Cuevano ~ Jorge Aranda

Recommendations from 2010

We’re wrapping up another year, so I thought of sharing pointers to some of the things that got me excited throughout 2010 while I was not burying my head in my thesis or packing for our move to Victoria.

In terms of books, last year around this time I was very excited by Javier Marías’ trilogy, “Tu Rostro Mañana.” I still haven’t read it, unfortunately, but I did read the older “Corazón tan Blanco,” and I loved its flowing prose and its subtle plot. I was quite surprised with Roberto Bolaño’s “El Tercer Reich“—not by its quality (Bolaño is always fantastic), but by the discovery that he must have been, for a while at least, a boardgame geek: the novel narrates, with plenty of interest, a match of a game that seems to be “The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich” between a German nerd and a tortured South American. I know only two other novels that take a serious look at boardgaming (Kawabata’s “The Master of Go” and Nabokov’s “The Defense“); I love the former, and I have not read the latter.

I also plunged into Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” which has taken me a little more than I expected (I’ve only just finished Volume III), but I’m thoroughly enjoying every page. It’s not just the hypnotic prose (and I wish I could read it in the original French), but the blindingly bright cognitive, psychological, and sociological insights—a humbling masterpiece.

Probably the best non-fiction book I read this year was Paul Edwards’ history of the development of climate modeling, “A Vast Machine.” It’s engaging, timely, and fairly accessible, while exploring the difficult epistemological questions of climate simulation. On a different topic, Richard Evans’ historical trilogy of the Third Reich is engrossing and informative, and probably the best I could ask for to understand that brutal period of history.

To get a fascinating individual perspective of that time, you should read or subscribe to the “Orwell Diaries” blog, which posts entries from George Orwell’s journal seventy years to the day (so the most recent entry today is from December 29th, 1940, in the midst of Germany’s campaign of aerial bombings in the UK—thanks to Greg Wilson for the pointer). For more recent events, there are several blogs I came to love this year: George Monbiot‘s provides great commentary on ecological and social affairs (and he engaged in a wrenching debate with my PhD advisor, Steve Easterbrook, on the topic of the East Anglia emails). The New York Times’ “The Stone” blog demonstrates that philosophy is practical and relevant.’s “The Big Picture” is a jaw-dropping photo blog (thanks to Michael Tobis for the tip). The New Yorker Fiction podcast features cool short story readings and discussions. And after the G20 meeting in Toronto, I discovered the Waging Nonviolence blog, which among many inspiring news and reflections on non-violence pointed to this essay on the futility of the Black Bloc that I wish was more widely read.

I’ve mentioned some of the great things we’ve discovered in Victoria in the few months we’ve been there (the delicious food from the Puerto Vallarta Amigos’ taco truck, Lifecycles’ fruit picking project), but there’s others I have not talked about: the Good Food Box (which is as great as Toronto’s, except for the fact that deliveries are monthly, not biweekly); the Springridge Commons permaculture garden and the Haultain Boulevard’s street garden, where anybody can come and pick any fruit, vegetable, or herb they like (just leave enough for the rest!); and Transition Victoria, the local Transition initiative, of which I should talk more in a later post.

It wasn’t a great year for new movies for me: we rented plenty of wonderful classics, but I was mostly disappointed at the movie theatre. Two notable exceptions: the mexploitation extravaganza of “Machete” and the Toronto-loving geeky fantasy of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” It wasn’t a great year for boardgames either (though I’m holding out for “The Resistance“), except for the hours and hours I spent playing Go, a game of intimidating depth and beauty that I appreciate more with every match I play (I’m “yorchopolis” at the Dragon Go Server; feel free to invite me to a game!).

Some software tools and I’m done; these may be old news for you, depending on where you’re coming from: I discovered Mendeley for managing my library of academic papers and notes (after painfully parting without my annotated paper copies of hundreds of papers in Toronto), I started taking advantage of Instapaper to reduce the clutter of my browser tabs, and for task management I switched from Toodledo (which was alright) to Omnifocus (expensive, but it fits like a glove!).

That’s it, I think. I hope you enjoy these as much as I have, and I wish you a happy New Year!