20 Books of Summer 2023

Up for a reading/blogging challenge that just involves reading and blogging? Then Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer challenge may be just the one for you! The rules are lax. Changing books? No problem! 10 or 15 books? Go ahead! List 40 books and pick and choose as you go along? Guilty as charged.

This will be the third year I’ve taken part in this reading and blogging challenge, hosted most ably by Cathy at 746Books, running from 1 June to 1 September 2023. The sign up page and logo are here. You can also use the hashtag #20BooksOfSummer23 wherever you please.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just pick 20 books, then you have three months to read and blog about them. Any type, any length, physical books, audiobooks or e-books, or a combination of the three. If you want to change books, no problem. If you haven’t got the time or inclination to read 20, pick 10 or 15. But which 10 or 15 or 20? That’s the difficult bit!


My plan this year was to pick longer books because if I can persuade myself to pass them on once I’ve read them, that will make more space on the shelves. I don’t mean empty space, oh no! That would only get dusty. But it would be rather nice to have all the books on my TBR on a proper bookshelf somewhere in the house, rather than in the back room in banana boxes. We now have a free bedroom which is going to become my study, with extra bookshelves and a desk of my own. At last! Of course, I can’t pick just 20, so I’ve narrowed it down to 30, plus some e-ARCs I have signed up to on NetGalley. Decision-making was never my strong point…

The list

My list is subdivided into three monthly themes (senses/feelings, calendar and water), which come from a reading challenge on BookCrossing.com. Plus some travel books, as it’s summer, a book I’ve borrowed and want to return, then the ARCs. And last of all, I’ve kept the list of those poor books which I nearly picked, but decided to read at a later date. Maybe they’ll make it on to next year’s list.

Piles of books TBR for 20 books of summer 2023
My shortlist for #20BooksOfSummer23


  • The Man Who Spoke Snakish (2007), Andrush Kivirähk, trans. Christopher Mosely
  • Dreamland (2021), Rosa Rankin-Gee
  • Heimwee naar de jungle (The Lost Steps) (1953), Alejo Carpentier, trans. J.G. Rijkmans
  • Invisible Women (2019), Caroline Criado Perez NF
  • Dear Fatty (2008), Dawn French NF


  • Neverwhere (1997), Neil Gaiman
  • Spring (2019, Ali Smith
  • Summer (2020), Ali Smith
  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (2022), Shehan Karunatilaka
  • The Thursday Murder Club (2020), Richard Osman
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), David Mitchell 
  • Time Shelter (2020), Georgi Gospodinov
  • The Enchanted April (1922), Elizabeth von Arnim
  • Buiten is het maandag (2003), Bernlef
  • A View of the Empire at Sunset (2018), Caryl Phillips


  • The Hungry Tide (2004), Amitav Ghosh
  • The Sea Lady (2006), Margaret Drabble
  • Watermelon (1995), Marian Keyes
  • Fingersmith (2002), Sarah Waters 1001
  • Waiting for the Waters to Rise (2010), Maryse Condé


  • The Places in Between (2004), Rory Stewart NF
  • The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (2019) , Amelia Gentleman NF
  • Africa is Not a Country (2022), Dipo Faloyin


  • Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy (2014), Jeff Vandermeer

Digital ARCs via NetGalley

  • Taking Flight (2023), Lev Parikian
  • The Octopus in the Parking Garage: A Call for Climate Resilience (2023), Rob Verchick
  • Mild Vertigo (1997), Mieke Kanai, trans. Polly Barton pub. 21/6 (Fitzcarraldo) 192pp
  • Mystery book (2023) pub. 6/7
  • Red Smoking Mirror (2023), Nick Hunt, pub. 6/7

Understudies (maybe next year?)

  • Waarom het leven sneller gaat als je ouder wordt, Douwe Decker NF
  • Calamiteitenleer voor gevorderden< Marisha Pessl
  • Mijn zoon heeft een seksleven en ik lees mijn moeder Roodkapje voor, Renate Dorrestein
  • A Widow for One Year, John Irving
  • The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale NF
  • If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino 1001
  • Saturday, Ian McEwan
  • Earthsea, Ursula le Guin
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
  • Salt on Your Tongue, Charlotte Runcie NF
  • The Scent of Water or The Child from the Sea, Elizabeth Goudge
  • The Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux NF
  • In Siberia, Colin Thubron NF
  • Islands of Abandonment, Cal Flyn NF
  • Seeking Robinson Crusoe, Tim Severin NF
  • Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
  • The Song of Wirrun, Patricia Wrightson
  • South Riding, Winifred Holtby
  • Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman

As usual, I’m really looking forward to taking part in this challenge and seeing what everyone else is going to read. I very much doubt I’ll manage 20 this year, given the length of some of them, but I’m going to have a good go at it. Last year I managed it by the skin of my teeth, but only because I was confined to my bed in the attic for a fortnight. Something tells me I won’t get away with that twice.

