Books

This is just a list of books I've read (2020-onward), and my thoughts on them. Nothing too exciting. Oh, and this is a spoiler-free zone.

See: compact version, favourites/strongest recommendations, just Murakami books.

Conversations With Friends

by Sally Rooney

genre: Romance published: 2017 time read: September 2022

Definitely on a bit of a romance binge! Conversations With Friends has the same easy-reading and effortless movement between love and trauma that drew me in to Normal People. At the same time, this book feels more uncomfortable to me - in ways that are both good and bad.

Flights

by Olga Tokarczuk | translated by Jennifer Croft

genre: Short Stories published: 2007 translated: 2018 time read: September 2022

I enjoyed stumbling through travels and travel psychology and Eastern Europe with Tokarczuk. In many instances, I’m left confused - I feel like I still don’t get the book - but I’m also quite intrigued. Certainly a novel book!

Normal People

by Sally Rooney

genre: Romance published: 2018 time read: September 2022

In the best way possible, this book was a painful read. I often love love - and Sally Rooney does a stellar job portraying love (and what’s not quite it) in a perfect story about imperfect people. Some parts of the book definitely hit too close to home. This book is such an easy read - which makes it a superb recommendation - and will likely kick off a romance binge phase!

Severance

by Ling Ma

genre: Satire published: 2018 time read: August 27 2022

Embarassingly, I thought this was related to the Apple TV show. The embarassment ends there - Ling Ma creates a page turner out of corporate monotony, office politics, and offshore manufacturing. The zombie experience alternates between the literal and metaphorical almost seamlessly. It was too easy to read the entire book in a day. Stellar recommendation.

The Buried Giant

by Kazuo Ishiguro

genre: Fantasy published: 2015 time read: August 2022

I feel so not-smart reading this book! I felt like I was wading through mud trying to uncover a stellar plot and intriguing characters; I finish still confused. The climax almost makes all the murky waters quite worth it. The focus on collective memory and trauma is masterful. Maybe this warrants a revisit when life is less hectic and my mind is more clear.

Recursion

by Blake Crouch

genre: Science Fiction published: 2019 time read: August 2022

Recursion blends the heart-pounding nature of a straight thriller with some of the philosophical questions that classic science fiction poses: what, really, is a memory? Crouch’s protagonists are convincingly human; like great sci-fi, the core is about people, not technology. This is exactly where I want to see the sci-fi thriller genre in the future! As an aside, it’s funny reading sci-fi that also incorporates recent current affairs - like namedropping Glenn Greenwald (staying with the Guardian?).

A Pale View of the Hills

by Kazuo Ishiguro

genre: Fiction published: 1982 time read: August 2022

Ishiguro’s debut novel is puzzling in the best way possible. It’s hard to explain this book reads - it’s mundane but also disturbing in a very unique way. I think it’ll require another reread down the line to fully realize how interesting this book is. It’s an on-the-fence recommendation, at least for now.

The Martian

by Andy Weir

genre: Science Fiction published: 2011 time read: August 2022

This was one of the easiest books to read: Mark Watney’s inner dialogue rolls off of each page effortlessly. The science satisfies the part of me that wanted to become an astronaut, and the character almost feels more lively than the movie. I’m flabbergasted that this is Weir’s first novel, and that he’s a software engineer by training! Certainly a book I’d recommend to people who find it hard to get back into reading!

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

genre: Alternate History published: 2019 time read: August 2022

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel is a tantalizing premise: a reflection on the Antebellum south intertwined with supernaturalism. At times, I stumbled while reading through the book; without spoiling, I do wish the tail end was fleshed out a bit more. However, in the same vein as Homegoing, I think Coates provides a novel and moving depiction of America’s troubled history, and how its ideals still manifest themselves today.

Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke

genre: Fantasy published: 2020 time read: July 29th 2022

Wow, just wow - this book is making me rethink all of my previous strong recommendations. Susanna Clarke brings you along for what I can only describe as calm psychological thriller. It’s a book that I imagine I’ll want to read again for the first time for many years to come. In some ways, the Portal 2 of books? Strong strong recommend.

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

genre: Dystopian Fiction published: 1985 time read: July 27th 2022

I feel like I’ve done my due diligence as a Canadian - but beyond that, Atwood is concise and provocative. The book itself reads well, and the stream-of-consciousness / metafiction elements are done quite well. However, what I think is most interesting is Atwood’s framing of the book itself - that, in writing it, she hasn’t invented a new reality, but simply extended upon history. For that reason alone, I find The Handmaid’s Tale spectacular.

