife of Never Letting Go” ends and builds in scope as two opposing factions face off against one another and the native alien species are caught in the crossfire. Even better than the first book.

  • Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness

The conflict of the first two books grows in scale and a monumental battle unfolds as the series comes to a truly epic and satisfying conclusion. Even better than the first two books.

  • The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Well written. A terrorist’s bomb, a stolen painting, an orphaned boy, the world of art and art theft, the boy’s ultimate redemption. Some interesting characters that take turns and directions that seemed somewhat random at times so it pulled me out of the story. Also takes a little too long to get where it’s going. Nevertheless, a decent tale that maybe tries too hard to be Dickensian and succeeds in being entertaining and engaging but I don’t think will ever be considered a true classic. Enjoy it for what it is.

  • The Fishermen – Chigoze Obioma

Four brothers, a prophecy, and a crazy townsman make for an extremely well written but dark fable that I couldn’t stop reading even as I dreaded where it was heading. Good stuff.

  • The Cossacks – Leo Tolstoy

A young Russian soldier’s experiences of life in the Caucasuses among the Cossacks. A slight but interesting early novel.

  • The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Unusual but fascinating sci-fi alien contact novel. Very different. Glad I read it but not compelling enough to lead me to the sequels.

  • Starman Jones – Robert A. Heinlein

Reread another childhood novel. Early Heinlein and a really fun, fast paced read. All the elements to keep you entertained and engaged with the characters and the plot. Classic sci-fi.

  • Keeper of the Isis Light – Monica Hughes

So good. Explores themes of racism, religious belief, prejudice, solitude,  loneliness, and responsibility within a compelling sci-fi setting. Subtly handled.

  • Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir

Another think and engineer your way through all obstacles sci-fi novel similar in approach to the Martian but this time built around a first contact premise. Fun read.

  • Airframe – Michael Crichton

Wow! A 1996 highly technical thriller about the investigation into the mechanical and computer problems that cause a plane to unexpectedly crash. Almost uncannily prescient of the recent Boeing 737 Max problems.

  • A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

YA allegorical novel about a child dealing with the impending loss of a parent to illness. Short and heartbreaking.

  • The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson

Sci-fi about nanotechnology and the way it transforms the world. It’s a picaresque coming of age novel filled with exotic characters, circumstances, locations, and conflicts. I thought I would love it but it was a little too chaotic and over the top and just not as compelling as Seveneves or Zodiac.

  • The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

Subtle ghost story that was enjoyable to read but not much beyond that.

  • Death in the Clouds – Agatha Christie

Had a lot of fun trying to figure out the guilty party in this light but enjoyable mystery.

  • The Lotus Caves – John Christopher

Reread a book I only vaguely recollected from my childhood. Turned out to be quite enjoyable but slight reworking of the Odyssey’s lotus-eaters premise. A fun read for younger readers.

  • Lost and Found – Brooke Davis

Eccentric characters, grief, loss and the characters coming together to forge their own “family” as they take a humorous journey to help a liitle abandoned girl locate her mother. Quirky little book. Enjoyable but nothing special.

  • The Golden Rendezvous – Alistair MacLean

Decided to reread this old favorite. Forget how tense and well told the story was. Which led me to reread a few more by Alistair MacLean rereads as listed below.

  • Fear is the Key – Alistair MacLean
  • Golden Gate – Alistair MacLean
  • When Eight Bells Toll – Alistair MacLean
  • Athabasca – Alistair MacLean

Hadn’t read this one before. Not as good as some of his early work but a decent read nevertheless.

  • Landslide – Desmond Bagley

I’d never read Desmond Bagley before picking this up in a used book store. It was such a fun Alastair Maclean style read that I went out and got all the other books of his I could find and had a blast reading them all. Not a bad book among them. They’re listed below.