#20BooksOfSummer23 book challenge by Cathy at 746books

Everything That Rises: A Climate Change Memoir (2023) by Brianna Craft

Did you ever wonder what happened at the climate negotiations that culminated in the 2015 Paris Agreement? This is an insider’s view written by a woman who was an intern who played an essential supporting role for the Least Developed Countries, the ones that stand to lose the most.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an incredibly engaging and well-written memoir of something that affects everyone on this planet by somebody who was there in the thick of climate change negotiations for years until the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and beyond. Brianna Craft gives a no-holds-barred account of the frustrations and triumphs involved and the intense depression and euphoria it invoked, alongside family issues and an unexpectedly close relationship to her God. If you want to understand why it all took so long to agree on, you can’t do much better than read this book.

The insight into what goes on in the background of international negotiations was absolutely fascinating in this memoir. It’s incredible that so much of the support work is done by unpaid interns, whereas I was paid a salary to do essentially the same job for an international European project. Ranging from the COP17 in Durban in 2011 right up until the Paris Agreement signed in November 2015 and beyond, Brianna Craft attended and assisted at all the negotiations, preparations and discussions related to the Least Developed Countries.

Climate change and the Least Developed Countries

Reading Brianna Craft’s memoir of the climate change negotiations, it is fascinating to see the human side of the government officials and their support staff. But, working as she still is for the Least Developed Countries, Craft is well-positioned to give us an overview of the desperate situation many countries face. In fact, working to support Pa Ousman, one of the most prominent African negotiators, she may well have a better overview than anybody else of what happened.

As the world spirals towards climate disaster, negotiations are painstakingly slow. It is the Least Developed Countries that are facing the worst consequences and are affected most, yet it is the developed world that caused the climate crisis and is dragging its heels about solving it. Many small island nations and low-lying coastal areas may be swamped by rising sea levels and salination, making their farmland unproductive. In the entire continent downriver from the Himalayas, the vast quantities of water released by melting glaciers could spell disaster. Weather systems are destabilising and extreme weather causes disasters around the globe.


“After an AmeriCorps year spent teaching kids in after‐school environmental clubs, removing invasive species, and organizing local climate co‐ops in Seattle’s south side, I knew there was no going back, no more ignoring what I wanted. Doing something about the global threat affecting everything and everyone was more important than the regimented future continuing my architectural aspirations afforded. At twenty‐four, I would go back to school. I decided to gamble two years and all the borrowed money I could muster on a master’s in environ mental studies in the fabled Ivy League, where I hoped to turn passion into a bankable career, one that would make a genuine difference.” The subject she studied was Technology Transfer for the energy transition.

When she attended a weekly discussion group on climate change, mostly for the free lunch included, she was given the chance of a lifetime. A London‐based researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development needed an assistant when she advised the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group at the upcoming UN climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, representing The Gambia.

Once she arrived in Durban, one of things that she noticed is that some of the delegates very openly sexually harassed and propositioned the young women like herself. It was a cultural difference she hadn’t expected and later on, she joined with other women to try to combat it, or rather, avoid it; there seem to have been no policy guidelines. However, most of the relationships she built up during the ongoing and repeating negotiations and their preparation were positive. One of the things I enjoyed most were her stories about informal moments and in particular with certain of her colleagues who obviously have a great sense of humour.

Another thing that she soon realised about the climate negotiations was that, unlike in her own country, i.e. the USA, there was no question about whether climate change was happening or if it was an issue. For many of the countries it was a deadly serious reality threatening their very existence. That gave the opinions of the Least Developed Countries added weight in the discussions.

“Power was the ability to inspire wide‐ranging agreement rather than bend others to your will. Moral authority could rally strength of numbers, so the vulnerable spoke with influence the wealthy could rarely command.”