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

genre: Science Fiction published: 2011 time read: July 2022

In the best and the worst ways, this is the Logic of science fiction books. On one hand, this is a clear love letter to pop culture, science fiction, the 80’s, and just being a nerd. Cline tells an immersive story filled with geekdom and potshots at commercial capitalism - it’s very impressive that this is his first novel. That being said, I can’t get over the weird, almost incel-y vibes of the protagonist; I have similar critiques for in-universe classics like Revenge of the Nerds. Still an enjoyable read, and an interesting complement to Spielberg’s movie!

Debt: The First 5000 Years

by David Graeber

genre: Anthropology/Economic History published: 2011 time read: June 2022 - July 2022

I’m now torn. On one hand, I think the storytelling and narrative of this book is resoundingly novel. It challenges the creation myths of barter, coinage, and ultimately, modern economics. Many of its ideas are revolutionary and provide a stellar alternate perspective on the world. That being said - I think I’ll need to think a bit more about how verifiable these claims are. Still, an absolute stellar recommend for anybody interested in economics and/or human history - the intro chapter alone is all worth it.

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

genre: Fiction published: 1952 time read: June 2022

Invisible Man is packed to the brim, and I need more time to think. My initial thought is just how accurate Ralph Ellison’s portrayal of the co-opting of social justice is today, seventy years after its writing. In some ways, Ellison foretells the American civil rights movement before it actually happens. Surely recommended reading for any American.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

genre: Fiction published: 1962 time read: June 2022

A younger me would have been absolutely destroyed by this book. Kesey paints a horrific tragedy on the backdrop of a psychiatric hospital - grounded in authority, power, and agency. The central theme surrounding oppressive institutions and the actors within them still rings true today. Even if aspects of the book haven’t aged particularly well - especially compared to its contemporaries - Kesey has written a classic.

Building For Everyone

by Annie Jean-Baptiste

genre: Design published: 2020 time read: June 4th 2022

To be completely honest, this book felt like too much of a Google ad. Jean-Baptiste does bring up relevant points on the importance of product inclusion, balancing the human and business case, and bringing inclusion into each element of the design phase. However, it all just feels a bit off - both in how glorified Google is in the book, and in the mismatch of depth of context and advice. The sidebars from other people in industry are also a mixed bag. Overall, I don’t regret reading the book, but it doesn’t reach the bar that Design Justice has set.

the phone booth at the edge of the world

by Laura Imai Messina | translated by Lucy Rand

genre: Fiction published: 2021 time read: May 2022

Admittedly, I bought this book partially because the cover looks really good. Nevertheless, I’m glad I gave it a read. Messina delves into grief, loss, and love through a moving slice-of-life fiction. It’s also a personal look at the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, without delving into the controversy of the Fukushima nuclear plant. In some ways, the book felt a bit messy, unsatisfying, and unpolished - but still a novel experience!

Second Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

genre: Science Fiction published: 1953 time read: May 2022

I much enjoyed the third book over the second; it feels satisfying to see more of psychohistory and psychology take center stage, rather than be brushed under the rug. While the book significantly departs from the historical stage of the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, it gives freedom to add several key twists that keep the book a page-turner.

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

genre: Drama published: 2017 time read: May 2022

Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel is an absolute sucker punch. Without spoiling the main premise of the book, it is a masterpiece in family and relational drama. I’m teleported to Shaker Heights and feel the stress of the Richardsons and Warrens. I’m especially impressed by the last third of the book, where all of Ng’s setup and various moving parts all click into place. A strong and timely recommendation.

The Word for World Is Forest

by Ursula K. Le Guin

genre: Science Fiction published: 1976 time read: May 1st 2022

As someone who has not read any other books in the Hainish Cycle, I’m not the most fond of this novella. I can understand the novelty of the work: the anti-colonialism, ecofiction resource extraction theme is the precursor to the same themes in Avatar (the blue people one) or Princess Mononoke. However, I personally felt that the story felt less fleshed-out and nuanced than contemporaries like Dune. Still, it is an interesting read, and one I’d recommend to ecofiction fans.

Foundation and Empire

by Isaac Asimov

genre: Science Fiction published: 1952 time read: April 2022

The sequel to the seminal Foundation takes a different angle. I still loved it, but I wasn’t as engrossed as the original. I do appreciate the new plot developments, but in some ways, they feel like cheating the rules of the universe. Nevertheless, excited to read Second Foundation!

Watchmen

by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins

genre: Alternate History / Comic Book published: 1988 time read: March 2022 - April 2022

Who watches the watchmen? The comic book that changed societal perspectives on comics as a medium is as poignant as ever. Watchmen is a stellar commentary on superhero vigilantism, American imperialism, and the fundamental nature and morals of humanity. It also juxtaposes the icons of Western culture with the horrific reality of its product. My only regret is reading the book after watching the movie. The HBO series is definitely next on my list.

Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

genre: Science Fiction published: 1951 time read: February 27th 2022

Foundation is a stellar use of the future to examine our past. Asimov packages the rise and fall of great empires into a grand narrative surrounding power. A genre-definer in its own right; excited to read more!

A Personal Matter

by Kenzaburō Ōe

genre: Semi-autobiographical published: 1964 time read: February 18th 2022

Ōe’s musings on the birth of his mentally disabled son are simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. The profound impact of this novel is clear. Nevertheless, I can’t say it’s my cup of tea - I’m moreso shaken and confused than astounded.

How Democracies Die

by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

genre: Political Science published: 2018 time read: February 4th 2022

Levitsky and Ziblatt provide a strong intuition for long-term success of democracy. Norms, not constitutions or separation of powers, uphold democracy. Two key tenets - mutual toleration and the lack of constitutional hardball - perfectly describe the past as well as the two years immediately following the book’s publication. I do have minor grievances: a focus on Europe and the Americas leaves us with little in the lens of democracy in Africa, and there’s a peculiar framing around Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Nevertheless, the book achieves its twin goals quite well: combatting Trumpism and arguing for a safer American democracy.

The Sympathizer

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

genre: Historical Thriller published: 2016 time read: December 2021 - January 2022

The Sympathizer is anger, confusion, and nihilism manifested into literature. Nguyen’s writing style is deeply intimate and shocking, if dramatic at times. The narrator’s whirlwind tour of the aftermath of the Vietnam War is as enthralling as it is disturbing. Commentary seeps in to every page of the book: on war, political ideology, hypocrisy, sex, dignity, allegiance, propaganda and ultimately, duality. Nothing is worth more than independence and freedom.

Design Justice

by Sasha Costanza-Chock

genre: Intersectional Design published: 2020 time read: December 2021

Wow, I’m in awe. Sasha Costanza-Chock does a stellar job of deconstructing design and analyzing it through the lens of intersectionality and the matrix of dominantion. This book is in rare form - the ideas are novel and groundbreaking, but the text is extremely accessible with strong ties to real practice. I especially enjoyed their discussion on design sites, challenging the exclusive culture of hackathons, makerspaces, and other hacker clubs. I wish I read this book before I ran Teach LA; a must-read for anybody with decision-making in the design process.

Slaughterhouse-Five

by Kurt Vonnegut

genre: Dark Comedy published: 1969 time read: November 26th 2021

This book was not at all what I imagined it to be. Vonnegut’s breakthrough is the prototypical everything: an anti-war book, a satire, humanistic science fiction, and a razor-sharp prose and style that has defined postmodernism. It is memento mori. So it goes.

Dune

by Frank Herbert

genre: Science Fiction published: 1965 time read: October 2021 - November 2021

Yes, yes, everybody’s talking about Dune. I quite enjoyed the read! Dune is such a cornerstone of science fiction. By mostly eschewing crazy technology, Herbert puts humanity itself in the front-and-center. I’m especially fond of Dune’s focus on ecology and religion. Beyond the book itself, I now better understand the full impact Dune has had on modern science fiction and pop science as a whole. My only caveat is that Dune - like other fantastical epics - requires quite a bit of buy-in to process the worldbuilding. I think for any science fiction fan, Dune is a must-read.

Devils in Daylight

by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki | translated by J. Keith Vincent

genre: Mystery Thriller published: 1918 translated: 2017 time read: October 4th 2021

My first Tanizaki book is as mysterious as it is binge-readable. Without giving away any plot devices, the meta-literature of this book is stunning. A great short read, easily doable in one sitting. Thanks to Amber for the rec!

Klara and the Sun

by Kazuo Ishiguro

genre: Science Fiction published: 2021 time read: September 13th 2021

Klara and the Sun is a haunting tale. While the trope of “seeing the world as a robot” is nothing new, Ishiguro’s take on it struck a particular emotional cord with me. Klara has a pure, childlike innocence that makes her perspective as jarring as it is intelligent. Definitely looking to read more of his work!

Death's End

by Cixin Liu | translated by Ken Liu

genre: Science Fiction published: 2010 translated: 2016 time read: August/September 2021

Death’s End is a fitting end to Liu’s groundbreaking science fiction trilogy. It features the most extravagant world-breaking physics I’ve ever read, and uses it to once again tackle the core issues of humanity, responsibility, and struggle. If more science fiction was like this, I would definitely be a physicist right now. Strong recommend for this entire series.

The Trial

by Franz Kafka | translated by Breon Mitchell

genre: Philosophical Fiction published: 1925 translated: 1998 time read: August 24th 2021

After reading so many modern incarnations of Kafkaesque works, I felt obligated to go to the source. The Trial is an interesting read - the writing style mirrors the absurd, complex, meandering nature of its title. Yet, at the end, I’m left a bit unsatisfied: either by design, or by the unfinished nature of the book.

