Not surprisingly, I had a lot of time to read this year. I also had a lot of material, in part because many kind people bought me books (and DVDs) from my Amazon wish list. Below, in no particular order, is a not quite a complete listing of what I read and re-read this year, I’m certainly forgetting things, and not listing some books that I haven’t finished (or, in some cases, even started) yet.
- Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
…one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound. In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
- Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma – have read them all at some point, most multiple times). Yes, I am one of those people who started reading Austen after seeing the BBC Pride & Prejudice and falling in love with Colin Firth. (However, I read all of Sherlock Holmes long before Benedict Cumberbatch came along.)
- Jane Eyre (for the first time in years).
- Existence by David Brin. Another science fiction novel full of hard science and big ideas. Not my favorite Brin, but good.
- White Mughals by William Dalrymple. Non-fiction, about a very interesting time in the history of the British in India.
“India has always had a strange way with her conquerors. In defeat, she beckons them in, then slowly seduces, assimilates and transforms them. Over the centuries, many powers have defeated Indian armies; but none has ever proved immune to this capacity of the subcontinent to somehow reverse the current of colonisation, and to mould those who attempt to subjugate her. So vast is India, and so uniquely resilient and deeply rooted are her intertwined social and religious institutions, that all foreign intruders are sooner or later either shaken off or absorbed.”
- Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God by Greta Christina, a deep thinker and writer on a number of topics.
“the way you face the unsolvable problem of death makes a difference in how you live your life. If you live with the assumption that the single most important thing you can do with your life is to please God so you can go to Heaven when you die — you’re going to live differently than if you think this life is the only life we have, and we therefore have to make the most of our opportunities and create as much joy as we can for ourselves and one another while we’re here. And if atheists are right, and there is no God and no afterlife, then all the time spent trying to appease a non-existent God and reach a non-existent blissful afterlife is purely wasted time.”
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. When I saw the film Mr Pip on a plane a few years ago, I realized I had never actually read this particular Dickens. What a strange, sad story. Also re-read The Pickwick Papers:
“Show me the man who says anything against women, as women, and I boldly declare he is not a man.”
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. Re-read, because this is one of my favorite books ever. It explains a lot about how “societies developed differently on different continents because of differences in continental environments, not in human biology.”
The remaining way for kleptocrats to gain public support is to construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy. Bands and tribes already had supernatural beliefs, just as do modern established religions. But the supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. When supernatural beliefs gained those functions and became institutionalized, they were thereby transformed into what we term a religion.
- Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, one of the great fantasy authors. I wish more books of hers would get picked up for movies.
- Indigo by Beverly Jenkins. I don’t usually read romance, but I was curious how a romance story would play out in a context of real African-American history. Still not a fan of romance as such, but this is a good book.
- Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. An early “vision of a feminist utopia.”
“Woman” in the abstract is young, and, we assume, charming. As they get older they pass off the stage, somehow, into private ownership mostly, or out of it altogether.”
- Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Re-read after years. Still don’t like it quite as well as Pratchett on his own.
- The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. Re-read, because I do that every few years and/or when a new book comes out. And because there’s now a very good TV series.
“I also seem to have the sort of face that people feel compelled to tell things to. In another age, perhaps I should have been a confessor…” Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander, Book 8)
“whatever you are to do, you will require strength for it. So take one last bit of advice: when in doubt, eat.” Outlander
“Once you’ve chosen a man, don’t try to change him… It can’t be done. More important—don’t let him try to change you. He can’t do it either, but men always try.”
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Fascinating. Scary.
Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking “sanctuary” in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.
“My friends often asked me whether I felt as if my life was somehow made abnormal by my disease. I would tell them the same thing: for someone who is sick, this is their new normal.”
- The Hero and the Crown along with The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. More favorites that I re-read from time to time with fantastic female leads.
- The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon (Pern: The Dragonriders of Pern) by Anne McCaffrey. More old faves, re-read for the first time in many years. Interesting the things I picked up on/never thought about before that now seem obvious.
- Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. A worthy successor to the excellent Wolf Hall
There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.
- The Campus Trilogy: Changing Places; Small World; Nice Work by David Lodge. Re-read after years. Still fun.
- His Dark Materials Omnibus by Philip Pullman. Another set of books that I re-read periodically because it’s Just. That. Good.
“There are two great powers… and they’ve been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.”
“we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are, because for us there is no elsewhere.”
