2017: Year in Reading

This is an old post I made on goodreads, but I’m reproducing it here.

1. Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich – A journey into the depths of human suffering, and occasionally triumph.
2. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton – How bad can things really get for a woman of privilege in 1800s New York? Bad.
3. Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard – See the world new again.
4. My Struggle Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Knausgaard’s years as a struggling writer and all around not great guy.
5. My Struggle Book 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard – The concerns of a child, treated as weighty and serious as anything in literature.
6. My Struggle Book 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Teenage years for Knausgaard: funny and obsessed with sex.
7. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – Seven generations is a lot of generations and telling them parallel in America and Ghana makes the challenge twice as hard; staggering accomplishment.
8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I didn’t expect such a fully realized world.
9. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – A relatively weak start for me that culminated in a very moving ending.
10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Deserves the praise; Coates’ is a lot more than the caricature you read about in the media.
11. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – Left me wanting more (so I read the House of Mirth).
12. Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James – Classically styled ghost stories.
13. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro – Wonderful evocation of regret.
14. Turn of the Screw by Henry James – Starts as a classic Victorian ghost story but sticks the knife in at the end!
15. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard – You can just see how great this would work on stage.
16. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – Enjoyed it, but not sure it will stay with me.
17 & 18. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd & Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Had never read Christie before, and the endings make the books.
19. Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge – Really interesting and fun, but at the end, I was like “oh, that’s it?”
20. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kelly O’Neill – I found Hyde and Nemo interesting characters, was generally entertained.
21. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 by Alan Moore and Kelly O’Neill – Not bad, but some of the twists were spoiled by the movie.
22. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: the Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kelly O’Neill – An exercise in worldbuilding without much in the way of story or character.

1. The Secret of our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich – Tentative masterpiece presenting a definitive theory of what makes humans unique among animals.
2. The Invention of Science by David Wootton – A model of how to study cultural change presenting a novel theory on a topic I find fascinating.
3. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi – Shifted my beliefs. *Caveat: I haven’t read much on this exact topic, and that makes it harder to evaluate non-fiction.
4. Structure: or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J.E. Gordon – What a pleasure to discover a whole world of things you didn’t know about.
5. One Economics, Many Recipes by Dani Rodrik – Simultaneously a brilliant framework for thinking about economic development, a counter-argument to monocausal economic theories, and remarkably prescient about the globalization backlash we’re living in.
(NOTE: at this point I got tired of writing the massive subtitles to all these books)
6. The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy by Chris Miller – Fantastic short primer on why the USSR collapsed.
7. The Evolution of Beauty by Richard O. Prum – First half is a cool argument that there are basically “bubbles” (in the financial market sense) in evolution; the second half turns its eyes on human evolution and takes it to 11.
8. The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert Gordon – Useful for me, but probably more detail than most would want.
9. How Building Learn by Stewart Brand – Idiosyncratic book that’s basically about how ‘top-down’ planning by architects can’t compete with ‘bottom-up’ design by tenants.
10. The Almost, Nearly, Perfect People by Michael Booth – I found this utterly charming and learned I’m a scandinavia-phile.
11. Compassion, by the Pound by F. Bailey Norwood and Jayson Lusk – Great primer on the economics of farm animal welfare, and good-enough primer on the philosophy of same.
12. From Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel Dennett – I feel like Dennett books never deliver on what they promise and sometimes get bogged down in academic squabbles, but are nonetheless stuffed with a lot of interesting ideas.
13. The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen – The story of the industrial revolution with an emphasis on the inventions and technology; a much needed corrective, but makes it feel more like a collection of essays than a coherent whole.
14. Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka and Kira Obolensky – Scratched an itch I didn’t know I had.
15. The Refusal of Work by David Frayne – I love that this book asks why we, as a society, have decided to work so much… but I felt like it missed a lot of opportunities in answering that question.
16. The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker – More of a grab bag than an argument, but I continue to really like Steven Pinker.
17. The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse – Sasse and I have some similar concerns, but we approach them from different angles.
18. Behave by Robert M. Sapolsky – A tour de force undermined by a complete refusal to grapple with the replication crisis sweeping through the studies that comprise the book.
19. Talking Picture by Ann Hornaday – I liked the framing of how to think about what makes a movie “good”, but after the chapter on screenplays I found it increasingly less useful.
20. White Working Class by Joan C. Williams – This is the second book I’ve read about class issues among white Americans, and in both cases I find the description of classes resonant, but the analysis disappointing.
21. Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz – Interesting, but I think this work needs more development/vetting.
22. Scale by Geoffrey West – Maybe 50 pages of very cool stuff… embedded in a much longer book.
23. The Origins of Creativity by E.O. Wilson – More an argument that the arts would be better off if they drew on biology… written by an eminent biologist…
24. American Philosophy by John Kagge – Didn’t really work for me; I think I’m just not that interested in this school of philosophy.
25. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken – I really liked this when I read it, but one of the reasons was because it seemed like Franken was being forthright and honest (rare in a politician’s memoir)… that belief has been undermined by subsequent events.

I also read 3 plays by Shakespeare. I’m planning to read his collected works this year, so if I succeed, I’ll do a complete Shakespeare category at the end of the year.

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