  • Running Blind – Desmond Bagley
  • The Golden Keel – Desmond Bagley
  • The Vivero Letter – Desmond Bagley
  • High Citadel – Desmond Bagley
  • Flyaway – Desmond Bagley
  • The Tightrope Men – Desmond Bagley
  • Wyatt’s Hurricane – Desmond Bagley
  • Bahama Crisis – Desmond Bagley
  • Windfall – Desmond Bagley
  • The Macintosh Man – Desmond Bagley
  • Night of Error – Desmond Bagley
  • Juggernaut – Desmond Bagley

 

  • The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas

Light, chaotic read. It’s a diversion. Doesn’t have the relentless, tightly plotted revenge pace of Count of Monte Cristo.

  • Freak the Mighty – Rodman Philbrick

Touching YA novel of two underdogs who team up to become far greater morally and physically than the sum of their parts. Also made into a terrific movie called “The Mighty”.

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Sweet YA novel about a family’s trials in life told from the standpoint of their dog.

Armada – Ernest Cline

Light but fun alien invasion tale. Good diversionary reading.

  • The Guardian of Isis – Monica Hughes

Passable sequel to Keeper of the Isis Light. But not nearly up to the goodness of the original.

  • The Isis Pedlar – Monica Hughes

Another sequel. Reasonable entertaining but honestly, the first in this YA series is so superior to the sequels that you’re probably better off not bothering with the sequels.

  • The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart

Enjoyable fantasy telling the story of Merlin the magician from the King Arthur tales.

  • The Efficiency Expert – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Quick read – light fun wrapped in a mystery with a touch of romance and ethics – an unusual book for Edgar Rice Burroughs.

  • Carson of Venus – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Read these as a kid – reread for fun – episodic adventure with lots of bombast and swashbuckling in a futuristic setting.

  • Pirates of Venus – Edgar Rice Burroughs

The continuing adventures of Carson of Venus.

  • Lost on Venus – Edgar Rice Burroughs

More adventures, more perils, dangers, and close escapes.

  • Escape on Venus – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Starting to realize it’s a bit much to read these books non-stop one after the other.

  • The Wizard of Venus – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Glad to finish the series even though they were a pleasant blast from the past.

  • Bowl of Heaven/Shipstar/Glorious – Larry Niven and Gregory Benford

Honestly, a jumbled mess of a series – mostly skimmed it to find out what happens since neither the characters nor the events were that intersting. It’s no Ringworld. I miss the Larry Niven of old.

  • Poison for Breakfast – Lemony Snicket

Not as good as the other Lemony Snicket books. A one joke story that’s light fun but nothing special.

  • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab – Fergus Hume

An old murder mystery – precursor to the mystery genre. A light but fun read. Nothing special, but OK.

  • The Listeners – Jordan Tannahill

May have made a good short story. A real drag as a full length book.

  • Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

This will probably be an unpoular opinion, but I liked the movie, and seriously hated the book.

  • Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Another book I absolutely hated and had to force myself through. An arrogantly written piece of tripe with dull and despicable characters. Don’t know why anyone would like this crappy piece of sci-fi. Belongs in the trash bin.

  • Doppler – Erlend Loe

The writing style was interesting (in the translation) and the story is quite quirky but quirky is not enough to carry a novel. It has a few interesting tidbits here and there but beyond that did not care very much for the book.

  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I suppose there has to be some leeway given since it was a YA book, but really did not care for it at all. A decent story so poorly told that I had difficulty getting through it.

  • Artemis – Andy Weir

What a piece of trash by the author of the incredibly fun “The Martian”. Annoying characters and a dumb heist plot in a city on the moon. The book is a mess and when you start disliking the main characters you know this book is not for you. Well – not the book for me – a hot fail.

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia – Mohsin Hamid

Read it because of the incredible reviews. Hated every moment of reading it. Felt like throwing it in the trash immediately after.

  • Carrion Comfort – Dan Simmons

Vampire story – so bad I couldn’t finish it. Gave up.

  • The Collector – John Fowles

An extremely well written but disturbing book. It’s pernicious in it’s calm depiction of real evil. I had to stop reading it for the longest time and was only able to get through it in small increments. Not good for the soul.

Non-Fiction

  • Walden on Wheels – Ken Ilgunas

Such an excellent memoir of a student’s transcontinental travels attempting to live a simple Thoreau style life and also trying to get through University without racking up unsustainable debt. Compulsively readable and the audiobook is also excellent. Could not stop reading it.

