Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2013 Wrapup

Welp, 2013 is done and dusted. Despite what I said last year, I did end up having another crack at the #52books challenge. I only got to 39 books, but I read roughly the same number of pages as I did in 2012 (almost 14k) so not a slack year, by any means.

A quick roundup of my favourites: for nonfiction, I absolutely loved Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova, which is good for people who are into cognitive science and Sherlock fans alike. Collapse by Jared Diamond was also excellent, and essential reading given our dithering on climate change. The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker pairs well with Why Civil Resistance Works by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J Stephan, as the former demonstrates that the world is becoming less violent as time goes by, and the latter demonstrates why a return to violence cannot be justified on tactical grounds.

For fiction, this was a year of classics, as is often the case for me lately. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is a short but beautifully sad novel, which I feel doesn't quite get the respect it deserves. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a masterpiece without parallel, and the fact that the "Frankenstein" story pervades the cultural canon does it no favours because the popular interpretation totally misses the point. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was also great, though it did have some bits that didn't quite work for me. In any case, the movie was pretty good and the book is better than the movie, so take from what what you will.

I have also been going back and reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories, which has been excellent, and a good way of keeping myself entertained between seasons of Sherlock. I also made a start on the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, a YA series I wanted to check out as a teenager but never got around to. They stand up really well as an easy adult read, full of literary allusions and puns and historical in-jokes.

This year kind of confirmed the bad habits I alluded to last year - I've been picking short books over long ones, with the result that there are several really massive books that have stayed in my TBR pile for several years now. So one of my goals this year is to not bother at all with the number of books, and instead focus on knocking out these weighty tomes. I've got Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter in mind here, but I've also got a few new doorstops I've added to this list, like The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, which brings me to the next part of my goal for 2014.

For the last few years I've been trying to catch up on the canon, the classics, the books you have to read before you die. And while that's been good, and I've made a lot of progress there, it's been at the expense of new releases. Not only am I missing out on some fantastic books, I'm totally missing out on the literary culture that goes along with it - I'm sick of always being excited by a book nobody else is reading, and nobody else wants to talk about, because it was written a century before they were born. I want that sense of community that comes from reading what everyone else is reading, and being able to participate in the discussion.

So to that end, I'm planning to read more new books this year. I'm also planning on keeping up with the latest responses to those books - I've been listening to Bethanie Blanchard, who is probably most famous for her work on Crikey's Liticism blog, on her new regular radio spot on ABC Radio National (if, like me, you don't actually own a radio any more, the ABC Radio App is the way to go), and I'm keen to start buying some good short form writing in general. Magazines, journals, independent newspapers - anything like that, especially local content. Literary criticism/short fiction, political writing...if you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments (or tweet me @Simbera if that's easier).

So that's the way it'll go for 2014. I've just finished my first Bookworld review for the year, which is a 500-odd page new release, so I'm off to a good start. Wish me luck!

Below is the final list for 2013, with as many reviews etc as I could scrounge up:

01. Bill Bryson - At Home
02. John Brockman - This Will Make You Smarter
03. Michael Shermer - The Believing Brain
04. Stephen Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
05. Steven Pinker - The Better Angels of Our Nature
06. Jasper Fforde - The Eyre Affair
07. Jared Diamond - The World Until Yesterday
08. Richard Feynman - Classic Feynman
09. Jean-Paul Sartre - Nausea
10. Antoine de Saint-Exupery - The Little Prince
11. Jared Diamond - Collapse
12. Russell Brand - My Booky Wook
13. Russell Brand - Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal
14. Daniel Dennett - Consciousness Explained
15. Stephen Greenblatt - The Swerve
16. David Priestland - The Red Flag
17. D Cameron Webb - Despicable Meme
18. Julian Baggini - The Ego Trick
19. The Fall of Communism and the Rise of Nationalism
20. Franz Kafka - The Castle
21. Maria Konnikova - How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes
22. Arthur Conan Doyle - The Sign of Four
23. Assange, Applebaum, et al - Cypherpunks
24. Chuck Palahniuk - Pygmy
25. Erica Chenoweth - Why Civil Resistance Works
26. Machine of Death 2 - This Is How You Die
27. Clay Shirky - Cognitive Surplus
28. Gustave Flaubert - Sentimental Education
29. Lawrence Lessig - Remix
30. Edith Wharton - Ethan Frome
31. Bill Bryson - One Summer
32. Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
33. Antony Loewenstein - Profits of Doom
34. Aldous Huxley - Brave New World
35. Seth Godin - Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
36. Phil Baines - Penguin By Design
37. Jasper Fforde - Lost In A Good Book
38. Arthur Conan Doyle - A Study In Scarlet
39. Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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