The books I read in 2019

Previously in this still new series, the books I read in 2018.

What a year! I just finished my 53rd book of 2019, a nice nudge past my “official” goal of 52.

I started January thinking 52—one per week—was a bit ambitious, but realized at some point that this is a pretty good pace. There is a small piece of my brain that wants to try for 100, but I’ll avoid that stress for now and just enjoy reading.

Aside: I was astonished when I learned how many books Booker Prize judges read in such a short period. I’m not sure I’ll ever have that in me.

My final fiction/non-fiction split was not at all balanced: I count 43 fiction and 10 non, though some of the fiction does lean somewhat toward truth.

The balance in author gender (as mostly assumed by me) was much better than previous years: 27 female, 25 male, and 1 non-binary.

That said, I’m still trying to figure out the right ways to diversify my reading and have really enjoyed the books that I’ve come across. I’ll continue to make this a priority and I’m very much open to suggestions if you have them!

My favorites

I hesitate a bit at calling out favorites, but I read so much fiction this year that the “other fiction” section would be unbearable if I saved it all for a long list. These are a few of the books I really enjoyed.

“Den. How is extraction ever going stop? It can’t even slow down. The only thing we know how to do is grow. Grow harder; grow faster. More than last year. Growth, all the way up to the cliff and over. No other possibility.”

Richard Powers, The Overstory

The Overstory, by Richard Powers, was an extremely satisfying book. I say that even though I became slightly bored after the first several chapters. I was re-engrossed by the time I reached the second half and I finished in absolute awe of trees.

It was important to be in the know, to keep up with, especially when things here got added on to at such a rapid compound rate. On the other hand, being up on, having awareness, clocking everything – both of rumour and of actuality – didn’t prevent things from happening or allow for intervention on, or reversal of things that had already happened.

Anna Burns, Milkman

Milkman, by Anna Burns was very good. There was an initial difficulty because of her creative use of language—the narrator is unique—but that eases away pretty quickly. The book reads as an interesting commentary on The Troubles in Northern Ireland while remaining surprisingly relevant to today by acting in many ways as a warning.

He had spent years trying to cultivate an ethos, and despite possessing a clear intelligence, he had lived his whole life in avoidable savagery. How easy it is, to waste a life.

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan, was intense and beautiful. It follows a boy’s life from slavery to freedom and the adventures in between.

No, Thea, there is no Melmoth, there is nobody watching, there is only us. And if there is only us, we must do what Melmoth would do: see what must be seen—bear witness to what must not be forgotten.

Sarah Perry, Melmoth

I can’t remember ever reading a novel that actually had me staring in the corners of the room after turning off the light at night. Sarah Perry‘s Melmoth did that for me. It was an interesting combination of horror and parable that also plays the role of witness in itself.

Natalia Ginzburg

Even though I only read two of Natalia Ginzburg‘s books this year, I was so happy with both of them that I feel the need to call her out specifically.

“Tell me the truth,” I said.

“What truth?” he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long, long train with a big cloud of black smoke swirling over it and himself leaning out of a window to wave a handkerchief.

I shot him between the eyes.

Natalia Ginzburg, The Dry Heart

The Dry Heart starts with its end: “I shot him between the eyes.”, and remains fun and completely readable throughout.

Lessico famigliare, translated as Family Sayings or Family Lexicon, was also enjoyable. It’s somewhat disguised as fiction even though everything is a true account of Ginzburg’s family centered around their lives in Turin.

I found myself wishing there were more books written exactly like this that gave a picture of what life was life in a certain place during a certain era while also being completely entertaining. James Joyce‘s Dubliners, which I just finished, came fairly close to the same feeling, but as more of a fictional snapshot.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Ginzburg’s work in the near future.

Book club

Year four of our book club was a success. We met a record (for us) 8 times in 2019. There was an even split between fiction and non-fiction. And for a gathering of five white guys, the gender diversity in our picks was nice: 5 female, 2 male, and 1 non-binary.

In that case, he said, I will spend the day in solicitude. You mean solitude, I said. I do beg your pardon, he said. Of course, I mean solitude.

Rachel Cusk, Outline (2014)

We started the year with Outline, by Rachel Cusk. I read this in 2018, but I enjoyed the reread and discussion as part of book club. I quickly followed with the second in the trilogy, Transit, and then later in the year added Kudos. All three books were very readable, and I enjoyed them thoroughly, but I’m not certain I could tell anyone exactly what the trilogy was about.

