/ READING

2022 Annual Reading List

2022 was definetly quite the year - this year saw my final two quarters of college, a trip to Europe (where I read all the time in random spots), and my move to San Francisco (where I rediscovered my love of libraries).

I started off the year with more ‘business-y’ books, but ended with what I feel is a bit healthier of a mix.

As always, I’m leaving writing this for the last possible second, and this year I’m writing this when it’s already 2023 in ~half the world.

Anyways, let’s get to my top picks.

The Top 5 Books

1. Violeta by Isabel Allende

Probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. Violeta follows the life journey of its titular protagonist, and has this way of sucking you in and totally immersing you in her life. You root for her throughout the book, and form a link with her - when she feels trapped, you feel suffocated, when she catches a break, you release a sigh of relief, and when she makes a mistake, you cringe alongside her (but try to justify it in your head).

This is one of those novels that simply makes you feel like the character, and it’s a testament to Allende’s writing ability. 10/10, highly recommend!

2. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

I read a lot of John Green books this year, including (but not limited to) Turtles all the way Down, the famous The Fault in Our Stars, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson - but this book has a casual writing style that I just love. Probably because it mirrors my own writing style here - The Anthropocene Reviewed is simply John’s thoughts on the world as it is today, and his takes on everything, from things as complex as the temporal range of Humanity to as simple as Dr. Pepper.

For those of you who watched Crash Course growing up, it comes to no surprise that John writes with a friend’s voice, as he earnestly gives his opinions on the simple joys of life and how incredible humanity truly is (without skimping too much over the darker sides of things).

3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Miller made it last year with Circe, and after (many) recommendations, I read her first book, and it too, was an instant classic. Written from the perspective of Patroclus, the lover / friend of Achilles, Miller writes in a way that makes it feel like you’re reading the myths in the original Greek. There’s really not a better way to describe the phenomenon - it quite literally to me feels like I’m by a campfire as an old storyteller chants the tragedy and beauty of the life of Patroculus.

The actual plot will be familar for those who are familar with the Illiad, but the details of the relationships involved will likely be new.

If you’re not really a fan of Greek mythology, I’d still recommend The Song of Achilles, just because Miller writes beautiful characters.

4. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

Growing up, I only learned about MLK (and a little about Rosa Parks) in their fight for Civil Rights. If Malcolm X was mentioned, it was only in the context of “he was a bit more extreme”.

Oh boy, I see why the public school system didn’t really want to touch on Malcolm X. The man himself is incredibly complex, and his autobiography is one that you need to finish in its entirety before forming too many opinions.

From what I’ve gathered, Malcolm is a bit controversial amongst even his ardent supports, because he seemingly ‘retracted’ on his harsher statements after his Hajj. Reading the biography, you can see the transformation happen in realtime, and it’s really quite fascinating to see.

His opinions on race and coexistence are a direct product of his lived experiences, but his voice and the impact he was able to have is a testament to the power each of us humans possess. His willingness to stand up against his idol (who quite literally saved his life) when he saw hypocrisy is something we should all strive for, and his writing style does an incredible job of stitching together one of the most complex lives someone has likely ever lived.

Readers who are hesitant to read ‘political’ books might shy away from Malcolm’s biography, but if I could say one thing to convince a political hesitant to read this, I’d emphasize that at the very least, it’s a fascinating story.

5. Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

This is the book I read before graduating, to ‘prepare’ me for moving to San Francisco. Nothing really could have prepared me for reading the book itself, but to say it was eye opening would be an understatement. As an Indian male in computer science, I’ve generally benefited quite a bit from seeing myself in the field I wished to enter. As such, I knew I didn’t really understand the perspective of a woman in tech, aside from anecdotes from my friends.

Brotopia seeks to address this gap in understanding, by not only highlighting aggressions, but also by uncovering some of the reasons why the ‘bro’ culture became so prevalent in the valley. One of the parts I really appreciate is how she highlights how even seemingly ‘good’ companies like Google and Slack (both lead by male founders who wished to create truly equal and equitable companies) ultimately weren’t able to prevent brotopia in the end.

Brotopia is a book that I recommend every man in tech (or really otherwise) to read - it’s a painful pill to swallow if you believe in the meritocracy of tech, but in that case it’s even more important that you do read it.

(Spoilers) A common criticism that Brotopia gets is that the book has too much of a 'shock' factor. Critics usually point to the chapter dedicated to the sex exploits of silicon valley, and how this is an extention of the attidudes of tech elites ultimately seeing women as property or 'conquests'. To me, this chapter is just to highlight how bad it can actually get there - but that it fundamentally starts with the microaggressions that Chang describes in the earlier chapters.

Honorable Mentions

1. After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul by Tripp Mickle

Contrary to its clickbaity title, this book really just does a good job of detailing the struggle between innovation, principles, and the unrelenting demands of capitalism. I’ll let you form your own opinions on the book, but the reason I’m highlighting it here is that I found the rise of both Ive and Cook to be equally interesting, if not similar - and it’s interesting to see how two very interesting (and important!) people approach the problems that Apple faced.

2. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Really great book - it takes place primarily in New York City and follows the lives of two siblings set in modern times (the year after Trump was elected), and with the backdrop of the Puerto Rican independence movement ever increasing in prevalence. You follow Olga as she lives her life, navigating work, relationships, love, and familial problems, all while she’s just trying to get a moment to breathe.

3. TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Jesmeen Kaur Deo

I’m a sucker for Young Adult / Teen books, and this was recommended by DesiTok / BookTok, so I had to try reading it. While super short, it’s a fun story and highlights some of the problems indian women face that most people just aren’t aware of, as well as some good commentary on Western influence on beauty standards. That being said, it’s primarily a fun + whimsical story, and you could totally see a movie adaption of this premiering on Disney Channel.

4. Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

While the movie came out ages ago (never saw it), I finally found the book this year - it’s incredible. While the movie’s plot seems to ignore all the nuance + tough topics of the book, Swarup’s novel doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality (and beauty) of India. The novel reminds me a lot of The White Tiger (movie - I haven’t read the book yet!) - a glimpse of the world from the bottom up.

Ram Mohammad Thomas is an instantly likeable protagonist, and his journey to a billion rupees is a story you won’t want to put down.

What’s on my Radar

From last year, this seciton is to hopefully better inform readers what I’m about to read, so that I can get more suggestions on what genres I’m interested in (since I don’t always highlight all genres I enjoy in my reading lists).

If you’d like to recommend me anything, feel free to send me a line via email to ronak.manish.shah@gmail.com, or send a tweet to @trulyronak. Or, if you’d like to leave an anonymous tip (or really just give any feedback), let me know at TellMeAnything.ronakshah.net

Planned Books

  • Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
    • The perspective of the infamous queen and wife of Dasharatha (she’s the person who called for Ram’s exile in the Ramayana)
    • I’m sure the book will be a little controversial (seeing as how the Ramayana is a religous text), but I’m curious if it’ll be similar to Circe
  • Star Wars: The High Republic novels
    • I’ve been meaning to read these for the past year, so I’m planning on trying to get to these this year
  • Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendency
    • Same with the High Republic novels, I just have these on my back burner!

Things I’d like to read

  • more fun novels
  • books about design + product thinking