What I’ve Read in 2019

To anyone who reads my posts and tweets, it is by now no secret that I am an avid reader. During Christmas 2017 Ana my daughter challenged me to read 52 books and track them on GoodReads Books, which I took as a motivator to retake this old habit. This was the result.

This year I continued with the challenge, which felt lighter, less a goal in itself and more a way to track my passion, to organize my mind and to measure my evolution, similar in my mind to those apps that track how much you’ve meditated — not that the measuring is more important than the action itself, but helps with the discipline. As I wrote last year, this habit has not bared any cost on my quality time at work nor with family. On the contrary, it has given me a mindful presence, strengthen my concentration capabilities and enhanced my imagination. I feel not only more informed but more intellectually curious, more prepared to empathize with other points of view, more confident in asking questions, more connected with my emotions, more conscious of the richness of diversity and much more aware of myself, my reality and my call in life.

This year my reading turned even more eclectic. I read exactly what I fancied, repeating authors, going for bestsellers, some obscure readings, long and short, technical and superficial, and even a graphic novel. I continued seeking hidden jewels from people I trust, and I had the highest moment of the year when I had the chance to chat, drink mezcales in Oaxaca, and get a few books signed by one of my favorite novelists, Salman Rushdie. My library is now much more valuable ;)

My annual review again can help me adjust for next year’s choices. During 2019 I’ve read 32 non-fiction and 20 fiction books (exactly the same ideal ratio as last year). I’ve read 41 books in English and only 11 in Spanish (despite a strong start in Spanish and two very long novels) and a slightly better 29% by women authors. (doubling from last year’s 15%). I’ve read books on history (5), politics (3), economics (3), biographies(2), business (3), startups (4), and this year I added 4 books on Philosophy, to keep myself healthy in crazy times… I read about Northern Ireland, China, Georgia, Guatemala, remembering there are lives beyond what media presents us with daily. This year I’ve read authors from 11 different countries — 20 Americans, 9 from UK, 5 from Mexico (again), 3 from Spain (again) 2 from Italy and even from South Korea, Turkey, Georgia, Canada, Ireland, and Peru.

If you wonder how nerd one needs to be to read 52 books per year, here’s a taste: I graph my pace against a constant book per week and against last year. A little embarrassing, I know. People often ask me how fast I read. I am not particularly fast, but I have two tricks: (i) at least half an hour every day, even when exhausted (typically before going to bed), and I read from the moment I hop in a plane to the moment I’m out (and there were tons of miles this year). You just maintain that pace and voila! — 52 books completed for the second year in a row!

Each of these books was enjoyed and associated to a moment, to places and experiences, and each taught me something. I only finish a book (and count them) when they are meaningful in this regard. Yet here is a selection of the top 10 books from my list:

Business and Startups

1- VC, an American History — by Tom Nicholas| A compelling historic review of venture capital, shows the building blocks in an industry that has taken decades, providing hope for newer ecosystems.

2- Secrets of Sand Hill Road — by Scott Kupor| A solid description of how venture capitalists work in Silicon Valley, from basics

3- What you Do is Who you Are — by Ben Horowitz| With the style that made “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” a classic, this new book by the a16z co-founder reviews corporate culture with a much needed fresh air.

Non-Fiction

1- The Future of Capitalism — by Paul Collier| a well informed, smart and uncommon criticism of capitalism, remarkable in its proposals. A must for this time and age.

2- A Thousand Small Sanities — by Adam Gopnik| I identified with this book as it describes the effort of a father giving tools to his daughter to defend liberalism in a time where society is polarized between right and left.

3- How the World Thinks — by Julian Baggini| I would make it mandatory reading for my Econ students. Nails it in what our discipline has failed us, and gives a new framework from which to rebuild it.

Fiction

1- Milkman — by Anna Burns| The most powerful voice I’ve read in a long time, crude, a feminist cry in Northern Ireland. It made me cry.

2- Quichotte — by Salman Rushdie| My favorite storyteller at his best. Half homage to Cervantes, the other half mixes topics in a way only Rushdie can attain — racism, sci-fi, opioids epidemic, America’s moral crisis, India’s diaspora, spies, love, you name it…

3- Patria — by Fernando Aramburu| Having myself basque roots, this book tells the delicate abyss created in a small community as ETA divides families. Beautiful writing on a horrible topic.

Special mention deserves «La Octava Vida» (The Eighth Life) by Nino Haratischwili, a massive, 900+ pages novel about XX Century Georgia, from the Russian Revolution to date, across eight generations of women in one family.

My reading choices are very personal, you all know that already. I do not pretend to be an expert, nor that you will agree with my choices. But if I can inspire a little or help create a new habit or discover new ideas, I’d love to hear more from you.

P.S. You can see the full list here.

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Fernando Lelo Larrea

Venture Capital Investor. Entrepreneurship. Economics. Seeking Innovation & Impact.