A personal story

Interspersed with the main story of the climate talks is Brianna Craft’s own life story. She had always had an extremely difficult relationship with her tyrannical father and couldn’t wait to move away from the family home. Only when he had gone through major surgery (which she only heards about later) did she make a concerted effort to reconnect, but old habits are hard to break. Struggling with her guilt about this failure, she reveals that she has a very personal relationship with a loving God who values her. She does not pray in a conventional sense, but has imaginary conversations with an amusing God who teases her and advises her.
“I didn’t know anything like this Love. Patience on an unhuman timescale. Kindness. Undemanding, eternally hopeful. His faithful love endures forever. It was not inconsistent or determined by my performance.” The contrast with her father is obvious.

I found this an immensely absorbing and interesting glimpse into something that is a closed book to most of us. Yet anyone who has worked in an office will recognise the office politics and the day-to-day reality of back-to-back meetings, though I was surprised just how much of the final decision-making was done in extremely late-night meetings. I was also expecting Greta Thunberg to turn up at any moment, but she generally moves in completely different circles. This is the real inside story of how negotiations progress, rather than the activist side of things that possibly have more effect at persuading the public than truly changing the minds of politicians. There is also some succinct information about climate change and how it affects the Least Developed Countries that is extremely valuable. This book is just full of mind-blowing information. Personally I enjoyed the more personal aspects of Brianna Craft’s home life and her quirky, talkative God, but I can imagine that some people would find it unnecessary or even off-putting. You could always skip those parts; there’s more than enough to make this a fascinating and absorbing non-fiction read for anyone interested in travel and politics.

Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion of a digital ARC I received for free from NetGalley.

Orange fever: marking Koningsdag (King’s Day) with Dutch books and authors

Pile of orange books collected together for Dutch King's Day (Koningsdag)
Some orange books on my bookshelves in 2023

27 April was King Willem-Alexander’s somethingth birthday and, far more importantly, the annual celebration of Dutchness and everything orange. This is always the excuse for much frivolity, street food and street markets, originally for children selling their family’s unwanted items from blankets laid out in the streets or parks. Amsterdam literally explodes into a sea of orange and the streets and canals are packed. Orange fever is much more subdued where I live, in the east of the country, but the Dutch are nothing if not keen for any excuse to party and to get themselves a bargain, so every disciple of Marie Kondo will be trying to earn a few cents and impromptu street markets were bustling.

Now, I’ve lived in the Netherlands a long time (since 1986), so the novelty of all this has worn off a bit. I had hoped to go for a stroll to take a few photos for my much-neglected expat blog, but in spite of sunny weather, there was a cold wind and I have a backlog of books to read and review. Readers, I did not go! However, I do enjoy a good rummage in the book stacks, so I pulled out a selection of orange books (none of them Penguins) and a pile of books by Dutch authors I have (mostly) enjoyed or who come highly recommended by bookish Dutch friends.

A pile of Dutch books plucked from the shelves for Dutch King's Day 2023
Dutch books plucked from the stacks for King’s Day 2023

Orange fever

  • Midas Dekkers, De hommel en de walrus [The bumble bee and the walrus]. Midas Dekkers is a Dutch biologist, author and TV and radio presenter.This is a varied collection of short columns about a wide range of creatures. I haven’t read it yet, but I did read a similar one of his about pets and loved it. As far as I know, only one of his books has been translated into English, and that is one about bestiality, so I’m not sure if I should recommend it to you!
  • Karel Glastra van Loon, De passievrucht (A Father’s Affair, trans. Sam Garrett). This is a novel about the search for truth by a man who discovers that he is infertile, his late wife must have been unfaithful and his 13-year-old son must have been fathered by another man. I first fell in love with Glastra van Loon when he wrote a column in a parenting magazine about his children, who were exactly the same age as mine. I would have read anything he wrote, but tragedy struck and he died of a brain tumor. The last book of his I read was his diary of his treatments and life as everything gradually slipped away.
  • Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists (translation of Gratis geld voor iedereen). The full Dutch title is much more appealing, meaning ‘free money for everyone: about basic income, the 15-hour working week and a world with no borders’. My son lent me this a couple of years ago. It has shaped his beliefs and he has told me all about it. I really should read it.
  • B.C. Donaldson, Beyond the Dictionary in Dutch. When I was learning Dutch, this was an incredibly useful reference work for giving examples to explain the difference between concepts in Dutch that are divided into two (or more) words, where English uses one word for both, e.g. Dutch has two words for ‘to understand’, begrijpen and verstaan, which are used in different circumstances, as well as snappen, which is more informal.
  • Cornelius Ryan, Een brug te ver (translation of A Bridge Too Far). The story of Operation Market Garden in WWII, made into a marvellous film based on this book, and I live in the region where it took place. I got this copy at a BookCrossing meeting, with the intention of releasing it somewhere appropriate, but it’s so beautiful, I can’t bear to pass it on. It has a silver embossed silhouette of a parachutist on the front cover.
  • Karel Margry, De bevrijding van Eindhoven [The liberation of Eindhoven]. My first few years in the Netherlands were spent in Eindhoven. This is an account of what happened in 1944, though I have never read it.

