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Friday, November 22, 2019

Books of the Year 2019

This was an unusually prolific year for reading 102 books! Granted, many of them were audio books, and some of them were kid's books, but this is the largest collection of books I've read in a year since as long as I've been keeping track.

This was also an unusually short year for fiction. Of course, that made the selection easy: Ted Chiang's Exhalation easily took the prize for the best fiction all year. In the current climate of door-stoppers being the standard for fiction, Chiang's devotion to quality over quantity stands out. Part of it is that he has a day-job (as a tech-writer, which is actually a decent paying job), and so can afford to work on his fiction and polish it. The other part of course, is that the man has consistently good ideas. You owe it to yourself to read Ted Chiang.

For non-fiction, there's much more to choose from and therefore a tougher choice, since the selection I made this year was unusually broad. For sheer impact on my thinking, I'll nominate Master of the Senate. Non-fiction books tend to try to engage your cerebral side (after all, you're trying to learn something), but few attempt to engage your emotions, but this one does, and not with any loss to the facts and arguments that the book presents. It's a long, intimidating book, but I think it's well worth your effort. If you're an American voter, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It's a piece of history that truly teaches you how the modern American landscape came to be.

Other great books that I read in the non-fiction category include Sex At Dawn, a radical rethinking of the traditional view on human social reproduction, and an example of how you can make good arguments in what is an extremely controversial topic. Kochland is also well worth your time.  It's very clear to me that when the inevitable environmental collapse happens, we're going to look upon this era with a strong sense of how greed overtook our sense of responsibility. It's unfortunately already too late to bring the Koch brothers to justice, but if there's any justice in this world, that brand of capitalism will be eviscerated from human society --- if we survive.

As a parent, I can't turn down books about child development and parenting. If you have middle-schoolers who might be headed for college, How to Become a Straight-A student is worth recommending to him or her. For parents themselves, Voice Lessons for Parents jumps out at me as being particularly important for Bay Area parents, who have a tendency to turn into tiger parents. Unfortunately, the people who most need to read it probably won't, and it's very likely that if you actually want to read a book like this, you probably won't need it as well. Wow, when it comes to good non-fiction this year there was a huge selection.

Comic Books: I ended up rereading Miracleman, and you still can't find a comic book story out there that's any better. Unfortunately, it requires a ton of context for the subversion of superhero troupes to be completely satisfying, but independent of that it's so well written and such a good story that if you've never read it you should.

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