The Dark Forest

by Cixin Liu | translated by Joel Martinsen

genre: Science Fiction published: 2008 translated: 2015 time read: August 2021

The Dark Forest is yet another enthralling exploration of what human nature is. Even moreso than The Three-Body Problem, Liu pushes humanity to its absolute breaking point to highlight the absolute darkness of humankind. The buy-in, the suspension of disbelief, is entirely natural. The outcome is a book that’s impossible to put down.

Never Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro

genre: Science Fiction published: 2005 time read: August 8th 2021

Ishiguro proves his mettle as a Nobel laureate in this serenely demoralizing exploration of humanity. Never Let Me Go is the perfect example of the right amount of detail, creating a page-turner out of a seemingly mundane life. The book is both a slow burn and a sucker punch in its last act. Excited to read more Ishiguro!

One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez | translated by Gregory Rabassa

genre: Family Epic published: 1967 translated: 1970 time read: July/August 2021

One Hundred Years of Solitude is an epic in every sense of the word. Márquez dives deep into a world as surreal as it is engaging; the chronicles of the Buendía family span every genre but ultimately hones in on inevitable solitude. It’s quite tough for me to describe exactly just how beautiful this book is. I will say - it was a rather hard read for me to get through, but I’d still recommend it as a pinnacle of modern literature.

The Memory Police

by Yōko Ogawa | translated by Stephen Snyder

genre: Science Fiction published: 1994 translated: 2019 time read: July 9th 2021

The Memory Police is a harrowing exploration of humanity grounded in memory. Ogawa creates a mysterious authoritarian state that rivals Orwell’s or Bradbury’s, but brings a certain balance of intimacy and coldness that renders this novel particularly terrifying. Her writing style is terse, exploratory, wrapping tendrils around your mind - and she doesn’t let go. Overall a strong recommend.

Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner

genre: Memoir published: 2021 time read: June/July 2021

I’ve never been a huge memoir person, but Michelle Zauner is changing my mind. Crying in H Mart is a direct channel for her emotions: pain, love, and loss bleed through each page. She brings us intimately into her family and tells a story that you can taste and smell as much as you can read. She juggles a set of experiences that I find all too relatable: of parental struggle, fitting in neither in America nor in Asia, and ultimately, a feeling of hopelessness. A strong recommend.

First Person Singular

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Short Stories published: 2020 translated: 2021 time read: June 20th 2021

Another neatly-wrapped set of short stories from Murakami. Nothing too much to say, other than they are an enjoyable read - I wouldn’t strongly recommend or not-recommend the series to anybody. The one-two punch of With the Beatles and Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey were my favourites.

The Three-Body Problem

by Cixin Liu | translated by Ken Liu

genre: Science Fiction published: 2008 translated: 2014 time read: June 15th - June 19th 2021

The Three-Body Problem is everything I love about science fiction: not just pushing the limits of technology and imagination, but exploring the nature of humanity at technological extremes. Cixin Liu balances the philosophical nature of science and interstellar physics against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution; Ken Liu’s translation is immaculate.

Grotesque

by Natuso Kirino | translated by Rebecca Copeland

genre: Crime Thriller published: 2003 translated: 2007 time read: May/June 2021

Per recommendation, I forayed a bit deeper into modern Japanese literature, and I’m horrified. Grotesque is like watching seven different train-wrecks happen one after another: each one is more gruesome than the last, but somehow you can’t peel your eyes away. I hated every single character in this book, in the best way possible. Definitely a shaky recommendation, though an equally interesting book. The writing (and/or translation) is also uncanny at times, toeing the line between immersive and jarring.

Because Internet

by Gretchen McCulloch

genre: Internet Linguistics published: 2019 time read: March - June 2021

Because Internet is everything I love about linguistics and the internet. McCulloch is a masterful (but witty and hip) writer, and deconstructs the history, sociology, and ultimately the core language of the ~ online ~. Each chapter gave so much context to internet-isms I’ve taken for granted, from lowercase texting to sparkle sarcasm to a history of memes. Strong recommend for … literally anybody. (I didn’t get a chance to read at all during spring quarter, but that’s no reflection on the book)

Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

genre: Family Epic published: 2017 time read: March 23rd - March 25th 2021

I’m in awe. Pachinko is a master class in epic fiction. I would say it is one of the best books I have ever read, period. It is a story of tragedy, perserverance, identity, and family like no other. I don’t have much else to say, other than that it’s been the first piece of media to make me cry for a long while. Please read this book.

