I tend to have at least two books on the go at any one time: one fiction, one non-fiction. I read fiction when I go to bed, since I read somewhere that fiction encourages present-state attention, which makes you feel sleepy. It works for me. I generally read non-fiction (or, more often, Pocket articles) when I’m commuting.
My Goodreads Year in Review tells me I read 33 books last year. These are the highlights.
The best book I read was John Higgs’ Stranger Than We Can Imagine, an attempt to explain the 20th century through philosophy, art and science, rather than geopolitics. I wrote a post about it which you can read if you want more detail; but if you’re willing to take my word, it comes with a strong recommendation from me.
The Inevitable, by Wired founder Kevin Kelly, looks at technologies which will shape the near future. Not specific implementations, but more general trends: sharing, remixing, tracking, etc. If you keep up to date on tech trends some of this can seem like it’s just reinforcing what you already know; even so there are enough interesting points of view and insights to make this a good and compelling read.
Time Travel, by James Gleick, is an exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) exploration of its subject in fiction, philosophy, and physics. I didn’t enjoy it as much as his previous book, The Information, but it’s still worth your time.
Andrew Hosken’s Empire of Fear is a history and investigation of the so-called Islamic State (as the BBC put it). It really helped me better understand the complicated situation in the Middle East, and the shameful decisions by foreign powers that made it all happen.
You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat), by Andrew Hankinson, is a semi-fictionalised first-person account (it uses real dialog, social services documents, and police reports) of the last days of the man hunted by police in 2010. Phenomenal true-crime writing.
In comics, Steffen Kverneland’s Munch is both an incredible biography of the Norwegian artist and his relationship with the author August Strindberg, and a fourth-wall-breaking story of how the book was written. And that barely scratches the surface. It apparently took seven years to create, and that’s apparent in the breadth and detail.
Mary Wept Over The Feet of Jesus, by Chester Brown, retells (with copious footnotes and reference) Bible stories that feature prostitutes. It’s part of the author’s ongoing attempts to contextualise and justify his own use of paid sex, and is quite fascinating.
The novel I enjoyed most was Don Winslow’s The Cartel, a story of the drug wars in South and Central Americas (and sequel to The Power of the Dog). It’s a robust thriller that only occasionally slips into cliche.
Finally, Beast, by Paul Kingsnorth, and Pig Iron, by Benjamin Myers, are very different stories but both are first-person, and use the language of the narrator, and their landscape and environment, to create a feeling of deep immersion. Both authors are poets, which shows.
I’ve got three books on the go right now which didn’t quite make it into this roundup, and another ten in my to-read list. Exciting and daunting.
Also published on Medium.