Even if we didn’t know the context, we were instructed to remember that context existed. Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance.

Michelle Obama, Becoming (2018)

My review on Goodreads for Becoming, by Michelle Obama was simple: “I enjoyed this book so very much.”

And I did. It really was a lot of fun to read and gave me even more of an appreciation for Michelle and the work she has done. It would be easy to include this in a list of top books that should be read by anyone.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah was one of the darker novels we’ve read. Lessons learned include probably not moving into the middle of nowhere Alaska and not being prepared.

Peter Frase‘s Four Futures: Life After Capitalism provided a nice framework for thinking about a world in which capitalism has failed or transitioned into something else. Stories throughout the year about climate change and large companies’ reliance on artificial intelligence take on different meanings when you think about who will find themselves in danger, who will benefit, and how that will affect people as a whole.

I enjoyed the experience of reading this book, and maybe I should rate it higher for that reason alone, as it was extremely creative, but I wish there was a little more to be terrified by for as much as its reputation preceded it. I’ve waited a couple days for the growl from the shadows, but nothing has appeared.

My Goodreads review of House of Leaves

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danelewski was a trip. I’m happy to have purchased the hardcover edition because the reading experience was one of the most creative I’ve made it through. It was a beast at 705 pages, though many of those contained just a few words.

We know less when we erroneously think we know than when we recognize that we don’t.

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit, is an interesting series of feminist essays and sparked some great conversation in our group.

Every household has a radio attached to the wall that can never be turned off and can never be tuned to a different station.

Anna Fifield, The Great Successor

The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un, Bright Sun of the Twenty-first Century, by Anna Fifield, was almost jaw-dropping in parts. You go into something thinking you know, but we really have no idea. The line above was a direct reminder of Orwell’s 1984.

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon, was our last book of the year and such an excellent story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to more from Solomon.

Sweden

In September, Michelle and I were fortunate enough to spend a few weeks in Sweden on holiday. I turned 40 and exploring a bit of heritage during the journey was a lot of fun.

To prepare for the trip, I piled up a series of books involving Sweden that seemed fun. I made it through a few before and during, and finally got around to finishing the last one today.

Trust not the moss, not the heather, not the rock; nature is evil, possessed by invisible forces who hate humankind. There is no place where you can safely set your foot. It is strange that your weak race can avoid so much persecution.

Selma Lagerlöf, Gösta Berlings saga

Selma Lagerlöf was the first female writer and the first Swede to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gösta Berlings saga was an excellent introduction to Swedish folklore and filled with great tales centered around a defrocked priest and his adventures.

The Emigrants, by Vilhelm Moberg, was a perfect read for our exploration into heritage. It follows a Swedish family as they struggle in Sweden and then prepare for the trip to America. Moberg interviewed many emigrants to try and paint an accurate picture of what life felt and looked like at the time. I’m looking forward to reading the other 3 books in the series that cover their lives once in America.

Doctor Glas, by Hjalmar Söderberg, was dark, but interesting.

And I literally just finished Swedish Mentality, by Åke Daun, a social anthropologist who tries to dig into what makes someone Swedish. It’s dated by about 25 years and likely inaccurate in many ways, but still insightful.

Berlin

In June, I went to Berlin for WordCamp Europe and had a lot of fun familiarizing myself with the city through books.

Berlin Alexandrplatz, by Alfred Döblin was billed as the Ulysses of Berlin, so I was of course drawn to it. The main character, Franz Biberkopf, was flawed in all of the right ways, and the book painted an interesting picture of Berlin. It was fun recognizing many of the streets, squares, and other locations while I was there.

Heroes Like Us, by Thomas Brussig, covers the fall of the Berlin wall. I reviewed it as “Strange and entertaining; closes well.”

Loud songs do not a patriot make. The trouble with these fucking National Socialists, especially the young ones, is that they think they have got a monopoly on patriotism. And even if they don’t have one now, the way things are going, they soon will.

March Violets, Philip Kerr

March Violets, by Philip Kerr, is a fun detective novel that takes place in 1930s Berlin and drops plenty of critical opinion in its pages.

And Walking in Berlin: a flaneur in the capital, by Franz Hessel, was a great exploration of the city on foot—something I’m a complete sucker for. I didn’t finish this one until afterward, but I enjoyed it and will definitely reread before my next visit.

