I don’t like long introductions to blog posts. They always happen on baking websites before each recipe. You won’t get it here, because I don’t post recipes.
Here’s a list of all the books I read in 2020 with some short description/notes/thoughts on the book/circumstances. (From the ones read most recently to the ones I read back in January).
First book of the year: Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad
Last book of the year: Hajstry. Krajobraz bocznych dróg, Adam Robiński
Most talkaboutable book of the year: Polska przydrożna, Piotr Marecki
Biggest surprise: Jeden miesiąc mojego życia, autor zbiorowy
Book total: 33 (16 in English, 17 in Polish)
Hajstry. Krajobraz bocznych dróg, Adam Robiński (2017). Another piece of fabulous contemporary geography, this time of Polish making. I’m now onto Kiczery, another book by Robiński. It’s the same weird style of writing, my mum didn’t like it, I’m not a fan either but it’s readable. I loved the fragments about Bledow Desert and Wacław Nałkowski, I’ve been looking for information on Nałkowski for a while now so that was a good start. The book talks about the less-likely tourist destinations in Poland.
Le Corbusier – tragizm współczesnej architektury, Charles Jencks (1982 ). I bought the Polish translation of Jencks’ book on Allegro.pl and it was a terrific choice. This edition is from 1982 from Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, and I came to reason that translations back in PRL [communist Poland] were much better because there were fewer people with the qualifications and degrees to do it. Fewer people learnt English and so only the actually smart people got commissioned to translate books. It reads fast and well, is a volcano of information, and I finished it in two days, well before my exam in Texts and Theories in Western Architecture. I wasn’t expecting to ever read this book front-to-back, but I did. So if you want to learn more about Le Corbusier and know Polish, go for this one.
Jak nie zostałam influencerką, Majka Nowak (2020). A cheapo book I treated myself to spontaneously when shopping at Biedronka. It’s funny, a humorous take on the current social media influencer trend and how it might look behind-the-scenes for many wannabes who never make it.
Wild, Cheryl Strayed (2012). Picked up in a free library off some street in Inverleith, Edinburgh. I loved every single page of it. Wonderful travel account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and figuring out some life problems on the way.
Książka o mieszkaniu ładnym i wygodnym, Jan Szymański (1962). A 1962 book (illustrated with drawings only) on how to make your <48 sqm flat pretty and comfortable. Kind of like the grandparent of IKEA, but instead of buying furniture in a warehouse you order it from from a local carpenter – or just buy the wood and make it yourself. I guess that’s what my dad read when he was fitting out our flat in the early 1990s.
Urobieni. Reportaże o pracy, Marek Szymaniak (2018). A good quick read I squeezed into the last day before going back to Edinburgh after the summer. A non-fiction account about working people in Poland, Poles and other nationalities, and how screwed over you can get working there. A number of stories got stuck in my head, primarily the one about an old man working for 5 PLN per hour in a car park gatehouse without a radiator in the middle of winter.
Reasons to stay alive, Matt Haig (2015). Good, I needed these reminders, read quickly in the car on the way to Podlachia. Will need to pick it up again sometime.
W głębi lasu, Harlan Coben (2007). Borrowed from a girl whom I stayed with when volunteering at Bialowieza National Park. She and her friend were on a student placement and much less excited about pulling out Himalayan balsam for days, in the forest, in the rain. I read the book in a day, which means it was easily digestible. The Polish translation wasn’t too bad. I still like the show (Netflix’s the woods) better.
Things fall apart, Chinua Achebe (1958). Probably the first book of an African author I’ve ever read. And this one was a good start. I will read more books like this when I get back into proximity of a UK library. I actually got this book in the summer of 2017, from a Spanish man who was travelling through Europe on his bike. We met when I was at work in the souvenir shop, and he was sitting outside the cafe next door having a coffee. We hung out, had gazpacho together in a Mexican restaurant, and he gave me the book the next day.
Życie w PRL, Iwona Kienzler (2015). I am among the many young Poles who are interested in the history of my country under communism and what life was like back then. This book covers the period from 1950s until the end of 1980s. It was an entertaining read, but I’d like something more in-depth on the same topic.
Turbopatriotyzm, Marcin Napiórkowski (2019). It was ok. I like the idea of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ patriotism. Anything that helps me understand the contemporary Polish society is good.
NY, NY, Nowy Jork, Jan Zakrzewski (1980). A book I picked up from the free-to-take shelf in one of the Hel museums. It was serendipity. A great read – description of New York City by a Pole, for a Polish audience, written in the 1970s. The only thing you remember after you read it is that you can get killed any minute, any day in any New York neighbourhood.
Kapitalizm do lat 18, Karl Hess (1991). Also read in Hel. Fantastic way to get your kids thinking about running a business and making profit. Capitalism working as promised. (It actually gave me some new perspectives and ideas, so I’m glad I read it).
Przełęcz Złamanego Serca, Alistair MacLean (1974). Picked up in Hel, read on the train back to Torun. A classic Western. I don’t generally read stuff like that, but what is summer for if not for new experiences? I liked it. Of course, majority of the characters were males, very masculine males, but the female character was compensatingly badass.
Jeden miesiąc mojego życia, autor zbiorowy (1981). AHHHHHHH! What a blessing! This was one of the most fabulous Polish books I have ever read. It’s a compilation of diaries collected in the late 1970s by the Polish Sociological Institute.
Alchemia scenariusza filmowego, Piotr Wereśniak (2000). Just a little handbook on how to write movie scripts. I wish I could write a movie script.
Źle urodzone, Filip Springer (2017). Read quickly, majority of it on a bench in Park na Bydgoskim, outside the amphitheatre. Springer keeps it brief, throws in some biographical facts about Polish Modernist architects, I wasn’t massively transformed by this book.
