Cuevano ~ Jorge Aranda

Recommendations from 2017

Another year over! And as I learned this year, whatever the news and the grand-scale history, our small lives carry on, if they can, cooking and enjoying breakfast, making funny faces to our kids, watching the birds and the trees on the way to work, and trying to find love, beauty, humour, skill, and good ideas around us.

In that spirit, and following my little yearly tradition of sharing what I've found, these are some of the things I enjoyed the most in 2017:

The book that surprised and delighted me the most has to be Wilson's new translation of "The Odyssey". I had read the book in Spanish a long time ago, more in an effort to pay my literary dues than for fun, and I had found it obtuse and remote; a dusty relic. I have the sense, perhaps not wholly justified, that large egos over the centuries have tried their hand at translating Homer in an effort to impress us with their flowery language, rather than in an effort to translate. But in Wilson's version the text is raw, fresh, human; it pulsates with life and blood. It helps me understand why others before me worshipped the ancient gods the way they did, the mixture of fear and curiosity they must have felt when seeing a stranger come to shore, or when landing their ship in a foreign island, and the attraction to the story that made them huddle in silence to listen to a poet deliver the next installment of their epics.

In a previous post I had mentioned how much I like Roald Dahl's children books, but I've now read "Kiss Kiss", a collection of some of his adult short stories, and I like him even more. That same spice is here, the same eye for twisted souls, the same storytelling strategy of plots that spiral into the absurd and nevertheless work well. I also loved the Strugatsky Brothers' "Roadside Picnic", a great take on an incomprehensible interstellar visit.

In literature in Spanish, I thought Villalobos' "No Voy a Pedirle a Nadie que me Crea" was marvellously funny. He has the same deadpan humour that Ibargüengoitia had, a great ear for character voices, and, in this book, a page-turning plot as well. Another excellent find was Pauls' "El Pudor del Pornógrafo", an earnest, impassioned, and claustrophobic epistolar novel, a bit of Kafka and a bit of Lynch. Finally, Zambra's short story collection, "Mis Documentos", though a mixed bag, has some real gems.

Three great non-fiction books: Duncan's "The Storm before the Storm", Brown's "Building Powerful Community Organizations", and Kleppmann's "Designing Data-Intensive Applications". I still love Duncan as a podcaster—I continue being an avid listener of his Revolutions series—, and his jump to the printed page is just as good as his other work, and topical for the state of the American republic today. If you are concerned about that state, or the state of your own country, city, or neighbourhood, Brown's handbook is a great guide to get started organizing a better world. And Kleppmann's book is simply one of the best technical books for my line of work that I can think of. If you work with databases, queues, concurrent processes, or anything along these lines, my guess is you'll find many insights here.

There are so many good podcasts around these days! Among those that I particularly enjoyed, the first one has to be the hilarious "My Dad Wrote a Porno". Because if your dad tells you he's been writing raunchy erotic literature, and that he goes by the pen name Rocky Flintstone, I think one of the best things you can do to stay sane is to gather with your best friends, read his ouvre, and absolutely tear it apart. It makes me laugh so hard that my face hurts.

Now, on the more informative podcasting front, Adamson's "History of Philosophy without any gaps" is fun and accessible, (though I think maybe one or two gaps would have been alright), and Bortolotti's "Canadian Couch Potato" podcast, a companion to his blog, provides professional, consistent, and trustworthy financial advice.

"American Vandal", a Netflix TV show, was another great discovery. It's an antidote for the seriousness and the tropes of true-crime podcasts and shows, which is a good enough reason to recommend it, but it also has good writing and pitch-perfect performances. It also made me laugh a lot.

I recently wrote about my love for Twilight Struggle and Go, so I won't talk more about those games here, but there were two other boardgames that I liked this year. The first is Terraforming Mars, which is perhaps what you would get if you developed the fantastic Race for the Galaxy card game into a longer, but still tight and balanced, boardgame. The second is T.I.M.E. Stories, a cooperative game and a mashup of Quantum Leap with a Groundhog Day mechanic. I've played a handful of scenarios, and they have all been different, satisfying, and challenging in different ways.

On the computer, my six-year-old and I spent many fun hours working a farm in Stardew Valley, a cute and versatile game without any Farmville-esque psychological traps. When playing alone, I had the most fun with Darkest Dungeon, a kind of dungeon-crawling X-Com cousin, and (on my phone) with Dreamquest, a poorly drawn but well designed deck-building game.

Thanks to everyone who gave me tips to some of the above; I hope you'll find something to like here. And if you have any recommendations for me, please share them! I'm easy to find. Here's to a happy and healthy 2018!

(Previously: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009)