Poetry

In January, I ran into an article on “how young women are changing the rules of poetry“. Being unfamiliar with the rules of poetry, but also interested in figuring poetry out, I decided I might as well use this as a starting point.

I ordered Isn’t Forever, by Amy Key and Hera Lindsay Bird, by Hera Lindsay Bird to get a feel for what poetry with “changed rules” is like and then a few older collections to get a feel for what poetry with old rules was like.

Isn’t Forever and Hera Lindsay Bird were both interesting and I enjoyed several of the poems quite a bit. I’m looking forward to rereads now that I’m more familiar with the structure. I also have Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems by Stephanie Burt on my list for 2020 so that I have a better idea what I’ve gotten myself into.

One of the others I picked up is the famous Howl and other poems, by Allen Ginsberg, which I really enjoyed. It was somewhat easier to put myself in the place of the author, if only because of my familiarity with others of the beat generation.

I also read The Wasteland and other poems, by T.S. Eliot. I’ve been dabbling in trying to figure out modernism, and T.S. Eliot fits squarely in that label. The Wasteland is a poem I remember reading in high school, but had no real recollection of its content. I’ll admit still being confused—I thought a couple of the other poems in this collection were at least more approachable, if not better—but I think I started to get comfortable after a bit.

There are a handful of other collections in progress scattered about the house right now. That should mean another poetry section in next year’s recap. Let’s hope I learn something!

Politics

The restraint was real this year! I avoided the trashy candy and stuck with a few good books.

What makes a movement Fascist is not ideology but the willingness to do whatever is necessary—including the use of force and trampling on the rights of others—to achieve victory and command obedience.

Madeleine Albright, Facism: A Warning

Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, was an excellent book that I called “enthralling, informative, and concise.” I’ll repeat the word concise here because I’m still amazed at how she was able to take a subject she has so much experience with and not drone on and on. This book is both good and readable.

Early in the year I decided I would read a book by each of the democratic candidates. There were too many, so I read two (and Becoming didn’t count).

If my job ever depends on pleasing a couple of billionaires, I’ll quit.

Elizabeth Warren, This Fight Is Our Fight

Elizabeth Warren‘s 2017 book, This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class was a nice introduction to Elizabeth Warren. It took some things I knew about her and made me even happier. The quote above still makes me happy.

Kamala Harris‘s book, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, is one of the only books I read this year that was published in 2019. It was eye opening for me. I had originally dismissed her as a candidate I would vote for because of a handful of headlines I had seen. I came away from the book with a much different perspective and was a bit disappointed when she dropped out of the race.

I started Booker’s book and thought about Mayor Pete’s book, but never got much further than that before deciding I didn’t need to read every candidate’s book after all.

Other fiction

There was so much fiction this year! I’m going to condense a bit.

Dubliners, by James Joyce, which I mentioned earlier, was a lot of fun and easily the most readable of his work yet. The stories got better and better as it went. Finnegans Wake awaits!

I dove into the world of Graham Greene with Our Man in Havana, which was very funny; The End of the Affair, which was enjoyable; and May We Borrow Your Husband?, a humorous collection of short stories that got better as it went.

Greene is a very good writer and I’m planning on a couple others this next year.

The Whale!

I finally read Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville. This was attempt number 3 or 4 I think and I knew once I hit a certain point that there was no turning back. I’ll wait a few years for a reread, but will definitely revisit now that I’m familiar with the story and pacing.

I meant to read Sally Rooney‘s Conversations with Friends and Normal People in order, but accidentally read the newest one first anyway because of my confusion with holds and loans at the e-book library. Both were fun, quick, and thought provoking reads and I don’t think reading them in any order really mattered.

Cory Doctorow‘s Walkaway was an interesting exploration of a post-scarcity world in which one could fork society by voting with your feet. I did think its messaging was a little repetitive.

I enjoyed two of Nnedi Okorafor‘s books: Binti and Akata Witch. Two beginnings of series that I now want to read more of.

Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes, was yet another in my exploration of modernism.

The sycamore seeds hit the glass in the wind like – no, not like anything else, like sycamore seeds hitting window glass.

Ali Smith, Autumn

Autumn, the first in Ali Smith‘s seasonal quartet, was nice and I’m looking forward to the others. The line above made me laugh out loud while reading, which is always fun.

I had a memory from childhood about reading The Arizona Kid, by Ron Koertge. After searching and searching, I finally found the book, which matched various pieces of the plot I remembered, and ordered a copy. It was fun to revisit and I’m happy to not come away ashamed with what I was feeding my young brain.

