Meh. This year was just an okay reading year for me. At least, I felt like I read a lot of stuff which has been deeply influencing my day to day thinking (high Influence Factor!), but the Pleasure/Inspiration Factor was just okay. I mean, I did enjoy many books this year. But none of them made me want to shriek with joy, so we're not talking peak book joy.
I also noticed that, this year, my reading followed a few distinct themes:
- More politics/US history books than usual. For obvious reasons.
- Less sci-fi than usual. :(
- Less graphic novels, more audiobooks.
Anyway, let's begin Official Book Reflection Time.
Most pleasurable read: The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis
Non-fiction. About the intellectual romance between the two giants of behavioral economics: Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
I LOVE behavioral economics, and I love learning about the humans and humanity behind these big economic ideas. I had already really enjoyed Nina Munk's The Idealist, about Jeff Sachs and his (somewhat infamous) Millennium Villages project, and this book is in the same vein. If you already know the research, it's catnip. If you've never heard of behavioral econ, I think it gives a good overview. The portrait of these two, very different individuals (it's an odd couple buddy movie!), the history of Palestine and Israel, the drama of academia. It was so good. I was especially charmed by Amos Tversky's biting wit.
Most guilty pleasure read: Endymion, Dan Simmons
This book has no right to be as fun as it is. It's the third book in a four-book sci-fi series, i.e. it should be VERY BAD. The first one, Hyperion, won the Hugo and Nebula, and it is super good. But my experience with sf series is that the quality of the sequels is inversely related to the quality of the first book. Like, exponentially. The Fall of Hyperion (book 2) was not so bad, but I was still expecting Endymion to, well, suck.
But it doesn't! It's basically glittering garbage B-grade wonderfulness. It's no longer as mystical and awe-inspiring as Hyperion 1 and 2, instead it becomes silly and FUN. What an adventure! And, ho man, did I love Father Captain Federico de Soya, the Catholic space captain with a heart o' gold. Played by Luigi Lo Cascio in my head. Specifically Luigi Lo Cascio at 0:30 in the Noi Credevamo trailer. SPACE CATHOLIC CAPTAIN FROM ITALIA! (He's actually Spanish, but whatevs.)
Book that made me reevaluate fiction as an art form: Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Sometime in ~2006, I stopped reading fiction and switched entirely to sci-fi and non-fiction. A friend of mine rightly pointed out that you kinda can't discredit an entire art form, but I was like, NOVELS HOLD NO TRUTH, I WILL NOT WASTE MY TIME.
Oh, how wrong I was. How wonderful Americanah is. How I laughed and cried and marveled at Adichie insight and acumen. SO GOOD.
Best graphic novel: Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
Kind of a toss-up with Bitch Planet, with some of the same themes of sexuality, sexual politics, and gender. But whereas Bitch Planet is a screaming ball of fiery rage, Sex Criminals is more relaxed: it's fun and smart and often touching. I read volumes 1 and 2 and loved them.
Best book to understand American politics: The Unwinding, George Packer
Okay, let me preface this by saying that I read A LOT of books about the US this year, specifically: Hillary's campaign memoir, Katy Tur's campaign memoir, Alyssa Mastromonaco's White House memoir, John Dickerson's book about campaigns, Ta-Nehisi Coates's Obama memoir, a book about White House Chiefs of Staff, Al Franken's campaign memoir (cringe...), and a huge tome about 17th century English migration patterns to the US and how that explains all of modern American politics. So... a LOT OF COMMENTARY on the whole Trump stuff. I'm also reading Postwar now, about Europe after WW2, and that's informing how I see the US political moment.
But none of them had me as horrified or as certain as George Packer's The Unwinding. Reading that, Trump's election and the rise of know-nothing populism seems inevitable. It's told as a series of insightful, humanistic mini-biographies about Americans both famous and everyday. And it's an incredible portrait of how our politics and culture have changed in the last thirty years.
...and happiness chaser: Best Kim Stanley Robinson book from this year: The Years of Rice and Salt
Super Buddhist mystical reincarnation adventure through a crazy epic alt history, WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE!?