2020 has been a tough year, and most of us are excited to take some time off over December. The weather is gorgeous and the emails are slower, and we can’t think of a better way to unwind than to catch some rays and get stuck into a good book.
So if you’re looking to do the same, here are our team’s recommendations of books to enjoy over the festive season.
Biographies and memoirs
Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter by Curtis Jackson
Chosen by one of the original developers at Naked, Lebo.
New York Times bestseller, Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, is 50 Cent’s personal account of overcoming adversity to become a successful, thriving businessman. This memoir crosses over into the self-help category as he unpacks the hard lessons he’s learned and gives advice on embracing change.
Why it’s Lebo’s December read
“Other than the fact that I just love 50 Cent? It gives you some insight into the way he thinks and the things he has learnt that apply to a lot of different things – I don’t know how to articulate it without giving away any spoilers.”
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Chosen by our scrum master Emily, as well as Elizabeth, who’s a part of the operations team.
A Promised Land is an open and honest memoir of Barack Obama’s time as the president. It is the first book in a planned two-volume series that covers Obama’s path to the White House and his first term as the president. Obama gives great insight into the presidency, the decisions he made, and how it affected his family.
Why it’s Elizabeth’s December read
“Barack Obama is an intelligent, wildly articulate, powerful speaker. He is a gripping orator who holds your attention when he speaks, and his book is no different. It is a gift to go into the mind of such a revered man, and attempt to understand how the immense public pressure of the presidency affected him at a personal level. Becoming by Michelle Obama was also one of the best books I’ve ever read, so I am equally excited to recommend Barack’s retelling of their time in the White House.”
Why it’s Emily’s December read
“As exhausted as many of us might be with politics, this book poses a unique opportunity to provide an intimate and introspective reflection on the time in office of one of the most powerful world leaders of the modern era. Many of us have seen Barack Obama as an almost mythological figure in his composure and leadership, and this book serves to demythologise the name and expose the frailty, challenges and ultimate humanity behind the man we all know today. And coming in at a hefty 768 pages (and that’s just Volume 1) it sure kept me well occupied.”
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time by Clive James
Recommended by co-founder, Alex
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time takes you on an enthralling journey through the 20th century, looking at prominent politicians, artists and intellectuals, from the late Clive James’ unique perspective.
Why it’s Alex’s December read
“There are so many famous 20th-century figures that I’ve heard of but couldn’t really tell you much about. Egon Friedell, Peter Altenberg, Charles Chaplin, Marcel Proust, Anna Akhmatova, Marc Bloch, and so many more: Clive James captures them with wit and insight, informing and entertaining all the way through. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author and easily digestible. The written form is a more ambitious undertaking, but apparently even more rewarding.”
Science fiction and fantasy
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Recommended by our content writer, Courtney
1Q84 follows two people living in Tokyo: a girl who enters a parallel universe after following a taxi driver’s suggestion, and a somewhat ordinary man whose life unravels as he begins a ghostwriting project.
Why it’s Courtney’s December read
“Although the blurb on 1Q84 might not sound that thrilling, you have to trust that Murakami always delivers on taking you on a wild journey that makes it hard to put the book down – exactly what I need during December. I’ve read five of his books and every time I’ve finished them, I’m left with this feeling of amazement and awe. I wish I had such talent but I’m still grateful that I can read it. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to Haruki Murakami, start with A Wild Sheep Chase – it was my first and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Recommended by co-founder, Sumarie
The Road a heart-breaking, gruelling story of a father and son as they journey over a period of several months through a post-apocalyptic world. An unspecified cataclysm has destroyed life as they know it, leaving the few survivors with little or no hope for the future.
Why it’s Sumarie’s December read
“You’re either going to love or hate this one. I simply loved it! I found the book truly gripping and it managed to keep me on edge of my seat the whole way through. The descriptive narrative is so completely engaging, and I personally felt each of the highs and lows that the characters went through. Yet, the details of the actual story are very vague, leaving much up to your own imagination. For me, the book is a perfect blend of what you read and what you don’t read. I missed the characters long after I finished reading it.”
Nightfall by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
Recommended by Malcolm, developer
Nightfall is about a planet that never experiences darkness is about to enter a period where none of the suns will be visible for a long period of time. Will the native civilisation survive or will anarchy prevail? The history of the planet tells a tale of the latter.
Why it’s Malcolm’s December read
“Nightfall exists simultaneously in two different times. On the one hand it anticipates things like the debates about climate change and dark matter that wouldn’t emerge more articulately for decades. On the other, it contains historical echoes of philosophical and theological issues from the past. It is thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating.”
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Recommended by Gerome, our newest developer
The Name of the Wind takes you into the unforgiving, poetic and dangerous world of Temerant, and follows the innkeeper Kote, who is not what he seems at first glance, while he recounts his story of fighting to survive. On his way he will find power, purpose, vengeance, love and music, while trying to hide from an incredible evil that is never two steps behind.