It occurred to me that if I were really losing my mind, I might end by murdering somebody. In fact—said high-and-dry Humbert to floundering Humbert—it might be quite clever to prepare things—to transfer the weapon from box to pocket—so as to be ready to take advantage of the spell of insanity when it does come.

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

On the opposite (?) end from The Arizona Kid was Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s amazing how a book can be so beautifully written while telling the story of such a creepy character.

Last year I read my first Terry Pratchett book so that I was more familiar with him before reading Good Omens, by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which I wanted to finish before watching the series. This year I read Good Omens and it and the series were both fantastic.

So that I could keep typing the word fantastic, I also read the second in the Discworld series, The Light Fantastic.

There is always something happening, always something to be apprised of, never enough hours to feel sufficiently apprised.

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

I sadly don’t remember enough from Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday, but I do remember really enjoying it.

I also don’t remember much about Denis Johnson‘s The Largess of the Sea Maiden, a collection of short stories, but I did rate it 4 stars, so I should probably keep his other work in mind.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler, was my first book of the year and a very good read. She is now a constant on my list of “I really need to get around to reading this” and I hope I make more time for her work in 2020.

And Coyote Doggirl, by Lisa Hanawalt, was my only graphic novel of the year. My review called it “quick, quirky, and fun.”

Other non-fiction

Two smaller books remain.

Activists and individual users struggle to have a voice in what has largely been a behind-the-scenes effort to define the rules for online expression.

David Kaye, Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet

David Kaye’s Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet, from the Columbia Global Reports series, was an eye-opening read that helped me look even more critically at how companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are treating information. It’s probably worth a reread and a visit to much of the cited material.

Not only did they not charge high prices, sometimes they didn’t even charge at all. Google would give you free email, free map apps, free cloud storage. Hence businesses like Facebook or Google needed to be seen as more akin to a charity. Who would sue the Red Cross for its “monopoly” on disaster relief?

Tim Wu, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age

Another from the Columbia Global Reports Series, Tim Wu‘s The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, was also interesting and helped fuel some of my still developing opinions on growth. It also sparked an interest in reading more history covering other times in which monopolies ruled business.

I guess it wouldn’t be surprising if I ended up subscribing to this series and had several more for next year!

Okay.

That’s enough for this year. So many books. Time to get back to reading or uh, celebrating the end of the decade or something.

I’m going to keep the same goal of 52 books for 2020 and if I happen to surpass it by enough, I’ll think of raising it a bit for 2021.

And of course—if you read, and are comfortable giving your reading data to Amazon, you should add me as a friend on Goodreads. If you want to share or discuss reading in some other way, I’m open for that too.

How I share reading is yet another thing that will continue to roll around in my head as we start the next decade.

Until then, enjoy books! It’s the hobby I get happier and happier with every year. 📚

The books I read in 2018

Way back on January 1, 2015, I set a goal to restore my love of reading books. In 2016, I read 25 and declared “my love of reading books has officially returned.” In 2017 I read 31 and I’m closing out 2018 at 44! I find myself happier and happier every year with the progress that I’ve made.

Now that 2018 is coming to a close, I though it’d be fun to reflect on everything I’ve read this year. And it was! Revisiting each book, my thoughts at the time, and passages I highlighted has been an interesting way to process the year and has helped inspire what I want to cover in 2019.

I’ve grouped things in a few different ways to help remember my reasoning for picking them up.

Mohsin Hamid

Absolutely beautiful and heartwarming and heartbreaking and just an all around excellent observation of humanity.

From my Goodreads review of Exit West

Exit West was a Christmas Gift last year. I finally picked it up in March and finished it in just a couple of sittings. If I remember correctly, the first sitting was only a few pages and I was completely captured during the second. This book stunned me in such a good way. The story was absolutely beautiful and everything about the book made me feel—the sadness of uncertainty, the complexity of love; the struggle of migration and forced refugeeism.

I immediately fell for Mohsin Hamid and made a point to seek out his other work. With each book—The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia—I followed a similar routine. Pick up the book, start reading, and, after a sitting or two, look around dazed.

Politics

Oh, politics. I’ve made a point over the last several years not to fall into the genre of political junk. I spent too much time with that in the early 2000s and couldn’t imagine things being any better.

Alas… these are strange times.

