Heyoka’s Workbench

My Best Reads in 2018

My book of the year 2018 was, without any doubt, David Barnett’s »Calling Major Tom«.

I did not know the author nor had I heard anything about the book when I spotted it in the store. I saw the spine with the title and a friendly full moon printed on it and had the immediate sensation of something magical happening. Yes, this was the book to read. This was the book!

This first gut feeling was not deceiving. Barnett tells a very funny and at the same time very affecting story about a bunch of quite different people whose ways cross and intertwine quite unexpectedly. His heroes are ordinary folks with their ordinary troubles and triumphs. Well, and: the not-so-ordinary British astronaut (yep) who … – but, hey, read for yourself!

This is a book that rips open the the heavy grey January clouds and makes us see a piece of blue sky from which a bright beam of sunlight falls straight into our minds!

Second in my Top Three comes a book by Friedrich Torberg. I got to know this writer through my friend Dirk who recommended me Torberg’s wonderful audio book »Die Tante Jolesch«, spoken by the author himself. Last summer, I read Friedrich Torberg’s novel »Der Schüler Gerber« which is a masterpiece of psychological insight and character studies. It’s about a protracted struggle between a student, Kurt Gerber, and his teacher, Professor Kupfer.

Kurt Gerber is a bright youth but also proud and maverick – not the most promising combination for an easy school career in the 1920s – and, of course, he is struggling with the manifold troubles of the average adolescent. His opponent, nicknamed »Gott Kupfer«, is the most dreaded person at the school, even the other teachers stand in awe of him. No student had ever been a match for him.

What a gripping read! And timeless, too. No novel from the last two decades can be more modern!

The third place in my miniature list is shared by two non-fiction books. The one is not actually a book but a tetralogy of four volumes: »Incerto« by the disputatious writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is not always an easy or even pleasant read. But still I could never stop. Taleb is a (truly) cosmopolitan thinker – refined and sturdy, nonchalant and acrid, bon vivant and rigorous. His four books on asymmetries, risk and ethics in economy and in all spheres of life are something I will read again!

Next to Taleb’s tetralogy I want to place »Behave« by the neurobiologist and field researcher Robert Sapolsky. »Behave« is quite a tome and can be used for weight-lifting. And it is crammed with information, information on what makes us human beings act as we do act. Sapolsky does not like half-truths and thus, naturally, his book is not only voluminous but also complex. Fortunately, he is an excellent narrator, too, and able to simplify things without distorting them. This book took me quite a while and, already, I have forgotten a lot of all those fascinating, disconcerting, soothing, funny, scary and almost always interesting details Sapolsky unfurls. But still there’s so much I remember. »Behave« is an impressing eye-opener that might dispel the one or other myth or misconception – for example about how »intelligence« is propagated via »good genes« or about bad, bad testosterone. Yet another book worth re-reading.

And now: a new year with more books waiting!

(Zu David Barnetts Roman habe ich eine ausführliche Besprechung auf Deutsch (PDF, 75 kB) geschrieben.)