Recommendations from 2016

It’s hard for me to match the unfolding disaster that 2016 turned out to be, politically and environmentally, with the intense but beautiful ride it has been at home, trying to raise a child and a baby and somehow remain sane and on top of things. However, despite the sleepless nights and play dates and overall running-around, there was time for books, movies, and podcasts. Here are some of the things I loved this year:

The best book I read in 2016 has to be Eliot’s “Middlemarch”. It is wise and funny, relevant despite its age, and intimate. Like with other great books, I simultaneously wish I had found it much earlier, to profit from it when I was younger, and that I had not found it yet, so that the discovery still laid ahead. It’s not short, but I will most likely read it again.

Among the easier and lighter reads, my favourite was “The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn”, from the Strugatsky brothers. It’s a strange mash of science fiction and mystery, with a bit of the weirdness that I loved last year in “Annihilation”. Carey’s “The Girl with All the Gifts” is not a great book—many characters are cardboard cut-outs, and you could trim about a hundred pages in the middle and end with a better story—but it’s got an excellent premise and a very good ending, and all in all I was very glad to read it.

Regarding non-fiction, Sharp’s trilogy on “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” is precise, careful, practical, and astoundingly useful. If I could convince everyone to read a single book as soon as possible, it would be the first volume, and especially the first half of it, on the sources of power and how to fight them without violence. We will need to internalize this very soon. Also on non-fiction, and mentioned recently already, Singer’s “The Life You Can Save” presents a compelling utilitarian argument for donating to fight extreme poverty and, quite literally, save lives, restore sight, and reduce suffering in the world. He made me realize you and I have far more power to do these things than I imagined.

I have been reading lots of children’s books, predictably. My kid and I both loved Hatke’s “Zita the Spacegirl” series: good story, nice art, kickass heroine. We also both liked Roald Dahl’s prose quite a bit, and probably read “Fantastic Mr Fox” in full a dozen times.

A subdued movie that I nevertheless really enjoyed was Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year”. I loved his earlier “Margin Call” as well; both movies are intelligent, well acted, and unconventional. The remake of “Ghostbusters” was everything I could hope for, and I’m happy they chose such a talented cast. Finally, “Arrival” was an emotionally satisfying sci-fi film, which is something quite rare.

I’ve been running a lot, and I like listening to podcasts while I run. The one I like the most is Mike Duncan’s “Revolutions”: his ongoing project is to go through key revolutions in modern history and to narrate them entertainingly but without dumbing them down. So far he’s gone through the English, American, French, Haitian, and Bolivarian revolutions, and the whole series is excellent. Last year I recommended his “History of Rome”, which I binged on obsessively; I might go back and listen to it all over again next year. I also enjoyed “Good Job, Brain” quite a bit: a very entertaining trivia podcast that makes long runs much lighter. Speaking of running, this year I discovered CityStrides, a one-person labour-of-love website that pulls your run data and tells you what percentage of a city you’ve run, and which streets you still need to get to. It has prodded me to explore lots more of Victoria, and to find interesting areas, houses, gardens, parks, and shortcuts previously hidden all around me.

Finally, I mentioned these in my previous post, but I should repeat them in case you missed them: three resources that helped me enormously with my finances were the Mr Money Mustache blog, Bogle’s “Little Book of Common Sense Investing”, and Swensen’s “Unconventional Success”. The first two are easy reads, the last one less so, though it’s quite informative. They were all incredibly valuable to me.

I feel like I’m bracing for 2017, with a sense of dread and angst, and unsure on whether next December there will be room for lightness to recommend trivia podcasts or children’s books. And yet we must still try to make the new year a happy one. May we succeed!

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