Tag Archives: books

2016: Books

The best books I read this year:

1.  John Williams- Stoner

Quiet perfection.  It seems this book has enjoyed a revival of sorts in recent years, and I’m sure it will continue to endure as a bona fide American classic.  

2. Donna Tartt- The Secret History

This book pulsed with dark, tense energy cover to cover.  It’s a great story with rich character development and a meticulously constructed plot to create an irresistible, intellectually satisfying page turner.

3. Karl Ove Knaussgard- My Struggle 2

Knaussgaard, in all of his unflinching navel gazing, can be an utterly consuming voice to spend so much time with.  I love the description of how he “breaks the sound barrier of the autobiographical novel”.  Sometimes that’s how it feels- bearing witness to a 15 page digression on his yearning for fulfillment and self actualization during the middle of an awkward dinner party, you can almost hear the sonic boom.  

4. Cormac McCarthy- The Road

After sitting on my shelf for years, this book was honestly better than I had hoped.  I’d be lying if I said I slept soundly the night I finished this one.  Can’t wait for my next McCarthy.

5.  Chuck Palahniuk- Rant

A truly bizarre, disorienting story that comes this close to not tripping over itself by the end.  I would often stare at this book wondering how the hell a person came up with this story, and what compelled them to share it with the world (though I later learned that’s pretty much the author’s MO).

6.  George Saunders- Pastoralia

There is something so wonderful in how subtly off these stories feel, yet the warmth and humanity of the characters shine through no matter how absurd their circumstances.

7. George Orwell- Down and Out in Paris and London

Despite the destitute poverty depicted here, this series of mostly humorous episodes delightfully recounted by Orwell seems aimed more to amuse than induce pity.  

8.  Jennifer Egan- Visit From Goon Squad

Emotionally resonant post-modern vignettes with the whole greater than the sum.

9. Jeff VanderMeer- Annihilation

An often maddening book that compensates for its utter lack of compelling characters and satisfying plot development by its sheer atmospherics.  

10.  Nick Hornby- High Fidelity

Hilarious, endearing story of an aimless 90’s guy and his doofus buddies navigating a series of romantic mishaps.  Feels like a precursor to the late 2000s mumblecore boom.   Classic guylit.

 

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2015: Books

Thankfully I had this list drafted up in December, but after renewing this domain for another year, I swung by and realized I had never actually published this post (another strong show of blogging prowess Ben).  I’ve gone back and written up a blurb about each book- in a way I like writing about these books that I read 9+ months ago- certain elements of the reading experience have faded, but I can look at each of these and recall memorable aspects, and usually the feeling, of reading them.

The best books I read in 2015:

1. Ben Lerner- 10:04.  I just happened to start reading this book on an unseasonably warm November day riding the D train over the Manhattan bridge listening to “Everyday it Starts” by Parquet Courts.   As I typed that last sentence in my South Brooklyn apartment, the lightbulb overhead burned out.  This book has a strange power.  This hyper conscious, darkly comic sparkling object of a book worked for me 100 times over (despite/because of the writer writing about writing hook/gimmick).

2.  Adam Johnson- Orphan Masters Son.  I recall being completely absorbed in the dark, disorienting world of this book.  The plot is propulsive, the characters are haunting, and the fact that this whole book, while fictional, occurs in an actual hellscape by all accounts very similar to the one depicted here makes it all the more gut wrenching.

3.  Kaszuo Ishiguro- Never Let Me Go.  Sweet wistfulness slowly gives way to unnerving, strange, tension.  Loved every page.

4.  Adelle Waldman- The Love Affairs of Nathanial P.  As a male who went on dates with females in Brooklyn in 2015, I feel like I was contractually obligated to love this book.  And I did.

5.  Karl Ove Knausgaard- My Struggle Book 1.  “Even when I was bored, I was interested”- James Wood.  I plan to read one KoK MS book per year for the next 5 years.  Preferably in Winter.

6.  Andy Weird- The Martian.  This book accompanied me on the 10 best workday subway commutes ever.  Loved it.

7.  Ta-Nehisi Coates- Between the World and Me.  Utterly transfixing, such a personal and powerful testament to his life experience.  I can’t think of another book which truly made me, even temporarily, feel and understand the pain of the author.

8.  Haruki Murakami- Colorless Tsukuru Tsari and His Years of Pilgrimage.  This was the first Murakami book I had read in over a year (after inhaling 6 in 8 months), and it reminded me of what I love about him.  This falls into the “realist” camp of HM books (with Norwegian Wood and South of the Border).  Simple, mellow, sad.

9.  Charles Bukowski- Post Office. Not an edifying reading experience, but a damn good book.

10.  Atul Gawande- Being Mortal.  This was a moving read over the holidays while seeing generations of family.  I felt such affection and reverence for towards Gawande by the end of this book.

2014: Books

Just came across this unpublished draft from December, and I am inspired to publish before it gets absurdly late.

I read some great books last year, the below 10 being my favorites:

1- Infinite Jest- David Foster Wallace

This consumed my spring. I cannot imagine anybody immersing his or herself in this book and not emerging with some type of love for this book, the author, and the entire experience of reading it.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be now, but I urge everyone to make time for this book’s universe.

2- Jitterbug Perfume- Tom Robbins

A joyful romp across centuries and around the world with delightful characters on the simple mission to live forever.  I read most of this book with a bemused grin on my face, and was actually sad for a few days when it was over.

3- Let the Great World Spin- Colum McCann

A delicate, intricately constructed portrait of a city and a few of its individuals.  I completely fell for the spell this book cast.

