BookWyrm says I’ve read about 6,500 pages this year (which probably includes a bunch of appendices and end notes that I didn’t actually read, but I’ll still take it). I feel like a very slow reader compared to some of my more literary friends, so making it through 20 books (including a couple of novellas and essay collections) feels like an accomplishment. Especially considering all of the other books I’ve started and set aside, or skimmed with the intention of returning to, or am still chipping away at when the mood hits, of which there are probably at least another dozen. I’m a very inconsistent reader, is what I’m getting at.
Which means the books I actually finish tend to be ones I’m genuinely enjoying—and that makes ranking into a pretty arbitrary task. So instead, just assume that if the description seems like something you’d be interested in, it’s probably worth the time investment. Keeping in mind my reading tastes can tend towards the dry and semi-academic.
I still need to do a better job of diversifying my reading. Of the 19 authors below, nine are women or people of colour, which means more than half are neither of those. Something to work on in the new year (and most of the books on my immediate to-read list will help with that, at least).
Books I actually finished this year:
|Being Peace||Thich Nhat Hanh||A guide to Buddhist thought, rooted in empathy and kindness.|
|Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands||Kate Beaton||An unflinching graphic novel documenting Beaton’s time working in the oil sands—darker and heavier than I was expecting from Beaton, but the subject matter merits it.|
|In Praise of Paths||Torbjørn Ekelund||More a memoir than the book on walking that I was expecting, but still fairly enjoyable.|
|The Ministry for the Future||Kim Stanley Robinson||For a writer who’s often put at the forefront of optimistic sci-fi, Robinson’s near-future look at how humanity might navigate climate change still feels mighty bleak. I guess we’re at the point where “making it through will be incredibly difficult but not completely impossible” counts as optimism.|
|Moon of the Crusted Snow||Waubgeshig Rice||One of two authors I had a chance to interview at Wordfest. Apocalyptic fiction from an Indigenous perspective, with the resilience and practicality that comes from having survived other cultural apocalypses already.|
|My View of the World||Erwin Schrödinger||Views on the nature of self, connectedness, and reality. Yes, the cat in a box guy. No, that isn’t in this book.|
|New Dark Age||James Bridle||How our technology and culture are undermining our ability to understand the world, and what we can potentially do about it.|
|SSOTBME||Lionel Snell/Ramsey Dukes||The most esoteric book on this list, but a very thought-provoking one on four systems for navigating the world: magic, science, religion, and art.|
|Strength to Love||Martin Luther King Jr||Adapted from King’s sermons, so more overtly Christian than most of what I read, but it seemed overdue to try to get a better sense of his actual thinking vs the sanitized hand-me-down version in popular culture.|
|The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity||David Graeber, David Wengrow||A massive book that aims to redefine how we view human pre-history, in the hopes that will change how we can imagine the future.|
|The Great God Pan||Arthur Machen||One of the earliest “weird fiction” novellas. Still full of eerie atmosphere, but its ideas have been borrowed so many times that it’s tricky to see it with fresh eyes.|
|The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World||Iain McGilchrist||Another of those “reframing human history and experience” books, this time through the lens of the brain’s two hemispheres, in a much more nuanced manner than the usual pop-sci “left vs right brain” way. McGilchrist is impressively well-read in (Western) history, art, and philosophy, to an extent that the book suffers a bit from his thoroughness, but it’s argument is a profound one.|
|The Midnight Bargain||CL Polk||The other Wordfest selection, a fun, fast-paced fantasy romance with a vividly imagined world and a clever central metaphor.|
|The Taiga Syndrome||Cristina Rivera Garza||A poetic, dream-like detective story with an excellent sense of nature and place. Quick but cryptic, and nearly a year after reading it I remember the mood more than any of the particulars.|
|The Three Body Problem||Cixin Liu||Liu has a skill for explaining interesting concepts, but so far I’ve found his storytelling a bit stiff, which made the cynicism of Three Body Problem harder to take. I’m glad to have read it, but not sure I’ll follow up with the sequels.|
|There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness : And Other Thoughts on Physics, Philosophy and the World||Carlo Rovelli||Some wonderful moments, and a fantastic title, but these short essays on a range of topics don’t quite have the impact of Rovelli’s more focused works—which are some of the most approachable and thoughtful explanations of quantum physics that I’ve ever read.|
|Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time||Gaia Vince||Another way of contextualizing human history, this time by looking at four key technologies—fire, language, beauty, and time. Optimistic and thought-provoking, and the only book I’ve read that encourages humanity to act more like a slime mold.|
|Ways of Being||James Bridle||An attempt to find a more generous definition of “intelligence”, one that goes beyond “the thing that humans do” to encompass the perception and cognition of the natural (“more-than-human”) world. I think Bridle and I have been reading a lot of the same authors lately, as a lot of the anecdotes felt quite familiar. Still, I appreciated their interpretations, even if I didn’t always agree with them.|
|Web of Meaning||Jeremy Lent||Thematic echoes with Bridle’s Ways of Being and McGilchrist’s Master and His Emissary, in that all three want to rebalance the analytical, fragmented, computational mentality of modern Western thought with other, more holistic ways of knowing. Lent provides a quick gloss of a lot of philosophies, not always convincingly, but it’d make for a good jumping-off point for a lot of further reading.|
|When Things Fall Apart||Pema Chodron||Applying Buddhist teaching to develop resilience and compassion. An excellent companion to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace, with slightly more focus on personal well-being. Not sugar-coating the nature of reality (the title is when, not if), but making acceptance a little easier.|