The Tyranny of Merit

by Michael J. Sandel

genre: Political Philosophy published: 2020 time read: March 22nd 2021

Sandel offers a scathing critique of meritocracy on several fronts: as a backdrop to justify prejudice, as a means to demoralize the worse-off, and ultimately, as a flawed way to structure society. He unites the views of Hayek, Rawls, and Frank Knight to reject merit in economics and in morals. I particularly enjoyed his exploration of college admissions as a flawed form of credentialism, what he calls the “last acceptable prejudice”. To be honest, I think I subconsciouly take part in this credentialism - and it’s always good to read books that spark introspection. Overall a solid recommendation, even if there are a few strange tangents.

Twilight of Democracy

by Anne Applebaum

genre: Political History published: 2018 time read: March 17th 2021

In an effort to diversify my news intake and relive my debate nostalgia, I splurged on Twilight of Democracy. It does not disappoint. Anne Applebaum writes an electrifying page-turner that deconstructs the rise of modern authoriarianism. She balances a blunt and concise telling of history with an inside look at the European and American centre-right, and its spiral into … what we have today. In some ways, she is the perfect person to tell this story, from her husband’s political career in Poland to awkward drinks with Boris Johnson and her chance interactions with Conrad Black. She effortlessly interleaves post-Cold War anti-communism with English nationalism and the Republican party. Ultimately, I’m glad I took a chance on Applebaum, even if her politics is at odds with mine.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design

by Kat Holmes

genre: Design published: 2018 time read: March 2021

Mismatch is a quick primer on inclusive design. As someone who’s struggled through design and fights for inclusivity, this was a must-read. I really enjoyed how Kat Holmes frames exclusion as a set of mismatches between humans and systems. And, Holmes brings forward interesting case studies and historical trends that shape inclusive and exclusive design. However, I can’t help but wish that the book went on longer: either in depth, exploring specific design choices and Kat’s design style, or in breadth, in examining more arenas for inclusive design. In some senses, Mismatch reads like a foreword for a book that isn’t there. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read!

Weapons of Math Destruction

by Cathy O'Neil

genre: Data Science / Public Policy published: 2016 time read: February/March 2021

It’s been a tough past few weeks, but I finally got around to reading - and I’m glad I picked Weapons of Math Destruction. Cathy O’Neil is concise but hard-hitting in a surprisingly accessible read on the dangers of big data algorithms and their inequitable outcomes. She balances a mathematical and industry-backed understanding of data with the nuance of sociology and public policy, a combination that’s unfortunately all to rare to find. Weapons of Math Destruction deserves the strongest of recommendations. Not just for those who work with data, but those who are affected by data: everyone.

Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

by Joshua Foa Dienstag

genre: Philosophy published: 2006 time read: January 2021

Finally finished the first book I started in 2021. This is, without exaggeration, one of the densest books that I’ve read. Dienstag takes us on a whirlwind tour of the philosophy of pessimism - an often misused and misunderstood school of thought. I’ll admit, much of this book went over my head: I am barely familiar with Nietzsche, Freud, or Foucault, and I am no scholar of Don Quixote nor Cioran. Still, Dienstag’s deep dive into the linearity of time and the constant human struggle was intriguing. Certainly, it’s reinvigorated the interest in philosophy I’ve had over the years. I’ll probably revisit this book in a decade or so.

Bullshit Jobs

by David Graeber

genre: Cultural Anthropology published: 2018 time read: January 2021

A stark, nuanced peek into meaningless jobs and the ruthless capitalism that underpins it. I think Graeber produces a very convincing paradigm of “bullshit jobs” and their impacts on the human psyche, productivity, and capitalism. Compared to many of the cut-and-dry economics books I’ve read, I especially appreciated Graeber’s human take on fulfilling jobs. My one wish: I hope we get more quantitative research into this field, whether or not his theory is empirically correct. RIP to David Graeber.

The Strange Library

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Ted Goossen

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1983 translated: 2014 time read: January 9th 2021

Not the first book I started in 2021, but the first I finished. A refreshing illustrated take on Murakami!

Killing Commendatore

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 2017 translated: 2018 time read: December 2020

And with that, I finish all of Murakami’s fiction novels. Admittedly, Killing Commendatore is long - and at times, it almost feels drawn out - but I’m never bored. I’m no painter, but I loved the exploration of art and an artists psyche. Murakami effortlessly blends historical flashbacks with a slightly surrealist world à la The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or A Wild Sheep Chase. I’m also more drawn to our unnamed hero more than the typical Murakami protagonist. All-around, a book worth the lengthy buy-in, though it’s not the first Murakami book I’d recommend you.