It’s like there’s a pile of bad candy in front of you and you try some anyway and then can’t get the taste out so you keep on eating more.

My Goodreads review for Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was one of the first books I read in 2018. Starting off the year with joy! And it was absolute trash that told me exactly what I thought it would.

This of course set the stage for Fear: Trump in the White House later in the year. When it came out, I had to read it. I gave my time to Michael Wolff, I should toss some to Bob Woodward too! This one felt a bit better because it was Woodward, but I copy/pasted my Fire and Fury review—a pile of bad candy.

My biggest takeaway from the book is how much politics has become one side vs. the other rather than a bargaining collective. Comey hits home with this by trying to portray a justice department that takes no side. Whether that is true or not, the contrast is interesting.

My Goodreads review for A Higher Loyalty

James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty was a bit better than the others and much less sensationalist. At face value, it’s nice to believe in a world where a loyalty to truth can exist. A better editor and maybe less of a rushed timeline would have been nice.

If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.

Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk

My favorite political read of the year was The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis. I sighed—literally, out loud!—when this came out. I knew I was going to read it even though I had sworn off reading political junk for the rest of the year after all of the others.

Turns out, this one was different. I went in expecting a political fluff book and I got a detailed look at how several parts of the US Government work. I was particularly fascinated with the knowledge that I picked up on NOAA and the weather forecasting industry.

John le Carré

On my flight home from Nashville last December, I read my first John le Carré book, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, in one sitting and had a complete blast. I had seen a review for his new novel, A Legacy of Spies, and decided that I needed to work through the George Smiley series before I read the latest. I found a Vulture article, written in 2017, that provided a good order in which to read le Carré’s books that I decided to follow somewhat.

After that flight, I was hooked. And in 2018, I read 6 more.

And now it was pouring with rain, Smiley was soaked to the skin, and God as a punishment had removed all taxis from the face of London.

John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy made the 2011 movie so much more understandable and solidified my interest. I then went back to the beginning and started to work through the others in order: Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, The Looking Glass War, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People. Things got a little sluggish at times, but each of them paid off in one way or another. Le Carré’s use of the English language is just so much fun.

Girders held up the roof; earnest moral statements enlivened the flaking green paint. “Punk is destructive. Society does not need it.” The assertion caused him a moment’s indecision. “Oh, but society does,” he wanted to reply; “society is an association of minorities.”

John le Carré, Smiley’s People

With those down, I now only have a few of the George Smiley series left for 2019! We also enjoyed The Little Drummer Girl series on AMC, so I’ll probably pick that up in book form at some point soon.

Book club

I’ve had the joy of being in a book club for the last 3 years. Each time we meet to discuss one book, the next host chooses what we read next. We met up 5 times this year (I think) and covered a mix of fiction and non.

My hope from the start has been to participate in a larger conversation by creating something worth sharing.

Peter Korn, Why We Make Things and Why It Matters

Our first book of the year, Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman, by Peter Korn, was an interesting perspective on craft. I found the author’s lifetime support of patrons intriguing and do wish he had spent a little more time talking through that. His thoughts on sharing ideas and community are often excellent.

One of the curious aspects of the Twenty-First Century was the great delusion amongst many people, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were best exercised on technological platforms owned by corporations dedicated to making as much money as possible.

Jarret Kobek, I Hate the Internet

I Hate the Internet, by Jarrett Kobek, is a cynical and depressing Vonnegut-ish take on the internet in the 2010s. It’s fiction, and expresses everything you want to express about the current state of social media, but it doesn’t make you feel any better.

The perfect “subject” for the aims of this [brainy] economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity—shock treatments—as “human interest” shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings.

Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity

I dog-eared the crap out of The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, by Alan W. Watts, one of the few books this year that I did not read on the Kindle. This is a philosophical read that keeps you shaking your head when you realize it was written 50 years ago. So much of us has not changed. That said, it provides some interesting insight for reflection.

Aside: I ran into Paul Clark for the first time in 5 years at the WordCamp Europe after party and he, unprompted, told me about an Alan Watts Chillstep mix he had recently gotten into. I had actually brought the book to Belgrade with me, so the coincidence was that much more coincidental.

Life provides for reflection! Let’s continue.

The food is so good that he already misses this place. Does that mean he’s close to the memory horizon?

