Books I Read in 2021 is brought to you by Bird and Beckett Books in San Francisco.
Remember, before you buy a book from Jeff Bezos consider supporting your local bookstore. There are so many great book stores in San Francisco. I also highly recommend Green Apple Books on Clement Street. They have just about everything and the staff is amazing. When you buy a book from a local bookstore you get that warm fuzzy feeling just thinking that you may have kept a local business alive and you may even make some real friends.
I recommend all of these books however special shout-out to two books: A Sense of the World – How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Travelerby Jason Roberts and All I asking for is my body by Milton Murayama. Below is a list and a short description of each book.
A Sense of the World – How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler
When my mother passed away a few years back, I had boxes and boxes of books to go through. One that I noticed was A Sense of the World – How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts. I am glad I saved this one. What a great read! With most books written about British naval officers and the British navy as a whole, you get a lot of undue pride and hubris, however the story of James Holman, blind at twenty-five, and his various journeys around the world, finding his way with a cane with a metal tip, is a great read. In a year when travel has been limited due to the pandemic, A Sense of the World is a great escape. Excellent and entertaining writing.
In 2021, I reread many books I had read decades earlier. The great thing about getting older is that you can reread books that you read when you were younger and gleam new insights. Voltaire’s Candide is one such book. It is such a wild romp – violent, perverse, sexy, witty and silly with biting critiques of philosophers Voltaire had issues with. It is a satire and the characters are hilarious – almost like a comic book or a video game. Even though Candide is only 140 pages, I find that few people today have actually read Voltaire. It is old fashion and he was a polygenesis racist without a doubt, which makes it so most of the under-thirty crowd will dismiss it outright. I doubt it is read in high school much. Too bad. Surely banned at times, it is now beyond being a banned book as it is simply too old.
A Man Without a Country
See my review of A Man Without a Country in this publication
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen is simply a great writer. He combines a deep knowledge of Western literature with great storytelling. There is a reason this book won the Pulitzer Prize
All I asking for is my body
University of Hawaii Press
I read All I asking for is my body while living the life of luxury in a timeshare in Maui – what contrast. It is about the life of native Hawaiians and migrant labor in the plantations in Hawaii in the early twentieth century before tourism took over the islands. Hawaii was in a Jim Crow state of plantations and sharecropping. It is written using the local dialects. The realism is stark and the story telling is excellent. Highly recommended.
Another one of those books I reread. This is a timeless read and boy can Norman Lewis can write. In our modern world, people in the United States are sheltered from the timeless realities of war. The aftermaths of wars are always the same. People die of starvation. Disease is rampant. Clean water is always in short supply. Women are raped. Corruption and murders everywhere. Norman Lewis paints the picture in vivid detail.
Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers – The Evolution of the People’s Instrument
Cooper Square Press
Slaughterhouse Five – A Children’s Crusade
One of those books that has been banned because there is perhaps a little sex and nudity, but probably because Vonnegut, a pacifist, takes the whole notion of war to task. His life was defined by his experience of being a prisoner of war in Dresden in World War II and the experience of being in Dresden while the city was being firebombed. All of of Vonnegut’s work comes back to this pivotal life experience. He was a man of the “Greatest Generation,” chain-smoked Pall Malls, and in the end propose that the most important human quality to nurture is kindness.
God Bless You Mr. Rosewater
Reading God Bless You Mr. Rosewater I found in many ways Vonnegut to be a sort of stealth stoic. You see this stoicism in God Bless You Mr. Rosewater where the main character, a very wealthy man, ends up thinking little of all his money and in the end gives it all away. As always with Vonnegut, the humor never ends and the chapters are short.
Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant
Bought in a second-hand store in Michigan, Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant is a biographical account of the disassembly of the Bud auto plant. We learn that NAFTA not only moved the unionized jobs in the United States to other countries but also made it so entire auto plants where disassembled and sold off and shipped away to Mexico, Brazil, China and other countries. Interesting and depressing all a once.
Tales of Soldiers and Civilians and Other Stories
The World in the Curl – An Unconventional History of Surfing
Peter Westwick, Peter Neushul
Crown – Random House
While the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, 2021 was a great year to read. I recommend all the books above. Until the list for 2022!