What I Read This Year

‘Reading more’ was not one of my goals for 2020, yet it was my best year for reading in a long time. I’m sure the lockdown contributed to this but I am pleased that I maintained my momentum once I returned to a fully open school in September. On top of the 41 books listed below, I also read over 1,500 articles from The Guardian, as well as countless blog posts and articles from across the web. A good year all round, and one that at least from this point of view, I feel much richer for.

  1. Adams, Douglas: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (r1)
  2. Adams, Douglas: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (r)
  3. Adams, Douglas: Life, the Universe and Everything (r)
  4. Aurelius, Marcus: Meditations (r)
  5. Confucius: The Analects
  6. Dexter, Colin: Last Bus to Woodstock
  7. Dexter, Colin: Last Seen Wearing
  8. Dexter, Colin: The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn
  9. Dexter, Colin: Service of All the Dead
  10. Dickens, Charles: A Christmas Carol (r)
  11. Epictetus: Discourses and Selected Writings (r)
  12. Gracián, Baltasar: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence
  13. le Carré, John: Call for the Dead
  14. le Carré, John: A Murder of Quality
  15. le Carré, John: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
  1. Le Guin, Ursula K.: Tehanu
  2. Le Guin, Ursula K.: Tales from Earthsea
    • The Finder
    • Darkrose and Diamond
    • The Bones of the Earth
    • On the High Marsh
    • Dragonfly
  3. Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Other Wind
  4. Le Guin, Ursula K.: A Description of Earthsea
  5. Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Word of Unbinding
  6. Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Rule of Names
  7. Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Daughter of Odren
  8. Le Guin, Ursula K.: Firelight
  9. Le Guin, Ursula K.: Earthsea Revisioned2
  10. Mascaro, Juan: The Dhammapada
  11. Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
  12. Seneca: Letters from a Stoic (r)
  13. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: Roseanna
  14. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Man Who Went Up in Smoke
  15. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Man on the Balcony
  16. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Laughing Policeman
  17. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Fire Engine That Disappeared
  18. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: Murder at the Savoy
  19. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Abominable Man
  20. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Locked Room
  21. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: Cop Killer
  22. Sjöwall, Maj; Wahlöö, Per: The Terrorists3
  1. Tolkien, J. R. R.: Tales from the Perilous Realm (r)
    • Roverandom
    • Farmer Giles of Ham
    • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
    • Smith of Wooton Major
    • Leaf by Niggle
    • On Fairy Stories
  2. Tzu, Lao: Tao Te Ching
  3. Walker, Brian Browne: Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu
  4. Ward, Benedicta: The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks
  1. (r) Indicates ‘re–reading’.[]
  2. This completed my first reading of the entire ‘Earthsea Cycle‘. I read the first three novels in 2019 and took a break but I was very happy to rejoin Ged and Tenar; not least due to the revisioning Le Guin undertook returning to Earthsea eighteen years after ’The Farthest Shore.‘ Her exploration of womanhood and female empowerment from ’Tehanu‘; through ’The Finder‘ and ’Dragonfly‘; culminating in ’The Other Wind‘ was deeply gratifying. I admire Le Guin’s bravery in returning to a world she had firmly established and to then completely redefine it.[]
  3. It was very satisfying to immerse myself in such a tightly constructed sequence of crime novels; and interesting to read the series that established nordic–noir as a genre.[]

The Antithesis of Mercy

I have been relatively silent amidst the turmoil that has arisen out of the collective deep-breath forced upon us by the pandemic. Where I initially saw hope for change, it was quickly cancelled by an onslaught of rhetoric on both sides of the aisle that left no room for mercy, compassion and tolerance.

Race, gender, religion, wealth: All topics fraught with difficulty at the best of times and I have struggled to fully form the words I would use to express how I feel about any of these issues in the current climate. However, Nick Cave has come to my rescue responding to questions about ‘mercy’ and ‘cancel culture‘ on his blog…

Mercy is a value that should be at the heart of any functioning and tolerant society. Mercy ultimately acknowledges that we are all imperfect and in doing so allows us the oxygen to breathe — to feel protected within a society, through our mutual fallibility. Without mercy a society loses its soul, and devours itself…

As far as I can see, cancel culture is mercy’s antithesis. Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world. Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty) — moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption. It has become quite literally, bad religion run amuck.

And there it is…

We cannot and should not deny our history, nor should we try to remove it as if it never happened. If society is to be equal, we must work openly to build a wider more honest narrative about our histories – good or bad. We must ensure that education provides the opportunity for people of all cultures and backgrounds to learn and debate ideas free from persecution.

But if we seek to simply cancel out the pieces of our past that we are angry about or not proud of, we will replace one biased view of the world with another. You can only redeem yourself when you are able to acknowledge your mistakes. As humans, we are more likely to do that, in a society that is open and merciful.

N.B. None of this is to say that I don’t appreciate the deeply held anger felt by so many people due to the way their gender, race, religion, sexual preference, et al, has been and continues to be treated. The struggle is real. However, we must strive to be better than those who came before us and not allow our baser instincts to drive our actions and decisions as we seek to make society a more fair and equal place for generations to come.