Aaron Thier, The World Is a Narrow Bridge

I had a lot of fun reading The World Is a Narrow Bridge, by Aaron Thier. I kept interrupting Michelle to read relatable passages out loud. I just went back to the book’s description to try and figure out how to summarize it and I think the provided “how to live and live in an age of catastrophe” does the trick.

Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress.

Ryan Holiday, The Ego Is the Enemy

Our last book of the year was The Ego Is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday, which we sat down and chatted about last week. I got a little snake oil feeling, but also found it full of interesting, applicable anecdotes. There’s a good chance somebody could write a similar book titled The Ego Is the Friend, and it too would be full of interesting, applicable anecdotes. 😉

It was, he repeated in virtually every sermon, a matter of us against them, and the mission was to change the country, the world, through example rather than intermingling with outsiders on their unacceptable terms.

Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown

I belatedly finished one of last year’s picks, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, by Jeff Guinn, half-way through this year. It was a comprehensive and fascinating tale of Jim Jones and the power of cult.

What Ryan had learned from this is that your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of.

Rachel Cusk, Outline

Our first book for 2019 is Outline, by Rachel Cusk, which I happened to read earlier this year. Ahead of the game! I found it to be fun and quick the first time around. I will probably reread as a refresher before we meet.

Other Fiction

In addition to the categorized groupings above, I wound my way though a bunch of other fiction for various reasons. I’ll cover these in the order that I read them.

It is as if we have stopped the human clock of the village, that’s what I were thinking. The hands have stuck and the hours will be no more.

Sebastian Barry, Days Without End

Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry, is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read.

Every time I try to express more than that, my mind goes blank. But it’s sad and it’s hopeful and it’s complex. And now that I look, I’m surprised I didn’t end up visiting more of Barry’s many published novels this year!

Not too compelling, though the pace was pretty good.

My Goodreads review of Artemis

I had a lot of fun with The Martian, so I was happy when I saw that Andy Weir had another one coming. Unfortunately, Artemis was pretty forgettable and at times really annoying. Weir’s attempt at telling the story from the female main character’s perspective might have been more interesting if it didn’t come across as written by a teenage boy.

Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout, is a short story collection that comes across as a novel. I remember enjoying the writing, but I don’t remember many details. I did mention how wonderful the mix of punctuation was in one of my notes.

The explosiveness of Jerry’s aggression at a Ping-Pong table exceeded his brother’s in any sport. A Ping-Pong ball is, brilliantly, sized and shaped so that it cannot take out your eye. I would not otherwise have played in Jerry Levov’s basement.

Philip Roth, American Pastoral

When Philip Roth died earlier this year, I decided to pick up American Pastoral, his Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 1997. I had previously read The Plot Against America, which I loved, many years ago, and Portnoy’s Complaint, which didn’t really connect for me, more recently. American Pastoral was good. I enjoyed the story and the chaos. There’s a good chance I’ll continue his American trilogy in the near future.

Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi, was a fascinating story that does an excellent job of being exactly its title while conveying the reality of Baghdad post-American invasion.

We listened to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecuiliar Children, by Ransom Riggs, while driving through Nevada and Utah this summer. This was my second ever audiobook and first in 7 years. I called the main character a “bit of a twit”, but we had a lot of fun with the book.

At some point in 2018, Octavia E. Butler, a popular and highly awarded African-American science-fiction writer, came across my radar—I wish I remembered how—and further impressed upon me the lack of diversity in my reading. I picked up Kindred, her very dark time travel novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have Parable of the Sower fresh from the library now and am excited to get started towards next year’s list.

In the Distance, by Hernan Díaz, was an excellent story. I enjoyed the western setting, the larger than life Swedish traveler, Håkan, and how well the utter sadness of being alone in a foreign place was conveyed. The more I think about it, the more I want to read this book again!

“!” said the stranger, and grabbed his arm.

Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

I read and had a lot of fun with Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld book, The Color of Magic, after deciding I should get to know his work before reading the book he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, which I have waiting for me on the coffee table.

One of the blurbs for The Color of Magic gave Terry Pratchett a “revered position in the halls of parody next to the likes of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen.” I enjoy Vonnegut and Twain, so I decided to check out Hiaasen’s first book as well. Double Whammy was fun enough, but didn’t really compare and made me wonder if I even had the right author. I probably won’t continue with that series.

And finally, I cruised through the short, but fun All Systems Red, by Martha Wells, the first of The Murderbot Diaries. A little more depth would have been nice, but I’m still interested in seeing what happens to “Murderbot” in the second.