Dutch books and authors on my shelves

  • J.M.A. Biesheuvel, De wereld moet beter worden [The world needs to improve]. This is a book of short stories I bought and partially read when I was learning Dutch, around 35 years ago. It’s been on my shelf ever since, unfinished. I don’t think any of his work has been translated into English.
  • Hella S. Haasse, Het woud der verwachting (In a Dark Wood, Wandering, translated by Lewis C. Kaplan). A historical epic set in France during the Hundred Years’ War. Haasse was the grande dame of Dutch literature, but the only one of her books I have read is the novella Oeroeg, translated as The Black Lake by Ina Rilke, about the different expectations for two boys, one Indonesian and one a Dutch colonist’s son.
  • J. Bernlef, Hersenschimmen (translated as Out of Mind by Adrienne Dixon). This is a favourite Dutch novel of mine, a first person narrative of a man who is losing his memory and his grip on the world due to Alzheimer’s. Highly recommended!
  • Harry Mulisch, De aanslag (translated as The Assault by Claire Nicolas White). The novel examines the consequences of the assassination of a Dutch collaborator at the end of WWII. Harry Mulisch was one of the ‘Three Greatest’ post-war Dutch authors (together with Willem Frederik Hermans and Gerard Reve). You may know his 1001 list book, The Discovery of Heaven. I have read that, but wasn’t that enthusiastic.
  • Renate Dorrestein, Mijn zoon heeft een seksleven en ik lees mijn moeder Roodkapje voor [My son has a sex-life and I’m reading Little Red Riding Hood to my mother.] Another of my favourite Dutch authors, though also sadly departed. I have a signed copy; she gave a talk organised by our local library in 2010. I would say she was the Dutch Margaret Atwood, a prolific author with a wide range of books, from autobiography and thrillers to this fictional story of a menopausal woman balancing between her children, her invalid mother and suspicions that her husband is having an affair. A few of her novels have gained an international audience.
  • Cees Nooteboom, Allerzielen (translated as All Souls’ Day by Susan Massotty). Again, I’ve read a couple of Nooteboom’s books, notably the 1001 book Rituelen (Rituals, trans. Adrienne Dixon), which I found too philosophical but certain images stuck with me. His novella Het volgende verhaal (The Following Story, trans. Ina Rilke) is another. I’m actually really interested to read some of his travel writing. I know that his book about Venice has been translated into English.
  • Jan Siebelink, En joeg de vossen door het staande koren. The Dutch title is a quotation from the Bible, Judges 15:4, when (and this is horrific!) Samson tied 150 pairs of foxes together then set their tails alight and sent them into the standing grain of the Philistines. Moving swiftly on, his most famous book is Knielen op een bed violen [lit. Kneeling on a bed of pansies] (translated as In My Father’s Garden by Liz Waters), a beautifully written but somewhat depressing story about a man running a nursery who becomes obsessed with a strict Calvinist group. Part of my enjoyment of this book was the location, but also the descriptions of the plants and the nursery.
  • Tessa de Loo, De tweeling (The Twins, translated by Ruth Levitt). Two elderly women, one German, one Dutch, meet in a health resort in Spa. They realise they are long-lost twins, separated by family and war. As they talk, the Dutch woman realises that normal Germans also suffered due to the Nazi regime. It’s a powerful novel, though rather slow. This is officially the first full novel I read in Dutch.
  • Gerard Kremer, De achtertuin van het achterhuis [The back garden of the Annex (the Achterhuis)]. This is supposedly the true story of a grocer who helped supply Anne Frank’s family while they were in hiding. I snapped it up when I first saw it advertised in 2021 and it has languished on my TBR shelf ever since. This month’s reading theme is ‘gardens & plants’, so I might just manage to read it this month, if I’m lucky.

There are of course many other wonderful Dutch novelists whose work I have read. I was particularly impressed by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s De avond is ongemak (translated by Michele Hutchison as The Discomfort of Evening), but I don’t have that to hand. I also have some negative opinions about some Dutch novelists, usually related to an obsession with their or their characters’ sexual exploits. As far as I have read, the novels and collections cited above would be perfectly safe to give to an elderly aunt, with the exception of The Discomfort of Evening, which shocks for other reasons.