Pinball, 1973

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Ted Goossen

genre: Realist Fiction published: 1980 translated: 2015 time read: December 20th 2020

What a strange book. Compared to Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball really develops the Murakami eccentricity: unnaturally lonely men, mysterious women, and hyperfixation on the most normal, strange parts of life. It’s also a very jumpy, loose book - this is the start of the dual narrative that Murakami uses so frequently in his later works. Reflecting on reading the Trilogy of the Rat + Dance Dance Dance, it’s interesting to see just how stylistically different each of these books are.

Hear the Wind Sing

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Ted Goossen

genre: Realist Fiction published: 1979 translated: 1987 time read: December 19th 2020

Murakami’s first novel reminds me of Americana literature, in the best way. Our narrator meanders through life, aimlessly - but briefly - interacting with an ensemble of unique characters. An enjoyable ennui, if you will.

Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

genre: Autobiographical Nonfiction published: 2015 time read: December 2020

Coates gives a scathing deconstruction of the American Dream and race in this startingly-concise book. His prose his razor sharp; his stories are heart-breaking; his critiques ring true. Each page packs a heavyweight punch. Coates masterfully juggles American history, appeals to violence and the self, and a justified pessimism towards the future. I agree with Toni Morrison: this is indeed required reading.

After Dark

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 2004 translated: 2007 time read: December 2020

Another curiously unique Murakami piece. Instead of a grand narrative epic, we have the happenings of just one night in Tokyo. There’s a startingly different, but equally inquisitive omniscient-ish narrator. The tone and environment is masterfully set. Yet, as much as I loved the writing, I think the ending is a bit vague - even for a Murakami book. The narrative strings are just a little too loose to be intertwined. Still quite enjoyable, but not my most enthusiastic recommendation.

Dance Dance Dance

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Alfred Birnbaum

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1988 translated: 1994 time read: December 2020

A unique Murakami piece. Even though it’s a “sequel” to A Wild Sheep Chase, the difference in tone and story direction is palpable. This is the most American our narrator gets - I can easily see why Murakami had fun writing this book. The prototypical Murakami protagonist is further developed, with a somewhat unique ensemble cast of supporting characters. The book is also more anti-capitalist than I expected! Mostly a strong recommend from me. I will say - not the largest fan of adults dating 13 year-old girls, even in literature - but maybe that’s just me.

After the Quake

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Short Stories published: 2000 translated: 2002 time read: November 26th 2020

Another great set of short stories. I can’t say I’ll ever understand how devastating the Kobe earthquakes were. But, beyond that, each story has some deep sadness within it. Honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every short story - but my favourites would have to be ‘super-frog saves tokyo’ and ‘honey pie’.

Sputnik Sweetheart

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Romance published: 1999 translated: 2001 time read: November 20th 2020

Murakami keeps the formula without making it too repetitive. Sputnik Sweetheart is a story about sweethearts, but not in the conventional blend of romantic fantasy or tension. Murakami mixes in his elements of surrealism, nihilism, and esoteric pop culture. K and Sumire are an especially memorable pair of characters, toeing the line of brazenly unique and easily relatable. Quite an enjoyable late-night read.

South of the Border, West of the Sun

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Romance published: 1992 translated: 1999 time read: November 17th 2020

Another rollercoaster romance novel from Murakami. I’ve definitely settled into his writing style and pattern, yet each new book is still a page-turner. South of the Border, West of the Sun mostly abandons the mystical to explore a damaged lonely man. The book manfiests most of Murakami’s archetypal characters, but still finds nuance in our protagonist. In some senses, this book reads very similarly to Norwegian Wood, but it also shines in its own way.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Alfred Birnbaum

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1985 translated: 1991 time read: October 2020

It’s absolutely delightful reading another one of Murakami’s split-narrative stories; I can see the lead up to 1Q84 or Kafka in full technicolor. I also really the worlds that Murakami effortlessly juggles: a mundane protagonist, science fiction, detective thriller, and Kafkaesque surrealism have never looked better. The investigation of consciousness, mind, and identity are certainly intriguing. A definite recommendation on my end.

Men Without Women

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

genre: Short Stories published: 2014 translated: 2017 time read: October 2020

As with The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami writes another enjoyable set of short stories. The overarching motif - men, who for some reason or another, are lonely and without women - is by no means new, but Murakami applies it in a very intriguing and exciting way. Still, short stories from Murakami always leave more to be desired - I want more exploration, more world-building, more twists and turns. And of course, the stories get a bit weird sometimes. I still enjoyed reading this compilation; Yesterday and Kino are definitely my favourites.

A Wild Sheep Chase

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Alfred Birnbaum

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1982 translated: 1989 time read: September 2020

Working my way through the Murakami catalogue, I’m still in awe how innovative (and sometimes, just weird) each of his surrealist stories is. A Wild Sheep Chase is no exception: I was once again immediately transported to his slightly magical rendition of Japan, seamlessly exploring the world through the narrator’s eyes. Compared to some of his other works, I think this book is a bit more open-ended and tangled - in a charming, page-turning way.

