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This is the fifth in a series of annual book reviews:
I read ~113 books in 2018, and a lot of them wound up on this list. I may be giving out too many five-star ratings, but in the course of writing reviews, I remembered just how good all of these were, so… no regrets.
(My Goodreads account has a rating for every book I remember reading.)
The Best Books
I didn’t choose a cutoff point, but ten books stood out from the rest, either because of their sheer quality or because they were easier to read than competitors of similar quality.
Every link in this section goes to my full review on Goodreads.
Ridiculously good books:
- Black Lamb and Gray Falcon (free online)
- Impro (Keith Johnstone) (free online)
- Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
- Erfworld (free online)
- Understanding Power (free online)
- Stubborn Attachments
- The Structures of Everyday Life (free online)
- George Orwell’s Essays (free online)
- Vinland Saga
- My Name is Asher Lev (free online)
Books that were merely very good:
“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?
David Edmondsdon, the former CEO of Radioshack, was fired because he falsely claimed to have a theology degree from an unaccredited Bible college.
At least, that’s what Radioshack said. There may have been other reasons, but newspapers took the college story seriously, even though it was ridiculous. Why does learning about your CEO’s lack of a theology degree matter, once you’ve seen him perform decades of competent work?
But even that story isn’t as crazy as…
The MIT Scandal
This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely intentional. Except for Emma Watson, who seems like a perfectly nice woman. Inspired by One More Thing.
“Artificial amateurs aren’t at all amazing. Analytically, I assault and amaze…”
Daniel Radcliffe pressed “pause”, then “back”. He glared balefully at his iPod.
“No! That’s not right.”
He pressed “play”. The song began again:
“Now it’s time for our wrap-up. Let’s give it everything we’ve got!”
Daniel nodded in time with the beat. This time, he thought, I’ll get past “D”.
This post attempts to answer two questions:
If you could spend a few weeks being Barack Obama, what would you learn about his life and the world in which he lives?
How would this experience change the way you think about the man, his policies, and the American presidency?
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 must be very strange to be Adele.
Whenever Adele sings anything, even in the privacy of her own home, she is singing “an Adele song”. When she sings “Can’t Buy Me Love” in the shower, she is singing “Adele covers The Beatles”.
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.
I have a Tumblr now! I’m still experimenting with using the platform for short essays and thought nuggets. Here’s an essay cross-posted from that Tumblr:
The Melancholy of Retrievers
(Wandering philosophy. Not attached to most of these opinions.)
I’m staying for a few weeks in the home of relatives who own a Labrador Retriever. I’ve spent a lot of time around this dog in the last few weeks, after many years of not living with a pet. As a result, everything about the notion of “owning a dog” – or the very existence of domesticated dogs – has become strange to me.
The dog, Jasper, lives to play fetch. When he isn’t sleeping or eating or drinking, he picks up anything he can find and brings it to you so that you can throw it. If you don’t throw it, he’ll try another person. If no one else is around, he’ll pant and whine at you and shove his head between your legs to stare sadly into your eyes until you give up and play fetch.
I’m sure this is normal dog behavior, and it’s the sort of silly thing that people love about dogs. But it makes me wonder how it feels to be Jasper.