4- White Noise- Don Delillo

This book really only has one “note” it hits throughout, but to me it completely succeeded as a (disturbingly prescient) social satire.

5- Remains of the Day- Kazuo Ishiguro

A sweet, sad book which lingered with me.  I read this during the summer, and still frequently think of the last scene.

6- Dataclysm- Christina Rudder

The online dating and consumer internet usage insights range from amusingly trivial to actually profound, but this book deserves to be the Freakonomics for Big Data.

7- Libra- Don Delillo

This was my first Delilo, and it took a bit to warm up to use his trademark suspenseful paranoid atmospherics and distant characters, but I really enjoyed this book.

8- Zeitoon- Dave Eggars

Read this in one sitting.  It is an alarming, enraging account written with lucidity, tension, and precision.

9- The Alliance- Reid Hoffman

Presents a useful framework for reconsidering the employee-employer relationship.  I found it very helpful in my various career conversations and negotiations this year.

10- Financial Lives of Poets- Jess Walter

Not exactly the deep or even particularly unique take on the financial crisis as experienced by average joe it was sold to me as,  but an entertaining enough book about a relatable guy in desperate circumstances with spots of serious hilarity (treehouse anyone?).

2013: Books

Reading

Like many a liberal arts graduate, I was voracious reader growing up who almost completely abandoned non-assigned reading for 4 years, an unfortunate development which spilled into the first couple years of working life.  Yet, with the work flexibility my job allows, and my self imposed Mon-Tues-Wed early bedtimes, I’ve found myself with the time to knock through more books this year than the past 4 combined.  I typically read for 30-60ish minutes before bed each night, and a couple hours per weekend day.  Not exactly prolific, but enough to get through over 20 books this year.

The ten best books I read in 2013:

10.  The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester-  Delightful story of an eccentric British scientist who became obsessed with the Chinese language, and the wormhole he followed this passion down.  Set during a very turbulent era of China’s history, it is a very accessible and readable account of an amazing life story.

9.  Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami-  A sweet book that ignited my Murakami binge this fall.  Doesn’t approach the weirdness and triumph of his other novels, but a good story and beautifully written.

8. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon–  Brad Stone- Roared through this one on my Kindle in just a few days.  As an Amazon Prime addict, this only reaffirmed my faith in the company and it’s leadership to forever pursue what is in my bank account’s best interest (at the expense of perhaps everything else in the retail ecosystem).

7.  Bright Lights, Big City, Jay Mcinerney-  Downloaded this on a whim (probably as a result of a “New York in the 1980s” Google adventure), and read it in one sitting on a weekend afternoon.  A kind of Catcher in the Rye for coked up yuppies, it is visceral, hysterical, and just about as fun as books get.

6.  Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us–  Michael Moss (OK I cheated- I listened to this on Audible).  Was, appropriately, my walking to and from gym listening for several weeks.  This book, along with Michael Pollen’s Twitter feed, had almost as much impact on my diet this year as the bagel shop down the street.

5.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera-  I read this one in January, and I am fighting to convince myself it’s not already time for a re-read.  A novel light on plot development and heavy on philosophical musings which really stuck with me.

4.  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain-  I really like the comparisons to Catch-22 here.  This is a darkly funny and deeply subversive book which explores the chasm between the military and the country it serves.  The juxtaposition of the soldiers with the NFL players is unforgettable, and I can’t get the scenes with the Dallas Cowboys owner out of my head.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anybody who has ever winced during a “salute the troops” moment during a televised sporting event (brought to you by Doritos!)

3.  Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, Bryan Burrough and John Helyar-   This one dominated my life for a a good month.  Amazingly well researched, and even with the minute by minute details of meetings and negotiations between hundreds of Wall St types, you never lose track of what is ultimately a thrilling jacked-up-capitalism narrative.  This was definitely the best business book I read all year, and by many accounts, one of the best of all time.

2.  A Wild Sheep Chase/Dance Dance Dance,  Haruki Murakami- Though Dancex3 is technically the sequel to Sheep Chase, these are two very distinct books which can be enjoyed independently (although I’d recommend going in order if you can).  Both are quasi-detective stories, one a search for a mythological sheep, the other for a lost girlfriend, with trademarked Murakami surrealism, ambiguity, and digressions.  Both have fairly weak character development, a meandering plot, and inconclusive endings.  Yet both were fantastic page turners, laugh out loud funny, and ultimately very relateable.  I read these were solid Murakami entry points, and now 5 books in, I’d say that is good advice.  I loved both of these equally, and can unequivocally recommend both to any internet strangers who stumble upon this blog.

1.  Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami.  This novel is metaphorical, philosophical, dreamlike, with “a bewildering overflow of possible meanings“, yet completely and compulsively readable.  Although some thematic elements will be familiar to any Murakami reader, the plot is delightfully creative, and the alternating narrative structure keeps the pages turning with wonder and intrigue.  The characters are more developed, and often likable, than other Murakami I’ve read, and the plot, however bizarre and requiring a suspension of disbelief, is straightforward and gripping.

I digested the book for a few days after finishing before allowing myself to dive into internet reviews and discussion, having enjoyed online analysis of previous Murakami I had read.  Yet I can’t say any were particularly enlightening, or caused me to reevaluate my interpretations.  In fact, I think that is my favorite part of this book: no erudite interpretations are needed to fully enjoy this book.  Any other writer would probably leave me feeling unintelligent, angry, or apathetic by the end of such a metaphysical mind-bender.  Murakami’s writing makes me want to simultaneously turn the pages faster, and slow down to savor the beauty of his words.  I can’t wait to read more.

Kafka on the Shore

My 2013:  Reading.  Music.  Running.