I made a commitment at the end of 2017 that I’d read more. I brushed off my Kindle, and started to work my way through the long list of books I’d been meaning to read.
But as the year went on, I evolved and I found myself reading some books I would never have considered before. I even started reading fiction, something I haven’t done in years!
So as 2018 comes to a close, I started to wonder how many I’d actually read, and it was more than I thought. Three months off certainly helped!
Here are my favourites of the year each with a quick summary of what I enjoyed them.
Naples ’44 An Intelligence Officer In The Italian Labyrinth | Norman Lewis
A fascinating insight into the one officer’s life in the Second World War. It would be easy to assume everyone ended up on the front line in the War, but here we get a different view from an intelligence officer station in Naples. The city is falling apart, and he is tasked with restoring some order. He does his best to hold it all together, with good manner, a caring nature and trying to get the locals on side. It’s written in an easy-to-digest diary form, making it very relatable, and I found myself easily able to picture exactly what life was like.
“Norman Lewis arrives in war-torn Naples as an intelligence officer in 1944. The starving population has devoured all the tropical fish in the aquarium, respectable women have been driven to prostitution and the black market is king. Lewis finds little to admire in his fellow soldiers, but gains sustenance from the extraordinary vivacity of the Italians. There is the lawyer who earns his living bringing a touch of Roman class to funerals, the gynaecologist who “specializes in the restoration of lost virginity” and the widowed housewife who times her British lover against the clock. “Were I given the chance to be born again,” writes Lewis, “Italy would be the country of my choice.”
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari | Robin Sharma
This book seemed to be talking directly to me at exactly the right time! I burned-out lawyer gives up everything to go and live in India and discover a different aspect to life. This book is about him coming back and talking to a colleague about what he learned. It’s a bit preachy and over-motivational, but if you can cut through the crap there are some parts which caused me to stop and think.
This was one of my favourite parts and gives you an idea of the topics covered:
When all is said and done, there is only one thing that we have absolute dominion over….our minds.
We might not be able to control the weather or the traffic or the moods of all those around us. But, we most certainly can control our attitude towards these events. We all have the power to determine what we will think about in any given moment. This ability is part of what makes us human. You see, one of the fundamental gems of worldly wisdom I have learned in my travels to the East is also one of the most simple.”
There is no such thing as objective reality or ‘the real world.’ There are no absolutes. The face of your greatest enemy might be the face of my finest friend. An event that appears to be a tragedy to one might reveal the seeds of unlimited opportunity to another. What really separates people who are habitually upbeat and optimistic from those who are consistently miserable is how the circumstances of life are interpreted and processed.
“The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your Destiny by motivational speaker and author Robin Sharma is an inspiring tale that provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance and joy. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari tells the extraordinary story of Julian Mantle, a lawyer forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life, and the subsequent wisdom that he gains on a life-changing odyssey that enables him to create a life of passion, purpose and peace.”
Sharpe Series (First Four Books) | Bernard Cornwell
I’ve never been a huge reader of fiction, but I remember watching some of the Sharpe TV programs as a kid. I fell in love with the books straight away. They are a captivating fast-paced read, and also relatively historically accurate. I really enjoy the section at the end where Bernard Cornwell writes about the history included in the book, and which parts are factual, and which parts fiction, so whilst I claim these are fiction, I’ve actually learned quite a lot of history from them!
The books I read this year are the first four (by event rather than year of release): Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Triumph, Sharpe’s Fortress and Sharpe’s Trafalgar.
“Richard Sharpe avoids the tyrannical Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill and endeavours to rescue a British officer from under the nose of the Tippoo of Mysore.
But in fleeing Hakeswill, Sharpe enters the exotic and dangerous world of the Tippoo. An adventure that will require all of his wits just to stay alive, let alone save the British army from catastrophe.
Soldier, hero, rogue – Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.”
A Short History Of Nearly Everything | Bill Bryson
This book had been on my ‘must read’ list for a while. I love Bryson’s travel writing and in this book, he makes the history of universe, earth, and life on it and accessible read. It made me realise just how little I know about everything that happens around me, and had me looking up at the stars in the evening in a completely different way.
“Bill Bryson describes himself as a reluctant traveller, but even when he stays safely at home he can’t contain his curiosity about the world around him. A Short History of Nearly Everything is his quest to understand everything that has happened from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization – how we got from there, being nothing at all, to here, being us. Bill Bryson’s challenge is to take subjects that normally bore the pants off most of us, like geology, chemistry and particle physics, and see if there isn’t some way to render them comprehensible to people who have never thought they could be interested in science.”
Pol Pot: The History Of A Nightmare | Philip Short
It’s unfortunate that (outside of Angkor), Cambodia is most famous to outsiders for the Khmer Rouge atrocities of 30 years ago. Ahead of visiting during our sabbatical, I was keen to understand how this period came about, and the thought processes of a regime defined by one man’s extreme views. I had this book recommended to me. It’s a long and tough read, but well worth investing time in if you want to gain more understanding of exactly what happened in Cambodia.
