Erratic engineeress

Erratic book Wednesdays pt. 1

In the past couple of months I’ve been posting a short book recommendation on my social media accounts every Wednesday. My recommendations even have their own hashtag: #erraticbookwednesdays, because the world needs to read more good books, not just fluff and smut. As a lifetime passionate reader, I feel entitled to share my favourites and must-reads with you, so deal with it and hopefully go read some! 🙂

You can find my book recommendations on both FB and IG, and I will be compiling them on my blog in batches of 14 here. However, since I’m posting one every week, it will take a while until part 2, so I’ve decided to start including them in my email newsletters too. So, if you’re not a fan of social media, but would like to receive a weekly book recommendation, I invite you to join my list of email subscribers. I promise I don’t spam – I send out one email every Wednesday with all my recent blog posts, major updates and now, starting from next week, also a book recommendation.

My aim is to select quality books from different genres every week, so you can expect all sorts of novels, classics, biographies, fiction and non-fiction, as well as some fantasy/sci-fi books, because I’m a huge geek. Although I’m trying to recommend something for everyone, the keyword here is QUALITY. I will only recommend the books that made me feel and think, the kind of books that seared into my brain and left me staring at the end cover for a few minutes after closing the book. As you will see from the first batch in this post, I am trying to select less famous books, which is unfortunately quite tough, because almost all books worth reading will have garnered at least a small cult following. Luckily, those of you who aren’t that big on reading probably won’t recognise all of them, and those of you who are, probably like to read a certain type of literature and will hopefully find something new in my list. So, without further ado, here are the first 14 recommendations for erratic book Wednesdays:

#1: F. Herbert – Dune

Since I recently bought and reread a gorgeous edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune, we’ll start with that: Dune is a proper sci-fi classic from 1965, focused less on the future technology, but rather on the human condition and, unexpectedly, ecology. It’s set in the distant future on a dry desert planet, which produces the spice, a life extending drug coveted across the universe, and features the rise of a prophesied religious figure named Muad’Dib. Dune’s exploration of humanity, religious fanaticism, systemic ecology, power and gender dynamics on a dying planet with scare resources makes it more relevant now than ever, so it should have a place on your reading list even if sci-fi is usually not your thing. Now, I’ll be honest, the first book is pure genius, but I didn’t really like the sequels, so I would recommend you just read Dune and stop there.

P.S.: Here’s an interesting article about Dune 50 years on.

#2: P. Mercier – Night Train to Lisbon

Next I chose Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, a philosophical fiction novel and one of my favourite books. It’s a book for language lovers – the main character is an uptight older professor of classical languages (Latin, ancient Greek), content with a clockwork life of strict routine. After a chance meeting with a Portuguese woman and a book of essays written by a Portuguese doctor, he boards the night train to Lisbon and becomes obsessed with uncovering all the details about the enigmatic doctor’s life and resistance during the totalitarian regime in Portugal. 🇵🇹 All the while he’s wondering what the hell is he really doing and re-examining his life through a unique prism of language, words and their actual meaning. The book explores the impact of language, how words limit and define us and how we perceive the world around us. It’s essentially an homage to the power of literature and the will of the individual, as well as a haunting account of personal repression and the human struggle to find a place in the world. It’s one of those books that made a deep impression and stayed with me as a reminder that it’s never too late to change.

#3: S. J. Dubner and S. Levitt – Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

The third book recommendation is Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt, which is an interesting non-fiction collaboration between a journalist and an economist. They attempt to explain how the world works through bizarre economic correlations between seemingly unrelated issues, like how the KKK is similar to real estate agencies and how legalising abortions brought down crime. The book was later made into a documentary, a blog, a sequel and an occasional column in the New York Times, but also criticised for avoidable mistakes in statistics interpretation and certain speculative conclusions. Although some conclusions were later shown as erroneous and the book is based on the U.S economy, it is still well worth a read for its novel approach to statistics and will give you some serious food for thought about common misconceptions and the long term impact of system policies and our everyday decisions.

#4: M. Lermontov – A Hero of Our Time

The next book recommendation is a Russian Romantic era classic: A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. While I realise many people consider Romanticism books to be whiny, depressive wastes of time, I think that this book transcends that and isn’t getting the attention it deserves. It’s a rather short story about the life of Pechorin, a very contradicting character, as told by his friend Maxim. In classic Romantic fashion he has trouble admitting his true feelings and believes himself to be cynically detached from the world, always seeking more to combat his boredom and weariness of life: more pleasure, more excitement, more newness. Oh, and he also considers travel the ultimate cure for his burdened spirit. Sounds familiar yet? The disenchantment, lack of purpose, and emptiness he’s dealing with are very much modern topics and sometimes it helps to remember that we didn’t just recently invent all our troubles. The Romantic era guys considered the world broken before it was cool and their take on it is a welcome counterbalance to our current era of obsessive self-actualization and the search for our ‘best self’… Also, bonus book feature: fantastic descriptions of the beautiful Caucasus mountains.

