2021 in Books

25 December 2021

We will talk about my journey for a couple of paragraphs before moving on to the book recommendations. In 2020, I decided that a missing piece of my personality is my absolute lack of skill in sports. I was terrible at cricket with the gully kids, bad at football in school and college, pathetic at chess with friends at work and laughable at competitive esports games like League of Legends. Honestly, I am bad at all of them. But I decided to fix this once and for all. I spent all of 2020 trying to improve my LoL skills. That was a disaster. I simply lacked both mechanical and strategical skills required in the game.

I had found myself committing a standard error. I am intelligent, so the strategy should obviously come to me, right? Right? Moreover, I usually played post work. I was already tired through my workday and could not focus. Late in 2020 and early 2021, I decided that my plan was bull***t and if there is one thing that the game has taught me is to develop your strengths and gain a competitive advantage via those strengths. Trying to compensate for your weaknesses is not a good idea. A league podcast had an expert in hunting rookies mention that they would rather pick a player who rates 9+ out of 10 on one criterion and 7 on everything else than a player who rates 8 across the board.

So, well, this led me to stop playing league. Then I had lots of free time to learn new things related to my skills in software development, applied mathematics and finance. I noticed that the fastest mode of knowledge consumption was reading books over audio-visual content. And hence, I read 60 books this year across genres. That beats my personal record of 23 a couple years ago by some margin. I plan to raise this to 100 next year. Let’s see how that goes. Meanwhile, enjoy my assortment of recommendations from my readings in 2021. :)

Best in Fiction

The Stormlight Archive series

by Brandon Sanderson

Shout out to all Brandon Sanderson fans out there! This video and this video very briefly do more to recommend you this series than I can do. For me, the best part about these books is the well-defined plot outlines. There is a setup, a climax, and a resolution. The books may seem long, but you need to trust me that they are effortless to read. Four books are out in this planned ten-book series. There will be a plot break after the fifth book. This is intentional, among many reasons, to avoid the torment of countless unresolved threads for fans for years. There is a certain Disney-ness to the style. It feels innocent and lightweight despite dealing with tremendously complex class, war, politics, and mental health themes.
Most memorable idea: “Life before Death. Strength before Weakness. Journey before Destination.” ‘nuff said.

Best in Textbook

Trading and Exchanges: Market Microstructure for Practitioners

by Larry Harris

This is apparently a “must-read” for people who work with securities markets. I am sad that I discovered this 3 years after starting my career, but well, देर आये दुरुस्त आये (better late than never). This is essentially a textbook. It took me about three months to finish it. That’s a semester. There were many chapters directly relevant to what I am doing right now. The first chapter itself had lessons that I learnt with experience. That was easy to hook me. “What else can I learn via this book to circumvent the need to learn it via experience?” I first bought this on Kindle and then got a physical paperback because I wanted to scribble all over it. Worth!
Most memorable idea: There are different types of traders, and among them, markets exist for the benefit of utilitarian traders, who trade to solve business problems. For example, cornflake producers need to trade in corn futures to hedge their demand for corn.

Best in Memoir

The Lettuce Diaries

by Xavier Naville

A french businessman makes his fortune by selling lettuce in China. This is ultimately a hero story. The author is set up in adverse conditions and discovers his powers to defeat the villain. I mean, the villain is not a person, but well, I am just metaphorically speaking. The story has culture shock. Xavier’s education was worthless when pitted against Chinese farmers. This transforms into cultural appreciation when he learns to navigate the local priorities. When I corporate success stories now, it’s often about startups where they talk about the tech and vision more than the operational aspects. In contrast, this book is all about operations and, of course, Xavier’s personal journey.
Most memorable idea: For a long time, Xavier had his eye on a market segment that would take their margins to the moon. Only if it worked. He would not let it go. This was a great idea on paper, but it never did work in practice. This teaches me an important lesson to let go. Sometimes our best ideas have poor timing.

Best in Spirituality/Slice of Life

Seed to Dust: A Gardener’s Story

by Marc Hamer

Even though it’s not advertised as such, I think of this as a spiritual book. Who better to teach us about life than a gardener? In principle, the book is the author’s diary as a gardener through the year. However, it felt like Mother Nature was talking to my soul. This was a sobering delight in the middle of a pandemic. It made me happy and optimistic about the future.
Most memorable idea: Some gardeners build their gardens, and some grow their gardens. The latter only guide the growth while the former trim all growth not part of the plan. The difference is essentially how much control you choose to exercise over the growth path of a system. I found this to apply to all planned systems, especially software systems that I work with daily. I have started being less strict about contributions to codebases that I maintain. So far, this has been for good.

Best in Current Affairs

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

by Edwin Lefèvre

This is current affairs because 2020 and 2021 welcomed the rise of day traders. This is a historical fiction loosely based on the legendary day trader Jesse Livermore. It is a hilarious account of various situations in trading that the protagonist encounters, how he handles them, how he mishandles them and what lessons he learns.
Most memorable idea: There are no losses in trading, only tuition fees for lessons. More important lessons will incur higher tuition fees.