Why it’s Gerome’s December read
“This book reads like poetry in the very best way. Patrick Rothfuss chooses every vivid word with great care, so reading through the magical, epic, heartbreaking and chill-inducing moments feels like recounting events from your own memory.
“I’ve started many fantasy novels only to get bored with the copy-pasted formula, but I couldn’t put this one down both times I’ve read it. Prepare to curse the author for not yet releasing the third book in this trilogy.”
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
Phil, one of the original actuaries at Naked, chose this book.
Exhalation: Stories is a collection of nine short stories that cover a wide variety of science fiction topics. Topics include the classics like time travel and artificial intelligence. Some have a similar feeling to the Netflix series, Black Mirror. Some topics are so left field that they make you stop reading to take a moment to appreciate how creative Ted Chiang is.
To give a taste of what the stories are like, the shortest short story in the pack (by quite a margin) was published in the extremely prestigious scientific journal, Nature and is freely available on their website. It’s a story about a small device, “like a remote for opening your car door” that after its invention convinces the world’s population that they do not have free will. His ability to use fun and accessible fictional stories to communicate extremely complex ideas is what you can expect in the rest of the book.
Why it’s Phil’s December read
“Each story was incredibly immersive. I’d read a 70-page story and feel as invested in the characters as I would normally only feel after reading a full book. On top of being transported into the stories extremely quickly, each story gave me something to chew on for ages. These are extremely difficult concepts to try and chat about with people after reading the stories, but somehow within the story the ideas felt accessible and were quick to digest. I read these stories at the beginning of the year for the first time and already plan on giving them a reread this December – couldn’t recommend them enough!”
Self-help and non-fiction
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
Recommended by our CTO, Jade
In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom you are taken along a journey describing ancient Toltec wisdom, and with it lessons of how we have come to be who we are. It reveals some of the key self-limiting beliefs, behaviours and thoughts that tend to take away from our personal happiness and freedom.
Why it’s Jade’s December read
“In the first few minutes, it can be difficult to get through due to the new age language. It certainly requires you to drop all of your preconceptions, and don’t get hung up on any specifics. I know that sounds odd, but believe me – just stick with it and you won’t regret it. I found myself glued until the end. The agreements are simple, yet have a profound impact on how each of us lives our life.
“It takes a lot of effort to change our conditioning throughout our lives, and you certainly won’t be a changed person after one listen or read. I’ve listened to this more than a handful of times – each time bringing a sense of renewed awareness and a reminder that I have the power to make my life better.”
The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg
Recommended by developer, James
The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business explores the science behind habit creation and reformation. It explains why people or businesses have certain habits, how these habits are formed, and what can be done to quit bad habits and form healthier ones.
Why it’s James’s December read
“I found the book intriguing. Learning how human beings are mostly governed by habits in their day-to-day lives and that we rarely have a choice whether we do something or not. This opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. If you have bad habits you want to get rid of, or you have some habits you want to add, this book is for you.”
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended by Naadir, actuary
The title Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know is slightly misleading as this book is not a guide on how to talk to strangers. Rather, it’s a collection of case studies of interactions between strangers and how their miscommunications and assumptions quickly escalate to tragic ends.
Why it’s Naadir’s December read
“I listened to the audiobook, which I would recommend for two reasons: Many of the interviews’ actual recordings are in the audiobook, as well as the book’s title track, Hell you talmbout by Janelle Monae. I particularly liked the key theme of the book that humans ‘default to truth’ and why this is good, but can sometimes land us in hot water.
“There are some chapters that are rather heavy on the heart. I found the first chapter which is about Sandra Bland quite difficult to get through and only managed to get halfway through the chapter about Sylvia Plath. For me the book is great for easy reading but I wouldn’t take pseudo psychology too seriously.”
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger
Recommended by our third co-founder, Ernest
The Choice: Embrace the Possible is a memoir of one of the few surviving Holocaust survivors, 93-year-old Edith Eva Eger. The audiobook’s narration includes Eger reading the introduction herself, with a younger lady reading the rest of the book in a tone that draws you in and keeps you glued.
The story follows Eger’s early life and her personal account of being in Auschwitz from the age of 16. She explains how her life subsequently was filled with traumatising flashbacks and survivor’s guilt. But with that came acceptance and many lessons. She beautifully outlines this balance of recognising that sometimes life is hard, and you can’t change the physical reality, but you can choose how you process your feelings, and you can choose how you make decisions.
Why it’s Ernest’s December read
“I was verrrry reluctant to read The Choice, but my wife had listened to the audiobook, and found it life changing (she wrote a review about it here). So when we departed for a long road trip she had a captive audience and convinced me that she wanted to listen to it again. We subsequently bought the hard copy of the book, because this book was so powerful that I want to read snippets of it every now and then.”
Good books have always been an antidote for when you’re bored, lonely, sad, happy or simply feel like escaping to another world. If you didn’t find anything you fancy on our list, check out these recommendations from other noteworthy publications:
45 New Books You Need to Read This Summer by TIME
Most Popular Books Published In 2020 by Goodreads
Best books of 2020 by The Guardian