Death at an Early Age

by Jonathan Kozol

genre: Education published: 1967 time read: September 2020

Wow. Just wow. This book makes me angry. It is, truly, the classic indictment of inner-city education - beyond that, a cold hard look at the American public education system at large. Even though the events of this book precede the Voting Rights Act, the institutions that Kozol criticizes still continue to marginalize students 55 years later. Each chapter is a cycle of sobering insight, heartbreak, and rage against the system. An essential read for anybody looking to get into education.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

by Paulo Freire | translated by Myra Bergman Ramos

genre: Pedagogy published: 1968 translated: 1970 time read: September 2020

To be fully honest, swathes of this book have went straight over my head: I’m a complete amateur when it comes to critical theory, let alone critical pedagogy. Yet still, I can clearly see the elements that make this a foundational, revolutionary text: Freire wastes no time nor space as he defines a new educational world order, one with inclusivity, cooperation, and empowerement at its core. Definitely a book that I’ll revisit in the future.

Poor Economics

by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

genre: Development Economics published: 2011 time read: September 2020

This book is ultimately a manifesto for the work that Banerjee and Duflo (and to an extent, Michael Kremer) undertook that ultimately won them their Nobel prize: a granular, experimental approach to alleviating global poverty (especially with RCTs). I really enjoyed their systematic analysis of what causes poverty, and likely more importantly, their ability to admit that there is no silver bullet to fixing inequality. Definitely one of the first books I’d recommend to anybody looking to get into economics.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

genre: Short Story published: 1973 time read: September 6th 2020

I’ve discussed the premise of this short story for years on end, but I never actually got around reading the original piece that inspired it all. I’ve got to say, it’s a bit strange - but still, it packs a powerful moral punch, and the idea of a utility pump (or the survival lottery, on steroids) is one well worth considering.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Realist Fiction published: 2013 translated: 2014 time read: September 2nd 2020

Murakami does it again, trapping me within the confines of his narrative world: I finished the entire book in just one night! Yet in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Murakami isn’t exploring a surrealist or fantastical world: we follow a normal person - someone almost too mediocre - as they go through a muted mid-life crisis. There is a strong sense of intimacy as Murakami delves deep into pain, protection, and human psychology. I’m left feeling both introspectively pleased and depressed, in a light-and-dark sort of way - but certainly with colour.

1984

by George Orwell

genre: Dystopian Fiction published: 1949 time read: August 2020

George Orwell’s magnum opus is just as much of a page-turner on the fifth read as it is on the first. Throughout the years, I’ve always held this book in a special place in my heart: what Orwell has to say has profound impacts on how we view our past, how we live our present, and how we decide our future. So many things cement this book as a literary classic: its countless neologisms that have pervaded pop culture and political science, its genre-defining exploration of totalitarianism, imperialism, and power, and its commentary on the relationship between language, thought, and freedom. Excited to take it up again soon.

What Money Can't Buy

by Michael J. Sandel

genre: Philosophical Economics published: 2012 time read: August 2020

This short and sweet book is a great exploration into the moral limits of markets. Sandel showcases the skill that made Justice so famous (and probably makes him a great professor, though I can’t comment firsthand on that): he clearly distills moral conundrums into separate and distinct philosophical issues, and tackles each of them in methodical but easily-understood steps. As he explored a set of personable (and sometimes, absolutely absurd) markets, I feel like I’ve come away with a better understanding of why some things shouldn’t be commodified. My only complaint is that this book isn’t longer.

Why Nations Fail

by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

genre: Political Economics published: 2012 time read: July/August 2020

One of the most influential economics books in the past decade. The most cited economist of the past 10 years. Possibly the most important question at the crossroads of political science and economics. Why Nations Fail pulls no punches as Acemoglu and Robinson explain their simple but crucial theory: that nations thrive from inclusive economic and political institutions, and fail by their extractive counterparts. They analyze nations throughout human history, starting with the Roman Empire and ending with the status quo and American neoimperialism; and in each case, they prove their mettle as award-winners in their field and reinforce the importance of inclusive institutions. At the end of the day, this has been one of the most comprehensive magnum opus-style books that I’ve read, and one that I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anybody.

Narrative Economics

by Robert J. Shiller

genre: Economics published: 2019 time read: June/July 2020

Robert Shiller conjures up a lens to examine the economic world through the idea of economics narratives: popular stories that have undue power over people, companies, and governments. I’m not sure if I’m fully ready to buy into narrative economics just yet, but he makes a solid case; Shiller comes equipped with the modern tools of data science and textual analysis to examine the most important economic stories of the West.

