2016: A Year in Reading

So 2016 was a dumpster fire. I did manage to get some reading done though. My plan to set myself a low and achievable goal worked, and I ended up reading with more freedom and joy and worried a lot less about what I should be reading (apart from the last month or so, which has found me focussing on reading short stories). I also wrote a bunch of stories and am about to publish them, so watch this space. Books I want to particularly note my enjoyment of listed below.

The Figure in the Carpet by Henry James – I haven’t read any of James’ longer works but I’ve enjoyed his short stories and novellas immensely. This was the first book I read in 2016. A truer depiction of the logical endpoint of literary analysis has never been written. Anyone that has taken an undergrad literature course will find lines and themes from this already written in their soul.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut – I read a lot of SF in the first half of this year. This was one of the standouts. An antidote, as all of Vonnegut is, to the idea of grand human purpose.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – I also ended up reading a lot of Vonnegut this year. Haven’t read anything of his I haven’t enjoyed. I want to read Breakfast of Champions next. Cat’s Cradle is a melancholic family tragedy framed in a story about the end of the world. Also about the nature of authoritarianism. Required reading.

Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison – I’ve already written about this. Anyone interested in SF or weird, transgressive fiction should read it. There will be something in here you will love, and the rest is worth reading for educational purposes anyway.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence – Still pretty transgressive by the standards of today, particularly because of its contempt for the class system. If you can get past the word “Cunt” you’ll find a love story for the ages.

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell – Another book about the class system. So much is better. So much hasn’t changed. Worth reading to find out what life in the mines was like, alone.

Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin – Read this aloud to my girlfriend. It was delightful dirty fun. Nin’s descriptive work is beautiful and her grasp of the ungraspable points of human sexuality is uncanny. Anyone who wants to brave putting sex in their fiction should read this book.

Consumed by David Cronenberg – His first novel. I hope he writes more. A horror novel that doesn’t try to scare you, but instead slowly brings you around to looking at things the way Cronenberg does, and seeing how horrifying everything really is.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – A masterful example of using an imagined future to talk about the present. Uses time dilation in FTL travel as a metaphor for the estrangement Vietnam veterans experienced coming home and finding out everything changed without them.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – During a time in which we’ve almost acquiesced to ruining the planet, and billionaires do their best to give us vague hope that we can colonise space, this collection of stories about the human exploration and colonisation of mars is required reading. We’re going to have to try very hard to not repeat the same mistakes, and take the same troubles with us.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – I’ve have loved everything of hers I have read. More anthropologists should write SF. One of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read, let alone in SF. Takes pains to detail the care and attention we have to pay if we want to overcome differences of race, culture, and ideology. More required reading, considering 2016 just happened.

In one way or another, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read this year (partly because I did my damndest to stop being scared to put something down), but the above are the books I’ve enjoyed enough to want to shortly say something about. I am satisfied with the amount I read this year. It could (should) have been more, but considering that Football Manager has replaced the World of Warcraft shaped hole in my life, it could also have been a lot less. I imagine I might read a couple more books before the year ends. I’ll let you know if they make the list.

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