Have you read any of these authors and/or books? Do you have other Dutch authors to recommend? Please feel free to comment. Meanwhile, I shall attempt to read and review some of those Dutch books still lingering on my shelves and see if I can find my notes on the ones I’ve already read. Happy belated King’s Day!

The Renunciation (2023) by Alex McGlothlin: surfing intrigue in Costa Rica

Dilemma: do you follow what makes you happy, even though you might have to give up all of your promise, your education, the expectations of others? Or do you carry on doing a job that no longer fulfils you, ever chasing the dream of success and ambition and capitalistic gains? The two men in this short novella are both facing this dilemma.

Cover of The Renunciation by Alex McGlothlin. The silhouette of asurfer against a huge blue wave topped in white surf.
The Renunciation by Alex McGlothlin

Epigraph: “Renunciation means letting go of holding back.” -Lama Surya Das

The magazine where Michael Winston works, The Scout Report, has always been balanced politically. Now there’s a takeover and the editor is leaving. She was Michael’s mentor and had envisaged him as her successor, but the new owners prefer someone else, Sam Buell. He is a renowned sports journalist, but a bully and his entrenched far right views put The Scout Report’s political balance in danger. “The firm will give you both a blank check to pursue a major story. Something epic. Or a perspective that shifts the national narrative. Something startling that makes us all feel alive again.” What a challenge! What an opportunity! The story he is sent on is to interview a major surfing star who has suddenly become a recluse and stopped competing. Nobody knows why.

“Sonya had cashed in a career’s worth of favors [sic] to give me the opportunity of a lifetime: I would spend a week hanging out with the man Time Magazine had recently anointed ‘the world’s most mysterious man.’ That man was two-time world surfing champion Louis Giroux. Louis had won the 2015 and 2016 World Surfing Championships in Morocco and Bali just before disappearing from the public eye. Following a competition in Nairobi, Kenya, Louis had not in three years competed professionally, given an interview, or even been seen in public. At 25, the man who many speculated would become the greatest surfer of all time had simply vanished.” And yet his image is still everywhere as he endorses the top brand of surfer sportswear.

The story of the celebrity who wants to escape the pressure is ticking along perfectly pleasantly when he tells a truly bizarre story involving gambling with Somali generals, borrowing U2’s jet to take 42 prisoners to Nairobi and then on to France, which supposedly accepted them with open arms. I know this is told under the influence of a joint, but… And the tale gets crazier!

Like the journalist Michael Winston, who narrates this story, I know nothing about surfing. Ironically, mere days ago I watched a TV segment of people standing on a cliff in Portugal watching a surfer being towed by a jet ski to the top of a mountainous wave, just like the one Louis Geroux describes to Michael as the scariest place he has ever surfed. The surfer in the programme I watched was crushed by the wave and broke his back; now he’s recovered, he still surfs.

Michael’s journalistic ethics are somewhat murky. He’s looking for a feel-good story so would be happy to leave out anything that doesn’t fit that narrative (drug use, alcohol, etc.). He justifies this to himself by saying that even the choice of the story is a form of censorship.

He regularly slips into an odd stream of consciousness that can be oddly colloquial or downright peculiar: “a blue sky that covered us like ninny’s blanket on a summer afternoon when you’re a child and wet from playing in the pool and things can only grow and become more wonderful and you know nothing else. Back at a time when staying dry and warm underneath a big blanket was an activity you enjoyed in its own right.”

I really enjoyed this short story, although I found the ending slightly ambiguous. There was a sufficient element of mystery and jeopardy to make it interesting without it ever becoming a thriller. There were also a couple of inspirational fables included, which I certainly hadn’t expected. You won’t learn anything much about surfing or Costa Rica if you read this, but you might spend a few happy hours dreaming of beaches and leaving behind the normal pressures of life and career.


The one thing that was off-putting was the rather high number of typos, grammatical errors or things in need of an edit (it’s-instead-of-its type errors). This, on the first page, did not bode well! I put it down to being an uncorrected ARC.

“I mean we want it, right?” you asked. … She kissed me and wrapped her arms around me. [That ‘she’ should be ‘you’.]