Polska przydrożna, Piotr Marecki (2020). The book of the year, if you ask me, I read it and it stayed with me, and it’s been a while. I don’t know whether it’s because of Marecki’s weird promo-campaign on Instagram where he posted the worst reviews of his book he could find. If it is, then his technique was genius. Or maybe it’s because of the appeal of Polish countryside idyll, with all the roadside shrines and provincial pizza places. Yes, it was probably that.
Polskie mięso, Jan Kapela (2018). I told my dad to read it. I think he read two chapters at most and got so disgusted that he abandoned the book and went back to eating his meat as normal. What can I say? Men are dumb. (It’s a book on how meat and fur are produced in Poland, and also speaks about the lives of people who work in these industries – they are at so much risk of injuries and have very poor health, it makes you think very differently about processed meat).
The importance of being earnest, Gustave Flaubert (1895). Not a book, but a play. It sat in my Kindle until one sleepless night where I picked it up and read it in one go. It was funny and entertaining, despite being from the 19th century.
Zakopanoptikon, Andrzej Strug (1913). I found this book on one of our top, most dusty shelves in my parents’ flat during my first week of quarantine. The plot sounded so interesting, and I was already on a fin-de-siecle bandwagon by then, that I set out to read it. The back includes a lot of informative footnotes as well as cartoons of some kind. I wonder if Strug wrote anything better, because I really struggled with reading the second half of the book.
The Mammoth Hunters, Jean M. Auel (1985). Finally finished it! Now on to the fourth book in the series, but it’s massive, so hopefully I’ll have read it by the end of 2021.
The diary of a bookseller, Shaun Blythell (2017). Entertaining, but each page was soaked through by the confidence-slash-arrogance of the author. I lent it to my former boss. If you want to become familiar with the ACTUAL bookshop that is described in there (by its owner!), go to www.the-bookshop.com (weird www address…).
Edgelands, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons (2011). So very contemporarily geographic. It talks about “England’s true wilderness“, and I’d present this book to each person who wonders what geography could be about, if not about rocks and earthquakes. It is about environments, but you can’t remove people from environments.
Department of Speculation, Jenny Offill (2014). It was a small book that caught my interest in the Edinburgh Central City Library. Pleasant and intriguing.
Why I am so clever, Friedrich Nietzsche (1908). Not so much of a book, it’s a £1 Penguin essentials edition, containing fragments of Nietzsche’s essays that he wrote very shortly before he went mad. One of my most valued reads. I particularly like the fragment “All silent people are dyspeptic. You may note that I do not care to see rudeness undervalued; it is by far the most humane form of contradiction, and, amid modern effeminacy, it is one of our first virtues.”
The lost art of walking, Geoff Nicholson (2015). I took this out from the ECA Library to read for the Writing Landscape course. We had some classes on psychogeography, and our short essay was meant to be inspired by the walk we did in small groups when we threw dice at each crossing to decide which way to go. So I read The lost art of walking, and I remember how I sat at Roots in the window and just reading this when all the people were walking by in the street. An insightful journey into the social history of walking.
The shack, Paul Young (2007). I started reading the book in 2017, but accidentally left it on the plane coming back from Paris. Later, I took out the Polish copy from the library in my hometown, but didn’t finish it before leaving Poland again for seven months. When my neighbours were giving away their copy, I knew I had to get it and finally finish it. And I did. It’s a Christian book, and I’m not Christian, really, but nonetheless it was very intriguing. I saw the movie when it came out (spring 2017) and I knew I wanted to read the book. I recommend the movie for sure, and if you like it, you can read the book, too.
First you write a sentence, Joe Moran (2018). I read that book for my Writing Landscape class, trying to teach myself about writing, you know. It was good and a good read. I guess that’s the point of the book – to make you aware that how you put your words together, where you drop punctuation marks, it all matters to the reader in unobvious ways.
The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (1890). I’d wanted to read this since I was in middle school, and I finally did, thanks to the Secret Santa who gifted it to me at Christmas 2019. It was great. The best of 19th century writing style. Strongly recommended.
H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald (2014). A book recommended to us by our course organiser for Writing Landscape. And this is really where my reading boom started this year; I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to take that class, if it wasn’t for it I’m 99% certain I wouldn’t have read more than four books this year.
Ghost writer, Philip Roth (1979). Had to read the Wikipedia article to remind myself the plot of this book.
Under western eyes, Joseph Conrad (1911). A sound find from Edinburgh City Library. Conrad was Polish, and one of the most famous writers in the English language. Now I’m reading Heart of Darkness, but Under western eyes was better – it takes place in Moscow and there’s more dialogue and monologue, so that’s great. I really want to get to know Conrad more, so I hope he wrote more readable books.
Ah! It’s been good to revisit these books, mainly by looking up their years of publication. I never read so much in my adult life, and I am thankful to my Writing Landscape lecturer that he re-introduced me to reading. I’ve been reading all the time since the beginning of the year, and hopefully nothing in 2021 messes up this nice routine. Here’s to 32 more books read in the New Year (no pressure though).
Year of publication tats
Oldest book I read: 1890 (The picture of Dorian Gray)
Newest book I read: 2020 (Polska przydrożna; Jak nie zostałam influencerką)
Average year of publication: 1986 (pointless but funny)
Books by century:
19th century: 2
20th century: 13
21st century: 18
Books by decade:
1890s – 2
1900s – 1
1910s – 2
1950s – 1
1960s – 1
1970s – 3
1980s – 3
1990s – 1
2000s – 3
2010s – 14
2020s – 2