Many people have made a New Year’s resolution to read more. I won’t. I already read a lot. According to my Goodreads list, I read 24 books last year (and that’s on top of all the articles published across the web). I can’t possibly review all of them, but these were my highlights of 2015.
By far the best book, because it blew my mind, was Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s more a history of culture and society than it is ‘hard’ history, but is filled with revelatory ways of looking at our species and beliefs. It contains so many highlights that I’ve started to blog a review in multiple parts. I’ve already bought a copy for a friend, and would recommend you get one too.
Another book that had a huge impact on me was Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a look at mob justice on social media, its historical context, and its implications, all told in the author’s humorously understated way. If I were Facebook or Twitter (I’m not) I would strike a deal to get a copy of this to every user.
Warren Ellis’ Cunning Plans is a short collection of transcripts from talks given by the author at various conferences in the past few years. What Ellis is good at is finding connections; many of these pieces tie together technology and British folklore, things that you wouldn’t necessarily think were related.
Another short book I enjoyed greatly was Clay Shirky’s Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and The Chinese Dream. A look at China through the lens of its growing smartphone industry, using the manufacturer Xiaomi as a case study. Full of fascinating cultural insight, especially with regards to the sheer scale of the Chinese market.
In comics, I hugely admired Richard McGuire’s Here. It’s an experimental piece, where your field of view remains fixed on the same point in space but travels through different times, with themes playing themselves out through the ages inside different panels of the comic.
Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying is a collection of short slice of life stories, each in a different art and storytelling style. What the author excels at is portraying complex emotion in a very minimal, understated way.
My favourite novel I read this year was Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. The plot involves a man sent as a missionary to a recently discovered alien race, but its also about distance and longing and the things we leave behind. It also features a wonderful trick where each chapter’s title is the last sentence of that chapter, but subverted from your presumption by the time you get to it.
I’ve already got a further ten books to read or in progress. Time to get on with them.
Also published on Medium.