“This is my most-highlighted book of the year. It is about a man who avoids interacting with other people whenever possible, lives for the sake of his daydreams, and would rather not be alive at all — less because he feels depressed than because life is boring.
“I… still don’t understand why I like this book as much as I do.”
Aaron Gertler, The Best Books of My 2015
The Book of Disquiet is remarkably difficult to talk about. And yet, when a stranger messaged me on Facebook because they’d seen that I was a fan, we wound up talking about it for an hour, stumbling around in circles trying to explain the way we felt.
(Reviewing the book is like trying to make up a new language in the middle of a conversation.)
The book’s Goodreads entry features nothing but four-and-five-star reviews on the first page. The second page, along with lots of additional praise, contains:
- A single one-star review, which appears to be ironic (“it is the very fact of its valuelessness that gives it its value”).
- A three-star review where the reviewer becomes furious at Pessoa for writing only half of a brilliant book, when — like a loving parent — they know he could have done better.
It would seem that, for any common definition of “hate”, The Book of Disquiet is almost impossible to hate. And that seems right. Can you hate the air you breathe? Can you hate the ground on which you walk? Can you hate sleep?
Brought to you by the library system of the University of California, San Diego.
This is the fourth in a series of annual book reviews:
I read fewer books this year than in 2016, thanks to a new marriage and a few online serials that consumed a lot of reading time. But I’ve improved my selection process: I’m finishing more of the books I start, and learning more from the books I finish. As a result, I’d put this year’s class up against any of the other years in a… book fight?
(My Goodreads account has a rating for every book I remember reading.)
The Best Books
The first five are, in order, the books I’ve thought about most often this year, and that I remember most vividly. The rest appear in no particular order.
- Ache Life History
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
- Tools of Titans
- Against Democracy
- The Damnation of Theron Ware (free to read online, from Project Gutenberg)
- Killers of the Dream
- The Subjection of Women (free to read online, from Early Modern Texts)
- Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction
- Hard to Be a God
- The Traitor Baru Cormorant
- The Gods Are Bastards (free to read online)
The Five Best Clickhole Articles of All Time is my most popular post ever.
What would Clickhole do if they were me?
Obviously, they’d write a sequel, to get all those delicious clicks. Here you go!
This was a good year for reading, since I spent it sitting with my Kindle on airplanes. (Kindles are great — like tablets, but without all those fussy little apps that distract you from reading.)
Of the ~150 books I read this year, these are the ones that come to mind when I think of the word “best”. They are very different, and you won’t like all of them, but they all do something well.
For a list of every book I remember reading, check my Goodreads account.
Best List of All the Books
In no particular order, save for the first four, which I liked most of all.
- Rememberance of Earth’s Past (series, all three books)
- The Steerswoman (series, all four books)
- Chasing the Scream
- Rationality: From AI to Zombies
- The Last Samurai
- The Fifth Season
- The Found and the Lost
- The Future and its Enemies
- On the Run
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
- The Partly Cloudy Patriot
- Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air
- Machete Season
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
Thus, I’ll keep my writing to a minimum.
I listened to ~500 new albums and ~5000 new songs this year.
This means that I wasn’t paying enough attention to most of the music. But to make this list, a song had to catch my attention and keep my thumb on the replay button. Some of the best songs did for me what I imagine powerful drugs do for other people.
I review the best books I read, but reviews are often almost useless. Many books should simply be read — and the best review is to quote from them, at length, so that others can begin reading right away.
I read about 125 books this year, and these are the ones that come to mind when I think of the word “best”. They are very different, and you won’t like all of them, but they all do something well.
To quote my book-review post from last year:
I’ve sorted this list into a series of “bests”: a Best Graphic Novel for people who like those, a Best Book About Selling Stuff for people who like those, and so on. Whoever you are, I’d probably recommend many of these books to you. And some of them are free!
For a list of every book I remember reading, check out my Goodreads account.
Best List of All the Books
These are in alphabetical order, save for the first four, which I liked most of all.
- The Neapolitan Quartet (series, all four books)
- The Book of Disquiet
- Negima! Magister Negi Magi
- A Civil Action
- Azumanga Daioh
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers
- Digger (free!)
- Great (free!)
- Gone Girl
- Parable of the Sower
- Strangers Drowning
- Strong Female Protagonist (free!)
- The Road to Wigan Pier (free!)
- The Vision of the Anointed
- The Yale Book of Quotations
- Them: Adventures with Extremists
- We Learn Nothing
It is not easy to make me angry, and it is harder still to make me angry enough that I feel the need to write about how angry I am. This is, I think, the first time I’ve written anything angry on this blog.
But GQ recently did a really good job of making me angry.
Not the entire magazine, but this story, which has inspired me to write my first post with a tag of “outrage”:
I annotated the story with the Genius Web Annotator, so you can see my notes in the original context, though the context doesn’t make the story any less terrible.
Genius.it is one of the year’s better inventions.
Right now — right this moment — you can turn any web page into a cross between a Kindle book and a page of lyrics on Rap Genius. Other people can read your annotations alongside the article, and add their own comments.
I plan to use this invention often. It’s the best way to deal with the fact that someone is always wrong on the internet.
Below is the first article I’ve “annotated” in this way:
* * * * *
Ezra Klein and Phil Libin are both smart people. But I think that they make some mistakes in their depiction of how experts on artificial intelligence think about the risks of this powerful technology.