The Elephant Vanishes

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin

genre: Short Stories published: 2005 translated: 1993 time read: May 2020

The Elephant Vanishes is an intriguing set of short stories, combining seemingly banal life stories and environments with a deep dive into surrealism, loneliness, and trauma. As with most short story compilations, some stories hit harder than others, but every story was memorable in a very unique, Murakami way. Favourite stories are probably Sleep, Barn Burning, and The Silence.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1994 translated: 1997 time read: May 2020

To many, this is Murakami’s magnum opus, and I wouldn’t disagree. From an extremely mundane and typical man and environment, Murakami conjures yet another fantastical story: one that touches on Japanese suburbia, war crimes in World War II, and a set of relationships set around existentialism and death. As magical as this book is, it’s definitely in the “odd reads” category; but still, it has my complete recommendation.

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Coming of Age published: 1987 translated: 2000 time read: April/May 2020

The novel that really shot Murakami into national and international fame is beautiful, nuanced, and emotional. Granted, I haven’t read many coming-of-age books, but Norwegian Wood is amazing regardless of genre: our protagonist’s journey is as much of a whirlwind as it is a slow burn, as the book explores the process of trauma and its long-lasting impacts on life.

Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes

genre: Science Fiction published: 1959 time read: April 2020

For a book published in 1959 (and penned as a short story in 1958), Flowers for Algernon ages surprisingly well. We watch the transformation of a man who has been failed by society time and time again; it’s telling that this story could’ve been very well set in 2020, with little impact on its narrative. By far one of the tamest controversial banned books that I’ve ever read, and if anything, a great introspective short read for young adults.

Good Economics for Hard Times

by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

genre: Economics published: 2019 time read: March/April 2020

Economics has the reputation of being the dismal science, with arcane (and often wrong) predictions and little statistical backing. The recent Nobel laureates do a great job of disproving that, showcasing what “Good Economics” really looks like: examining the world through an analytical lens, blending together innovations from statistics, mathematical modeling, and medicine to get a solid grasp on world phenomenon. Easily one of my favourite (~pop) economics books I’ve read.

The Stranger

by Albert Camus | translated by Matthew Ward

genre: Philosophical Fiction published: 1942 translated: 1946 time read: March 2020

Camus’s brief tour into absurdist existentialism is as intriguing as it is concise. I won’t claim to fully understand all of the philosophical implications of this novel (I’d need a much better philosophy training for that), but I can clearly recognize why it’s immortalised as one of the best books ever written, period. My only regret is that I couldn’t read it in (my admittedly terrible) French.

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell

genre: Science Fiction published: 2004 time read: February/March 2020

Cloud Atlas, no doubt, is a very unique book. David Mitchell seamlessly switches between narrative and historical styles to build dramatic, engaging worlds. I will say, I was less wowed by the fantastical journey through time than most - I think Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi still takes the cake for me in this genre - but nevertheless, it’s an amazing and special journey.

1Q84

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 2009 translated: 2011 time read: February 2020

Fresh off of Kafka on the Shore, I was motivated to binge some Murakami, and 1Q84 received a strong recommendation from a friend. Murakami dips you head-first into a truly entrancing literary universe, with amazingly elegant world-building and one of my favourite set of leads. Yet, I can’t also help but feel that the plot is a bit unfocused compared to his other, more concise books, and that the book gets… a little disturbing. Still, for fans of Murakami or surrealist fiction, I’d definitely recommend 1Q84.

how to

by Randall Munroe

genre: Pop Science published: 2019 time read: January 2020

I love xkcd, and I loved reading Randall Munroe’s previous book-length absurd scientific escapades in the form of “what if?” and “Thing Explainer”. “how to” is just another great book in this amazing series, and it’s a book that I think almost anybody would enjoy.

Open Borders

by Bryan Caplan

genre: Economics published: 2019 time read: January 2020

At ICYD 2016 (a debate competition in London), I watched some of the world’s best youth debaters argue over the concept of open borders. At the time (especially given the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in Europe), it seemed like a tough principle to advocate for, but Bryan Caplan does a pretty solid attempt at doing just that in Open Borders. I do think that the comic book medium is narratively interesting (and I love SMBC), but I think it might’ve hindered Caplan’s message just a bit - especially as he has less leeway to delve deep into rigorous economic experiments. And at the end of the day, many open borders arguments are in a “what if” limbo, but Caplan really does them justice.

Kafka on the Shore

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 2002 translated: 2005 time read: January 2020

Kafka on the Shore was my first Murakami venture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The world that Murakami weaves is immaculate; I feel at home in a place that I’ve never been in. Kafka’s ensemble of characters bring just enough to the table to make every chapter a page-turner, but leave plenty to the imagination - and something that makes this coming-of-age story easily and eerily relatable.