  • Autobiography of Gandhi: My Experiments with Truth – Gandhi

From his notebooks written and compiled while he served time in jail. He’s very frank and open about his obsessions, his compulsions, his trial and error approach. A simply written but absolutely fascinating read.

  • Travels with Charley – John Steinback

Travels across America and Steinbeck’s observations are wry and incisive. A light but compelling read.

  • The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

A wild true story about extremely non-conformist parents raising children who long for the opposite, for stability and fitting in. Lovingly told. Compulsively readable and the events in this family’s life sometimes just makes your mouth drop open in disbelief.

  • Tibetan Peach Pie – Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins writing is always entertaining and it remains so as he turns his abilities to tell the story of his own eccentric and somewhat wild life.

  • Elon Musk – Ashlee Vance

Compelling biography that tells the story of the early startups Musk was involved with that allowed him to then build Tesla and Space X. Read this primarily for the Space X story but the whole book was a good read.

  • Black Klansman – Ron Stallworth

Amazing true story of the undercover cop who infiltrates the klan. What more can I say. You won’t be bored.

  • Carrying the Fire – Michael Collins

Collins writes well and paints a very detailed picture of the training, the dedication, the difficulties, the highs and lows of preparing for and executing the Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

  • Astounding – Alec Nevada-Lee

Chaotic but fascinating book about the early sci-fi magazines, the editors, the contributing authors, the conflicts and friendships that built the sci-fi publishing industry. Lots of side stories as well about L. Ron Hubbard and the creation of Scientology. The book seems haphazhardly put together at times but it always remains interesting as it dishes out little known info on the sci-fi industry.

  • How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real World Problems – Randall Munroe

What can I say – scientific answers to absurd questions. Get it you won’t regret it. So much fun to read.

  • Dean and Me – Jerry Lewis

Terrifically entertaining book of the highs and lows of Jerry Lewis’s life. Very enjoyable.

  • Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland – Ken Ilgunas

Another book by the autor of Walden on Wheels. Good read although it can’t compare to Walden on Wheels.

  • Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products – Leander Kahney

Passable biography but nothing exceptional. Bland writing.

  • Long Way Round – Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman

Fun read depicting the difficulties of the authors round the world motorcycle journey with lots of humour.

  • Maphead – Ken Jennings

So good. Jennings writes a terrific book about maps and the people obsessed with them. Who knew a book about maps could be so much fun to read.

  • On Writing – Stephen King

Advice on writing couched in King’s personal approach and experiences. An interesting read whether or not you are interested in writing advice.

  • I’m Your Huckleberry – Val Kilmer

Decent autobiography of key events in Kilmer’s life.

  • Ghost in the Wires – Kevin Mitnick

A hacker’s story. Interesting true story that’s just a little too long winded.

  • Louisa May Alcott – Susan Cheever

Very detailed biography of the author of Little Women and her unusual family and their unusual friends. Lots of interesting tidbits but the whole thing is drawn out more than it needs to be. Honestly, this is a fault with a lot of modern non-fiction. It’s unnecessarily padded out far more than required and a compelling story instead become a bit of a slog instead.

  • Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

More detail than I wanted or needed to know about obsessions with setting up and running a lab for the study of plants. There’s a terrific story here but it needed to be shorter and more concise than this one.

  • A Sense of the World – Jason Roberts

Blind man travels around the world in the 1800s. Fascinating story but could have been more compellingly told.

  • Amish Grace – Donald B. Kraybill

Heartbreaking true story but weakly told.

  • Introducing Chaos – Ziauddin Sardar

A barely passable intro to Chaos and Complexity theory.

  • The Forgotten Language – Erich Fromm

A look into dream symbolism. Not one of Fromm’s better books.

  • Introducing Game Theory – Ivan

A barely passable intro to Game theory. Save your money.

  • On Relationship – Jidda Krishnamurti

A collection of his talks on relationship. Really you just need to read one speech, all the rest in the book are just variations on that one speech. Extremely repetitious. Go read something else by Krishnamurti instead. This one is a dud.