Disclaimer: My thanks to NetGalley for a free digital ARC. This review reflects my honest opinion after reading.

gentrification (2023), Misha Chinkov: a Russian expat’s view of Berlin

A young Russian software engineer’s musings about expat life in Berlin, the startup economy, learning German, the madness of self-development and more.

gentrification by Misha Chinkov
gentrification by Misha Chinkov

Misha Chinkov’s Gentrification is at first sight a diary of thoughts and events, but in actual fact, the excerpts are arranged thematically. Perhaps it might have been helpful to have chapter headings to make this clear, or a foreword that explains the structure. I was interested to read it because I wanted to hear his perspective on life as a young Russian expat in Berlin, as I am also an expat and previously lived in Germany for a couple of years. As I read, I also discovered that he is some sort of software engineer working for startups, so his view on technical jobs was novel to me, having worked (in a support role) in a large, established technical firm.

A Russian expat in Berlin

I really enjoyed reading his observations about Berlin and the way he writes about it. It’s clear he threw himself into expat life and the self-improvement lifestyle, until he became disillusioned with both. He’s sometimes funny, often critical, disappointed in how difficult it is to get to know new people beyond a very superficial level. He contrasts this to his home country where people tend to remain friends with a small group of people throughout their lives. That’s possibly also due to the fact that he’s living in a dynamic city full of newcomers. He comments that you don’t need to travel to get to know Germany because there are people from all over the country living there and the weather is equally varied. And there’s no point in improving one’s level of German because you are unlikely to make friends with Germans. One of the more amusing sections compares the Tinder experience in different countries and the frenetic pace of socialising is not all it is cracked up to be.

“It turns out that the apparel of Berlin’s bohemia is just the local dress code. The Altbau [old building] has terrible internet connection and expensive heating. Local perspectives lack introspection and could be challenged within five minutes of conversation. Low-cost flights are just cheap flights that rarely go beyond Lonely Planet recommendations. Techno without drugs is terrible. And the mass fun events every month are all just mass fun events every month.”

Inspired by the vast range of crazy political parties in Germany (but also the Netherlands and the UK), he has interesting ideas about how to create a utopia, including basic universal income, freely available mental health treatment (life is awful when the people around you are unhappy, he says), four-day workweek, menstrual leave (new one on me!) and monthly vacations for every profession. He imagines a Serotonin Protection Party (Serotoninschutzpartei), decriminalising all drugs and leaving it up to individuals to find out the lows aren’t worth the highs of harder drugs. He also suggests hugging protesters instead of attacking them and turning palaces into homeless shelters. I’m not sure how many of those ideas are lifted straight from Rutger Bergman’s Utopia for Realists (which my son lent me a couple of years ago and I still haven’t read), but they seem sound, except the hard drug decriminalisation (still not convinced).

Startup software society

Apparently it’s common in Berlin startups for people to bring dogs and children in to work with them. The author complains how disruptive this is. As someone working from home with cats and family interruptions, I can’t imagine why a business would encourage this. I am also astounded that it is so easy to switch jobs within these software companies because the number of companies the author has worked for is mind-boggling.

“For some reason, software engineers aren’t happy. For some reason, they burn out, and not just from working too much. Then, they look for ways to get out of IT: whether as a barista in a coffee shop, a retiree at forty on FIRE, [early retirement by living frugally] or a hermit in an eco-village. It’s hard to give a short answer to the question “Why?” But the problem surely exists—judging by online communities and blog posts discussing this theme. I’m not the only one.”

Insights into Russia

In the context of Russian aggression in Ukraine, he also has interesting things to say about Russian society, questioning why it has failed to create a successful civil society. Why, he asks, has Russia not become independent of the Soviet past, unlike all the other former iron curtain countries? He likens the steps you need to take to improve your working environment (solidarity, willingness to complain) to those needed to improve the country. One of his interesting insights into current life in Russia is that his Russian print-on-demand short story collection could no longer be distributed because a character criticised the Russian army, Western social media sites are deemed terrorist organisations and cannot be named, etc. For now, he is stuck in Berlin as he cannot return to his homeland.

Even though a lot of what Chinkov has to say is interesting, there were parts of his book that I found irritating. Sometimes he is hyper-critical or self-absorbed. Some sections are written in a stream of consciousness style that I didn’t appreciate. Mostly, however, the main issue is that it is presented as fragments, arranged thematically. If the information could be edited into a coherent narrative, it would be much easier to follow the author’s thinking. Because it seems to copy blogposts directly with little editing, Chinkov’s opinions have obviously changed in time, so this can lead to repetition or contradictory opinions. It is interesting to know that his feelings have changed, but a straight narrative would have made it easier to follow.

All in all, this was worth reading, but patchy and I would have preferred a straighter narrative.

Disclaimer: My thanks to BookSirens for the free digital ARC. This review is my honest opinion after reading.