Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year in Reading 2011

Since 2006, I've been keeping a list of all the books I've read. I don't know whether I want to keep doing this, as it makes me feel like I'm reading less rather than more, trying to finish books that might just as well be left aside, and leaving aside critical books that really ought to be read immediately. The quality of reading takes a backseat to the quantity. Meh.

On the other hand, it's great to look back on the list itself for surprises and reminders. Can it really be that I hadn't read Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear or Helen DeWitt's amazing book The Last Samurai until this year? (If you haven't read these yet, go get them.) Other highly recommended fiction includes Lev Grossman's The Magician King, Eleanor Henderson's Ten Thousand Saints, and Neal Stephenson's Reamde.

This was also the year when I read Tim Ferriss's two books, and tried a lot of the self-help methods described in The Four Hour Body. Most of his recommendations still sound like hucksterism but actually work, as opposed to most books on similar topics, which sound reasonable but turn out to be bushwah. Also, Ferriss makes you want to get up and do something about your life. Other excellent books that made me want to get up and move were The Chairs are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, a book about a man who teaches people how to play charades and how to get your neighbor's bar to be quiet, or something like that; and Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, on how to stop procrastinating (become a professional) and start writing.

Speaking of procrastination and other low-level personality issues, and also speaking of writing, check out Alice Flaherty (The Midnight Disease), Kay Redfield Jamison (Touched by Fire, Exuberance), and John Gartner (The Hypomanic Edge) on how hypomania, temporal lobe epilepsy, and other disorders made writers, scientists and entrepreneurs a bit more of what they are, and will make you wish you were a tiny bit mad. For the film version of this, go see Limitless. Grant Morrison's Supergods is a hypomanic book as well.

Other notable books on economics, psychology and entrepreneurship: James Gleick The Information, Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow, which may well be the most important book of the year, Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants, Steven Johnson's The Innovator's Cookbook.

Four tremendous books on people: Edmund DeWaal The Hare with Amber Eyes, Alexander Theroux The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, which I haven't seen in anyone else's Best Of list, but which quite frankly belongs on everyone's, and Derek Jarman's diaries from the end of his life: Smiling in Slow Motion. If you want to read someone's thoughts on living and loving while dying, all in lapidary prose and great good humor, this one is the book for you.

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