“Pol Pot was an idealistic, reclusive figure with great charisma and personal charm. He initiated a revolution whose radical egalitarianism exceeded any other in history. But in the process, Cambodia descended into madness and his name became a byword for oppression.
In the three-and-a-half years of his rule, more than a million people, a fifth of Cambodia’s population, were executed or died from hunger and disease. A supposedly gentle, carefree land of slumbering temples and smiling peasants became a concentration camp of the mind, a slave state in which absolute obedience was enforced on the ‘killing fields’.”
The Effective Executive | Peter Drucker
The one thing you have control over is your time, and what you do with it. This book taught me more about prioritising and making tough choices than any other.
“The measure of the executive, Peter Drucker reminds us, is the ability to ‘get the right things done’. Usually this involves doing what other people have overlooked, as well as avoiding what is unproductive.
He identifies five talents as essential to effectiveness, and these can be learned; in fact, they must be learned just as scales must be mastered by every piano student regardless of his natural gifts. Intelligence, imagination and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that convert these into results.”
Last Train To Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola | Paul Theroux
Travel ain’t always fun, and that’s made very apparent in Paul Theroux’s rather dark take on travel through Africa. He’s a man who goes where others don’t, and by means of transport that others avoid. Another staggering book from a travel writer who writes in a way that makes you feel like you’re right there beside him.
“Heading north from Cape Town, through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Angola, Paul Theroux makes a final journey along Africa’s western edge. The end of the line is the Congo but Theroux discovers that his trip’s pleasures are tempered by a growing sense that the Africa which so long ago helped form him has vanished, along with the hopes of many of its people. Yet after 2,500 miles Theroux finds that though this will be his ultimate African adventure there are still surprises to be found by the traveller prepared to step off the beaten track.”
Notes on a Nervous Planet | Matt Haig
By far the best book I’ve read on mental health, and the impact modern technology is having on it. It’s written in an un-traditional format, which makes it really accessible to dip in and out of. This one will stick with me for a long time, and I will re-read it often.
“Looking at sleep, news, social media, addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and to question the habits of the digital age. This book might even change the way you spend your precious time on earth.”
On The Road | Jack Kerouac
The cool uncle of travel books, this is a fast paced, excitable read, which I found myself consuming in about four days whilst travelling on trains through Thailand. Sal Paradise (great name!) and his crazy Beat friends embark on what feel like an endless criss-crossing of America, in search of something they never quite seem to find.
“On the Road swings to the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, generosity, chill dawns and drugs, with Sal Paradise and his hero Dean Moriarty, traveller and mystic, the living epitome of Beat. Now recognized as a modern classic, its American Dream is nearer that of Walt Whitman than Scott Fitzgerald, and it goes racing towards the sunset with unforgettable exuberance, poignancy and autobiographical passion.”
Carrie | Stephen King
Having read Stephen’s book ‘On Writing‘ earlier in the year, I decided to delve into the first book he released. I don’t read much fiction, and had certainly not read horror before, but this was much better than I expected. It’s more tense than scary, but King is an amazing writer who manages to take a very far-fetched situation and make it feel like you’re involved in it.
P.S., if you are a writer, be sure to pick up ‘On Writing‘. It’s half autobiography, half a lesson on the skills of writing, and is the most though-provoking book on the craft I’ve ever read. Turn to page 113 for an incredible section on how writing is ‘telekinesis’. He describes putting words on a page as like time-travel, where you transport what you’re thinking at that moment into someone else’s brain in the future. An unusual and inspiring way to think about tapping out words on a laptop!
“Carrie White is no ordinary girl.
Carrie White has the gift of telekinesis.
To be invited to Prom Night by Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie – the first
step towards social acceptance by her high school colleagues.
But events will take a decidedly macabre turn on that horrifying and endless night as she
is forced to exercise her terrible gift on the town that mocks and loathes her . . .”
Useful Tools for Booking Your Sabbatical
I always use Skyscanner or Agoda alongside Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best price. I use Google Flights to save a route and monitor price changes and a combination of Skyscanner and Agoda to get the cheapest tickets.
If you are in the UK I would also highly recommend signing up for Jack’s Flight Club to get incredible flight deals sent to your email inbox every week.
When booking accommodation I always start with Booking.com as they generally have the best range and prices. I also regularly use Airbnb for longer stays and apartments in cities (use this link for £25 off your first stay). For a different experience try signing up to Housecarers for free house-sitting opportunities (get 10% off membership with this link).
Travel insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost, but when a flight gets cancelled, injury occurs or you damage a piece of gear you’ll regret not paying in advance. I’ve used World Nomads for two sabbaticals and (after badly damaging a hire car in Laos!) found the claim process to be simple and transparent.
Getting from the airport to your destinations is an added stress after a tiring flight, so take the guesswork out and pre-book with JayRide.com. Their prices often beat the local taxis and I've found them to be reliable and easy to use.