The year wraps up, and I’d like to share a batch of recommendations for stuff I enjoyed in 2012.
First, books. I simply loved Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”. I was expecting it to be funny, but I was surprised to discover it was also clever and humane. Though I usually dislike books about drunkards or addicts, deWitt’s “Ablutions” was fresh and very, very good—after this and “The Sisters Brothers” I’m platonically in love with him. Ford’s “Canada”, a novel about a kind young soul growing among adults that can’t help but bring destruction on themselves, is written with wisdom and skill. Spufford’s “Red Plenty”, an extremely multithreaded novel about communist Russia’s central planning, was not great, but I still appreciated its ambition and originality.
As for non-fiction, I found Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things” to be awe-inspiring: at times it would seem as if all of modern science had only worked on relatively minor corrections of his understanding of the world, while ignoring his impassioned claim that the whole point of these endeavours is to bring inner peace to humankind. Berger and Luckmann’s “The Social Construction of Reality” was wonderfully compelling, lucid, and witty. It is the book I wish I’d read at the start of my doctoral work. For something lighter, Glouberman and Heti’s “The Chairs Are Where the People Go” is an endearing and frank collection of micro-essays.
I had a good year with books in Spanish, too. The slightly unhinged lovers of Pauls’ “El Pasado” spiral down to disaster with exquisite prose. Borges’ collection of lectures, “Siete Noches”, is a touching display of his brilliance and kindness, and “Los Conjurados”, his collection of late poems, is concerned with history, transcendence, insignificance, and lives lived nobly and simply. Krauze’s trilogy of Mexican history (“Siglo de Caudillos”, “Biografía del Poder”, and “La Presidencia Imperial”) is captivating and often lyrical, although his main thesis—that Mexican history to a large extent can be reduced to and explained by the biographies of its leaders—loses strength as Mexico approaches the present time.
I’m still playing catch-up with recent movies, and I doubt I could recommend anything you wouldn’t know of already (but watch “Moonrise Kindgom” if you haven’t). One exception might be “Small Town Murder Songs”, a low budget Canadian independent film that is subtle but powerful. It features music by Bruce Peninsula–another recommendation on its own right. Going much further into the past, I found Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” to be almost perfect.
Online, I enjoyed Bret Victor’s essays. He’s clearly a genius—one I often don’t agree with, but this makes his writing all the more engaging. The New Yorker’s Fiction Podcast features authors reading other author’s works, as well as conversations with Deborah Treisman, and it is consistently superb.
Among my guilty pleasures, I loved being distracted by three sites whenever they had an update: What If, for silly questions explored seriously to everyone’s satisfaction; Horsey Surprise, for a satire of online comment trolls, and Textastrophe, for SMS pranks. I didn’t have much time for gaming, but most of what I had went to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and, in the past few weeks, to Tropico 3, a sort of SimCity where you’re not a city mayor, but a tropical island dictator during the Cold War.
At work, we’re using Dropwizard to structure our web services, and I liked the way it puts all the relevant pieces together. For a personal project, I used and liked node.js and socket.io, and it was refreshingly easy to get my application running with them. I also toyed with D3.js, and I’m looking forward to a time when I can put it to good use—Mike Bostock’s site has fantastic examples of his library at work.
I believe that’s all. If you haven’t read them and are curious, I’ve written similar posts for 2011, 2010, and 2009. I hope you’ll find some of these recommendations useful, and I wish you a Happy New Year!