#5: N. Tomlin and R. Hall – The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomlin and Ron Hall is a reconstructed biography of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who participated in the 1968 round-the-world sailing race to become the first man to sail around the world alone. Someone else won and made history, but this book is not about him. This one is about Donald Crowhurst’s slow descent into madness alone out on the ocean, after he faked a part of his race reports to save face when he realised he couldn’t actually do it. His boat was found empty out at sea, with a solder iron precariously balanced on a milk can and the sail still on, so he likely committed suicide after he found out he could actually accidentally win the race and his logbooks would be thoroughly examined. Two British journalists reconstructed his sailing and mental journey based on his logbooks, tapes and philosophical writings found onboard (he was hallucinating about sea monsters at some point). It’s a harrowing account of a lonesome man under pressure, left with no good choices and faced with impossible odds, so it’s absolutely worth a read even if you’re not a sailing fan.

P. S.: There’s also a movie called the Mercy.

#6: C. Funke – Dragon Rider

Next recommendation is a bit different than usual, because it is technically a children’s/young adult book, but hear me out. Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider is an unbelievably imaginative coming of age story with the most unlikely heroes: a young silver dragon which feeds on moonlight, an orphan boy who becomes the dragon rider and a mushroom obsessed she-kobold. The dragon sets out from London to find a mythological place in the Himalayas and save his tribe, because the humans are planning to flood their hidden valley. On the way he picks up sidekicks, enlists the help of cartographer rats and 1000eyed djinns, successfully evades overzealous archaeologists and dwarves with altitude sickness and ultimately defeats an alchemically engineered dragon eating monster. Creative enough yet? I recently gave it a reread and wholeheartedly recommend it if you a want a true, wholesome break from all the craziness in the world right now. No annoying love triangles, no cliches, just pure imagination, a well-developed, heartwarming plot and lots of laughs.

#7: P. Giordano – The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Next week’s recommendation was The Solitude of Prime Numbers by an Italian writer, Paolo Giordano. It’s a tough but brilliant psychological fiction novel, which brutally de-romanticises social alienation and broken people. The story follows two main characters, a boy and a girl, who suffered trauma as children and grow up to stand apart, like self-involved, detached automatons, too broken to reciprocate emotion of those around them or each other. In our society the broken outsider is often considered attractive and romantic, someone who will be the perfect partner if fixed, but Giordano shows that it’s not quite that simple, and that both characters are alienated both by compulsion and choice.

#9: T. Pratchett – Wyrd Sisters

And then we had a lighter one: Wyrd Sisters, one from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Featuring three witches trying to put the right king (who is also entirely wrong for it) on the throne, it’s one of his best books in my opinion. It also contains one of my favourite literary characters: Granny Weatherwax, a snarky old witch with anger issues. Pratchett’s works never disappoint with their deeper meanings, hilarious characters, ironic social commentary and Easter egg pop culture references in a medieval fantasy setting, but this one goes a step beyond that and is also a satire on classic storytelling and Shakespeare’s works. It will probably have you laughing out loud even if you’re generally not into fantasy books – at least I hope so, because I’m a huge geek and I can’t help myself.

#9: C. Moore – Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’s childhood was like before he became the famous miracle worker? Now, I’m personally not religious, but the next book recommendation is Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. It’s a humorous, somewhat absurd book, where Biff is resurrected in the 20th century and ordered to write down his account of the missing years of Jesus’s life under the watchful eye of angel Raziel, who has a weakness for chocolate and TV. While Jesus (or Joshua) displays godlike powers and maturity well beyond his years from the start, Biff is your typical rowdy teenager full of stupid ideas, so the pair get up to all sorts of adventures while Jesus learns to become the Messiah. Even if you are religious, this book is actually not insulting to the figure of Jesus in any way, unless you categorically object to the idea that he might have been a young boy with a crazy best friend once. In that case, don’t read, but otherwise it’s a great bit of satirical fun, although there are some swear words and mentions of sex in there if you’re sensitive to that.

#10: K. Follet – The Pillars of the Earth

The next one is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It’s is a bit more famous than my usual picks, but I feel like many people watched the series and don’t even know there’s a (really good) book too. Anyhow, The Pillars of the Earth is a historical novel set in 12th century England, during the anarchy period between the reign of two kings. The plot follows the lives of people in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, where a cathedral is being built. Now, although this is a pretty typical historical novel, the writing is not dry or boring, because the author also writes thrillers and has a very lively writing voice. The story is full of intrigue and curious details, and he even makes debates about the cathedral’s architecture interesting to read, which is quite a feat!

#11: L. Bardugo – Six of Crows

The first one in September was the Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. This one is technically a young adult adventure fantasy book and I really love the fact that it features morally grey, ambiguous and very diverse characters. The world building is super creative, the plot follows a daring thieving crew embarking on an epic heist and their banter is just the right kind of funny, with a dash of romance thrown in. So, if you’re looking for a light, fun adventure read, I really recommend this one (it’s technically a duology, but it should pull you in enough to read both books).

