What I Read in January 2019

I finished 6 books in January. Compared to last January, it’s a little better, as I read 6 books in January 2018. But compared to my monthly average for 2018–12 to 15 books per month–it seems disappointing. My main form on self-education and entertainment is reading. This is why I don’t watch much television, see movies, or play video games.

Except, this month, I did start playing a video game. As a mentioned in an earlier post, after reading Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier, I was fascinated by the concept behind the Witcher 3 game. I bought the complete edition for Xbox, and in the last two weeks of January, poured about 30 hours of my time into the game–30 hours that would have gone toward reading.

My Audible listening time, October – January

My reading has been down, generally, since October, but December was more of an exception because we were on vacation for nearly 3 weeks. January’s decline (I had barely 70 hours of audiobook listening time) was due entirely to Witcher 3. I’m hoping to get back on track in February. Here’s what I read in January.

The Renaissance by Will Durant (#849)

The Renaissance

I first learned of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization series reading Isaac Asimov’s autobiography in the mid-1990s. The 11 volumes seemed daunting then, but it wasn’t until I read the first volume that I fell in love with Durant’s style of writing. Since then, I have been slowly making my way through each volume. I completed the longest volume, The Age of Faith, last year.

Volume 5, The Renaissance, covers the Italian renaissance in Durant’s unique and fascinating voice. He is the only writer for whom I can tolerate descriptions of sculpture and pottery because he is so clearly excited about his subject.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier (#850)

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels

This was the book that led me to Witcher 3 and is therefore directly responsible for me getting through 6 books in January in stead of 10 or 12. But this was a good book. Video games are difficult to make, and stories occasionally appear about the conditions under which developers work. Schreier interviewed staff at 10 gaming companies and studios in an effort to answer if these conditions were the exception or the rule. It would seem they are the latter. This is a great look at the inside world of video game development. But be careful: it may lead you to hours of unplanned time in front of the Xbox.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (#851)

Sapiens

This book kept popping up in various lists and a friend of mine was reading it so I decided to give it a try as well. I read most of the book on an airplane to Los Angeles and it was an interesting read. It covers a lot of ground that has been covered in more detail in other books I’ve read.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was the observation Harari makes about the ever-increasing pace of life, as passage of which I wrote about earlier this month.

Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery (#852)

Soul of an Octopus

This book may have been an Audible Daily Deal, I can’t recall exactly. But it’s whimsical title caught my eye, and I actually enjoyed the book. Sy Montgomery has a delightful writing style, and her enjoyment in exploring the octopuses comes through clearly.

Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White (#853)

Essays of E. B. White

There are some books that act upon me as the sun acts upon Superman: the books recharge me, and especially my creative energies. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is an example of a novel that does this for me. Essays of E.B. White is collection of nonfiction essays that does the same for me. I read this book last January, and re-read it last month as a way of re-charging those creative batteries. Of the 31 essays in the book there are quite a few standouts:

  • “Home-Coming” about driving into Maine after being away for a time.
  • “The Eye of Edna” which goes to show that the media hysteria surrounding weather events is nothing new.
  • “Here Is New York” which is E. B. White’s classic panegyric to New York City.
  • “Farewell, My Lovely” which is a combination love-letter and Dear John letter to the Model-T Ford.
  • “Once More to the Lake” is about returning to a childhood spot in Maine with White’s own son.
  • “The Sea and the Winds that Blow” shows White’s passion for sailing and the sea, and the occasional need to be alone.
  • “The Railroad” is a eulogy to the once mighty mode of transportation.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre (#854)

The Spy and the Traitor

This book had been sitting in my to-read pile for a while. What a book! It is the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a Russian spy secretly working for the British as a double-agent. The first two thirds of the book builds up Oleg’s story, and provides a fascinating picture of how spy craft really works.

The last third of the book is a James Bond-like race out of Moscow as we follow Gordievsky on his harrowing escape from Soviet Russia. This was a true nail-biter, and despite being tired, I kept reading late into the night to find out what would happen next.


I’m hoping to be more productive on the reading front in February. It’s a short month, so I will be happy if I can get 10 books read in February. Among the books I plan to read this month are:

  • Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls
  • The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy
  • Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D’Antonio
  • Octavia Gone: An Alex Benedict Novel by Jack McDevitt (this doesn’t come out until May but Jack has kindly sent me an ARC and I can’t wait to read it.)
  • Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix
  • Growing Up by Russell Baker
  • Arkwright by Allen Steele

This list is, of course, subject to the Butterfly Effect of Reading.

Published by Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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