Thursday, 31 December 2015

Favourite books I've read this year


My non-fiction reading is essentially a divide between reading about technology, innovation, AIs, theories of information, and personal essays and biographies. I have loved all of these books, and taken a lot away from them. The tech ones combine oddly in my head with all of this year's fiction that has centered on the consequences of artificial intelligence, pondering the human condition, and questions of identity, privacy and data. Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Nelson write about transformation, family and illness - Solnit about her mother's Alzheimer's and her own personal attempt to rebuild her life around that and a cancer diagnosis, while also placing her own stories in a fictional context of writings about the arctic and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Nelson about the co-transformation of pregnancy and transitioning. 

Nick Bostrom: Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.
Richard Florida: The Great Reset. 
James Gleick: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.
Tim Wu: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.
Robert Wright: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.
Grégoire Chamayou: A Theory of the Drone.

Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things To Me.
Rebecca Solnit: The Faraway Nearby.
Maggie Nelson: The Argonauts. 
Carrie Brownstein: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.
Margo Jefferson: Negroland. A Memoir. 
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me.
The Complete Rolling Stone Interview with Susan Sontag. 


I made an unwritten promise to myself to only read fiction not written by white men, but broke that promise for The Traitor Baru Cormorant. I cannot recommend this story about a heroine willing to sacrifice everything in a dystopian world highly enough. Baru, born of two fathers and a mother, charters the rise of a homophobic empire and decides to rise inside of it (this is also a political thriller about accountancy!) to instigate a revolution. The story poses all kinds of questions about what Baru is forced to give up to obtain her goal. 
Oddly connected to that, Chinelo Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees is the story of a Nigerian girl after the civil war falling into complete love and lust with another girl without having the vocabulary or theory to theorise that love, and the social and very personal fall-out. 
Shadowshaper and Broken Monsters in retrospect are like a dialogue about horror moving into an urban landscape and the people who find themselves chosen to cope with it - artists, in both cases but both novels are all the more beautiful for their capacity to map where they are set. 
Courtney Summers' portrays of teenagers fighting with everything the world throws at them is captivating, in the case of This is Not a Test, it's zombies and the end of the world, but everything else is impressive too. Same goes for Emily St. John Mandel - Station 11 is science fiction after the end of the world and charting the course of humans, where their choices and coincidence lead them, but both of her other novels are recommended. 

Daniel José Older: Shadowshaper.
Chinelo Okparanta: Under the Udala Trees. 
Seth Dickinson: The Traitor Baru Cormorant. 
Lauren Beukes: Broken Monsters. 
Courtney Summers: This Is Not a Test.
Emily St. John Mandel: Station 11.
Roxane Gay: An Untamed State. 
James Baldwin: Another Country.

Wired: Get Up, Stand Up, November 2015

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