“When you stopped believing in God,” he went on, “did you stop believing in good and evil?” “No. But I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that’s an evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.”
- …and lots of Terry Pratchett, over and over again.
I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT. The Shepherd’s Crown (Pratchett’s last book)
They are stupid and scared. The trouble is, they are stupid and scared with guns. Nation
People get exactly the wrong idea about belief. They think it works back to front. They think the sequence is, first object, then belief. In fact, it works the other way. Belief sloshes around in the firmament like lumps of clay spiraling into a potter’s wheel. That’s how gods get created, for example. They clearly must be created by their own believers, because a brief résumé of the lives of most gods suggests that their origins certainly couldn’t be divine. They tend to do exactly the things people would do if only they could. Reaper Man
- How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston. Interesting both as social commentary and autobiography.
- Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (whose Baroque Cycle I’m also re-reading) – fascinating, gripping, lots of sheer hard science as well as interesting characters.
- To Say Nothing of the Dog – one of Connie Willis’ lighter and funnier stories. A re-read, because all of her work is worth revisiting.
- The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir. Read it after I heard about but before I saw the movie, and after I read Seveneves, which it reminded me a lot of (all that “sciencing the shit out of things”). Weir is not as polished a writer as Stephenson (who has had decades more practice), but he’s good, and it’s a gripping story.
- Lots of Kipling (some stories that were new to me) and some Twain (re-reading). A lot of Wodehouse, until I got bored of him plagiarizing himself.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. – Mark Twain The Innocents Abroad
- A great women in science fiction collection from Storybundle.
- Elfquest. Re-reading the old issues (all available free online) to refresh my memory while eagerly awaiting each new episode of The Final Quest – more beautiful and heart-rending than ever (you can read some of that for free here).
- Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Haven’t quite finished this one yet. The first part, on cancer and the myth of positive thinking, was of course very apropos, which is why my friend Nicole sent it to me.
- Finder: Dream Sequence by Carla Speed McNeil. From Narayan, a gift of a new graphic artist I hadn’t known before. Fantastic science fiction story, beautiful art.
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Read this immediately after Ross and I saw the wonderful Broadway show. Book and show are somewhat different, both are beautiful, sad, funny, and true.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
America is the greatest country on earth. Having grown up with this in our ears, it’s startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are “We’re number two!”
- Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work by Deborah Tannen. Originally published in 1995, it was groundbreaking when first published, and it’s still very useful now. I highly recommend this book for both men and women to understand and better manage communications in the workplace.
“individual men or women who speak in ways associated with the other gender will pay a price for departing from cultural expectations.”
“From childhood, girls learn to temper what they say so as not to sound too aggressive—which means too certain. From the time they are little, most girls learn that sounding too sure of themselves will make them unpopular with their peers. Groups of girls, as researchers who have studied girls at play have found, will penalize and even ostracize a girl who seems too sure she’s right.”
“if they speak in the styles that are effective when used by men—being assertive, sounding sure of themselves, talking up what they have done to make sure they get credit for it—they run the risk that everyone runs if they do not fit their culture’s expectations for appropriate behavior: They will not be liked and may even be seen as having psychological problems.”
“The “pipeline” argument has simply not panned out. Years after women entered the pipeline, they just aren’t coming through the other end in proportion to their numbers going in. Instead, more and more women are leaving the corporate world, in greater numbers than men, either to start their own businesses, to be independent contractors, or to do other things entirely.” (This book was written in 1995, remember. Sigh. Nothing has changed.)
I also read many articles and blog posts, long and short, on a huge variety of topics that happen to interest me, from many sources. You can find the ones I shared in my Twitter stream. My regular reads include: the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Economist (though I don’t read it nearly as much as I used to), the Washington Post, Mother Jones, various tech publications, and more that I’ll add here as I remember them. Most of these sources I read for specific articles posted by people I follow on Twitter.
I’ve always read a lot (even in years that I don’t spend half of under cancer treatment). I’ve been reading online for over 20 years, while continuing to read as much offline as ever. Consuming short media has not diminished my taste for long (and very long) media. I mostly read on a Kindle these days (except graphic novels), because I like being able to set a font size that’s comfortable for my poor eyesight. I also love being able to carry thousands of pages of reading material in my purse – no matter where I’m going or how, I’ll always have something good to read. That hasn’t been true for a lot of my life, and I consider it one of the greatest benefits of modern technology.