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05 Jan 2017
The best books I read in 2016

I read a lot of amazing books this year, but looking back it seems that most of them were very dark and emotionally difficult. I recommend them nonetheless. (Actually, I read so many good books last year that this list doesn’t contain all of them! I had to trim it down to the best of the best to keep it manageably short.)

In 2016, I discovered Will McIntosh…

  • Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh - McIntosh takes an absurd premise (“bridesicles” - pretty young women who die get cryogenically frozen and woken up for short “dates” where they try to seduce creepy old guys into paying for their bodies to be repaired so they can “marry” them) and manages to turn it into a really thoughtful, interesting, totally brilliant novel.
  • Defenders by Will McIntosh - Again, a kind of ridiculous premise from which he manages to extract a really thoughtful, interesting, human novel. Complete with mind-reading aliens and genetic engineering. But mostly humanity. When scifi is done right it’s always a portrait of today, and he does it right.
  • Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh - Fucked me up but good. I shouldn’t have read this right after the election - it’s a nightmare of a modern apocalypse tale. I kind of loved it, kind of regret having read it. Hit me right in the sweet spot of horror and disgust and terror. Just some bad timing.

…and N.K. Jemisin

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin - The best book I read all year. Shattering, heartbreaking, incredible. All the trigger warnings. Many of my friends who have kids have said they couldn’t bear to read this book. But if you can, I strongly recommend that you do. It will hurt. It will be worth it.
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin - Sequal to The Fifth Season. God these books rip me up inside. These are the must-reads of the year.
  • The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin - She’s getting very good at building interesting cultures and belief systems! This was not as good as the above two, but still really great. It’s sequel was also good, but somewhat less so, and this one can stand alone.

Other fiction I loved reading in 2016 that focused on slavery

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - Made me want to throw up in the right ways. Fantastical (what if it literally was a railroad underground?) without being silly.
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters - Alternate history where slavery is still legal in 4 states, and our protagonist is a black man who helps hunt down escaped slaves.
  • Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdex - A novel about enslaved black women who go on a disturbingly-portrayed-as-quasi-romantic retreat every summer with the men who have enslaved them, and the deterrents to attempted escape.

Books I loved reading in 2016 that related to finance and/or economics

  • Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears - A financial murder mystery, as delightfully thorough and intricate as Pears tends to be.
  • Red Plenty by Francis Spufford - This was a great read, I just wish it was written by someone with more clue about reality. Taken as a novel, though, I enjoyed reading the tale of the attempt of creating a planned economy.
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis - This is probably old news to most of you, but I only just saw the movie and read the book fairly recently. The story of what went wrong with mortgage-backed securities, really engagingly told.
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein - I love reading post-mortems. You learn so much from them.
  • Who Gets What - and Why by Alvin E. Roth - Really cool exploration of marketplace and auction theory!

Other fiction I loved reading in 2016

  • The Instructions by Adam Levin - A juvenile delinquent Yeshivah kid who might be the moshiach. So nostalgic!
  • Hush by Eishes Chayil (aka Judy Brown) - A novel of child abuse in the Chasidic community in Brooklyn. Hit horrifically close to home.
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa - An amnesiac mathematician; a housekeeper and her son who discover a love of learning math.
  • The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - Controlling, fucked up parents more in love with their art than their children, hilarious and sad, siblings trying to recover and be there for each other and get by.
  • Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - My favorite Stephenson in ages! Though the first 2/3 felt like a totally different book than the last bit, and way better. If you stop reading at that point you’ll probably be happiest.
  • The Lightning-Struck Heart by TJ Klune - omgomgomg hilarious gay romance with adhd and a unicorn and this is totally this year’s I-probably-shouldn’t-publicly-admit-to-having-read-this-but-it’s-just-that-good winner.
  • Caucasia by Danzy Senna - Two sisters, one who looks more black, one who looks more white, and the differences in their lives.
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison - “She was the third beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it’s there, because it cant hurt, and because what difference does it make?”

Books that taught me how to do something (or do it better!) in 2016

  • Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner - Fantastically helpful and exactly what I needed as I started learning Hungarian at last! Focus on the sounds, the music, the visuals, avoid translating word for word. His companion website has been really useful, too.
  • 5-Minute Sketching: Architecture: Super-quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings by Liz Steel - Yay, useful tips!
  • Sketching People: an urban sketcher’s manual to drawing figures and faces by Lynne Chapman - Useful, but even moreso, so pretty!
  • Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach by Col. Dandridge M. Malone, U.S.A. (Ret.) - Useful when thinking about management, team leadership, and dealing with people generally.
  • Real World OCaml: Functional Programming for the Masses by Yaron Minsky, Anil Madhavapeddy, & Jason Hickey - I learned so many things! Good thing, since now I program in OCaml professionally. ~.^
  • The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore - The lesson here was largely about actively deciding either to do $thing, or deciding not to, but not letting yourself just passively feel forced into it (and thus end up avoiding it). This indirectly led to me experimenting with a minimal bullet journal (-ish) system, which I’ve found extremely helpful at work.

Non-fiction I loved reading in 2016 that related to race, gender, and/or class

  • What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet - Practical advice and overviews of some relevant research. If you want to increase gender diversity but are not sure how, this book has concrete suggestions on what to experiment with.
  • Pedigree: how elite students get elite jobs by Lauren A. Rivera - This should be required reading freshman year of high school.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond - Reading this while thinking about maybe trying to buy property with a second apartment to rent out was very weird and disturbing.
  • Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City by Michael Woodsworth - I wish I could’ve voted for Shirley Chisholm.
  • The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates - There’s nothing I can say about this that you haven’t heard before.
  • The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammed Ali - I loved this and I loved him. He wouldn’t have given a flying fuck about me, and that’s just fine.

Other non-fiction I loved reading in 2016

  • The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss - By the guy who wrote The Game! What a strange fascinating memoir. It was such a weird feeling, to find myself agreeing with so much that Neil Strauss wrote here.
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande - On our fucked up elder care system. Not my favorite of his books, but the one I needed to read last year. Apparently if you give old people pets they live longer!

Books I loved re-reading in 2016

  • The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt - Apparently I’m re-reading this every year now? Yeah, okay. That seems about right.
  • Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney - Still my favorite of his books.

Total number of censored favorites not appearing in this post: 5
Total number of books read in 2016: 152

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