Returning to what is something of an annual tradition, these are the books I’ve read in 2017. I set myself the goal of getting to 36 and managed 38 in the end. They’re listed below with some commentary on particularly memorable or otherwise noteworthy reads. To make things a bit more user friendly I’ve gone with four broad buckets although as you’ll see within each the picks range across genres and subjects.
I always have one piece of fiction or narrative non-fiction going. I have a long-standing ‘project’ of reading cult classics. I can’t settle on a top pick for the first category so it’s going to have to be a tie between Lowry’s alcohol-drenched tale of lost love in pre-WWII Mexico, and Salter’s unmatched lyrical prose treatment of a young couple’s liaisons as imagined by a lecherous recluse in post-WWII France.
When I feel like something lighter I tend to seek out sci-fi written from before I was born. (Contemporary sci-fi more often than not disappoints me with its lack of imagination, or worse, nostalgia for futures past. I’m looking at you, Cline.) My top pick here would be the Strugatsky brothers, who blew me away with their weird tale of a world forever changed by the inexplicable visit by something truly alien.
I’ve also continued to seek out works by women, although I’ve been less strict with myself in this department than previous years. Here I’m ashamed to admit it took me this long to finally read anything by Woolf because Mrs Dalloway is every bit as good as they say it is. I recommend seeking out the annotated Penguin addition for additional insights into the many things she references.
I’ve also sometimes picked up a newer book because it popped up on my radar and I was just really excited about reading it. Most notably Dolan’s retelling of the Iliad in all its glorious, sad and gory detail, updated for today’s sensibilities.
- War with the Newts, Karel Čapek
- The War Nerd Iliad, John Dolan
- Solaris, Stanisław Lem
- Roadside Picnic, Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky
- Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
- Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2), Hilary Mantel
- Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
- A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
- The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante
- The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
- True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, Vernor Vinge
- Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
- Tenth of December, George Saunders
- Kindred, Octavia E. Butler
- High-Rise, J.G. Ballard
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
- Speedboat, Renata Adler
Each time I read a narrative treatment of history or current affairs I feel like I should be doing more of it. All of these are recommended but Kapuściński towers over all with his heart-wrenching first-person account of the Iranian revolution.
- De verovering van Bali, Ewald Vanvugt
- The Life and Murder of Anna Loginova, Mark Ames
- Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapuściński
- Het reality-essay, Dirk Vis
- Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, Elizabeth Pisani
A few books on design and technology here, although most of my ‘professional’ reading was confined to academic papers this year. I find those to be a more effective way of getting a handle on a particular subject. Books published on my métier are notoriously fluffy. I’ll point out Löwgren for a tough but rewarding read on how to do interaction design in a non-dogmatic but reflective way.
I got into leftist politics quite heavily this year and tried to educate myself a bit on contemporary anti-capitalist thinking. Fisher’s book is a most interesting and also amusing diagnosis of the current political and economic world system through a cultural lens. It’s a shame he’s no longer with us, I wonder what he would have made of recent events.
- Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology, Jonas Löwgren
- Rebuilding the Left, Marta Harnecker
- Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?, Mark Fisher
- The ABCs of Socialism, Bhaskar Sunkara
- The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Donna J.Haraway
- Against the Smart City, Adam Greenfield
- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Nick Bostrom
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries
- Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age, Roman Pichler
- The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
- Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Leonard Koren
I decided to work my way through a bunch of roleplaying game books all ‘powered by the apocalypse’ – a family of games which I have been aware of for quite a while but haven’t had the opportunity to play myself. I like reading these because I find them oddly inspirational for professional purposes. But I will point to the original Apocalypse World as the one must-read as Baker remains one of the designers I am absolutely in awe of for the ways in which he manages to combine system and fiction in truly inventive ways.
- The Perilous Wilds, Jason Lutes
- Urban Shadows: Political Urban Fantasy Powered by the Apocalypse, Andrew Medeiros
- Dungeon World, Sage LaTorra
- Apocalypse World, D. Vincent Baker
I don’t usually read poetry for reasons similar to how I basically stopped reading comics earlier: I can’t seem to find a good way of discovering worthwhile things to read. The collection below was a gift, and a delightful one.
- Lunch Poems, Frank O’Hara
As always, I welcome suggestions for what to read next. I’m shooting for 36 again this year and plan to proceed roughly as I’ve been doing lately—just meander from book to book with a bias towards works that are non-anglo, at least as old as I am, and preferably weird or inventive.