P. S.: I think it will also be made into a Netflix series.

#12: E. F. Schumacher – Small Is Beautiful: A Study Of Economics As If People Mattered

Next book recommendation is Small Is Beautiful: A Study Of Economics As If People Mattered, which is a collection of essays by E. F. Schumacher, a German-British economist. This book has been called one of the most influential books in the 20th century and it explores the modern economic system from the perspective of human empowerment and sustainability. It is essentially the antithesis to the ‘bigger is better’ capitalist mentality and argues for an economy that would value humans, not infinite economic growth. It also has a very idealistic, back to nature perspective and a certain naive aversion to technology, that I as an engineer can’t really agree with or condone. However, I am still recommending it, because it was written in 1973, so it’s attitude towards nature and technology is a sign of the times, and also it’s value. People already knew and precisely evaluated what was wrong with our current global economic system in the 1970s and we’ve only made it worse in the past 50 years. Reading this book is like looking through a window into the past, which could not be more accurate today. It is now abundantly clear that the world needs to change faster than ever and that lockdowns didn’t slow down climate change in the slightest, so Schumacher’s idealistic, but insightful, essays are a good place to start thinking about a new system.

#13: C. Wooding – Broken Sky series

I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so the next book recommendation was one of my absolute teenage favourites. Broken Sky by Chris Wooding is a series of YA fantasy novels, which was a huge hit when it came out in the 90s, but fell into relative obscurity later on. Well, in my opinion, it’s one of the most underrated sci-fi adventure books out there, with some of the most ingenious world building I’ve seen over the years of my fantasy reading, which is saying something. It follows the story of Kia and Ryushi, twins living in one of the two interconnected Dominion worlds, ruled by a tyrant king. In Broken Sky, magic comes from stones implanted on a person’s back at birth, there are secret cults, alien races, world jumpers, crazy plot twists and not a single thing is as it seems. The whole plot revolves around the twins learning about the true nature of their world and ultimately overthrowing the king – as you can imagine, it was heavily inspired by anime and steampunk. Although the writing can be a bit clunky at times, the author somehow managed to create surprisingly deep, non black and white characters on both sides of the struggle, who actually believably evolve through the story. This makes it worth a read even for adults, if you’re the least bit of a fan of action packed fantasy stories and want to take a mental break in a refreshingly different fantastical universe.

#14: M. Haig – Notes on a Nervous Planet

And finally, today’s fresh book recommendation and the last for this blog post: Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet. This one is rather far from what I normally read, but I liked it surprisingly a lot. It’s a follow up to Haig’s first memoir book about living with depression and suicidal tendencies, which I haven’t read and am not particularly interested in to be perfectly honest. However, Notes on a Nervous Planet really hits the spot: it’s a book about anxiety and how modern lifestyle and today’s society feed our various anxieties and are virtually designed to always make us feel slightly inadequate. We live in the overload era and somehow we always need just a bit more: a better body, a better car, a better job, more stuff, more knowledge, more social followers, more time, more life. Now, this is not a self-help book, because I abhor those. Instead it’s a book about the author’s experience of life with severe anxiety, with his comments about why and how the world feeds it and what makes it better for him. What makes it special is the fact that he’s intelligent, good with words and brutally honest. His depictions of anxiety in the first part were so vivid and raw, that they almost gave a panic attack, so don’t read it when you’re stressed!

We’ve made it to the end! So, what did you think about my book recommendations? Have you read any of them yet? Are you now planning to? What’s your book recommendation for me? Should we start a book club? Books are serious business and I need answers in the comments below!

Cover photo by Nyradir, a Slovenian artist friend. Go check him out!


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6 responses to “Erratic book Wednesdays pt. 1”

  1. I love the self-portrait of you at the top. It should be your new logo and the mascot of your new podcast, just put a hat on it. Or hang a hat on each horn…erratically, of course. Some of these sound good. I haven’t re-read Dune in many years.

    1. Thanks, my friend drew it, there’s a link to his page at the end of the post! It was actually originally planned to be my podcast logo, but then I decided to go for something else. Also, Dune is awesome, somehow it’s getting more and more relevant with climate change too.

  2. Dune is a superb novel, and with another film on the way I’m thinking I should read it again. I agree with you about the sequels.

    And you can never go wrong with Terry Pratchett and Wyrd Sisters is one of many highlights. Nanny Ogg was always my favourite of the witches — we even have a Nanny Ogg recipe book that comes out every year at Halloween.

    1. That’s amazing, where did you find the Ogg recipe book? My favorite is Granny Weatherwax, because she’s a force of nature. 🙂

      1. It’s on Amazon. If you search for Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook you should find it.

        Granny Weatherwax is certainly the most dominant character, but I really enjoy Nanny Ogg’s casual rudeness and her inability to take anything too seriously. That, and her cat 😉

      2. Yes, Greebo is a legend! And thank you so much for that, I need it!

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