Other Non-fiction

I went into this thinking I probably didn’t read a lot of non-fiction this year, but it’s not far off of half my reading, so I’m feeling pretty good now. These are the non-fiction books I found my way through in 2018, not otherwise grouped, in the order they were read.

In most places and most of the time, liberty is not a product of military action. Rather, it is something alive that grows or diminishes every day, in how we think and communicate, how we treat each other in our public discourse, in what we value and reward as a society, and how we do that.

Thomas E Ricks, Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

I finished Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E Ricks, on January 1st after spending most of my time with it in 2017. A good way to get a jump on the year! It was full of interesting information. I went in much more familiar with Orwell, who the author seemed a little less enthralled with, and it was nice to get an intro to Churchill. I noted that the parts of the book covering World War II were very interesting.

I grabbed Emotional Intelligence: Empathy, a compilation of 10 Harvard Business Review articles on empathy, from the Seattle airport before a flight back to Pullman. It was a quick, interesting read and I dogeared a few things to go back to later, but then left it on the plane!

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World had some interesting stuff. I appreciated that Timothy Ferriss gave the reader permission to skim in the beginning, and I did that quite a bit. The questions and answers I most enjoyed were around the books that people read and gifted to others. I made a bunch of highlights to go back to later and it inspired a few of my other non-fiction picks for the year.

In every case in which heat exchange does not occur, or when the heat exchanged is negligible, we see that the future behaves exactly like the past. For example, for the motion of the planets of the solar system heat is almost irrelevant, and in fact this same motion could equally take place in reverse without any law of physics being infringed. As soon as there is heat, however, the future is different from the past.

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli, was exactly that—brief. And interesting!

There is poetic justice in the fact that a quarter of the world, and two of its seven continents, are named after a little-known Italian whose sole claim to fame is that he had the courage to say, ‘We don’t know.’

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, was a really, really interesting take on the history of us and our impact on the history of others. I noted that my excitement started to wane towards the end, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, was one of those books mentioned over and over again in Tribe of Mentors. I wrote a post earlier in the year when I finished that covered some of his thoughts on freedom. There are two books in one here, both powerful and thought provoking: a man’s survival through four different Nazi death camps during the Holocaust and a discussion of meaning and logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy developed by Frankl.

“Wow.” was my Goodreads review for Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, by Valeria Luiselli. The 40 questions are those Luiselli must ask undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation during her work as a volunteer interpreter.

Avoid the anonymous “we” and “they,” because they mask personal responsibility. Things don’t just happen by themselves—they happen because specific people did or didn’t do specific things. Don’t undermine personal accountability with vagueness.

Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work

I slogged through Principles: Life and Work, by Ray Dalio, but still found it interesting enough to highlight a million bits. Beyond the interesting story of transparency and data in his fund’s decision making, my biggest takeaway was my wish that he had a better editor.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann, was an amazing and heartbreaking history that covers the systematic murders of Osage people in the 1920s and the utter incompetence of law enforcement. The book was immediately hard to put down once I started and I’m looking forward to reading his The Lost City of Z next year.

I started The Balkans: A Short History, by Mark Mazower, back in May as a way to be at least somewhat familiar with the history of Serbia before my trip to Belgrade in June. I made it half-way before the trip and then finished it up yesterday. The Balkans have such an interesting history and this made me want to read more about the politics of the Ottoman Empire in general.

Continuing with the travel trend, I picked up How the Canyon Became Grand: A Short History, by Stephen J. Pyne, in the Grand Canyon gift shop during our excellent road trip in August. It’s a well written overview that follows the canyon’s history from a largely ignored, unusable piece of land through different ages of “discovery” in the US, and into its current status as protected National Park.

People will never stop being horrible on the internet. There will never not be garbage. But in a functioning society, someone comes to collect the trash every week.

Sara Jeong, The Internet of Garbage

And finally, I wrapped up The Internet of Garbage, by Sarah Jeong, which wasn’t on my radar at all until she joined the New York Times editorial board in August. The perspective, history, and analysis of free speech, spam, and online harassment was interesting and very much worth the read. A lot of food for thought.

That’s that! On to a new set of books in 2019. I’m still thinking about my reading challenge for next year, but leaning toward 52. That seems like a number I’d be happy sticking with for a few years.

And of course—if you read, you should add me as a friend on Goodreads! It’s probably my favorite social network. If you haven’t used Goodreads yet, this explainer continues to be useful. 📚