Books are an important part of my being, I would even say I define myself through them. Not only have I enjoyed reading since my early youth, but I’ve also been writing books for almost two decades, on average one a year.
For the past two years, I’ve been keeping my own list (as a Google Sheet and now also on Librarything) of what books and magazines I’ve read. In 2019, I came up with 216 books, comics, and magazines, organized by category: 117 comics (mostly French) and 56 nonfiction, a few biographies, picture books, and even children’s books. I read most of them on my travels, and there were quite a few in 2019. I’ve been to Europe a total of 10 times, and on each trip I managed to read two to four nonfiction books. And yes, I really do lug the books around with me in print form, not digital. And they grace my apartment. I probably have close to 3,000 volumes spread over seven shelves in two rooms.
As a writer, books are also working materials and inspiration. Just as a filmmaker watches films, and artists themselves visit galleries and performances, so too must an author read. I myself read between two and four hours a day, and i spend the same number of hours writing every day. Under normal circumstances, I would be a coffeehouse literate, reading and writing books in the coffeehouse. This year, that was only possible from home, but I still maintain the coffeehouse vibe with proper preparation of my coffee, Viennese style.
I have one rule: every second book I read must have nothing to do with my actual topic. So if I’m working on a book about artificial intelligence, I’ll read a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, the fall of Rome, or Bauhaus architecture in between. If I’m finishing my book on Future Angst, as I’m doing right now, then I read something in between about the architectural movement Brutalism, a Japanese novella from the 10th century (Tales of Genji), primate research or ethics.
My brain doesn’t really switch off during this, and unconsciously in the background the work keeps running on the back burner, and often the most interesting inspirations for my current or a future work topic come from these ‘off-topic’ books. For example, a detail in the Leonardo biography – The Woodpecker’s Tongue – gave me the inspiration for the book Future Angst.
I manage to keep the overview by meticulously marking passages with small post-it notes and then transferring them to a document, which then serves me for faster searching. I enrich my own texts with such cross-references, stories and thoughts.
The year 2020 in books
This year was a little different, though, and it showed in the amount of material I read. Although I only got to 196 books, comics and magazines because I had trouble getting French comics due to the lockdown, I got through 86 non-fiction books and 6 biographies in three languages (English, French and German). Among them were such tomes as the 700-page first volume of Barack Obama ‘A Promised Land’, the 600-page biography of Edison, more than 500 pages of ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ or the mathematical book about quantum computers ‘Dancing with Qbits’.
Even though many of the books were interesting and I only didn’t finish reading two or three in total (that happens too), I have a small list of my highly recommended favorites, organized by nonfiction and the rest.
My favorite nonfiction books 2020
- A Promised Land
- Invisible Women
- The Man Who Loved China
- The Rise of Early Modern Science
Other favorite books 2020
- Japanese Notebooks
- The Tale of Genji
- The Incredible Adventures of the swindler Pablo of Segovia
- Midi Pile
- The Eternaut
Not only did I read a lot this year, but I also tried my hand at ventriloquism. And took that as an opportunity to turn a book of mine – Foresight Mindset – into an online course. You can see the result here: AlphaSophia and I teach Future Mindset. Have a look at the preview videos.